Last Updated: 2017-08-24
A pretty busy schedule for a Thursday comes your way in Major League Baseball as we inch closer to the start of the college football season. After a strong day of handicapping on Tuesday, it was back to the norm on Wednesday as things just didn’t fall our way. It’s frustrating, but I’ll keep plugging along. I generally like to shut things down at the start of September, but I’ll keep bringing analysis to the table. The most likely scenario is that I will just limit my plays and limit the games I break down in this article. We start to see some huge lines on “motivated” teams and big mismatches with starting pitchers as teams use the 40-man roster to its full capacity. That is coming in eight days, but, for now, it’s business as usual.
Here are the picks and analyses for August 24, 2017:
New York (AL) at Detroit (-110); Total: 9
Robbie Ray returns for the Diamondbacks, so we’ll avoid the early game and Vance Worley and Jake Thompson are starting between the Phillies and Mets, so we’ll bypass that one as well. Our focus shifts to Motown, where the Yankees and Tigers will close up their early-week series. Jaime Garcia opened around a -115 favorite but the market has spoken and the news is not good for Yankees fans and backers. Detroit is now a -110 favorite at Comerica Park with Michael Fulmer on the mound.
I understand what’s happening with this line move. The Tigers have fared very well against southpaws this season and Garcia has not been good with the Yankees. He has a 6.32 ERA with a 5.88 FIP and a 5.00 xFIP in three starts covering 15.2 innings of work. Garcia has allowed 12 runs, 11 earned, on 17 hits in 15.2 innings with a 13/10 K/BB ratio. I wouldn’t want to back a guy like that either, especially against a Tigers lineup with good splits in matchups like this.
Michael Fulmer, despite pitching through injury, is having a solid season with a 3.60 ERA, a 3.50 FIP, and a 4.16 xFIP. I have some pretty significant concerns, though. For one thing, he is pitching through tendonitis. For another thing, his strikeout rate has dropped in a big way. His FIP is actually lower than last season because he’s cut his home run rate down, but his ERA is higher because of a huge drop in LOB%. Fulmer came back from some downtime on August 14 and gave up five runs on seven hits in five innings. Then he allowed just one unearned run to the Dodgers on August 19 over seven innings. I don’t really know what to expect.
The reason I won’t be backing the Tigers here is because this is a getaway day game for a team with absolutely nothing to play for. The Yankees have pressure from below in the Wild Card race. The Tigers aren’t likely to get up for games like this. I’m not sure how much character is left on a team with a bad manager and a bunch of aging players that know that they are basically in roster purgatory. After getting trucked last night, I don’t know how emotionally and mentally invested the Tigers will be today.
I certainly understand and appreciate the line move, but I won’t be playing this one. If the line got higher, I’d consider the Yankees, but it’s not a strong consideration right now.
Colorado at Kansas City (-110); Total: 9
German Marquez will battle it out with Jake Junis in the series finale at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals walked off the Rockies last night and will look for the sweep tonight. Marquez is a guy that I’m looking to back as the Rockies struggle. He has a 4.24 ERA with a 4.01 FIP and a 4.21 xFIP in his 119 innings this season. Most of his peripherals fall in the average range and I do like the fact that he’s put up numbers like this in what amounts to his rookie season while pitching so often at Coors Field. A lot of the guys that can do significant damage in the Kansas City lineup are left-handed and Marquez has good splits there with a .306 wOBA against. He’s allowed a .335 wOBA to righties and they are slugging 110 points higher.
The biggest difference between Marquez at home and on the road is in the slugging percentage department. That is hardly a surprise given the thin air and good hitting environment in Colorado. Marquez has a .479 SLG allowed at home and a .384 on the road in a sample size of 264 and 247 batters, respectively. Eleven of the 15 home runs that he has allowed have come at home. He’s fared very well the first time through the lineup, holding the opposition to a .200/.259/.309 slash. The second and third times through, he has struggled. Anecdotally, that leads me to believe that teams facing him for the first time will struggle. The Royals have not seen him in his young career.
Jake Junis, who goes by Jakob on Fangraphs for those looking for more insight, has a 4.99 ERA with a 5.39 FIP and a 5.45 xFIP in eight starts and four relief outings. Junis seems to have decent stuff, but putting it all together has been a problem thus far. He was skipped last weekend by the Royals, but did give up four runs in mop up relief against the Indians, so he hasn’t started in 10 days. His last two starts since getting sent back to the minors have been strong, with three runs allowed on eight hits in 14 innings of work with a 9/0 K/BB ratio.
Marquez, though, is a guy I want to back and a guy I’m comfortable with backing on the road. I think we can see the respect that Marquez gets in the line that is sitting out there. I agree. I’ll be on the Rockies today.
Boston (-165) at Cleveland; Total: 7
The Red Sox have taken two of three from the Indians in this series, but I have to say, I haven’t been impressed with the Red Sox offense. Their hitters have taken a lot of bad swings. Defensively, Boston has played extremely well and that has been a big difference in this series. This ALDS preview has been pretty entertaining, but it comes to a close tonight with AL Cy Young Award favorite Chris Sale up against Trevor Bauer.
A few things about this game. For starters, the Indians are better equipped to face lefties right now. Lonnie Chisenhall, Michael Brantley, and Jason Kipnis are all left-handed hitters that are on the DL. Carlos Santana hits better left-handed, though he may be available today. Also, it’s hard to ignore how well the Indians have hit Chris Sale in the past, right? Only the Tigers have hit more home runs off of Sale than the Indians, but they have 136 more plate appearances. Sale has a 4.44 career ERA against the Tribe. Now, the Indians battered him in 2013 and 2016, but struggled in 2014 and 2015, which is why using pitcher vs. team stats isn’t a great barometer at all. The Indians got seven off of Sale in five innings at Fenway Park earlier this season.
Current Indians hitters have a .272/.350/.422 slash against Sale in 203 plate appearances. That’s not big enough to be statistically significant. It is interesting that 37 of those plate appearances are from Austin Jackson, who is batting .057/.108/.086 in this split.
The reason I bring this up is that you’re going to find people that justify an Indians ticket or an Indians play based on how they’ve done against Sale in the past. To me, the sample sizes just aren’t big enough to really matter. It isn’t even a consideration on my end. I’m handicapping this game for what it’s worth as an individual event.
Sale is the best pitcher in the AL this season. Corey Kluber is fairly close, but Sale is still ahead of him in my estimation. He mows through lineups. Trevor Bauer has found some positive regression, finally, as his BABIP has dropped about 20 points over the last little while. It’s still really high at .343, but his 4.50 ERA is inching towards his 3.87 FIP and 3.61 xFIP.
Since July 27, Bauer has a 100 percent LOB%. He’s allowed five solo home runs and the bullpen let in a run. He’s made five starts and one relief appearance and has allowed 36 hits, but the only hits that have scored runs are the home runs. So, Bauer technically hasn’t allowed a base runner to score via a ball in play. He has 38 strikeouts against seven walks in that span, so he has helped himself out by not walking anybody. I see something like that and I get scared.
We’ve already seen some Indians money hit the market. I won’t be invested in this game, but it’s important to look at it from all angles. The Indians do have a knack for getting one hit off of guys like Doug Fister and then blasting a guy like Chris Sale two days later. I don’t have evidence for that, but I’ve watched pretty much every game over the last several years. It just seems to work out that way, so it won’t surprise me here, but I won’t have money on it.
Washington at Houston (-140); Total: 8
A pretty big move on the total is the most notable thing about this game. Stephen Strasburg and Dallas Keuchel get together in Houston to duke it out, but the market seems to love the over. This number opened 7.5 and has hit 8.5 before coming back down to 8 with juice on the over. Strasburg is having a fine season with a 3.24/3.13/3.47 pitcher slash and 149 strikeouts in 127.2 innings of work. He’s been really strong and has, for the most part, stayed relatively healthy. Of course, he’s just coming off of a DL stint. Strasburg was out from July 23 to August 19 with an injury. He came back and worked six solid innings against the Padres, but this will be a much stiffer test.
Dallas Keuchel is a bit of a regression candidate. You don’t see guys with a 66.2 percent GB% carrying around a .255 BABIP against. You also rarely see an 83.5 percent LOB% with that type of batted ball distribution and a 21.4 percent K%. To me, it looks like the market is anticipating some of that regression from Keuchel and has reacted accordingly, without having to invest too heavily in Strasburg in just his second start back.
Keuchel has allowed 10 HR in 101.1 innings and those don’t count towards BABIP, but still. He’s gotten extremely fortunate with balls in play and leverage situations. He’s certainly a guy that I would look to fade in some way. The league-wide BABIP on ground balls is .241. Keuchel’s BABIP against on ground balls is .207.
I like Washington today, despite my concerns with backing guys coming off of injuries. We’ve seen aces shut down the Astros lineup in recent weeks and Strasburg fits that mold.
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