Last Updated: 2017-08-25
A full slate of Major League Baseball action is on the docket for College Football Eve. All 15 games will take place under the lights as the breeze gets a little bit cooler and the sun sets a little bit sooner. It’s mostly business as usual, though, as we’re still about a week from rosters expanding and from the serious playoff chases for the Wild Card in both leagues. The divisions are almost all spoken for already, so there isn’t a whole lot of drama on that front. The grind of 162 continues today.
Here are the picks and analyses for August 25, 2017:
Pittsburgh (-115) at Cincinnati; Total: 9.5
Heavy steam has hit the board on Ivan Nova, who has been struggling for a while now, but he squares off against Robert Stephenson, so the move to make the Pirates a road favorite makes a lot of sense. Nova is up to a 3.81 ERA with a 4.29 FIP and a 4.07 xFIP. Regression in both the BABIP and LOB% categories has driven his ERA up for a while now. It’s also worth pointing out that his FIP is higher than last season when he posted a 4.17 ERA, so it’s possible that more regression will come before the end of the season.
The tide really turned for Nova on June 22. Over his last 11 starts, he has a .343 BABIP against leading to a 5.15/5.16/4.21 pitcher slash. He’s given up 13 HR in those 64.2 innings with a 45.5 percent GB%. He hasn’t been able to locate well enough down in the zone and has gotten caught in the crosshairs of the launch angle craze. He has allowed four or more runs in five of those 11 starts, which isn’t particularly helpful for the lackluster Pirates lineup.
Fortunately for him, and Pirates backers, Robert Stephenson is pretty bad. He has a 6.13/6.41/5.59 pitcher slash with an obscenely high walk rate and poor command. Stephenson has a 6.11/6.45/5.55 in his 84 career innings, with 47 of those innings this season. Four of his last five appearances have been starts and he hasn’t worked six innings in any of them. That puts a lot of strain on the bullpen. Stephenson has only allowed two earned runs over his last 12.2 innings of work, but he’s living on some fortunate BABIP luck with his 10/6 K/BB ratio.
I’m not overly interested in backing Nova and his recent home run problem away from PNC Park. As it is, Nova has a pretty pronounced home/road split. He has allowed a .262/.293/.399 slash with a .295 wOBA in 282 plate appearances at home. Away from home, opposing hitters are batting .279/.318/.493 with a .341 wOBA in 382 plate appearances.
At this point, there may be value on the Reds. Certainly I’m not all that interested in backing Stephenson, but the Reds team total over could be a way to play this game while taking Stephenson out of the equation.
Kansas City at Cleveland (-125); Total: 9.5
ALCS hero Ryan Merritt is back in the Cleveland rotation with the injury to Danny Salazar. The soft-tossing southpaw will take the hill against the Royals and another soft-tossing southpaw in Jason Vargas. This is an extremely challenging handicap. There are going to be a ton of balls in play and the Indians will likely tap into the bullpen pretty early. Vargas has been in line for regression for a while and it has gradually made some appearances.
Vargas has a 3.59 ERA with a 4.23 FIP and a 4.78 xFIP. From the start of the season through the end of June, Vargas had a 2.22 ERA with a 3.47 FIP and a 4.73 xFIP in 101.1 innings of work. From July 5 through his August 19 start, Vargas has a 7.15 ERA with a 6.21 FIP and a 4.91 xFIP. His strikeout rate is up, but that ERA/xFIP regression has hit because he has allowed 10 HR with a 22.7 HR/FB%. His HR/FB% is just barely over 10 percent for the season, but it is regressing towards the league average in short order.
Ryan Merritt has very little margin for error. The Blue Jays were a great matchup in the ALCS because they were playing as a hyper-aggressive lineup and Merritt needs to be able to play a hitter’s aggressiveness to his favor. He has a 3.12 ERA with a 2.78 FIP and a 4.03 xFIP in just 8.2 innings this season, so his sample sizes are hardly significant. In 116 starts at Triple-A, Merritt had a 3.03 ERA with a 4.79 FIP and a 3.91 xFIP. Merritt has a very low strikeout rate, but also limits walks. His 88.8 percent LOB% in the minor leagues really stands out, though, and has me worried as an Indians fan.
Because the Indians are down so many left-handed hitters right now, they actually match up better against lefties. Chris Sale found that out yesterday. They’ve seen quite a few southpaws lately. They see one again tonight. Merritt gave up a lot of hard contact in his start against Minnesota with 3.2 innings of work and six hits allowed.
I’m looking for runs tonight. I’m expecting this game to have some offense, especially early, so I’d look first five over and also full game over since the Indians are having some bullpen issues with Andrew Miller sidelined again.
Colorado at Atlanta (-110); Total: 9
The market seems to be betting on Chad Bettis regression because we haven’t seen a whole lot of love this year for Julio Teheran, nor should we have. Bettis is a great story, but I’m not surprised to see money coming against him. In two starts spanning 14 innings, Bettis has allowed just three runs on 14 hits with eight strikeouts and one walk. His LOB% through two starts is 88.2 percent. Small sample size noise is a real thing, but it’s understandable to believe that some of those hits will be strung together in a way that produces runs.
Julio Teheran has a 5.02 ERA with a 5.35 FIP and a 4.98 xFIP on the season. His K% is around last year’s, but his walk rate and his home run rate have both skyrocketed. This season, Teheran has a 16.2 percent HR/FB% compared to last year’s 10 percent. His walk rate is up from 5.4 percent to 8.9 percent. Add in a pretty big regression in batting average against, going from a .222 average and a .260 BABIP to a .258 average and a .280 BABIP, and that’s how you wind up with an ERA over 5. I speculated early in the season that Teheran was hurt because his velocity, command, and control were all down. He’s made 25 starts, so I guess it’s just a mechanical thing or one of those years with some heavy variance. Either way, he hasn’t been a guy to back very often this season.
I won’t be doing it today either. I understand that line move and agree with that line move, but I won’t be acting on that line move. There could be some runs scored in this game, so if you’re forced to play it, I’d consider that option, but that’s about it.
Detroit (-155) at Chicago (AL); Total: 8.5
Today, in the land of underdogs, I’m looking at the Chicago White Sox. Yesterday was not a great day for the Detroit Tigers. They won a ballgame, but the big story was the brawls that took place. Eventually, they wound up creating a little bit of a rift in the dugout when Justin Verlander and Victor Martinez were seen exchanging words. Inept manager Brad Ausmus added fuel to the fire when he allegedly said some things to Brett Gardner. It was an embarrassing display from both teams, with nothing worse than Dellin Betances throwing a fastball at somebody’s head.
But, the Tigers had their fun. They had their excitement. At the end of the day, this is still a bad baseball team. Justin Verlander is a decent starting pitcher and that’s my concern with this spot for the White Sox, especially because Miguel Gonzalez has not pitched well at all this year, but the Tigers aren’t going to take any momentum or anything out of yesterday’s game.
Clearly the White Sox don’t have much to play for, but I’ll take a home team at +145 against a team that is really in a similar spot.
Houston (-115) at Los Angeles (AL); Total: 9
I’m not at all surprised to see the Parker Bridwell fade in motion today. The opponent and the opposing pitcher don’t even really matter when it comes to the Bridwell fade. When you have a 2.92 ERA with a 4.55 FIP and a 4.82 xFIP in 77 innings of work, money is coming in against you. Bridwell has been living on a .267 BABIP against and an 83.8 percent LOB%, which are two key stats that drive line moves.
It just so happens that the Angels are actually playing a solid team in the Houston Astros. Collin McHugh will make his seventh start of the season as he looks to get back on track after missing the first half of the season recovering from injury. He has a 4.01 ERA with a 3.99 FIP and a 4.75 xFIP. He’s an extreme fly ball guy all of the sudden, which is weird, but his 9.3 HR/FB% coupled with a 32.6 percent GB% is why his xFIP is so high. McHugh has good K/BB numbers thus far.
McHugh is a guy that probably should have better strikeout rates given his swinging strike metrics, but he’s generally been around average in his career. I could certainly see some HR/FB% regression as the rest of this season goes along, but he’s pitching at Angel Stadium today. Angel Stadium suppresses power.
Oddsmakers got caught. The Astros have not played well lately, and Bridwell could very well keep going, but it was pretty clear which way the money was going to come in. Bridwell is just doing a masterful job of inducing weak contact and a lot of weak aerial contact as well. More often than not, that means harmless fly balls.
I’m actually not going to play this one, though. The Astros are leaving families and friends behind to contend with Hurricane Harvey. They’re not playing well lately. The Angels are right there in the Wild Card hunt because of how well they have been playing. There are too many things keeping me away from this game.
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