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Today’s Baseball Free Picks, Preview & Best Bets


April 11, 2018 EST


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Baltimore at Detroit (-115); Total: 8

Andrew Cashner and Francisco Liriano are set to get it going at Comerica Park, if Mother Nature will allow such things. The Tigers also have not played since Friday. We saw the White Sox shut down by Daniel Mengden. We’ll see the Indians, who haven’t played since Friday, and the Twins, who haven’t played since Thursday, later in the article. This long layoff is a really weird thing for teams. The Tigers have lost five straight, but haven’t played in four days, so is it still a losing streak?

Either way, with Cashner on the mound, we saw another line move. With Liriano on the mound for the Tigers, that is a scary bet to make since the Orioles project as a lineup that should roll against lefties. It looks like we should get this one in tonight.

The obvious play is to look at the under and Baltimore before Andrew Cashner refuses to regress, even though he should have 100 times over. Unfortunately, I’m not smart.

Here’s the thing, I think we have a plethora of betting angles here. I like the over. I like both team totals over. I like the first five over. And, yet, I’m scared by what we saw in Oakland yesterday. This is rarefied air for teams playing after three straight postponements. I’m really not sure how to respond or react and I don’t know if they are either. Obviously not all teams are created equal, but Baltimore’s been playing, save for yesterday’s rainout. They’re the crisper team. Yesterday just felt like a regular Monday off day for them.

If I had to do something here, despite all my distrust of Cashner and the numbers, it would have to be Baltimore because I need to see Detroit look like a competent team after the long layoff. It would help to see Detroit like competent under any circumstances. I probably won’t get involved, but if the Cashner fade continues and Baltimore suddenly pops up +115 or better, my hand may be forced.

Lean: Baltimore

 

Colorado at Pittsburgh (-135); Total: 8

I had an interesting question on Twitter last night. Is it time to fade the Pirates and even play the -1.5 run line on the opposition? When Pittsburgh has lost, they have lost badly. All five of their losses are by three runs or more. On the other hand, they have 11 wins. Regression is coming for Pittsburgh, I don’t doubt that, but blindly fading a team rarely works. If the pitching matchup aligns and the other factors, like bullpen usage and platoon splits, align, then it is worth a play against.

We should get this one in as well. So Chad Bettis will likely make his fourth start of the season and Trevor Williams will do the same for the Buccos. Bettis is an ERA/xFIP guy in the early going, so we’ll see if bettors pile on the Fade Train to bet against his 2.04 ERA with a 4.97 xFIP. He’s stranded 93.4 percent of his runners and has a BABIP against of .213. While I’m not looking to go against small sample size stats just yet, there is a lot to hate about this profile, to say the least.

Bettis was a 5.05/4.88/4.56 guy last season. He also went through treatment for testicular cancer, so it’s fair to give him a pass. In 2016, he had an ugly 4.79 ERA, but a 4.26 FIP and a 4.14 xFIP, so he racked up a 2.5-fWAR season. Bettis is a usable piece, but the early problems are concerning this season. His swinging strike rate is down, his first-pitch strike percentage is way down, thus his walk rate is way up. I could understand a .213 BABIP with a low exit velocity against, but Bettis’s average exit velo on 49 balls in play is 89.1. That is quite high.

Trevor Williams also presents some of the ERA/xFIP signs that the market usually fades and the market has been against him on multiple occasions this season already. I think it’s a little bit unfair. Williams is basically a league average type of guy. He had a 4.07 ERA with a 4.03 FIP last season. The xFIP was elevated, but Williams has never allowed many home runs, so you can throw xFIP out of the equation. Williams, unlike Bettis, has allowed an 85.8 mph average exit velocity, so at least there’s some more sustainability to his .255 BABIP against. It will still rise, don’t get me wrong, but somewhere in the .285 to .290 range, not the .310 area that Bettis will wind up with.

I like the Pirates today. They are a team in line for some regression, but they draw another really good pitching matchup here today. They’ve had a lot of them this season, which is a big reason why the offense has been able to burst onto the scene.

The lopsided loss gave the bullpen a blow and the Rockies will likely be without Adam Ottavino, as it’s hard to see him working three straight days with his injury history and his start to the season.

Pick: Pittsburgh

 

Washington (-120) at New York Mets; Total: 7.5

The market is on Gio Gonzalez, which is really something special to see. Last season, I, like many others, lost a fair amount of money speculating on Gio’s regression. When the dust settled, he had a 2.96 ERA with a 4.24 xFIP. It was his highest xFIP since his 2008 rookie season. What I failed to realize for a decent chunk of the season was that Gio was simply avoiding the barrel and his contact management skills were some of the best of his career. Once I found that out, I actually made back some of that money betting on him.

So, he’s off to something of a similar start this season with a 2.20 ERA and a 3.41 xFIP. The biggest difference is that his strikeout rate has gone bonkers, but he’s back to the bad luck BABIPs of 2015 and 2016. Gonzalez has increased both his curveball usage and his changeup usage, which explains the swing and miss increase and the strikeout spike. This is a profile to watch, especially if the ERA/xFIP gap widens. He’s simply working with better command and has made some impressive arsenal changes. Again, when we see what looks like a spot for regression, like the ERA/xFIP thing, we’re betting based on probabilities and likelihoods that it will happen, not certainties. (looking at you, Andrew Cashner)

The Mets finally Mets’d one yesterday. The bullpen collapse was coming, just because those things happen, and it came at a pretty bad time with six runs in the eighth inning. Jacob deGrom sailed through seven, but lost it a little bit in the eighth and the bullpen completed the job. For the first time, it felt like Mickey Callaway micromanaged too much. Seth Lugo walked the only batter he faced. Jerry Blevins gave up a hit to the only batter he faced. AJ Ramos took a big steaming dump on the mound and Jeurys Familia ended it. The Mets used five pitchers in the eighth, as Callaway overmanaged.

I’m all about leveraging pitchers, but five in one inning is quite stunning. Furthermore, it forces guys to try to get ready and loose so quickly and nobody seemed ready to go. It looked like a fire drill out there.

Zack Wheeler takes the hill today. Wheeler actually looked like a competent pitcher in his first outing with just a solo home run and one additional hit allowed over seven innings of work. He struck out seven and only walked one. He was good in a Triple-A tune-up start as well, with five innings of one-run ball on three hits with six strikeouts. The swing and miss stuff was still evident last season, but the command was non-existent. We’ll have to see what happens here today, but I think the market is right to back Gio and the Nationals. That’s the way that I would be looking in this one, as the Mets finally had the balloon pop a little bit.

It’s one thing to get beaten 5-1 by a good pitching performance. It’s another to score six runs, carry a 6-1 lead into the eighth, and lose. I think that was a cold, hard dose of reality and those can linger for a day or two. Not to mention, Wheeler is a big wild card.

Pick: Washington

 

Cleveland (-190) vs. Minnesota; Total: 7.5

The Indians and Twins get together in Puerto Rico tonight for the start of a little two-game set in the US territory. I love Corey Kluber, as you would expect, since your favorite baseball betting author is an Indians fan. I cannot and would not lay $1.90 here. In fact, I think the Twins are worth a bet on principle alone.

These two teams haven’t played in multiple days. The Twins haven’t played since Thursday and the Indians haven’t played since Friday. That adds something of a toss-up element to this game. I also like how Jake Odorizzi has pitched, but I know that Corey Kluber is a creature of habit. He wants to go every fifth day. He’s going on three additional days rest now after he was scheduled to pitch Saturday. It wouldn’t surprise me if he is a little bit off in the early going. Also, this is a brand new venue, a different mound, a different backdrop, a different atmosphere.

This line is just too high for all of these factors.

Pick: Minnesota

 

Philadelphia at Atlanta (-105); Total: 8.5

Do you hear that? It’s the deafening sound of all the Gabe Kapler haters crawling back into their holes. The Phillies are now 9-6 after their horrendous 1-4 start, in which Kapler took nothing but criticism for his handling of everything. Like everything else in sports, winning is the great elixir.

Let’s be honest, the Phillies have played a collection of stiffs since that 1-4 start. The offensive shortcomings weren’t enough to cover up Kapler’s aggressive bullpenning and defensive alignments. Score 20 runs against the Marlins and everybody forgets these things. This is a really good offensive ballclub and they’ve shown it against the bums they’ve beaten up recently.

Today, we’ll see Nick Pivetta on the bump for the Phils. Pivetta has only allowed five runs on 14 hits in 16.2 innings of work with a 19/2 K/BB ratio. When you see a guy with strikeout stuff like his post a 6.02 ERA with a 4.87 FIP and a 4.26 xFIP, you can reasonably assume he’ll be better the next season. Pivetta has been much better than expected and hasn’t allowed a home run, after allowing 25 in 133 innings last season. Like most pitchers looking to cut down on dingers, Pivetta has thrown the curveball with more regularity this season, as the pitch’s usage has gone up from 12.7 percent to 26.4 percent. His swinging strike rate of 8.7 percent was unlikely to carry a strikeout per inning pace again, but his swinging strike rate is 11.4 percent now and his Z-Contact% has gone down a touch. I like Pivetta overall, though maintaining this current performance just isn’t going to happen. After all, his two most recent starts were against the Reds and the Marlins.

Are we finally seeing that breakout season for Mike Foltynewicz? He has a 2.93/3.61/3.50 through three starts and 15.1 innings of work. He’s struck out 18 and walked five. With the mid-90s fastball and a deep arsenal of options, it was always a wonder that Foltynewicz didn’t have more strikeouts or better numbers. He’s throwing his changeup a bit harder and a bit sharper this season, along with throwing it more often. He’s using sliders a little more in the early going and has added a little more hump to it by throwing it a couple ticks slower.

Ah, but his swinging strike rate is 7.9 percent, so we’re basically looking at a guy who is simply sequencing better. His Swing% is down to 39.5 percent per PITCHf/x, which is over seven percent below his normal average. Once hitters start swinging more, I presume the numbers will fall off a bit, since he’s not generating the whiffs. He’s also been behind in the count a bit too much for my liking, with a first-pitch strike rate of 56.7 percent.

Aaron Nola saved the bullpen in yesterday’s 2-1 loss, so all hands are on deck for the Phillies. The Braves pen is fine and it was good to see Arodys Vizcaino with a solid appearance. All things considered in this matchup, I do look at the sustainability of Pivetta being a tad higher than Foltynewicz, but I also think both guys are running pretty good right now. SunTrust Park is a good park for hitters. I think I’m looking to go over here. I like the adjustments for Pivetta and give him and the Phillies the upper hand on the side.

Stronger Lean: Over; Lean: Philadelphia

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