MLB schedule today has 15 games
The third day of 187 is upon us, as we return to having all 30 teams back on the field for the first Saturday of the season. Games are spread throughout the day, which will be a theme as we continue through the cold months of the season. After we saw a lot of aces on Thursday, we get several near-aces on Saturday, as a lot of teams had Friday off. Only 10 teams were in action yesterday, so that means we have fresh bullpen arms for the majority of the games.
As I wrote about on Friday, we had some big spikes in BABIP and also ground ball batting average on Thursday. We only had five games worth of data on Friday and batting average did regress a bit, despite a high-scoring game full of batted ball luck in Seattle. Teams continue to struggle with runners in scoring position with just a .240 batting average, 13 points behind last year’s mark, even in a world with the shift. Offense is a little slow out of the gate and strikeouts are high, so I think more consistent run scoring is coming, but it may take a while.
A long write-up today with only a couple of picks, but there are so many moving parts early in the season and I’m psyching myself out in a lot of ways by overthinking everything. It’s best to organize my thoughts before firing a lot.
Be sure to check the weather reports today. Lots of 20+ mph wind (STL, CHC, NYY, WAS, CIN) and the threat for rain (WAS, NYY) today. I use Kevin Roth’s fine data at Rotogrinders. (https://rotogrinders.com/weather/mlb)
This will be the last time I post these reminders since Monday starts the first full week of the article, but briefly:
- The article runs Mon-Sat and will be posted no later than 11 a.m. PT / 2 p.m. ET barring some sort of extreme delay
- I will tweet (@SkatingTripods) the article out when it is finished and posted; we don’t really have the capability for notifications on the site, so that’s the best spot to find it as quickly as possible; I’d also bookmark my page to streamline navigating the website
- The podcast will be Mon-Fri and should be available no later than Noon PT / 3 p.m. ET
- I’ll write about more games than I have picks and I’ll try to include a “play to X” disclaimer, especially in light of what we saw yesterday with a total that jumped from 7.5 to 8 within an hour of the article going live
- Odds are from DraftKings and are current at time of posting - the tracking sheet (link) will be using the line cited in the article
- Zach Cohen is the man with a plan on the MLB Player Props side Monday-Friday; he’ll be doing his own version of a shorter best bets article for the Sunday MLB slate
Here are some thoughts on the April 1 card (odds from DraftKings):
Justin Steele and Brandon Woodruff are the listed starters for the matinee in the Windy City, as the Brewers will look to score their first runs of the season. Steele is a guy that has a ton of upside and would generally have the type of profile that I want to bet on. He has over a strikeout per inning and also induces ground balls at a high rate. However, the new defensive rule changes increase his need for more whiffs and likely a lowering of his walk rate.
What I find interesting about this handicap is that Woodruff has actually induced fewer grounders the last two seasons. He has a 43.4% GB% for the season, but his last two seasons have come in under that and his most recent season saw a 37.6% GB%. He’s got a K% around 30% and pairs that with an excellent walk rate. Because he doesn’t have the same reliance on ground balls, but hasn’t seen an accompanying home run spike, I have a pretty high opinion of him for this season.
Woody missed about a month from May 27 to June 28 while dealing with numbness in his extremities, including his pitching hand. When he came back, he posted a 2.38 ERA with a 2.79 FIP over the final 109.2 innings of the season. Maybe those numbers are a tad unsustainable for him, but they aren’t that far off from what I would expect his top-end performance to be.
I think this is a little bit of a lofty price to pay for Woodruff and I’m also skeptical of Milwaukee’s middle relief, as I really don’t think this bullpen is as deep as previous versions. However, if we get some spots to back Woodruff that aren’t too cost-prohibitive, I’m a big fan for this season. I still like Steele, but let’s see how he adjusts to the rule changes with a 51.2% GB% last season.
The Windy City will live up to its windy name with breezes blowing across the field at 20-30 mph, but dying down later in the game. It’ll also be cold in the 40s, so a miserable day to play a ballgame.
Tylor Megill wasn’t going to be in the Mets rotation, but the injury to Justin Verlander has opened the door for him. Megill is a guy that I have high hopes for if he can stay healthy, but that’s a big if. He’s had over a strikeout per inning in each of his two MLB seasons, but the long ball has been his problem. Last year, Megill had some bad luck as well with a 65.7% LOB% leading to a 5.13 ERA, but his 3.77 FIP and 3.35 xFIP suggest some positive regression.
This would seem to be a pretty good matchup and a decent spot to back Megill, even though he’s a little bit of an unknown because of all the missed time. If you have a home run problem, the Marlins and a start at Marlins Park would be a pretty good place to have some better batted ball fortunes. This is also a Marlins team that will swing and miss and Megill could use a little help in that department.
On the flip side, I’m not sure that this is a great matchup for Edward Cabrera. The minor league numbers are fairly eye-popping, but selective lineups that avoid strikeouts are a little bit of a tricky matchup for him. In 14 starts over 71.2 innings last season, he had over a strikeout per inning, but also an 11.3% BB%. In 98 MLB innings, he has surrendered 16 home runs and a 9.5% Barrel%. He had an 86.1% LOB% to keep his ERA down and also a .207 BABIP against, which jives with his Hard Hit%, but I’m not sure he can sustain either one of those marks.
The Mets were in the middle of the pack in BB% last season, but they were also among the top teams in not striking out. I think they can be picky and choosy and get ahead in some counts here and put up some runs early. Certainly I have a few command questions about Megill, but he has the chance to have overpowering stuff and definitely has the better lineup in support. I’m just not sure how sharp he’ll be. Reluctantly, I can’t fully trust him and the Mets here.
It doesn’t seem like we’re going to get Nick Lodolo at any kind of discounted prices. He’s a big betting favorite against Rich Hill and a Pirates team that seemed to have a little steam and some support heading into the season. Lodolo only made 19 starts, but they were good ones, as he finished with a 3.66 ERA and a 3.90 FIP over 103.1 innings of work. He missed about 2.5 months from late April to early July and actually had a 2.92 ERA over his final 77 innings of the season.
With Lodolo, you worry about the walks. He generates a lot of strikeouts and had a 38.5% Hard Hit%, which is basically around league average last year. It was better in the second half of the season, as his run prevention numbers indicate. If he can master his changeup and get a legitimate third pitch, he’ll have the opportunity to really blow up and take off for this season. For now, the fastball/slider combo is plenty good enough to be dangerous and effective.
Hill is what he is at this stage of his career and that is predominantly an average pitcher. He’s not going to work too deep into games, but he’s not going to burn you by any means and will be able to contribute and munch some innings. He is a pitch-to-contact guy with some pretty neutral batted ball splits, so I don’t know that the shift ban hurts him, but it will be interesting to see how adapts in his age-43 season.
I don’t see a great edge here, but I will say that a pattern is likely to emerge in which taking the Reds for the full game is going to be a challenge. They’re going to be a 1st 5 team primarily with their bullpen. The problem is that their 1st 5 lines are going to be a little bit cost-prohibitive when Hunter Greene and Lodolo are on the mound. I don’t think the markets have caught on to Graham Ashcraft’s possible upside yet, but we’ll see on Sunday.
No play for me here, but plenty to analyze about these two southpaws going forward.
I’m not eager to lay well over $2 with the Padres, but Jose Urena profiles as a guy that the shift ban is going to negatively impact in a big way. He has awful K/BB splits, specifically in terms of a low strikeout rate that leads to a ton of balls in play. He was also a 49.7% GB% guy last season. If he makes some adjustments and starts to allow more fly balls and line drives, he’s going to get shelled in Colorado.
He may very well get shelled here, too. He’s just one of the worst starting pitchers in baseball from a metrics standpoint and these rule changes really lower his floor. He had an ERA north of 5 last season with bad peripherals and that isn’t going to improve. I just don’t see any reason to believe that he’ll have more good outings than you can count on one hand.
So, that begs the question whether or not Michael Wacha has a good chance at holding up his end of the bargain with a run line wager. Wacha had a 3.32 ERA with a 4.56 xERA and a 4.14 FIP last season, so there are some pretty clear signs of regression in his profile. He had an 80.3% LOB% last year that held up his ERA against a pretty pedestrian strikeout rate. Wacha only allowed a .225 batting average with men on base and just a .189 batting average with men in scoring position, including a .239 wOBA, which was 59 points lower than his wOBA with the bases empty and 66 points lower than his wOBA with men on base.
Wacha did experience some regression late in the year, as he allowed a .310/.336/.605 slash and a .395 wOBA in his final 32.1 innings of work. I just don’t have a whole lot of faith in this Colorado offense to do damage against a lot of guys, Wacha included.
It’s no secret that Urena is bad. The Padres team total is 4.5 and juiced heavily to the over. It may still be worth the investment, but that’s a steep price to pay. Also, I’m waiting for San Diego’s offense to get going. It’s only been two games, so the panic button isn’t even reachable, but the Padres are 12-for-61 on the young season and have only scored three runs against Rockies pitching. Yesterday, they only struck out once against Kyle Freeland, but also only had six hard-hit balls and three hits against him in the losing effort. The lineup was also optimized to face lefties and the Rockies used two more lefties after Freeland, but the Padres only scratched out one run.
A lot to follow, but no bet from me.
This is a big start for Lucas Giolito. The results aren’t going to make or break the season, but it would be good to see Giolito get a little confidence rolling. He comes into the season as a big positive regression candidate having posted a 4.90 ERA with a 4.23 xERA and a 4.06 FIP, as he had a .340 BABIP against and a 71.1% LOB%. The high BABIP meant that Giolito was dealing with a lot of traffic, but a high BABIP with a high HR rate is doubly bad.
Giolito also saw his BB% jump from 7.2% to 8.7% last season. His Hard Hit% ballooned to 39%. It was a lack of command and a lack of control, so even though his advanced metrics call for positive regression, he did everything he could to earn that high ERA. Out of 57 qualified starters, Giolito had the 18th-most plate appearances with men on base. He also allowed the fifth-highest wOBA in that split.
Maybe there were some silver linings late in the year, as Giolito posted a 3.48 ERA with a 3.23 FIP in his final six starts. He only allowed two homers out of 141 batters and had better results, despite some decreased velocity. But, here’s why this start is so important. Giolito had enormous reverse platoon splits last season. Righties slashed .312/.370/.542 with a .391 wOBA, while lefties batted .217/.295/.335 with a .281 wOBA. Giolito is right-handed, which means you typically don’t see this and certainly not to this extreme. He had the highest wOBA against righties. The next eight guys beneath him were all left-handed pitchers.
It was a big outlier for Giolito, who has had some rough patches, but never to that degree. That speaks to really bad fastball and slider command. The changeup has always been there. He needs to showcase something early this season with his other two pitches. I’d also love to see the velo come back.
The Astros will run out Jose Urquidy, who had a 3.94 ERA with a 4.56 xERA and a 4.60 FIP, so his numbers are suggestive of some negative regression. He pitches to a lot of fly ball contact and allowed 29 home runs in 164.1 innings of work. His Hard Hit% jumped from 35.9% to 40.8% and his K% decreased by 1.6%.
Urquidy was terrific in June, July and August, but not good in the first two months of the season or the last month. He struggled going into the postseason and wound up being the odd man out for the Astros during their World Series run. Like Giolito, Urquidy had reverse platoon splits, as righties posted a .334 wOBA with a .464 SLG and lefties had a .294 wOBA with a .408 SLG.
This game has the potential for some runs, but that’s already priced in with a total of 8.5. Ultimately, I’m watching Giolito closely here in hopes of seeing some signs against a quality lineup, even one without Jose Altuve.
Patrick Sandoval is one of my favorite pitchers in the big leagues, but he, too, will be a guy that has to find a way to operate under the shift ban. For his career, Sandoval owns a 49.3% GB%, with last season’s 47.4% over 148.2 innings leading to a 2.91 ERA and a 3.09 FIP. The thing about Sandoval and why the ground ball is so important is because his career BB% is 9.6%. He was at 9.4% last season, but did have a solid 23.7% K%.
Like so many guys, health has been an issue, but last season’s 33.9% Hard Hit% in his first full and healthy season was a huge deal. I like that Sandoval threw over 53% changeups and sliders last season to really keep hitters off-balance and he had good results with those two pitches. Anytime a guy throws fewer fastballs, I get excited. Sandoval doesn’t have a very good one, so using two other pitches as his primary offerings makes a ton of sense. His curveball actually grades out pretty well, but he hasn’t thrown it much. Maybe that changes this season and he just becomes a junk ball lefty to stay off the barrel and keep inducing soft contact.
This will be the MLB debut for Shintaro Fujinami, who gets to face fellow Japanese player Shohei Ohtani, which is pretty damn cool for him. The 28-year-old Fujinami hasn’t thrown more than 134 innings since 2016, so it’s unlikely that he’ll be able to produce a full MLB workload, but he throws in the upper 90s with a lot of different pitches and I would assume he’ll be tough to pick up early on. In 1,302.1 career innings, he has 1,357 strikeouts. A lot of Asian pitchers hit the baseball really well and are going to be tough to face at the outset. He’s also 6-foot-6, which is really rare for an Asian pitcher.
He did walk 14 in Spring Training, including three in his first start against the Angels, but he also only allowed six hits in 16.2 innings and had 18 strikeouts. I don’t have much to go on besides that other than his stats from Japan, but it does strike me as impressive that he didn’t allow a lot of hits. My guess is that we’re not going to see a lot of hard contact against him. The walks might be an issue, but he gets to pitch in a spacious ballpark with a lot of foul territory and generally good pitching conditions.
I like the full-game Under 7.5 at -105, as the shadows will creep in during the game. This also gives me a little cover if Fujinami is erratic and the Angels scratch out some offense early. I don’t think Oakland does much at all against Sandoval.
Pick: Under 7.5 (-105)
I didn’t mention these two teams on Thursday with Shane McClanahan as a huge favorite against Eduardo Rodriguez, but I’ll mention them today because I’m a big Spencer Turnbull guy. The Tigers right-hander missed all of last season and only threw 50 innings in 2021. Turnbull’s home run avoidance is simply elite, as he has only allowed 19 dingers in 271.1 innings of work. His raw stuff grades very well in the Statcast metrics and he had a 2.88 ERA with a 2.95 FIP before needing Tommy John surgery in 2021.
I’m not sure how he’ll look in his return, as it seemed like he was ready to build off of a solid 2020 campaign with a breakout effort in 2021. The rule changes may hurt him a bit, as he had a 57.2% GB% in 2021 when he was on his way to a special season. But, he has a K% of 21.9% for his career and the other thing about 2021 is that he fixed his walk rate. It was only a sample size of nine starts, but he also lowered his Hard Hit% from 43.8% to 33.6%. His fastball spin rate ranked in the 85th percentile during that season and it seemed like a smarter Tigers front office was able to unlock some of his potential.
Fastball command remains the most important thing for a pitcher in this era of big velo and wipeout breaking stuff. Opposing batters hit just .198 with a .309 SLG against Turnbull in 2020 off his four-seam fastball and just .197 with a .318 SLG in 2021. He also seemed to have his velocity in Spring Training, as he sat around 94 with the heat. I think he should return where he left off and I liked the signs we saw in 2021. I also think he’s one of a few pitchers that could be success stories for the Tigers after scouring the college ranks for pitching coaches Chris Fetter and Robin Lund.
Zach Eflin may have finally found the right landing spot. Eflin had a 4.04 ERA with a 3.27 xERA and a 3.56 FIP last season with the Phillies. He had a 66% LOB%, which was very low, though he was only able to throw 75.2 innings. He threw 105.2 innings in 2021 and posted a 4.17 ERA with a 3.87 xERA and 3.68 FIP. Throughout his career, Eflin has had home run issues with a 14.1% HR/FB%. Those should go away at Tropicana Field and he’ll have the support of a much better defensive team behind him.
The Rays are the kind of team that I pay close attention to when they add or subtract a player. Eflin ranked in the 96th percentile in exit velocity and 94th percentile in Hard Hit% last season. He was also in the 91st percentile in BB% and 83rd percentile in Extension. I think that size is a positive for pitching coach Kyle Snyder, who stands 6-foot-7 and was credited with fixing Tyler Glasnow before injuries created more setbacks.
Eflin doesn’t throw all that hard, but my guess is that the Rays see something in his four-seam fastball metrics and the increased perceived velocity that it brings. The Phillies were big on ground balls, as Eflin’s primary pitch has been his sinker and it had some ugly results last season with a .289 BA and a .469 SLG, though his expected numbers were quite a bit better. It is my belief that the Rays will absolutely optimize his arsenal, building off of a really good whiff rate on his curveball last season. I think we see a return of the slider as well, as the cutter that Eflin added wasn’t terribly effective.
There’s a bit of vig on this bet, but I like the Under 7.5 here. Tropicana Field really suppresses offense and we have two right-handed starters with low walk rates. I’m not high on either lineup and certainly not Detroit’s. The Rays also tend to have elite bullpens with some swing-and-miss arms and the Tigers are going to swing and miss a lot this season. DraftKings is dealing -120 on the under, while other books are -115 or even -110. Shop around because every cent matters, but I think this is a low-scoring, rock fight of a game with two starters I like.
Credit to DK, who opened 7 on this game, while Westgate and Circa in Vegas both opened 8. I think 7 was the right number and that’s where it is now. At 8, I’d have absolutely played this and even 7.5 with reduced juice. I don’t like Under 7 nearly as much.
We need to talk about Jordan Lyles. Lyles was objectively awful in 2020 and 2021, but found a little bit of success when he joined the Orioles last season. Baltimore is a very smart team under the leadership of Sig Mejdal and Mike Elias and they put a big financial commitment into the ballpark with the renovations in left field that seemed to help just about every pitcher on the roster.
Lyles was one of them. He had a 4.42 ERA with a 4.94 xERA and a 4.40 FIP in 179 innings. That doesn’t sound great and all three numbers were below league average, but let me apply some context. In 83 home innings, Lyles had a 3.47 ERA with a .320 wOBA against. In 96 road innings, he had a 5.25 ERA with a .359 wOBA against and allowed 20 of his 26 home runs. His SLG on the road was 101 points higher, while his BA and OBP were both very similar. His HR/FB% at home was 5.4%, but it was 17.1% on the road.
Well, Lyles no longer has the safety net of Oriole Park. Kauffman Stadium plays smaller in the heat of summer than it does right now, but Lyles is not a guy that I have high hopes for this season.
Most probably still think of Sonny Gray as an extreme ground ball guy, but he’s found success working up a little more in the zone with his fastball. He didn’t replicate his high K% numbers with the Reds, but his 24% K% was north of league average last season and saw a nice decrease in ERA and FIP off of 2021 pitching in a better park. Given that he was on the IL three different times, what he did was actually impressive, since it can be hard to get into a groove. He was also traded to Minnesota right before the start of the season, so it was a little bit weird all around.
From July 24-September 14, which is about the healthiest period for Gray, he had 59 K in 54.2 innings of work and a 1.81 ERA with a 3.06 FIP. He was rocked by the Guardians on September 19 and the Twins shut him down for the season. He’s better prepared for this season without the lockout and the shortened Spring Training and he’s also had a full offseason to be in contact with Twins coaches. I think he carries tremendous upside this season.
The Twins also have the better bullpen between the two teams here and yesterday’s off day means that a guy like Jhoan Duran is available if need be. I’m looking to buy some early stock in Gray and sell early on Lyles before the prices get too expensive. This price may be a little steep in the minds of some, but not in my mind. I think it should be higher, but I also think Twins -1.5 at +100 is good use of a run line price.
One of the things I like about taking a road team on the run line is that they’re guaranteed to bat nine times, so they have chances to build that lead. The Twins absolutely have the better starter, better lineup and better pen here.
Pick: Twins -1.5 (+100)
I’ve said it a few times now that I’m rooting for Chris Sale because the game is better when he’s healthy. He had an elite run from 2012-18, but his best days are well behind him. He’s only pitched 48.1 innings at the MLB level since 2019. I have no idea what we’re going to get out of him, but he’s a guy that I’ll be closely monitoring as the season goes along.
I mostly wanted to talk about Dean Kremer here. Kremer only had 87 strikeouts in 125.1 innings. His Hard Hit% was nothing special at 38.9%. Yet, he posted a 3.23 ERA with a 3.80 FIP, but he did have a 4.46 xERA and a 4.43 xFIP. Kremer did an excellent job of avoiding walks and home runs, which is why FIP looked favorably upon his performance. A 77.8% LOB% kept his ERA low.
I think a lot of people will look at him as a regression candidate. The projection systems primarily have his ERA north of 4. Like Lyles, he had some big home/road splits. Kremer held batters to a .273 wOBA and a .317 SLG at home in 63.1 innings with a 2.84 ERA. On the road, he allowed a .460 SLG and a .348, but just a 3.63 ERA. He seemed to get really fortunate on the road, where his K% dropped nearly 6%, but his LOB% was 3.8% higher than it was at home.
He’s a guy where you can really get lost in the stats and I do think that there will be some road opportunities to fade him. I still think this line is a bit high on Sale, but the Orioles bullpen had a rough one on Opening Day and doesn’t look as strong as last year’s crew. Even if they get a lead, I’d be a little wary of them protecting it.
The Guardians are 1-0 in Hunter Gaddis starts! Yesterday’s game was a little nutty, but the Guardians bullpen slammed the door after Gaddis left and the offense put up some insurance runs and took advantage of some really shoddy Mariners defense for a 9-4 win. Today's game is a pretty interesting one with Aaron Civale and Logan Gilbert.
I’ll start with Gilbert, who had a fine season with a 3.20 ERA and a 3.46 FIP in his 185.2 innings of work. I know his xERA was less keen on his performance, but his hard contact rate against probably isn’t as big of a deal against Cleveland. He allowed a 45.6% Hard Hit% last season, but he didn’t allow a lot of barrels, which is important as a fly ball guy. The Guardians don’t make a ton of hard contact, but they battle like hell to avoid strikeouts, so there will be balls in play against Gilbert here and it will be up to the defense.
I would have thought that Gilbert would have had more pronounced home/road splits with the way that his hard contact didn’t really impact his ERA. It did catch up with him a bit in the second half, as his SLG against spiked 51 points and he allowed seven homers and 24 doubles in 74.2 innings of work. He was slightly worse on the road, but not noticeably worse. It was just a solid season for him, except for a rough month of August where he was crushed twice by the Yankees.
Gilbert actually had some reverse platoon splits last season as righties had a .454 SLG and a .334 wOBA compared to lefties, who had a .312 SLG and a .256 wOBA. Cleveland will likely run six lefties at Gilbert today.
Civale was limited to 97 innings over 20 starts last season, so it was a really weird season for him. He had a few different IL stints and wound up with a 4.92 ERA and a decrease in velocity, but he also had a 3.80 xERA and a 3.87 FIP. A 62.5% LOB% was his biggest problem besides the health. For having over a strikeout per inning, it should not have been that low. From August 10 through the end of the regular season, he had a 3.35 ERA with a 3.41 FIP in 43 innings. He also only had an average exit velocity against of 86.4 mph and only one start over 90 mph. He faced the Tigers twice, Royals twice, Rangers, White Sox, Mariners and Padres, so not exactly a murderer’s row, but it was still a good sight to see after a tough year.
Whether or not Civale can build on that and stay healthier is anybody’s guess. I’ve always liked the raw stuff and the control profile. The command and the health have to follow suit.
So, we’ll see, but I think this is a really interesting game, even if I don’t have a bet on it. I will caution you that Trevor Stephan has worked back-to-back days for Cleveland, so I think he’s unavailable today and he’s their best setup man with James Karinchak losing his cool about the pitch clock.
Kevin Gausman and Jack Flaherty will hope for better fortunes than their colleagues after what we saw on Opening Day. We saw 19 runs, blown leads all over the place and a ton of hits in the season opener at Busch Stadium. I’m a little bit surprised to only see Jays about -125 or -130 out there because Gausman is a known commodity and we haven’t really seen much of Flaherty for a while now.
Gausman had a 3.35 ERA with a stellar 2.38 FIP last season. He ran a .363 BABIP against, which was astronomically high for his Hard Hit% and exit velocity metrics. The Blue Jays are also a pretty good defensive team, but Gausman got none of the benefit. Fortunately for him, he walked less than 4% of opposing batters, so he didn’t compound the bad luck with any additional baserunners of his own accord. His huge K% bump in 2019 has stuck around and he’s been one of the game’s most valuable starters over the last two seasons.
The unfriendly confines of Rogers Centre hurt him, but he’s on the road here, where his SLG was 145 points lower and and his wOBA was 80 points lower. Busch Stadium is usually a good pitcher’s park as well, though that wasn’t the case on Thursday and may not be today with winds blowing out to RF at 25 mph.
Flaherty has maxed out at 78.1 innings over the last three seasons. He was outstanding in 2019 and finished fourth in Cy Young voting. Since then, he’s thrown a total of 154.2 innings. He threw 196.1 innings in that 2019 season. Last year was another throwaway campaign and the numbers weren’t great with a 4.25 ERA and a 4.97 FIP in 36 innings. He battled control and command problems. Truth be told, I have zero idea what to expect this season. I think the Cardinals would settle for 120 innings of good health.
I do really like this Cardinals crew, though and I think the respect that they’re getting is evident with this line. I wanted to fire on Toronto, but I couldn’t.
Long card with a lot to talk about. I promise these will get shorter as the season goes along and my approach can be more targeted. We’ve got Zack Wheeler and Nathan Eovaldi here and, to be honest, I have no idea why these two teams didn’t play yesterday. There was no reason to build in an off day for the weather. I guess not every series can be a four-gamer. Maybe start Opening Day on Friday and deal with the potential for bad weather.
Anyway, Wheeler was outstanding last season with a 2.82 ERA and a 2.89 FIP. Honestly, he’s been a top-10 pitcher in baseball since his breakout season in 2018. After missing all of 2015 and 2016, I give him a ton of credit for where he is. The last three seasons have all featured ERAs under 3 and outstanding metrics. The big K% spike in 2021 didn’t fully hang around, but he only went from 29.1% to 26.9%, which is still stellar.
His baseline and his expectation are pretty similar from game to game, so I have no reason to expect anything other than a good performance today. It will come down to what the offense does in this one against Nathan Eovaldi. The Rangers went after the hard-throwing Eovaldi after he posted ERAs ranging from 3.72 to 3.87 in Boston, where he also had to deal with great lineups like the Yankees and Blue Jays.
Eovaldi wasn’t fully healthy last season and was limited to 109.1 innings, but he was good when he was out there, even if his home run problem resurfaced. I do wonder about him as a ground ball guy in the post-shift world, but I think he was a good investment for the pitching-starved Rangers. His command disappeared last season with a 44.9% Hard Hit% and a 10.7% Barrel%, but those were relative outliers based on his career numbers to this point. His Barrel% had never been higher than 8.8% and his Hard Hit% had never exceeded 40.7%.
Maybe that was health, maybe that was age, maybe that was the velo decrease, but the Rangers have the chance to rekindle a better version of Eovaldi. No play today on this one, but Eovaldi’s early returns will keep me entertained, especially if the Rangers offense is indeed better.
Alex Cobb was one of the unluckiest pitchers in baseball last season, but his extreme ground ball rates may keep the trend going. Cobb had a 68% LOB% and a .336 BABIP against, so he ran a 3.73 ERA despite a 3.15 xERA and a 2.80 FIP. He struck out over a batter per inning and threw 149.2 innings, his highest total since 2018. The Giants are bad on defense and Cobb felt that on a regular basis out there.
Now we run into a situation where the shift has been banned and the Giants shifted behind Cobb a ton. His Shift% against lefties was 62.6% and it was 26.4% against righties, where he attacked more with stuff on the outer half. The Yankees love to drive the ball the other way, so I don’t love this matchup for him today, but the ground ball success rates will be what I’m looking at the most.
Clarke Schmidt was a quality relief weapon last season, but now he slots back into the rotation because of injury. Schmidt had a 3.12 ERA with a 3.60 FIP last season, but only made three starts. He was a multi-inning reliever type, though, so he did have some extended outings. His health history is really concerning, so we don’t have a ton of good minor league data, but he’s an effective arm to be sure.
My initial thought is that a lackluster Giants team is getting too much respect here given Cobb’s numbers from last season and his ground ball rates. He also had a 5.20 ERA on the road in 62.1 innings compared to a 2.68 ERA at home in 87.1 innings. His SLG was 105 points higher on the road and his wOBA against was 66 points higher. He also had real issues turning lineups over, as he had a .345 wOBA against the second time through with a .314/.357/.430 slash against.
Cobb does benefit from facing a right-handed-heavy lineup, so the shift ban is less intrusive here, but I also think he’s due for a regression in his K% numbers. His SwStr% was below league average for a starter last season, though Logan Webb’s start seemed to suggest that maybe the Giants have found ways to create more swing and miss. I got close to taking the Yankees here, but opted not to.
Angels/A’s Under 7.5 (-105)
Twins -1.5 (+100)