The Saturday MLB article begins with some interesting news. Being on the West Coast with a lot of friends on the East Coast can lead to some early morning surprises in texts and DMs. This one came courtesy of my friend @MLBdream on Twitter from @BallparkPal. This tweet thread is something every baseball bettor must see (and you don’t have to have a Twitter to see it).
It would appear that there is some indication that MLB either changed the balls or changed the settings on the humidor last month. We saw a big uptick in home runs around May 14, so we absolutely had some sort of change. Based on this tweet, specifically, it was not entirely weather-related.
This is definitely in Manfred’s wheelhouse. A sweeping, midseason change with no indication that it’s coming. The guy is the worst commissioner in sports by far and MLB clearly made a mistake by not tailoring the humidors to the weather conditions in each specific city (aside from installing them at all, of course). I’d like to think that if pitchers were aware of the changes, they’d have tried to strike more hitters out, which makes the K% decrease that much more interesting as well.
I certainly noticed an offensive uptick. I did attribute it to warmer weather and lower K%, but this thread is about “actual” and “expected” home runs, so the decreased K% isn’t really a noteworthy factor here. This is about fly balls based on exit velo, launch angle, direction, stadium and weather.
Using Statcast search, I looked at Barrels, the highest level of contact quality. From Opening Day through May 13, Barrels had a .677 BA and a 2.186 SLG. From May 14 through June 3, Barrels had a .754 BA and a 2.521 SLG. Something does seem to be up with the baseball and it’s more than just the increases in temperature and humidity.
Cardinals/Cubs: The day started with 19 runs in the Cardinals/Cubs game, as Marcus Stroman surrendered nine of them over four innings of work. Miles Mikolas had another tough start as well, giving up four runs on eight hits over his five innings. Mikolas has opted for the gradual regression route after his excellent early start. He has allowed 13 runs on 21 hits over his last three starts to raise his ERA from 1.68 to 3.02.
Giants/Marlins: We had a late switcheroo from the Marlins here, who used Richard Bleier as an opener and then Elieser Hernandez as a bulk reliever. Hernandez gave up eight runs and four homers in his 4.1 innings of work, as we saw seven homers hit in Miami, which is extremely rare. The Giants had a bullpen day and it didn’t go overly well, but scoring 15 runs covers up a lot.
Nationals/Reds: Great American “Small” Park continued to live up to its nickname with 13 runs in the Josiah Gray vs. Mike Minor matchup. There were seven homers hit in this game as well, including another for Joey Votto in the losing effort. The 23 games at GABP have averaged 11.5 runs. The Reds have scored 5.9 R/G at home and 2.8 R/G on the road. I’m not saying they’re an auto-over at home, but I’d probably never bet an under with how bad that pitching staff is.
Also, the Reds are 15-15 since that 3-18 start in April. Pretty interesting.
Diamondbacks/Pirates: Merrill Kelly really battled through his five innings yesterday, as he only gave up two earned runs, despite five hits and four walks. He outdueled JT Brubaker and the Diamondbacks hit five home runs. That’s the weird thing to me about yesterday’s homer barrage. loanDepot Park in Miami and PNC Park in Pittsburgh are generally not good hitter’s parks. Sure, there was bad pitching in both venues, but still. Perhaps humidor settings were changed in some parks, but not others?
Padres/Brewers: The first pick I had typed out was actually Padres over Brewers and I backed myself off of it for some reason. My thought process was that Joe Musgrove and the Friars were simply worth a bet at an underdog price in a game lined 6.5 on the total. It was projected to be a pitcher’s duel and it was likely going to come down to some sort of opportune hit, which could very well have come from the dog. Well, it turns out that Musgrove nearly threw a no-hitter and Corbin Burnes didn’t even make it through the fourth inning. Burnes has adopted a home run issue this season and it’s hurt him in a few outings. Something to keep in mind.
Braves/Rockies: On the best night of offense for the season, the Braves and Rockies played a 3-1 game at Coors with all four runs in the 10th inning, sparked by the ghost runner on second. What a world MLB is. Chad Kuhl actually pitched way better than I expected with six shutout innings. Kuhl is interesting because his SwStr% supports a higher K%, but he only had three strikeouts yesterday on 14 whiffs. Such a weird game.
Mets/Dodgers: I’m not a very good golfer, despite my near ace on Thursday. However, those of us that play know the feeling of everything working in perfect harmony to rip a 300-yard drive down the middle. That’s what this handicap felt like. I isolated this game on Tuesday’s LA CityCast with Danielle Alvari and said I’d be on Tyler Anderson and the Dodgers. They won 6-1. The Mets have scored one run in 18 innings in this series, as their offensive regression is taking hold. Sure, it was supposed to win at -150, but this was one of the more satisfying wins of the season. We get down and beat ourselves up about the losses, but we should also celebrate the wins.
Guardians/Orioles: I wrote about the transformation of Shane Bieber in the face of decreased velocity this season. He’s using his slider a lot more and the pitch generated 14 whiffs on 24 swings yesterday. He had seven whiffs on 14 curveballs. I realize he needs to get paid, but Bieber would be absolutely dominant if he dropped his fastball usage another 5-7% and just hammered away with 70% sliders and curveballs. He was at 61% yesterday and had 23 whiffs and punched 11 tickets over seven strong innings. I’m still chapped about the under not coming through thanks to three meaningless Orioles runs in the eighth, but Bieber’s pitch usage and command profile seem to have salvaged his season.
White Sox/Rays: Tampa Bay improved to 8-3 in Shane McClanahan’s 11 starts and he now leads MLB in strikeouts. He’s gone at least six innings in each of his last five starts and he’s only hit 100 pitches once. His efficiency is unbelievable. I talk all the time about the “ace bump”, well, he deserves it as much as anyone. He’s a stud and you probably can’t go wrong with betting his overnight price almost every game the rest of the season.
Mariners/Rangers: A good old-fashioned pitcher’s duel in Texas ended with a Rangers blown save and a Mariners win. Logan Gilbert and Dane Dunning combined for 14 strikeouts, 33 whiffs and just three earned runs on eight hits. I’m surprised that both of these offenses are this bad, but there have been very few positives with these groups this season and nothing seems to change.
Astros/Royals: I mentioned some reservations with Brady Singer and yesterday’s line on this game. Singer gave up seven runs on eight hits over five innings. Jose Urquidy wasn’t great, but good enough with plenty of run support. Alec Lewis from The Athletic had a good tweet about the Royals’ effectiveness with fastballs and it’s not good. This pitching staff won’t get any better until there are some philosophical changes, which may mean firing pitching coach Cal Eldred.
Angels/Phillies: The Phillies fired Joe Girardi and promptly beat the Angels 10-0 behind a lot of offense and Zach Eflin. Philadelphia hit five home runs, including three off of fly ball hurler Jaime Barria, who replaced Chase Silseth, who may find himself in Triple-A soon. I don’t think there’s any correlation in the Girardi firing and the spirited effort, but that narrative is really easy to use. The problems run much deeper than the manager here. There may be a slight boost in performance with Girardi gone, but that’s probably more about a struggling opponent.
Weather: Minimal weather concerns for today. Giants/Marlins could get postponed because of flooding outside the ballpark and Astros/Royals could get banged from a more traditional reason. Otherwise, everything seems just fine and wind isn’t really a big factor either.
Injuries: We’re seeing a lot more injuries these days. A lot of position players and pitchers are dealing with soft tissue things. Check out our Injury Report right here at VSiN. This is also a good resource at FanGraphs (sort by date) HERE.
Padres at Brewers (-130, 7): I’m a tad surprised to see a move on Aaron Ashby here in a matchup of two excellent young left-handed pitchers. The Brewers have moved up about 10 cents here, even though Gore has a 1.71 ERA with a 2.36 FIP. He does have a 3.34 xERA, so maybe there’s the thought of some regression. Ashby has a 2.70 ERA with a 2.87 xERA and a 3.30 FIP. If nothing else, this should be an excellent matchup.
Braves (-180, 11.5) at Rockies: Spencer Strider has taken a lot of money today as the Braves face Kyle Freeland and the Rockies. This is another day for Atlanta against a low-strikeout hurler, so the offensive projection should be pretty good. Strider gave up five runs on four hits in his last start, but there was a lot of bad luck weaved into that one. This has been about a 30-35 cent move at most shops, so we’re talking about some significant bread on the Braves. Strider has a 3.45 ERA with a 1.89 FIP.
Twins at Blue Jays (-160, 9): The most interesting move to me in this game is that we’re seeing under money in a matchup with Dylan Bundy and Jose Berrios. We’ve even seen one book (DraftKings) mirror some of the offshores and drop down to 8.5. I never would have expected that with two guys that allow a ton of hard contact. I’m not following it, but that is an extremely sharp bet from influential market-movers.
Red Sox (-140, 7.5) at Athletics: We’ve seen a 20-cent move in this one on Nick Pivetta, as the Red Sox take on Paul Blackburn and the A’s. Blackburn has been excellent this season with a 2.15 ERA, a 3.34 xERA and a 3.19 FIP. Pivetta has been really good of late after a rocky start. I’m not all that surprised to see this move, to be honest, and I do feel like Blackburn has had a bad start coming for a while now.
White Sox at Rays (-115, 7): This line tells you just about all you need to know about the current state of the White Sox. In just about every Dylan Cease start this season, we’ve seen action on him. Today, we’re seeing action against him. Drew Rasmussen is coming off of his worst start of the season, but he’s still getting the market-moving wagers with about a 10-cent bump at some shops on his side.
What I’ll Be Watching
Aaron Ashby: This is the better split for the Padres offense, as they go up against a really talented southpaw in Ashby. The 24-year-old lacks control, but has a lot of swing-and-miss upside and has great contact management numbers with a 32.3% Hard Hit% and a 4.0% Barrel%. Ashby is a really tough, really uncomfortable at bat because of the explosiveness of his stuff. He just threw 5.2 good innings against the Padres on May 25, so they have gotten a look at him, but he was pretty effective in that start. He’s got 51 K in 40 innings, but has also had three appearances with at least four walks. He’s a really promising prospect and one that can be dominant. Let’s see how he does today against another outstanding youngster in MacKenzie Gore.
Roansy Contreras: Contreras is one of a handful of Pirates prospects to get excited about. This will be his third start and sixth appearance of the season. He’s allowed five runs on 12 hits in 17.2 innings of work with 18 strikeouts against six walks. In his two starts, he’s faced the Rockies and Padres and allowed two runs on eight hits with eight strikeouts over 10 innings. He sits 96-97 with the fastball and has good speed separation with his slider and curveball. He has allowed a lot of hard contact in his two starts and turning the lineup over can be a big question mark. I’m not sure how to fully evaluate him yet, but every data point helps.
Saturday Best Bets
Shop around for the best lines! I’m using a market consensus number that should be widely available to most, but every cent matters, so do the best you can to get the best line possible.
VEGAS LINES | ODDS BY STATE | MLB MATCHUPS
Reds (-130) over Nationals: Laying prices with the Reds can be a little scary, but as mentioned, they are 15-15 over their last 30 games and are scoring nearly six runs per game at Great American Ball Park. I like today’s matchup for them and feel like Tyler Mahle is ready to turn a corner.
Mahle made a really big adjustment that paid immediate dividends last time out against the Giants. His four-seam fastball usage was the lowest of the season at 39.4% and he actually had good swing-and-miss life on it, likely set up by increased slider usage. The 22.1% SL% was the highest of the season for Mahle. He primarily throws that to righties and uses his splitter to attack lefties. His splitter usage was a season-high in this start as well.
Mahle is a premium candidate for positive regression with a 5.53 ERA but a 3.63 xERA and a 3.71 FIP. He has a lot more swing-and-miss in the profile than Erick Fedde does. Mahle’s SwStr% is 11.1%, while Fedde’s is very low at 7.7%. Fedde also gets very little chase outside the zone, which is bad against a Reds lineup performing very well at home.
Fedde got blasted last time out to bump his ERA up to 4.60 with a 4.57 xERA and a 4.49 FIP. I really didn’t expect the smoke and mirrors to last long, though I was a little surprised to see it happen so swiftly. In any event, Fedde has never showcased even average command at the MLB level. He’s also carried some high walk rates with low strikeout rates. His Hard Hit% is 42.7% this season, the highest of his career, despite the alterations to his pitch usage. There just isn’t much to like in the profile and the new-look arsenal has his GB% at an all-time low. Fly balls in Cincinnati are a bad idea.
I went back and forth on the over or Mahle here, but then I noticed that change to his arsenal last start, likely a response to getting rocked by the Cubs in the start prior. I’m hoping Mahle didn’t just do that to match up with the Giants and will continue to mix his pitches more effectively.
The Nationals pen isn’t very good and all of the primary relievers would be working for a third time in four days, while the Reds pen is in a little bit better shape for this one. Also, we’re saving a few cents of line equity taking the full game over the Reds 1st 5, so I’m on Cincinnati for the full game here.
Rangers (-125) over Mariners: It’s Glenn Otto Day for the Rangers and you know that makes me excited. Texas goes up against Marco Gonzales, who is a massive regression candidate with a 3.55 ERA, a 5.14 xERA and a 5.64 FIP. The Rangers haven’t done much right on offense this season, but they are 11th in wOBA against southpaws and ninth in SLG. Gonzales has already given up 10 homers in 50.2 innings of work. He’s allowed 29 runs on 54 hits, but only 20 of the runs are earned, hence the low ERA.
Otto gets a little bit of a respite today against the M’s. Seattle doesn’t make a lot of quality contact, ranking 23rd in Hard Hit%. Otto allowed eight runs over four innings in his May 14 start against Boston. He’s only allowed nine earned runs over his other six starts combined and those have been against the Rays, Angels, Astros twice, Yankees and A’s. He’s faced a lot of good lineups and held his own in most of those starts.
Because of the gap between Otto and Gonzales, the 1st 5 is really forcing us to pay a premium, with the line as much as 15 cents higher in some cases. I’ll trade a little bit of bullpen uncertainty for what I perceive to be some line equity and roll with the Rangers. Shop around because this line is gettable at -120 or lower, but I’m trying to be fair with a consensus-ish number.
I’m tracking my picks in this spreadsheet HERE.