The month of April has finished with some of the lowest offensive numbers we’ve ever seen. Codify Baseball tweeted about how far home runs are down. Jason Collette tweeted about the decrease in runs per game. Those are just two of the many tweets that have circulated recently about the major drop in offensive output.
I’ll throw out a few more:
- The league’s .231 batting average would be the lowest of all-time; the lowest ever was .237 in 1968 and only four seasons (2022, 1968, 1888, 1908) have been below .240
- This season’s 10.1% HR/FB% is the lowest since 2014 (9.5%)
- The 88.8 mph average exit velocity is the highest of the Statcast era (2015-22), but this season has the lowest batting average by 13 points of any season in that span (2021)
- The Hard Hit% (38.8%, 6.7% of all pitches) is the highest of the Statcast era; the .464 batting average on batted balls of 95 + mph is 36 points lower than any other season (2021) and the .883 SLG is the lowest by 131 points (also 2021)
- Fly balls are traveling six feet shorter than last season and three feet shorter than any other season in the Statcast era (2015); this is the second-lowest season for fly ball batting average and SLG in that span
- Ground ball batting average the lowest in the Statcast era at .229, 13 points lower than last season and 10 points lower than any other season (2020)
- 20 of the 30 teams in action yesterday scored three or fewer runs; 12 of them scored one or zero runs
This isn’t all about the weather. It’s not about the shortened spring training. This is about changes to the baseball and what the humidor has done to the physical characteristics of the ball. The warmer months may balance some of these numbers out, but it looks like MLB, on the heels of a very ugly, very public lockout, has fundamentally changed the baseball to suppress offense, continuing a string of boneheaded decisions from its unqualified leader, Rob Manfred.
Before diving into yesterday’s notes, a quick update that a decision has been made not to do this article on Sundays moving forward. The number of day games really limits the availability of best bets and it is tough to get the article out in a timely manner as a result of the early starts. The West Coast is great for a lot of things, but content creation for baseball is not one of them. Fortunately, you can still hear my MLB coverage on The Run Line from 8-10 p.m. ET.
Diamondbacks/Cardinals: Merrill Kelly with another gem for the Snakes, who are 10-12 despite scoring three runs per game. What a scrappy bunch this team is. He scattered two hits and struck out four over his seven innings of shutout work. Miles Mikolas had a great start for the Cardinals as well, allowing a couple of eighth-inning solo homers. Both guys are regression candidates moving forward, though, as a 1.27 ERA for Kelly and a 1.52 for Mikolas are far from sustainable.
Nationals/Giants: The Nationals have had 33 AB with a runner in scoring position in the last two games. They’re generating a lot of chances for an offense that really isn’t very good. They are actually fourth in number of PA with RISP and third in batting average at .289. They’ve played 23 games (most of any team), so that’s a little bit of the reason why they rank so high, but they’re still getting opportunities, despite being one of five teams with a batting average under .200 with the bases empty.
Padres/Pirates: Sean Manaea was not sharp against the Dodgers, which will happen, but he was also not very sharp in this start against the Pirates. He only allowed three runs on five hits, but walked three for the second straight start and allowed 12 hard-hit balls to a Pittsburgh lineup not known for making quality contact. He has a 3.60 ERA, but ranks in the 23rd percentile in exit velocity, 37th in Hard Hit% and Barrel% and really doesn’t have an impressive profile beyond the solid ERA.
Cubs/Brewers: I had Justin Steele under the microscope yesterday and he got no help from his defense, but how about Eric Lauer? The Brewers southpaw struck out 11 just one start removed from having 13 punchies against the Phillies on Sunday Night Baseball. I really don’t think the jump from a 26.5% Whiff% to a 43.5% Whiff% on his fastball is sustainable, but he has focused on throwing it up in the zone and has added velocity this season. He only had 58 strikeouts on the four-seam fastball all of last season and already has 20 this season. His improved pitch mix should allow him to continue to post good numbers, even as the K numbers regress.
Also, another blowout win for the Brewers means another off day for the Josh Hader/Devin Williams tandem.
Phillies/Mets: I lost the over here, but the handicap on Kyle Gibson was pretty accurate. Gibson only had seven whiffs in 33 swings and walked five, but the Mets only managed four hard-hit balls against him and didn’t capitalize on the free passes. Taijuan Walker was also far better than I expected in his return from injury. I feel like we haven’t seen a lot of quality contact at Citi Field this season and there have only been 59 runs scored in nine games, so an average of about 6.5 per game. Opponents have only scored 22 runs in those nine games. I guess Citi Field is back to being a fairly extreme pitcher’s park, something I should have factored into the handicap.
Reds/Rockies: The Reds made progress yesterday, only losing by one run. They actually deserved a better fate in the game. They had 14 hard-hit balls out of 23 balls in play, all off of starter Chad Kuhl, who only allowed five hits. Cincinnati’s four hardest-hit balls were all 105 mph or higher and were all outs.
Astros/Blue Jays: The Blue Jays are now 8-2 in one-run games to start the season. Generally speaking, anything + / - 4 or 5 games in one-run games record is a bit of an outlier. Toronto is 14-8 with a Pythagorean Win-Loss record of 11-11, as their run differential is 0 on the season. Interestingly, the Jays are 14-7 in games started by a right-handed pitcher and 0-1 in games started by a left-hander. This is a really great start for Toronto with the offense sputtering a bit.
Angels/White Sox: The top six hitters for the Angels combined for 11 hard-hit balls yesterday and went 2-for-23 en route to getting shut out for the first time this season. The top six for the White Sox combined for seven and went 7-for-22. This is what I mean when I talk about the inherent variance of baseball. It really does present a lot of handicapping challenges, which is why the daily grind is not for the faint of heart.
Guardians/Athletics: Shane Bieber threw seven solid innings with seven strikeouts, but we didn’t see any increased velocity in two starts in California. You can’t blame that on the weather like you could in the Midwest. He gave up seven hits and allowed 10 hard-hit balls. I know his numbers are good and he’s getting by on his elite command, but I remain concerned.
Red Sox/Orioles: Let’s keep an eye on Spenser Watkins for the O’s. He learned a slider this season and it generated six whiffs in 13 swings yesterday with the pitch’s highest usage of the season. I don’t really like the fastball, but the slider is a good pitch. If the Orioles start to tweak his repertoire to go more cutter/slider/curveball and decrease usage of the fastball, we could be looking at a really interesting pitcher. He’s pitched pretty well as it is with just five earned runs allowed in 17.2 innings, but the 8/8 K/BB ratio is a concern. An optimized arsenal could be fun.
Mariners/Marlins: I’m not saying that the Mariners want a refund on Robbie Ray, but they aren’t getting last year’s version. I’m not sure that they should have expected to, as Ray had great numbers, but his 90.1% LOB% was the best in a full season dating back to at least 1970. This version of Ray only has 26 K against 12 BB in 30.1 innings. The strikeouts will come back, as his SwStr% is still 12%, but his velo is down and his slider hasn’t been nearly as effective. Maybe it’s just an adjustment period, but I think it’s more than that. I think 2021 was just an outlier.
Weather: Seeing 60s and 70s across the forecast is a welcomed change. Hopefully the warmer weather brings offense back to some degree. It may truly be a while before that happens, but a guy can dream, right?
Rain threatens Red Sox/Orioles and Padres/Pirates today. Winds are blowing out for Yankees/Royals, Angels/White Sox, Diamondbacks/Cardinals and Nationals/Giants, though I’m not sure anything will add more carry to the baseball these days.
Injuries: Check out our Injury Report right here at VSiN. Also, my friend @MLBDream on Twitter put together a great MLB beat writer list to follow.
Padres (-170, 7.5) at Pirates: We’ve seen money against former Pirate Joe Musgrove for this start in Pittsburgh. I guess the market feels like the Padres are a little bit overpriced right now with a good start to the season, as this isn’t the first line move we’ve seen recently against them. Mitch Keller goes for the Pirates and he has a 6.62 ERA with a 3.33 xERA, a 4.63 FIP and a 3.76 xFIP, so there are some positive regression signs there, but he’s shown no semblance of command in 188 MLB innings so far.
Cubs at Brewers (-220, 6.5): The Brewers have jumped about 30 cents here as they look to continue pummeling the Cubs. Chicago’s offensive profile does include a lot of batted ball luck to this point, so I’m not surprised that bettors are fading them, especially against an ace like Corbin Burnes.
Diamondbacks at Cardinals (-180, 7.5): Nolan Arenado is back in the Cardinals lineup, but Zach Davies and the D-Backs are taking the money in this game thus far. I wrote prior to his last start about Davies and the fact that the market usually bets against him. That is not the case today with a slight line move on him. That says a lot. If you want to try Arizona here, you’re not alone.
Red Sox (-135, 8) at Orioles: Speaking of that concept, here we’ve got Jordan Lyles actually taking sharp money against the Red Sox. The market used to line up to fade Lyles at every turn and now he’s taking bets against Boston. What a time to be alive. This move speaks volumes about Nick Pivetta and the Red Sox offense.
Astros at Blue Jays (-170, 7.5): I used to be able to look stuff like this up in the Killer Sports Database (RIP), but this is a really big underdog role for them with Kevin Gausman on the bump for Toronto. Alex Bregman is getting a day off, but Michael Brantley is back in the lineup. That hasn’t stopped Toronto money from coming in.
Mariners at Marlins (-130, 6.5): You can see more indications of Miami respect at home today. The line move hasn’t been big on Sandy Alcantara, but Logan Gilbert is a highly-regarded pitcher and we’re still seeing a little bit of a move on the Marlins.
What I’ll Be Watching
Triston McKenzie: The Guardians right-hander is set up for success today. He has control and command issues, but draws an Oakland lineup that ranks 27th in BB% on the season and also has the second-highest K% at 26.3%. In what basically amounts to a full season of MLB work, McKenzie has a 4.49 ERA over 170.1 innings with 195 strikeouts against 73 walks. Nearly 40% of his plate appearances end in a strikeout or walk. The A’s are tilted far more to the K side than the BB side. McKenzie is also a fly ball pitcher with a career GB% of 32.9%. This matchup should be as good as it can get for the kid, so I’m really hoping that he performs well and comes through.
Eduardo Rodriguez: E-Rod’s start as a Tiger has not really gone according to plan, but it hasn’t all been his fault. He has a 5.03 ERA with a 4.42 FIP, but he’s faced the White Sox, Red Sox, Yankees and Twins to this point and now draws the Dodgers. Obviously those lineups are all loaded with a lot of talent and a lot of guys capable of hitting for power. Rodriguez is running a 43.3% LOB%, the lowest of any pitcher with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. He’s allowed five unearned runs, which all came in his start against Boston. He draws another stiff test here, but I’m mostly mentioning him because he can’t keep running into these tough assignments forever. At some point, it has to settle down.
Sunday Best Bets
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VEGAS LINES | ODDS BY STATE | MLB MATCHUPS
Guardians (-120) over Athletics: As I wrote above, this has to be as good as it gets for Triston McKenzie in terms of a matchup. The A’s strike out a ton, don’t walk and play in a ballpark that suppresses power. If McKenzie can’t have success in this situation, I’d be really surprised. Water finds its level in sports and the A’s have posted a 76 wRC + over the last two weeks after getting off to something of a hot start, especially with men in scoring position.
For all of Cleveland’s offensive deficiencies, today’s matchup against James Kaprielian may not be that bad. In three minor league rehab outings, Kaprielian has struck out 13 over 13.2 innings, but also allowed 11 runs on 15 hits and three home runs. He hasn’t been very sharp and now steps up to the big leagues coming off of a start in which he walked four and only struck out two.
I’ve been looking for days to fade Oakland at reasonable prices and this is one of them, so I’ll put my faith in McKenzie and the Tribe’s bats.
We’ll be rolling out some more baseball tools soon, including a tracker of my picks that will update in real-time, but for now, I’m tracking my picks in this spreadsheet HERE.