Another day in search of another dollar in the MLB world. The season is just under a week old, so we still have a lot to learn about the players and also more data to accumulate about how the humidors and the further crackdown on foreign substances are affecting offense. Sample size matters a lot to me and my hope is that we’ll have some good numbers to work with in a few weeks time on those fronts.
For now, we’re still getting some important data points with pitchers and have some definite surprises, like the Rockies, who have won four straight as an underdog and my beloved Guardians, who lead baseball in runs scored with 38, run differential at + 19 and still aren’t leading the division. Let’s dive into the April 13 slate.
Cubs/Pirates: It feels really good when the handicap of a starting pitcher works out. Drew Smyly induced 11 ground ball outs against the Pirates on Tuesday after I mentioned how Pittsburgh has not elevated the baseball, despite seemingly every other organization in search of more power. Smyly is not a ground ball guy, but the Cubs have prioritized worm killers on their pitching staff and maybe he'll become one. He threw 51% curveballs (35/68) in that start and only allowed two hard-hit balls. The Pirates put 12 CBs in play and averaged 69.9 mph in exit velo.
Mets/Nationals: Seats are filling up on the Tylor Megill bandwagon. I should’ve taken the underdog price on my boy yesterday, who had 16 swings and misses and maintained his heightened velocity. He did allow six batted balls over 100 mph, but scattered three hits over his 5.1 shutout innings. Like I said, his long delivery at 6-foot-7 with a fastball touching 99 is a weapon.
Padres/Giants: I said yesterday that the Giants would start hitting. I didn’t expect it to be all at once, as Yu Darvish allowed nine runs in 1.2 innings for the Padres. Darvish’s spin rates have taken another huge tumble this season after falling last year with the foreign substance crackdown. One bad start here or there can be an outlier. In his first start against Arizona, he threw six shutout, no-hit innings, but walked four and did allow some hard contact. Since the start of the second half last season, Darvish has a 6.65 ERA and a 5.10 FIP in his last 14 starts and has only pitched 69 innings.
It was a banner day for the Giants. Not only did the bats get going, but the rumors were true about Alex Cobb’s velocity bump. Cobb sat 94.5 mph with the sinker and induced 14 whiffs on 36 swings. He struck out 10 batters over five very impressive innings.
Mariners/White Sox: The White Sox won a 3-2 decision, but Matt Brash was the story of the day. The Seattle rookie flashed some pretty elite stuff with enormous spin rates on his curveball and slider and a fastball that touched 99 and sat 96. He struck out six over 5.1 innings, but got no offensive help against Vince Velasquez and the Sox pen.
The hitting conditions have been suboptimal in Minneapolis and Chicago, but the new-look Mariners lineup is off to a .183/.291/.299 start. By the way, Velasquez had an interesting velo bump across the board and White Sox pitching coach Ethan Katz has unlocked some velo gains with others, so I’ll keep an eye on that.
Athletics/Rays: The Rays are just trying to hold on for dear life right now. Tommy Romero’s MLB debut did not go as planned with five walks in 1.2 innings pitched. Tampa Bay has Shane Baz, Yonny Chirinos, Tyler Glasnow, Brendan McKay, Luis Patino and Ryan Yarbrough all on the IL, not to mention they’ve lost Pete Fairbanks and JT Chargois to muscle strains. Their pitching depth is really being tested. They’ll need another starter on Thursday and they may have to start pushing their starters a little bit farther than they’d like. Could be a live betting angle.
Jays/Yankees: How many times will Toronto get shut out this season? I’m not sure it’ll be much more than once, but that’s what happened yesterday. The Jays only had six hard-hit balls against Nestor Cortes and four relievers. Cortes had some nice spin rate increases and held an all-right-handed lineup at bay. It was an impressive outing for him. On a team full of big names, he may be a pitcher we can get some cheaper lines with this season. Opposing batters only hit .196 with a .365 SLG on fastballs last season.
Guardians/Reds: A lot happened in this game, but what stands out to me is that Anthony Castro, just acquired in the Bradley Zimmer trade with the Blue Jays, was called upon to pitch the bottom of the seventh against Cincinnati’s 5-6-7 hitters. He worked a 1-2-3 inning, but that’s a pretty high-leverage spot for a guy like him. This bullpen is a giant mess to say the least. Every full-game wager could be an adventure.
Brewers/Orioles: Eric Lauer might be a guy we can make some money on this season. He did give up four runs in the second inning yesterday, but his velo was up and so were his spin rates. The second inning featured a two-out walk, catcher’s interference, another walk and then a Cedric Mullins grand slam, so that could have all been prevented. Otherwise, he did a pretty good job of limiting hard contact and those were his only two walks. Last season’s improvements with a 3.19 ERA and a 4.04 FIP seem pretty legit.
Also, side note, Josh Hader and Devin Williams were uncharacteristically erratic with first pitches, but the Brewers had 14 K against 6 BB with Omar Narvaez behind the plate. I really think they feel more comfortable with him back there, as I mentioned yesterday.
Marlins/Angels: So much for the Angels having seen Jesus Luzardo before. He had 18 whiffs in 28 swings and struck out 12 over five thoroughly impressive innings for the Marlins. My dude Patrick Sandoval had 13 whiffs in 32 swings. Both guys flashed some really good stuff. The Angels won the battle of the bullpens, but the starters were big takeaways here.
Rockies/Rangers: So, uh, Chad Kuhl looked really, really good yesterday against a solid Rangers lineup. Kuhl’s spin rates were up across the board and his fastball velocity was solid. He had 14 swings and misses in 33 swings. He did walk four, as he had issues harnessing his newfound spin, but I was really impressed. The Rockies pitching staff has been pretty impressive to this point against one elite offense and another with some talent.
Astros/Diamondbacks: Stat lines rarely tell the whole story. Madison Bumgarner allowed one run on five hits in five innings against the Astros, but he also allowed 10 batted balls of 97 + mph. The Astros had a homer, two singles and a double on those batted balls. Batted balls of 97 or more mph have only led to a .497 BA and a .998 SLG this season, but led to a .538 BA and a 1.119 SLG last season. The Astros had a .400 BA, but got a little unlucky on their violent contact.
Weather: The weather looks bad in most places today. A lot of games are threatened by rain and one has already been postponed (KC/STL). Wind also looks to be a potential factor, with stiff breezes blowing IN for Atlanta, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Detroit; but blowing OUT in Baltimore, San Francisco and Minneapolis. Again, I use Rotogrinders for these updates.
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.
Only a few games with really big line moves today. There are so many weather concerns as well that I’m skeptical about several games.
Mariners at White Sox (-120, 9): We’ve seen a flipped favorite scenario here, where the Mariners behind Robbie Ray opened as slight chalk, but the White Sox with Dallas Keuchel are now favored. The White Sox project to be an outstanding lineup against lefties and a move here on their side, especially with Keuchel’s awful numbers from last season, tells me a lot about what the quant crowd thinks of them against southpaws. It leads me to believe we may see steam on just about every White Sox game against a lefty.
Blue Jays at Yankees (-165, 8): There has been some pretty heavy steam on Gerrit Cole and I find it quite interesting. Jose Berrios had one of those days against the Rangers last week and I’m not holding that against him, but we saw moves like these on Cole prior to the foreign substance crackdown. Perhaps the models still really like him. I think he’s still a top-notch starter, but not the dominant one we’ve seen. The Jays are right-handed-heavy, which feels like part of this handicap. It’s a sizable move. There’s probably some value on Toronto coming back now, but I’m not on this game.
What I’ll Be Watching
Merrill Kelly: Kelly’s fastball velo popped up about 1.5 mph in his first start. I would expect Arizona pitchers to make some modest improvements as the season goes along with Brent Strom as the pitching coach. We saw a lot of Astros hurlers increase their velocity on his watch. Kelly threw more changeups in his first start against the Padres and I think we could see more of the same to try and neutralize Houston’s lefties today. I’ve always liked the stuff and the pitch mix, but I’m thinking Strom could unlock new heights for Kelly.
Chris Paddack: It is unfortunate that Paddack’s first start for the Twins comes against a Dodgers lineup that knows him very well, but let’s see how he does and what Minnesota tries to change. Paddack is primarily a two-pitch pitcher with a fastball/changeup arsenal. He’s a guy that analysts can’t seem to quit. I’ve been out on him for a while now, but he had a 5.07 ERA with a 3.78 FIP and a 3.87 xFIP last season, which suggests a lot of bad luck and some positive regression. He’s always had nice K/BB rates, but has allowed a lot of home runs. I’ll be keeping a close eye on him.
Wednesday Best Bets
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VEGAS LINES | ODDS BY STATE | MLB MATCHUPS
Cubs/Pirates 1st 5 Under 4.5 (+ 100): A quick turn here relative to the posting time with the afternoon start at PNC Park, but I like the 1st 5 Under. Zach Thompson is a guy I was ready to bet on Monday, but the game was postponed. He’s a big 6-foot-7 right-hander that posted a nice 3.24 ERA and a 3.69 FIP last season. Thompson stays off the barrel and had a Hard Hit% of just 33.9% last season. His 11.7% SwStr% also suggests potential for a higher strikeout rate than what he had last season.
Kyle Hendricks had his changeup working against the Brewers in his 2022 debut and that is easily his most important pitch. Last season, Hendricks was hurt by the long ball, but much like what I talked about yesterday with Drew Smyly, the Pirates don’t hit the ball in the air very often. Even last season, his Hard Hit% was still just 33%. It was just an outlier season for him from a home runs standpoint and his K% dropped in a big way. I like both starters and this is a big total in a pitcher’s park with the wind blowing in from RF. The bullpens do concern me a little, especially the Cubs pen with their primary relievers all working yesterday, so I’ll stick with the 1st 5.
Brewers/Orioles Under 8 (-110): Corbin Burnes draws a Baltimore lineup that has struck out almost 31% of the time so far this season and has only posted a .322 SLG against right-handed pitchers. The Brewers were woeful against lefties last season and draw one here in John Means. While Means will give up the long ball, the fence has been moved back in LF at Camden Yards and he should be the biggest benefactor of that park change.
The Brewers will throw a right-handed-heavy lineup at Means, but he limited righties to a .299 wOBA last season and there are some excellent RH bats in that AL East Division. He did allow 27 of his 30 homers to righties, but the Brewers aren’t really a team that hits for a lot of power.
I am mildly concerned that Hader and Williams would be working a third day out of the last four, but Craig Counsell has proven that he’ll use those guys when he needs to and worry about it later because they never really pitch in tie games or with deficits.
I’m tracking the picks in my Google Sheet HERE, but we are working on a tracker at VSiN.com that should be ready to go later this week.