MLB schedule today has 15 games
Happy Opening Day! The start of the 2023 MLB season is here and all 30 teams will be in action to kick off the 162-game grind that runs through October 1. There are a lot of things to think about with the start of every MLB season, but this one is different with some big rule changes that will dramatically impact the game. I wrote about the rule changes in our 2023 Baseball Betting Guide and that was also the first episode of our new VSiN Daily Baseball Bets podcast.
Today’s article features thoughts on almost every game for my benefit and yours. It’s good for me to write my thoughts out and process them, but I’m also looking for some early-season statistical trends we can possibly exploit, along with pitchers to have on my radar moving forward. It’s a long one and most will be early in the year.
A few other notes before I get started:
- All odds and picks listed are from DraftKings Sportsbook, but I highly encourage you to shop around for the best lines on every game - I will grade off the DK number (2022 Tracking Sheet) (2023 Tracking Sheet)
- All favorites will be tracked as X to win 1 Unit (-125 favorite would be 1.25 to win 1); all underdogs *unless specified* are 1 Unit to win X (+125 dog would be 1 to win 1.25)
- All games are ordered by rotation number (NL, AL, Interleague), NOT start time
- I limit this article to moneylines, totals and run lines, as I don’t really bet player props; Zach Cohen will be handling that in a separate article (today's article)
- Not every game discussed will have a pick; I’m most interested in sharing information, so there will be some games I break down and write about that won’t have picks. There will probably be more of these early in the season for information purposes as we all learn about the teams and pitchers
- My plan is to have the article out no later than 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT - it depends on the number of games, the number of games I write about, how much research is required, etc. My writing is very heavy with stats and information, which takes time to compile and edit. This schedule does make it tricky with day games, so I’ll do everything I can to get the write-up out in a timely fashion
- The goal is to have the VSiN Daily Baseball Bets podcast out no later than 3 p.m. ET/Noon PT
- 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 (https://www.vsin.com/news/adam-burke/) to streamline navigating the website
- The article will run Monday-Saturday - there are too many day games on Sunday and the grind of the season is a lot to do an article and a podcast every day for 187 days straight; the podcast will be Monday-Friday
Here we go, friends. Happy baseball season!
Here are some thoughts on the March 30 card (odds from DraftKings):
Marcus Stroman is one of many guys I will be watching early in the season because of an extremely high GB%. Last season, Stroman had a 51.7% GB% over 138.2 innings of work and that was on the low end for him, as he was north of 60% every season from 2015-18. Stroman generally profiles as a below average strikeout guy with a 20% K% for his career and a 20.9% mark last season (league average was 21.6% for starting pitchers).
Corbin Burnes is a big ground ball guy as well, but he has a lot more strikeouts and generates a lot more swing and miss than Stroman. As teams employed more shifts behind Stroman, his batting average against decreased, going from .280 in 2018 to .256 in 2019, .237 in 2021 and .233 in 2022 with a career-best .272 BABIP. With the shift ban in place, he profiles as the type of guy to be negatively impacted.
Per Baseball Savant, the defense shifted against left-handed batters in 59.4% of plate appearances in 2021 (Mets) and 63.5% in 2022 behind Stroman (Cubs). The Mets also employed shifts against righties at a 41.6% clip in 2021 with Stroman on the hill.
Similarly, though, the Brewers shifted behind Burnes at a 54.9% clip against lefties last season and a 19% clip against righties. The cold weather worries me enough about an over here to not be a player, even at 6.5, but this game is a good early-season litmus test about the shift ban and ground ball starters.
Mitch Keller had his best season as a Major Leaguer with 159 innings pitched and a 3.91 ERA with a 3.88 FIP last season. Keller also had a career-high 49% GB%. By keeping the ball on the ground, he was able to offset a below average K% at 20.1% and an elevated walk rate at 8.7%. He did cut the BB% down from 10.4% the previous year, so that’s a positive for him, but I’m concerned about the sustainability of his better numbers given how the ground ball was the big equalizer.
Keller also had better numbers with men on base and men in scoring position than he did with the bases empty, despite a big K% decrease and a spike in BB%. Keller allowed a .327 wOBA with the bases empty, but then a .319 with men on and a .303 with RISP, due to BABIPs that were better with men on. Otherwise, he went from a strikeout per batter to well below that. I think he’s a guy to watch early in the season as well, though you won’t find many cheap prices to fade him or the Pirates.
Hunter Greene, like most starters early in the year, will probably go five innings or so and then exit the game. I don’t know if there’s much carryover, but Greene allowed two earned runs in 23 innings in his final four starts last season after getting healthy with 37 strikeouts against seven walks.
The Pirates had 23 guys last season with at least 50 plate appearances and 20 of them struck out at least 22.4% of the time. However, they got some experienced guys like Carlos Santana, Andrew McCutchen and Ji-Man Choi to replace some of the below average hitters they had. Maybe this offense will be a bit better. I’m not excited to lay -140 for the full game or 1st 5, but Keller is a guy on my list to keep an eye on as a fade candidate if we can do it at a reasonable price.
I won’t be invested in the Rockies much this season, but I did want to take a second to talk about German Marquez. Marquez had a 4.95 ERA with a 4.71 FIP over 181.2 innings last year covering 31 starts. In 87.1 innings at home, he allowed a .317/.359/.563 slash with a .392 wOBA against and posted a 6.70 ERA. In 94.1 innings on the road, he allowed a .204/.288/.364 slash with a .289 wOBA and had a 3.34 ERA.
Obviously we know that Coors Field is known for offense, but Marquez’s full-season numbers really obscure that he’s been an excellent road pitcher in his career with a 3.76 ERA and a .299 wOBA against. Aside from a rough 2021, he’s been rather great since 2018 away from Denver. That’s not to say that I’m backing him here, but it is to say that context matters a lot with Marquez and he’s at least in consideration for being a play-on guy in road starts.
With Blake Snell, the story is always the same. He’s great the first two times through the order and then suddenly not the third time through. Last season, he allowed a .224 wOBA the first time through with a 1.46 ERA in 55.1 innings with just two homers allowed. He had a 4.01 ERA the second time through in 51.2 innings, but with a .309 wOBA against and a strong 3.33 FIP. Third time through? He only faced 104 batters, but allowed a .348 wOBA, including a .375 on-base percentage. He had a 6.86 ERA and saw a big drop in K% and a big spike in BB%.
“Times through the order” means the first time facing a hitter, the second time facing a hitter and then the third time. I’ll reference this a lot throughout the season, as hitters get better the more they see a pitcher and vice versa.
I got really close to going with the Rockies 1st 5 or the 1st 5 under (would’ve wanted 4, not 3.5), but Marquez is another ground ball guy and I don’t think he’ll rack up a lot of strikeouts against this Padres lineup, which was ninth in K% last season and some of last year’s high K% guys like Wil Myers and Luke Voit are no longer on the team.
It is rare to get Max Scherzer at this price, particularly against an inferior team, but that is the pull of a guy like Sandy Alcantara. My big question for the reigning NL Cy Young winner is whether or not we see him reach into his bag of tricks and find more strikeouts. He has elite command and has really worked hard to develop elite control, but his two best seasons as a pro have come with GB% marks of 53.3% and 53.4%.
Last season, the Marlins shifted 61.4% of the time against lefties and 40.7% of the time against righties, both career highs behind Alcantara. He allowed a .270 BABIP in 2021 and a .262 BABIP last season. He’s going to allow more baserunners this season, but an increase in K% would help offset some of my worries. He had 15 K in 11.1 Spring Training innings, which doesn’t really tell me much and that Astros lineup he faced in his last outing was not MLB-caliber.
The Mets don’t strike out much. In four games against Alcantara, they had 21 strikeouts in 110 plate appearances against him (19.9%), so that was below his season average of 23.4%. Their lineup is superior in every way to what the Marlins are running out there and they’re one of the teams better-equipped to face a guy like Alcantara in my estimation.
As great as Alcantara was, Scherzer had a lower Hard Hit% against (33.9% to 38.5), easily a higher K% (30.6% to 23.4%) and he isn’t reliant on ground balls. Furthermore, he’s a fly ball guy pitching in a park that has suppressed offense throughout its history. I think this start is set up very well for Scherzer, especially against a Marlins lineup I don’t have high hopes for this season.
Another thing about Alcantara is that he only threw 45 pitches in his final Spring Training start after being away from the club to pitch in the World Baseball Classic. The likelihood that we see Alcantara’s workhorse-like ways in this first start is very low. I know the Mets pen has questions without Edwin Diaz, but the Marlins pen just doesn’t have a ton of upside to me and probably a heavier lift here.
I’ll take the short number with the Metropolitans.
Pick: Mets -125
A growing trend over the last couple of seasons has been to see influential money backing Zac Gallen. We’re not seeing it to the full degree here against Julio Urias and the Dodgers, but I would expect Gallen and a really popular Diamondbacks team to get a lot of love early in the year.
As I’ve talked about on air and on my podcast, the Diamondbacks are a team really well-positioned for all the rule changes. They have a lot of great defenders and put a lot of balls in play with speedy guys that can create havoc on the bases. They may have a little more pop this season as well, but they’re a small ball kind of team and that plays now in this current environment.
Urias is a tough customer and Arizona had a bottom-five offense against lefties last season, so those are two reasons for the muted action on the Snakes, but this will be a team to watch in April. Selfishly, I hope they struggle so I can get them at some cheaper prices down the line, but a lot of people I respect are high on them for a variety of reasons.
The safety net of Tropicana Field was really kind to Corey Kluber last season. He had a 3.71 ERA with a .291 wOBA against in 87.1 innings at home, but a 5.05 ERA with a .341 wOBA against in 76.2 innings on the road. He allowed 33 extra-base hits on the road compared to 22 at home, despite throwing 10.2 more innings at home.
Kluber’s 20.2% K% was the lowest he’s had since 2012, but he did have the lowest BB% of his career at 3.0% as well. The low walk rate kept his FIP lower than his ERA and he still did a good job of generally staying away from hard-hit contact, but the home/road splits are something that caught my attention because he goes from the Trop, which is an outstanding pitcher’s park, to Boston, which is absolutely not a good park for pitchers.
There are some people smarter than me that really like Kyle Gibson this season. I’m less enthused, but I can see the case for it. The Phillies stunk defensively most of the season and he wound up with a 5.05 ERA with a 4.46 xERA, 4.28 FIP and 3.94 xFIP. All of these metrics, including his 67.7% LOB%, point towards being better with a better defensive team. However, Gibby is a 50.9% GB% for his career and last season was his first year under 48.8%. As a pitch-to-contact guy that induces a lot of grounders, I’m certainly concerned in a post-shift world.
This game was a stopping point for me in terms of doing prep work last night for the article. Since I picked it back up, we’ve seen a lot of games bet towards the under. Offense lags in March and April with the cooler conditions, but the elephant in the room is still the shift ban and there are a lot of games with ground ball pitchers today.
Staff aces tend to get that label because they avoid home runs and have a lot of strikeouts. For the guys on the bump today that don’t get a lot of strikeouts and avoid homers by keeping the ball on the ground, I think there is a lot to watch and follow. Gibson fits that mold, though “ace” is a really loose term here.
Here’s a high total, but it has less to do with the pitchers and more to do with the weather. The winds are forecasted to be blowing out to left at about a 20 mph clip on a 66-degree day in KC. Pablo Lopez is more of a ground ball guy than Zack Greinke, but the wind could have an impact on both guys and any relievers that come in.
If I liked Greinke at all, I’d be on the Royals today. Lopez concerns me with his move from Miami to Minneapolis. Games in the Midwest are less concerning for him early in the season, but as it warms up, some noteworthy home/road splits may come into play. Marlins Park is a tremendous pitcher’s park. Lopez has played all five seasons in Miami and has yielded a .291 wOBA with a 3.45 ERA in his 284 innings of work. On the road, however, Lopez has allowed a .319 wOBA and a 4.54 ERA.
Last year was the only season in which he had a really big sample size of road innings and did pitch well with a 3.00 ERA and a .293 wOBA against, but in the other seasons, he had ERAs above 4.30 and saw some major contrasts in BABIP and HR/FB% compared to home. I think he’s a fine pitcher, but I don’t know that he’ll be as good as the Twins or analysts are thinking. I could eat some crow on that one, but I’m hoping he starts hot and I’ll look to fade him as the weather gets more conducive to hitting.
As for Greinke, he had an anemic K% last season, yet managed a 3.68 ERA with a 4.03 FIP. He had a 4.78 xERA and the highest Hard Hit% of his career in the Statcast era at 39.6%. At age 39, I think his skills are declining and it is really concerning in a post-shift world that he can’t generate many whiffs at this stage of his career.
I gave a little thought to the over here, but it’s entirely possible I’m wrong on Lopez.
Great pitching matchup here between Dylan Cease and Framber Valdez. Also, we see the requisite line move in a White Sox game when facing a lefty. This line opened as high as Astros -170, but we’re down to as low as -135 with White Sox love in the marketplace. The Astros are without Jose Altuve, which impacts what the modeling crowd has for a number on this game, but I think this move is largely based on Chicago’s multi-year prowess against lefties.
Most of the same core (minus Jose Abreu) is intact for the White Sox, who were second in BA vs. LHP last season and fifth in wOBA. It is worth noting that A.J. Pollock is also gone and he was an excellent platoon bat against southpaws for the Pale Hose last season. This also could be a game in which the market is looking at the most extreme of ground ball guys in a post-shift world.
Valdez had a 66.5% GB% last season. His 23.5% K% was still above league average, but he was one of the most notorious worm killers in 2022 and had an exit velocity that ranked in the 16th percentile and a Hard Hit% that ranked in the 18th percentile. The Astros shifted at a 76.9% rate against left-handed hitters behind him, but only a 9.9% clip against right-handed batters. Righties only posted a .280 wOBA with a .229/.300/.320 slash.
We’ll see how it plays out here and I’ll be doing a lot of tracking early in the year. I don’t have to do much of that with Cease, whose batted ball distribution is pretty standard, if not slanted towards the fly ball side. He ran an elite 30.4% K% last season, but did have the 10.4% BB%. That was about the only blemish honestly, as he had a 2.20 ERA with a 2.70 xERA and a 3.10 FIP. He also took his Hard Hit% down from 40.7% in 2020 to 38.5% in 2021 to 31.2% in 2022. There is a lot to like with this profile, particularly against right-handed batters.
The Astros don’t have a lot of lineup balance and will run out a lot of righties. Cease held righties to a .236 wOBA last season with a .163/.238/.289 slash and had a 33.9% K% in that split. His walk rate was also much higher against lefties and Houston will probably only have two in the lineup, but they are elite bats in Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker.
This line move makes sense to me and I think a lot of the value has been extracted out. Also, the Astros had the best bullpen in baseball last year and the White Sox are good, but not great.
Thanks to the MLB schedule makers for doing the smart thing and putting Cleveland in a dome to start the season. The Guardians played 11 doubleheaders last year because of games that were postponed and nine of them were at home. It turns out the weather is still bad in early spring in a lot of places.
Anyway, elite pitching matchup here with Luis Castillo, who many like for the AL Cy Young, and Shane Bieber, who has won one and remains a top-20 starter in the big leagues. Castillo is a career 52.7% guy in the GB% department, but last season marked one of his lowest years at 46.9%. I think there’s something to be said about leaving Great American Ball Park and going to T-Mobile Park because that is a huge park factor change and it can allow you to do some things differently. I don’t think Castillo has to be as extreme of a ground ball guy if he doesn’t want to be.
When he got to Seattle, his K% ticked up and his BB% percentage ticked down. He threw more fastballs and fewer changeups, which would lead me to expect a decrease in K%, but that wasn’t the case. Turns out when you throw 97 with heavy movement, you can still generate whiffs that way. It was a bit of an outlier for Castillo, though, as his changeup and slider have historically been his best pitches. His CH had a negative pitch value for the first time ever last season, but his slider was on point.
Bieber is a guy I will watch closely this season. Last year’s well-documented velocity decrease was part of a strikeout drop, but he still had his best full season since 2019 with a 2.88 ERA and a 2.87 FIP. He is a guy that still allows a lot of hard contact at 42.9% and sits at 41.6% for his career. He’s just always had the swing and miss and the home run avoidance to bail him out. He still ran a 25% K%, which is well above average, but it wasn’t the 33.1% he had in 2021 before getting hurt. As a Guardians fan, I probably take for granted just how good he is and maybe that impacts my view of him in the betting market as well.
This should be a good test for both lineups and these are two outstanding bullpens, so the 6.5 total makes a ton of sense. Cleveland is very well-positioned for the new rules, but I’m not eager to take them against a guy like Castillo and against a Mariners team I really like heading into the year.
Quickly, I wanted to hit the Giants and talk again about what concerns me with them. Webb had a 56.7% GB% last season. A lot of Giants pitchers induced a lot of ground balls and a bad defense was a big reason why they struggled. Webb didn’t, as he had a 2.90 ERA and a 3.03 FIP, but he did see a big reduction in his K% from 2021 to 2022. The Giants didn’t shift at an overly high rate behind him against lefties at 57.5%, but it was certainly helpful with his batted ball distribution.
In this matchup, I think he benefits a little from a Yankees lineup that features a lot of right-handed sticks, as righties posted just a .216/.260/.288 slash against him with a .245 wOBA. Lefties, meanwhile, had a .263/.326/.404 slash with a .321 wOBA. I’d expect those numbers to go up without the benefit of the shift, so I’ll be looking to pick against Webb and the Giants against left-handed lineups, especially if I can get those games on the road. Today isn’t that day, though I don’t expect the Giants offense to do much of consequence against Gerrit Cole.
I know there are a lot of words here with limited plays, but I’m trying to prepare myself and all of you for betting angles we can hit as the first couple months of the season play out.
Aaron Nola and Jacob deGrom have had many battles in the past, but this will be the first one with deGrom in a Rangers uniform. When healthy, JDG is the best pitcher on the planet. deGrom was slowed a bit by left side tightness in Spring Training and the Rangers invested a lot in him, so I expect they’ll be very careful early on.
deGrom’s numbers are laughably good when he’s out there, so I don’t need to wax poetic about those. Also, an elite K% means he shouldn’t be impacted by the defensive rule changes as much. And, something else to quickly point out, I’m curious to see how aggressive teams are on the bases against elite pitchers. I understand the idea of trying to maximize the few chances you get, but having some of the limited baserunners thrown out is a hard pill to swallow.
Nola struggled in his last Spring Training start as his wishes for a contract extension fell short. I’m not sure if any of that carries over, but he’s coming off of his best season with a 3.25 ERA and a 2.58 FIP. He’s also worked really hard the last few seasons to remove any platoon problems from his profile. Lefties only posted a .246 wOBA last season after a .287 wOBA in 2021. He also lowered his Hard Hit% to 31.6% last season after being at 39.5, 38.1 and 37.2% the previous three years.
As great as he is, deGrom will be on a pitch count of somewhere around 65-75 pitches based on everything I’ve read. He’s pretty efficient, so that may allow him to work deep into the game, but I have a lot of worries about this Rangers bullpen. If Texas needs an extra inning or two from their relievers, I think that really swings the balance to the Phillies, who have a much deeper bullpen, at least on paper.
This is one of the benefits to me of looking to bet full games instead of 1st 5s. If Nola and deGrom largely cancel each other out, I’m very happy to take the Phillies at an underdog price with what I perceive to be the better bullpen. Maybe Philly’s familiarity with deGrom helps them scratch out a run or two. I expect Nola to pitch well here and this should be a tight one in the middle innings. At that point, I think there’s some equity in being on the Phillies as a dog.
I also like that the Phillies picked up Cristian Pache and will have the chance to run a better outfield out there late in games to protect a lead. I think they’ll have one late to protect here and I’ll roll with the plus-money price. A heads up that DraftKings does appear to have the lowest Phillies price in the market, so you can even find better with +118 or higher at other places. But, I'm grading based on DK lines and listing their odds all season long. Shop around, as I mentioned above.
Pick: Phillies +115
DraftKings is really the only book with Toronto clearly favored in this game. Other books are closer to a -105 pick ‘em both ways or thereabouts. This is a really interesting game in a lot of ways. I’ve seen a lot of anti-Manoah sentiment in the lead-up to the season. When you look at his two seasons in the bigs, he’s had a 3.22 ERA with a 3.80 FIP and a 4.17 xFIP (2021) and a 2.24 ERA with a 3.35 FIP and a 3.97 xFIP (2022). On the surface, those numbers suggest ERA regression.
However, Manoah’s Hard Hit% marks those two seasons are 31.2% and 31.5%. I don’t think projection systems accurately account for guys that do such a good job limiting hard contact and staying off the barrel. To me, it feels like there’s some undeserved shade being thrown towards Manoah. This is a good opening test against a great Cardinals lineup. I will concede that his .246 and .244 BABIPs are probably a little unsustainable, especially without the shift, but hitters swing at a lot of pitches outside of the zone and make weak contact on them. The Cardinals are a pretty disciplined lineup, so this isn’t an ideal matchup for Manoah, but I don’t see why he can’t have another great season.
I’m intrigued to see how Miles Mikolas does this season. He threw 202.1 innings after missing most of 2021 and all of 202. That was a huge innings increase for him and he performed well with a 3.29 ERA and a 3.87 FIP. The Cardinals have an elite defense, which is how Mikolas had a career-best .249 BABIP last season. He also has outstanding control and doesn’t walk people. He does, however, pitch to a lot of contact and I’m curious to see the impact of that with the defensive rule changes. The Cardinals didn’t shift a ton behind him last season, but did shift 44% of the time against lefties and 23.3% against righties.
Busch Stadium has been a really good pitcher’s park the last few years, so that’s one parting nugget for this novelesque write-up on Opening Day.
(then you’re *really* missing out!)