Ten games are on the MLB card for Thursday and there are a lot of interesting pitching matchups to discuss. There are a lot of interesting things to discuss right now in baseball, which is why it is a good thing that it’s Thursday and I’ll have a new edition of The Bettor’s Box to bring your way.
I might have something to say about spin rates on the show. By the way, overs were 10-5 yesterday and we’ve seen some pretty big spin rate drops across the league. All of the starters will get the attention, but as I’ve been talking about in the article and on the podcast, I think it’s also important to look at relievers and, more specifically, relief units for spin rate drops.
I’ll touch on a lot of the individuals and teams on today’s podcast, so I’ll spare you the long intro here. I just encourage you to check out the pod.
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Here are the MLB Picks & Tips for June 17, 2021:
The Diamondbacks offense seems to be in pretty good shape right now with just about everybody healthy, but now the pitching staff is not holding up its end of the bargain. To be honest, the Diamondbacks pitching staff hasn’t held up its end of the bargain all season long. With this recent run of poor showings, Arizona is 30th in ERA and 30th by a large margin at 5.34. The Orioles are the next worst at 5.13. Arizona is also dead last in FIP, too.
Maybe the team will get a bump from the return of Zac Gallen. Gallen hasn’t pitched since May 7 and still ranks third on the team in fWAR. He’s only made five starts this season, as he got off to a slow start coming out of Spring Training and then got shut down with an elbow injury. He’s allowed nine earned runs on 18 hits over 26.2 innings of work.
Gallen did not make a minor league rehab appearance. Instead, he threw a three-inning sim game. He won’t work deep into this game and I have no idea how he’ll look in his return. All I know is that the Diamondbacks bullpen absolutely blows and they’ll be tasked with picking up a lot of innings here.
Kevin Gausman’s ERA is down to 1.43 now with a 2.40 FIP in his 81.2 innings of work. Gausman has stellar peripherals across the board. He’s running a .213 BABIP and an 88.1% LOB%, so those are two areas of likely regression, but he also has a 97/18 K/BB ratio in 13 starts. Gausman has allowed more than two runs in a start once this season. He has allowed eight earned runs in his last 10 starts.
I’m not stepping in front of that, at least not with the Diamondbacks, but I am going to look to fade Gausman soon.
As far as today’s game, it’ll be a pass from me, though 7.5 could be a little bit too low of a total given that Gallen is a major unknown and he’s likely to only go three innings or so.
Kyle Hendricks and Marcus Stroman are listed here as the Cubs and Mets finish up their series. It’s puckering time for the Mets right now with Jacob deGrom leaving another start early. Guys like Stroman are going to have to pick up the slack if JDG is out for an extended period of time.
Stroman has been great to this point with a 2.32 ERA and a 3.55 FIP in his 77.2 innings of work. He’s doing what he does best in terms of keeping the ball on the ground and has also lowered his walk rate for this season to 5.8%. That’s the lowest he’s had since 2015 when he only made four starts. Stroman has allowed a lot of hard contact, though, so I’m wondering if some regression is in his future.
The Mets have been really good defensively, especially on the infield this season. Stroman has a 45.8% Hard Hit%, which is easily his highest in the Statcast era, but only has a .267 BABIP against. This would be his first season below .300 in a full year in his career. His LOB% is also 80.2% with a pretty mediocre K% at 21.5%.
I do think that Stroman will run into some tougher outings soon. I don’t know if that happens today against the Cubs or if it happens at pitcher-friendly Citi Field, but we’ll just have to see going forward. He’s only allowed five earned runs over his last five starts, so he’s throwing the ball really well right now.
Hendricks is still trying to dig out of an early-season hole. He has a 4.46 ERA with a 5.64 FIP on the season. Hendricks has allowed 19 home runs. His career high is 22 and that came back in 2018 over 199 innings of work. The complete lack of command from Hendricks has been really extreme this season. He’s been a guy that thrives on command with low strikeout rates and low walk rates in his career, but something has been amiss this season.
His Hard Hit% of 38.7% is his first time over 31.5% in the Statcast era. His Barrel% of 10.9% is more than double his previous high. He might be coming around, though, as he has a 2.93 ERA over his last 40 innings of work. On the other hand, he’s allowed eight home runs in his last four starts. In a year with a deadened baseball, it is a bad look.
The total of 7 seems a little low here, as we’re seeing the impacts of the foreign substance crackdown around the league, but these are two guys that haven’t really had crazy increases or decreases, so I’m not sure that they’ve been using anything outlandish. I do see those regression signs for Stroman and Hendricks has been allowing a lot of homers, which add to run totals fairly quickly.
We’ll have lots of balls in play in this game as well. Now that this total is down to 7, I think this is a decent chance to play a low over. I wouldn’t be surprised if some runs are scored off of the bullpens as well.
Pick: Over 7
Operation Fade John Gant is taking place again in the betting markets, though we aren’t quite seeing it to the same degree that we have. The Cardinals right-hander has been knocked around in consecutive starts, so we’ve finally seen some corrections to his numbers. Gant has allowed 12 runs on eight hits in his last 5.2 innings with eight walks against three strikeouts.
The horseshoe must have fallen out of his ass and took the rabbit’s foot and four-leaf clovers with it as well. He still has a 3.36 ERA with a 4.99 FIP and a 5.46 xFIP on the season. Gant has walked as many batters as he has struck out in his 56.1 innings of work. That would be 42 strikeouts and 42 walks. He’s also allowed three of his four homers over his last two starts.
We basically have no choice but to look to fade this profile as well. Not only is the shine coming off, but I can’t help but wonder if it’s a mental thing now as well. He ran so good for so long. Even a pro athlete has to be perceptive enough to know what the numbers say and how hard it is to sustain what Gant has been doing.
It doesn’t hurt that he’s taking on a Braves lineup that is very dangerous. Atlanta’s offense continues to be inconsistent and frustrating, but they do tend to score runs in bunches. They also strike out a lot, but that won’t be a problem with Gant. They’re also a top-10 offense in BB%. This seems like a really good matchup for them. Unfortunately, I cannot track Team Totals in the app.
That means either finding the full-game total or laying some sort of side play with Atlanta.
Charlie Morton has a 4.50 ERA with a 3.77 FIP in his 66 innings this season. Morton’s biggest problem has been a 62.5% LOB% this season. The thing for Morton is that he has good peripherals across the board with a solid K% and a decent BABIP against, given that he’s a 49.4% GB% guy. He has allowed just seven homers in 66 innings of work.
That LOB% is a direct reflection of how he has struggled with men on base. With the bases empty, Morton has allowed a .214 OBA. With men on base, he has allowed a .431 wOBA. With men in scoring position, he has allowed a .450 wOBA. Five of his seven homers have come with men on base.
If we look at the BABIP splits, he has a .220 BABIP with the bases empty, a .437 BABIP with men on base, and a .444 BABIP with RISP. It doesn’t help that his K% is 30% with the bases empty and 20.7% with men on base. All of the sequencing luck in the world has been on the bad side for Morton, but he’s also had his own issues with the decreased K%.
Is that enough to look at the over today? How much can we trust the Cardinals offense here? The St. Louis offense is 24th in wOBA. If we look only on the road, and take Busch Stadium out of the equation, the Cardinals are still only 23rd.
I’m not overly keen on the Braves bullpen right now for various reasons. They’ve had some spin rate decreases that I think are really concerning and problematic. They’re not a real great unit overall. In this spot, though, I think Morton’s likely baseline and the regression I expect from Gant are enough to take the chance with an Atlanta run line.
It will be warm again in Atlanta and we’ve seen a lot of offense there the last couple of days. St. Louis is not Boston offensively. Let’s hope that the Braves can hold up their end of the bargain and knock Gant around like they should. Let’s also hope Morton’s positive regression comes to the forefront.
Pick: Atlanta Braves Run Line
Brandon Woodruff and German Marquez make for a pretty good pitching matchup at Coors Field. We just watched as an underachieving Padres offense went into town and got swept by the Rockies. What will an underachieving, or just outright bad, Brewers offense do in the thin air?
I have no idea. What I do know is that there’s no chance I lay this number and a lot of bettors seem to feel the same way. This line has come down a little bit and that’s even with how good Woodruff has been this season.
I will say that I do worry about Woodruff’s spin rates as we go forward. We saw a huge drop for Corbin Burnes in his last start. Woodruff has had a pretty big increase in spin rates, especially from 2019 to 2020.
I do find it peculiar that his CB and SL spin rates have increased while his fastball spin rates have decreased this season. Fastball spin rate is what we are most focused on with the substances right now. Not to say that it can’t help other pitches to use foreign substances, but it has made fastballs a lot less hittable. Hitters have a .093 BA with a .176 SLG on Woodruff’s four-seam this season.
So, we’ll wait and see what things look like for Woodruff here. Maybe it gives us a peek into the future.
Joe Musgrove is taking a lot of money today in this matchup between the Reds and the Padres. I’m taken aback a bit by the nature of this line move. I fully realize that Joe Musgrove is having a really big season, but the Padres offense has been pathetic for a while now. Is this really the team that you want to be laying big numbers with at this point?
Also, Musgrove has a 2.50 ERA with a 3.37 xERA, a 3.04 FIP, and a 2.70 xFIP in 72 innings. Wade Miley? He has a 2.92 ERA with a 3.70 xERA, a 2.97 FIP, and a 3.47 xFIP in 61.2 innings. I realize that Musgrove’s numbers likely have more staying power to them, but Musgrove has not been that much better than Miley this season. The higher K% is a big factor with Musgrove’s success to be sure, but Miley has only allowed three homers to the nine for Musgrove.
I realize that the Reds road fade has been en vogue this season. Cincinnati is 15th in wOBA on the road at .301 and has a 90 wRC+. I get it. They’re a hell of a lot better at home. Fully understand. I also understand that the Padres have a .304 wOBA and a 95 wRC+ now for the season. That isn’t that far off from what the Reds have on the road.
My biggest concern in this game with the Reds is actually their bullpen. Lucas Sims has seen spin rate drops and has worked three of the last four days. Brad Brach has worked four of five. Heath Hembree worked three straight before having yesterday off and so did Amir Garrett. I’m not sure who gets outs in the later innings for them.
I gave some consideration to a Cincinnati 1st 5 ticket, but the increased variance with Miley and balls in play was a stopping point for me.
I just think this line move is a little bit over the top. If it keeps going, maybe I’ll take a stab on Cincinnati. For now, I’m staying away.
The Orioles gift-wrapped some more runs for the Indians on Wednesday night with another poor performance. Cleveland is really up against it today, though. Aaron Civale was not overly sharp or effective. After inexplicably using James Karinchak and Emmanuel Clase with a five-run lead on Tuesday, Terry Francona was forced to use them in a one-run game on Wednesday.
That means that Clase and Karinchak are definitely unavailable today. Bryan Shaw has thrown 77 pitches in four days, so he’s probably not going to be used today. And the Indians are going to need to use somebody today because Eli Morgan is unlikely to work deep into the game. My guess is that we see lefties Sam Hentges or Kyle Nelson as the first guys out of the bullpen. The Orioles pummel lefties. They just haven’t seen any in this series.
There is no chance in hell I could lay the Cleveland price today. They’re doing everything that they can to cobble this thing together. I also think Eli Morgan could be better today than he was in his debut start in what was basically a monsoon in Cleveland. He allowed six runs on eight hits in just 2.2 innings to the Blue Jays.
The question for me is whether or not I can take Baltimore. I’ve been impressed with Jorge Lopez and what the Orioles have quietly been doing with him. Lopez has over a strikeout per inning and has cut down on his home run rate from where it was earlier in the season. Lopez has a 20.4% HR/FB%. I get that. He also allowed six of his 10 homers in his first four starts of the season. He’s pitched a lot better since April 29 with a 4.60 ERA and a 4.00 FIP. I think the Orioles have to be encouraged with what they’ve seen.
I know I am, but Lopez doesn’t work deep into games because the command profile is still a question. The Orioles bullpen is bad.
I think this is a complex and compelling handicap for what will mostly be a throwaway game for a lot of people. Here’s what I’ll say. I’d live bet Baltimore in the middle innings if the game is close or if they trail by a run or two or something. I don’t think the three highest-leverage relievers for the Indians are available today. I know two of them are not for sure in Karinchak and Clase. Maybe Shaw lobbies to be used. Francona screwed up using Karinchak and Clase on Tuesday.
I don’t have a bet here, but will be watching this game as I can and will be looking to live bet Baltimore.
We’ve got a total of 10.5 for the series finale up in Buffalo between the Yankees and Blue Jays. I admit to having no idea what will happen in this game. Michael King is making his fourth straight start and has allowed 10 runs on 13 hits over those 11.1 innings of work. He’s faced Detroit, Boston, and Minnesota in those starts.
King has a 3.77 ERA with a 4.16 FIP for the full season. The Yankees bullpen is in pretty good shape for today’s game, so that will be helpful if King exits early, as he has in two of his three starts.
TJ Zeuch is back at the MLB level for the first time since April 18. He allowed 13 runs on 16 hits in his first 12 innings. Only nine were earned for a 6.75 ERA, but he allowed five home runs. He displayed a quality of stuff that was decidedly not MLB-ready.
In his 35 Triple-A innings this season, Zeuch has a 4.37 ERA with 20 runs allowed on 41 hits in 35 innings. Only 17 of the runs are earned and he allowed all four home runs in one start with seven runs allowed. Zeuch’s control has been a lot better in the minors and he’s pitched well in most of his starts. I still just don’t know what we are dealing with here in terms of how he’ll fare coming back up to face the Yankees. He only had 24 K in 35 innings in the minors. He’s more of a ground ball kind of guy, as evidenced by the 41 hits he allowed in those six starts and one long relief appearance.
King and the Yankees deserve to be favorites here. I don’t know much more beyond that.
This is the game that I am most interested in tonight. The White Sox will send Dylan Cease to the mound and the Astros will counter with Jose Urquidy. The reason why I am so interested in this game is that Cease is a guy whose spin rates have pretty steadily increased, particularly on his fastball over the last few seasons.
If we look at the 2021 spin rates for Cease, we see that maybe the memo was a shot across the bow, as the last two data points came on June 6 and June 12
The drop in fastball spin rate for Cease from June 6 to June 12 was from 2601 to 2480. He was at 2589 in his June 1 start. So it’s entirely possible that he decided between his June 6 and June 12 starts to do something differently. The White Sox have done well to give Cease more of a fighting chance with a third pitch this season, so he isn’t as fastball-dependent as he was earlier in the year or in previous seasons, but the fastball is still his primary offering.
The thing about Cease is that the strikeout is his best friend. His command and control have both improved this season, but he has struck out 29.7% of batters this season. His SwStr%, which sat at 9.5% last season, is up to 15.4% this season. I’m not going to give foreign substances all of the credit here, as Cease has a huge arm, premier velo, and has simply had better command of the slider and curveball this season.
The problem for Cease in this start is that the Astros don’t strike out. They are the only team in baseball with a K% under 22%. They are at 18.5%, so they are way under. Alex Bregman left hurt yesterday and may not be available today, but this is a deep and talented lineup with a ton of upside. They also put a ton of balls in play. Guys like Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer, pre-crackdown, weren’t even able to generate strikeouts against them.
Cease’s command profile has improved this season, but I really do wonder about his effectiveness in this matchup. I’m not alone, as this line has moved up on the overnights.
I also look at this matchup for the White Sox offense and do not like it. Jose Urquidy is right-handed, so that’s one strike against the White Sox, who are still good against righties, but not nearly as good as they are against lefties. Next, Urquidy is a fly ball pitcher. The White Sox don’t hit for a lot of power or a high slugging percentage. They have a lot of ground ball hitters and are one of the few lineups that manufacture runs the old-fashioned way.
Urquidy has a 31.8% GB%, so he allows a lot of aerial contact. I’m not sure that jives with what the White Sox want to do offensively. In fact, I think it hurts them to a degree. Urquidy has also only walked 11 batters out of the 247 that he has faced. He’s not a big strikeout guy, but he doesn’t allow free passes and doesn’t allow a lot of hits with that fly ball style. The White Sox strike me as a volume offense. They want to put lots of balls in play and get lots of traffic on base. Urquidy has only put 65 guys on in 62 innings.
Even Cease, with all of his strikeouts, has put 89 guys on in 66.2 innings. I think the Astros are the play here. I don’t like the Astros for the full game as I trust this bullpen about as much as I trust myself not to order an IPA when I go to a brewery.
The 1st 5 it is. The Astros it is. Win or lose, I think this handicap is why my article is pretty valuable. I just hope we get the desired result.
Pick: Houston Astros 1st 5
Matt Manning has the unfortunate task of going up against Shohei Ohtani in his MLB debut. I’m not betting against Ohtani, so I’ll just throw some info out there about Manning.
He’s making his MLB debut despite an 8.07 ERA in seven starts at the Triple-A level, so that seems like suboptimal timing. He’s allowed 29 runs on 40 hits in 32.1 innings and has allowed 11 home runs. Yeah, that’s pretty bad.
On the whole, Manning has racked up a lot of strikeouts in the minor leagues and carved up Double-A hitters before the 2020 shutdown of the minor leagues. He was at the team’s alternate site last season. Manning was the second-ranked prospect in a pretty decent Tigers system by Eric Longenhagen prior to the season.
Manning is a big guy at 6-foot-6 and I wonder if many his mechanics have been out of whack this season and that’s why the command troubles have popped up. Longenhagen listed Manning with two MLB caliber pitches already and a third that looks pretty good. We haven’t really seen it at Triple-A this season. I don’t know if we’ll see it in his debut.
All I know is that things are really looking up for the Tigers pitching staff. Based on the in-season development of Mize and Skubal, I’d rather see Manning at the MLB-level working with AJ Hinch and the MLB coaches. That’s probably best for him at this point.
We’re seeing some small indications of anti-Mariners money in the marketplace with the Rays and Mariners matchup. It’s Rich Hill for the Rays and Justin Dunn for the Mariners. I’m not betting this game, but I am watching Hill closely. Hill was very critical of the MLBPA for not protecting the pitchers with this spin rate crackdown. While he’s a veteran and clearly able to have his own platform, it did sound to me like a guy that would be directly impacted.
Hill’s two lowest fastball spin rate starts have been his last two.
Same with the curveball that he throws about 40% of the time. Hill’s CB spin rate from April through May peaked at 2870 and reached a low of 2692. His last two starts have been 2654 and 2653. Whatever Hill was using, he has either stopped or downgraded.
So, we’ll see what happens here today. I’m not saying that I’m eager to run and bet the Mariners at home with their pathetic offense at T-Mobile Park. I am seeing some under money hit the board to push this total down to 8. I’m not sure that’s the move I’d go with, but the totals moves have been mostly sharp and mostly correct this season.
No play for me, but hey, some food for thought as we move forward.