MLB Best Bets Today: Odds, predictions and picks for Monday, April 3rd

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MLB schedule today has 15 games

All 30 teams take the field on the first Monday of the MLB season, which is definitely rare based on how the schedule is typically set up. Usually Monday will be a travel day for some teams, but we had 20 teams off on Friday. The Giants and White Sox will be idle on Tuesday with a day built-in for bad weather in the Windy City.

 

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It’s been a slow start to the season with the picks and with the volume of picks, as I’ve spent a lot of time stressing and overthinking about the rule changes and their impacts on certain teams and pitchers. I’ll elaborate more on today’s edition of VSiN Daily Baseball Bets, but here are some stats from the early season to this point. (Tracking sheet)

– The league-wide batting average has stabilized and so has the BABIP. Hitters collectively own a .245/.323/.392 slash (BA/OBP/SLG) and the BABIP is down to .301. Furthermore, K% has stabilized a bit as well, dropping down to 23.4%. In terms of stabilization points, K% is one of the fastest league-wide stats to stabilize and the fact that we’re into pitchers at the back of the rotation will help lower that number today and tomorrow.

– We have seen 70 successful stolen bases and 14 caught stealings, so an 83.3% success rate. That is still very high, but it was 21-of-23 on Opening Day, so catchers are doing a bit better. Everybody will adjust to the rules as we go forward.

–  We’ve had 101 home runs over the first four days of the season. There were 100 the first four days of last season and nobody was really ready for the start of the season because of the lockout and the expedited Spring Training. I can’t make any definitive statements about the baseball and its properties yet, but it seems like nothing big has changed.

By the way, BABIP over the last four days of the season last year was .276, so that has changed rather significantly.

– Here’s something really interesting: Hitters are still not being rewarded for hard contact to the degree that they were pre-2022.

Batting average / slugging percentage on batted balls of 95+ mph:

2019: .539 / 1.121
2020: .510 / 1.065
2021: .500 / 1.015
2022: .488 / .954
2023: .487 / .934

My working theory was that the shift ban would increase batter success on hard contact, but that hasn’t been the case thus far and we’ve also seen a decrease in power. 

The league-wide launch angle is down to 11.3 degrees and the league-wide exit velocity is the second-lowest in the five-year sample size, better than only 2020, which was obviously a weird year. Batted ball distance is also down seven feet from last season – it would appear that hitters are not elevating the baseball quite as much as last season, likely an adjustment to not having the shift. So far, this is the second-lowest average launch angle of the Statcast era, which dates back to 2015 (and 2015 was the season at 10.9 degrees).

I’ll keep tracking the relevant data and see if I can pick up on anything.

The newest edition of VSiN Daily Baseball Bets will be posted shortly.

 

Here are some thoughts on the April 3 card (odds from DraftKings):

Chicago Cubs (-120, 9) at Cincinnati Reds

Drew Smyly takes the mound for the Cubs in their first road game of the season at Great American Ball Park. The Reds took 2 of 3 from the Pirates to open the year, while the Cubs dropped their series against the Brewers. Cincinnati will counter with Connor Overton on a rather nice spring evening on the banks of the Ohio River. It’s always important to look at the weather in Cincinnati because this is an excellent hitter’s park to begin with, but any wind and warmth help.

The wind will be blowing in from RF, so that isn’t a factor tonight, but get in the habit of checking. As I said, I really like Kevin Roth’s work for Rotogrinders. Anyway, I’m interested to follow Smyly early in the season. For his career, he has a 23.2% K%, but his 20.4% K% from last season was the lowest of his career. He still had a solid 3.47 ERA, but that came with a 4.23 FIP and his 78.5% LOB% seemed fortunate given the decrease in strikeouts. 

The odd thing is that Smyly’s stuff was still really good. He had the highest Chase Rate of his career, the second-highest SwStr% of his career and limited hard contact better than he had in any season since 2016. He really increased his curveball and cutter usage at the expense of his fastball and found success with it. The Cubs also look to be a pretty good defensive team this season, but I do expect some more strikeouts from Smyly, who did bump his K% to 22.2% in the second half.

Overton debuted in pro ball back in 2014 and this will be just the eighth start and 16th appearance of his MLB career. He didn’t debut until 2021 and made four relief appearances for the Blue Jays and five appearances with three starts for the Pirates. He worked 33 MLB innings for the Reds last season with a 2.73 ERA and a 3.66 FIP, though he only struck out 14 batters out of the 124 he faced.

Overton had 99 batted ball events last season and allowed a 41.4% Hard Hit%, yet somehow posted a .204 BABIP against and a .186 batting average against. I don’t really see a Major League pitcher in the numbers throughout his career and there have been a lot of injuries to delay his development path that make me wonder just how sharp and consistent the stuff can be.

I also feel like the Cubs have the better bullpen between these two teams. Better lineup, better starter, better bullpen at a short price is going to be a play for me more often than not. Shop around here, as the Cubs are a few cents cheaper at most books.

Pick: Cubs -120

Atlanta Braves (-125, 8.5) at St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals currently own a 202 wRC+, which means they’ve been more than double a league average offense from a production standpoint thus far. St. Louis scored 22 runs in the series against the Blue Jays and batted .373. We’ll see what they do here against Charlie Morton and the Braves.

Morton had a 4.34 ERA with a 4.26 FIP during his age-38 season last year. It was the highest FIP for Morton since his rookie season way back in 2008 and his highest ERA in a full season since 2015. We saw a huge regression in Morton’s home run prevention, as his HR/FB% ballooned to 16.5%, his highest mark since 2010. His Hard Hit% also skyrocketed to 42.1%, easily his highest percentage in the Statcast era. He still ran a 28.2% K%, but the other numbers were a bit concerning.

Was it just an outlier season? His SwStr% stayed consistent from previous years and he still did a pretty good job of generating swings and misses in the zone. His BB% jumped a bit, but he’s been a little high there most years. His spin rates remain elite and I don’t really see anything that bad under the hood, other than natural aging. He did allow more fly balls than ever before last season, so maybe it’s nothing more than that. But, you can bet I’ll be watching closely.

Jake Woodford was a starter in the minor leagues, but has mostly been a reliever at the MLB level. He’s worked 137 innings, but has only made 10 starts, with eight of them coming in 2021. I’m not terribly high on him as a starter, since he doesn’t miss a lot of bats and pitches to a lot of ground ball contact. The Braves do swing and miss a lot, so I’ll be checking to see the postgame data on Woodford’s stuff and how it played. That may dictate my thoughts on him going forward. He’s also a really fastball-heavy guy, with nearly 60% of his pitches as sinkers and fastballs and that’s not my favorite kind of arm to back.

Arizona Diamondbacks at San Diego Padres (-140, 8)

We’ve got a couple of intriguing youngsters on the bump to start this one, as Ryne Nelson goes for the Diamondbacks and Ryan Weathers goes for the Padres. Weathers is more of a known commodity with 98.1 MLB innings to his name, but the numbers are suspect with a 5.49 ERA and a 5.42 FIP. Weathers was rushed to the bigs in his age-21 season and he may be a cautionary tale about moving a guy too fast. He started Rookie ball at 18 in 2018 and was in The Show just three years later.

Last season, Weathers spent the bulk of it at Triple-A and had a 6.73 ERA with a 7.21 FIP in 123 innings. His K/BB numbers were terrible and he allowed 31 homers. The Pacific Coast League has several ballparks that are Coors Field-esque, but those are still atrocious numbers. Weathers has completely overhauled his mechanics and has a brand-new windup for this season, so he’s a guy that has basically reinvented himself after four seasons of pro ball.

Weathers allowed five homers in 14.2 innings in Spring Training and allowed 11 runs on 17 hits, but he did have 20 strikeouts against six walks with the new look.

The irony is that Nelson had ugly Triple-A numbers last season, too. He had a 5.43 ERA with a 5.49 FIP as he allowed 25 homers in 136 innings of work. He made three MLB starts and looked good with three earned runs allowed on nine hits over 18.1 innings with 16 strikeouts and six walks. Pitching in the PCL is miserable, so you don’t really want to put too much stock in those numbers. I think the Diamondbacks are a really smart team and they opted for Nelson over Brandon Pfaadt and Drey Jameson, who has been pushed into a bullpen role for now.

Nelson is more of a fly ball guy, which will never play well in the PCL, but has the chance to play better at the MLB level with more neutral venues. That seems especially true tonight with winds blowing in at a 20 mph clip from LF. I couldn’t take the Snakes today, but we need to watch them closely. They just played the Dodgers and are now playing the Padres. They play the Dodgers again after this. Their offense was really held down in that first series and it could happen this week as well. We may have some value on them moving forward.

Colorado Rockies at Los Angeles Dodgers (-215, 8.5)

Not much to really say about this game, but I’m trying to hit as many back-of-the-rotation starters as I can so that you get an idea about some of these names. Ryan Feltner is the one for the Rockies and Michael Grove gets the call for the Dodgers.

Feltner has a 6.16 ERA with a 5.09 FIP in 103.2 MLB innings. The concern here is that he was actually worse on the road last season with a .281/.338/.484 slash and a .354 wOBA against compared to a .247/.326/.428 slash and a .330 wOBA against at home. He gave up 16 homers in 97.1 innings last season. While I don’t do player props and don’t cover them here (Zach Cohen does that M-F), I like throwing some of these nuggets out there for that purpose as well.

Grove threw 29.1 innings for the Dodgers last season with a 4.60 ERA and a 5.16 FIP over six starts and a relief outing. The high K% he had in the minors didn’t really translate to the Majors, but his home run problem did. Grove was the 22nd-ranked prospect for the Dodgers entering the season per FanGraphs and he’s in the rotation because Ryan Pepiot and Tony Gonsolin are both hurt. Pepiot had won the job, but suffered a strained oblique. The thought is that Gonsolin needs another couple weeks to be ready.

Check the weather on this one, as we’ve got winds blowing in at 20-30 mph from LF.

Toronto Blue Jays (-120, 8) at Kansas City Royals

Just a reminder that I roll through the MLB card by rotation number, so it will always go NL, AL, Interleague in that order. We’ve got five NL games, five AL games and five interleague games, so now I’ve reached the Junior Circuit with the Jays and Royals, as Toronto moves from one side of the Show Me State to the other to face a much weaker opponent.

However, the presence of Brady Singer is why the Blue Jays are such a short favorite here. Singer’s breakout effort in 2022 with a 3.23 ERA and a 3.58 FIP gave hope to a Kansas City club in desperate need of pitchers to build around. Singer had a career-best 24.2% K% and also his best BB% at 5.6%. He still gave up some hard contact as predominantly a two-pitch pitcher (fastball/slider 82% of the time), but commanded both well and kept a lot of balls on the ground.

The Royals really screwed with Singer last year. They sent him to the minors to manipulate his service time and wound up adding an extra year of arbitration to his contract. When he came back full-time on May 17, he fired seven shutout innings in back-to-back starts. Righties only posted a .284 wOBA against him, which is a significant stat when looking at a matchup against the Jays.

The problem with this handicap is that the Royals offense has to hold up its end of the bargain if you want to back Singer. I thought the KC lineup could be a bit undervalued this season, but the early returns are not great with four runs in three games. Kansas City is batting .133 to this point, as the Twins converted 27 of 28 ground balls into outs in that opening series. A matchup against Jose Berrios does represent a step down in class at least.

Berrios had a 5.23 ERA with a 4.55 FIP last season for the Twins, as his K% dropped and his home run rate spiked. His K% fell under 20% for the first time since 2016 and he allowed 29 homers in 172 innings. His Hard Hit% jumped to 43.4%, easily his highest mark in the Statcast era. The most concerning part is that he was awful on the road, even though Rogers Centre tends to be a good hitter’s park. He allowed a .303/.350/.532 slash with a .378 wOBA on the road.

He was also bad throughout the season, so it wasn’t an injury thing. It was just bad command for a prolonged stretch of the year. Lefties also hammered him with a .298/.351/.514 slash and 20 of his 29 homers allowed. Kansas City may throw as many as six lefties at him today, but I’m not sure this is the right type of lineup to fade him. But, I will be looking.

Baltimore Orioles at Texas Rangers (-135, 8.5)

How impressive were the Rangers in the weekend sweep of the Phillies? They scored 29 runs and only allowed 11 to jump out to a 3-0 start. The crazy part is that five of those 11 runs were surrendered by Jacob deGrom, who seems like the least worrisome pitcher on the staff. There is some love for the Orioles in the market today, as they’ll send out Kyle Bradish against Jon Gray.

Bradish had a 4.90 ERA with a 4.46 FIP last season in 117.2 innings of work. What was odd about Bradish is that he was much worse at home than on the road, as he allowed 12 of 17 homers at Oriole Park and his wOBA against was 51 points higher. Most pitchers enjoyed the friendly confines, but he didn’t. In fact, righties batted .331/.383/.576 with a .410 wOBA in 169 PA against him at home, even though righties were generally bad in Baltimore because the wall in left field was moved back.

Bradish was a success story for the O’s, though. In the second half, he worked 71.1 innings with a 3.28 ERA and a .275 wOBA against. He really finished on a high note as the O’s increased his slider and curveball usage. By September, he actually threw more sliders than fastballs. Opposing batters hit .212 with a .343 SLG on the slider and .233 with a .300 SLG on the curveball. Hitters batted .321 with a .539 SLG on the fastball. Over his final 12 starts, Bradish had a 3.26 ERA with a 3.79 FIP, with seven of the 24 earned runs he allowed coming in one start. August was the first month in which Bradish threw under 50% fastballs.

Gray’s first season outside of Colorado was a pretty good one. He had a 3.96 ERA with a 3.80 FIP and also enjoyed a bit of a velo uptick. He was limited to 24 starts and 127.1 innings due to injury, but struck out over a batter per inning and pitched really well in June and July before injuries arrived. Given that Gray held opposing batters to a .271 wOBA in 43 innings at home, you can bet he enjoyed not pitching in Denver anymore.

The opening series against Boston was a rough one for Baltimore’s reimagined bullpen. The Orioles nearly blew a big lead on Opening Day and did lose a game in walk-off fashion. Until things stabilize there, I wouldn’t be rushing to bet full games. I don’t like anything in this game, but, as usual, will be watching the two guys closely.

Detroit Tigers at Houston Astros (-230, 8)

Hunter Brown has only played three seasons of pro ball, but he made his MLB debut for the Astros last season and worked 20.1 innings in the regular season with two runs allowed on 15 hits with 22 strikeouts against seven walks. Brown had a 2.55 ERA and a 3.27 FIP in 106 innings in the PCL, which is really impressive given what I mentioned earlier about all of the good parks for hitters.

Brown throws really hard and the Tigers had major issues with velocity last season, so this probably isn’t a very good matchup for that lineup. Most matchups won’t be, but Brown has the stuff to generate a lot of swing and miss and the Tigers will swing and miss a lot this season. He had 134 K in 106 innings at Triple-A last season and 131 K in 101.1 innings at Double-A over 2021-22. Like I said, I don’t really do player props, but Brown over his strikeout prop probably isn’t a bad idea.

I gave a lot of thought to the under here with a high projection of Brown, but I don’t know what Matthew Boyd will provide. Boyd was limited to 13.1 innings last season and 10 relief appearances. He only threw 78.2 innings for the Tigers in 2021. He has a career 4.90 ERA with a 4.66 FIP, but a lot of people fell in love with him back in 2019 when he went to Driveline Baseball and followed that up with a huge strikeout boost. Everybody seemed to ignore the 39 home runs he allowed. I have never really gotten the hype with Boyd.

But, he pitched well in Spring Training and seems to be healthy again. This is a pretty high cost for the Astros on the run line and also the moneyline.

Cleveland Guardians (-155, 7.5) at Oakland Athletics

The A’s snuck away with a 2-1 win on Opening Day and then lost the next two games 19-1 to the Angels to round out the first weekend of the season. The scrappy Guardians are at Oakland Coliseum after winning three of four over the Mariners. It will be Zach Plesac for Cleveland and James Kaprielian for Oakland in what looks like a game with a lot of balls in play.

Plesac had a 4.31 ERA with a 4.45 FIP last season in 131.2 innings and he does not appear to be long for this rotation. Once Tanner Bibee, Logan Allen and Gavin Williams settle into their seasons, one of them will replace Plesac, who simply isn’t good enough to be on a contending team. His 17.6% K% last season was below his 18.7% mark, which is only that high because of his 2020 season with eight starts against bad Central Division offenses. In non-COVID years, Plesac has FIPs of 4.94, 4.73 and 4.45. Over the last two seasons, his Hard Hit% marks have been 43.1% and 40.9%. He’s just been able to piggyback off of a really good defense those two years.

Honestly, if the Guardians had gotten better health from Daniel Espino and Williams, Plesac may have been non-tendered this past offseason. So, obviously, this Guardians fan is really excited about him for the season.

Kaprielian has battled a ton of injuries, but has pitched 253.1 innings at the MLB level the last two seasons. He had a 4.07 ERA with a 4.33 FIP in 2021 and a 4.23 ERA with a 4.63 FIP last season. Oddly, Kaprielian was a good bit worse at home, where the marine air and the spacious ballpark usually help pitchers. He was actually really good in the second half with a 3.32 ERA and a .301 wOBA against, but he also had three really bad months over the course of the year.

I’ll be on the Over 4 for the 1st 5 here. The winds are blowing out at 20 mph to RF and the Guardians will probably have six left-handed bats in the lineup, as Will Brennan should get the nod in this one. Plesac just doesn’t impress me at all and the A’s will at least be able to put balls in play and not get overwhelmed. Cleveland is guaranteed to put a lot of balls in play nearly all of the time.

DraftKings deals -115 on 1st 5 totals as a standard vig, which is not my favorite practice. You’ll find Over 4 at -110 most everywhere else. But, I’m tracking and listing with DK odds, so I have no choice in the written part. As always, shop around. You’ll find -110 with minimal effort.

Pick: 1st 5 Over 4 (-115)

Los Angeles Angels at Seattle Mariners (-140, 7.5)

Reid Detmers and George Kirby are two “buzz” guys heading into the season. Kirby was good all year, but especially good in the second half, as he worked 65.2 innings with a 3.02 ERA and a .278 wOBA. He allowed one home run in 268 plate appearances. He also struck out over a batter per inning and only walked 22 guys for the season. It was a thoroughly impressive year for a guy with a mid-90s fastball that works well up in the zone.

Detmers, who threw a no-hitter last season, has been a highly-touted player in the minds of pitching pundits for this season. He added velocity this offseason with both his fastball and slider. Eno Sarris raved about his Stuff+ metrics in Spring Training. Many talked about him as a good darkhorse Cy Young guy. Most books are down to 7 on this total and that means that the 1st 5 is 3.5.

I really like Kirby a lot and Detmers sure does seem to have a lot of upside moving forward. I guess I wouldn’t be shocked if this is a 2-1 pitcher’s duel, but 7 seems like the right number here. I hope these guys aren’t too expensive as the season rolls along. It seems like Kirby definitely will be based on this number. If the Angels had a better bullpen, I’d give them a look as an underdog. I just happen to love Seattle’s pen if this is a bullpen game.

Minnesota Twins (-125, 8) at Miami Marlins

Tyler Mahle wasn’t able to showcase his full value for the Twins last season because he was hurt just three starts. He finished 2022 with a 4.40 ERA and a 3.87 FIP, which was interesting because he had a 3.59 ERA with a 3.88 FIP in 2020 and a 3.75 ERA with a 3.80 FIP in 2021. So, what was different?

His LOB% went down to 69.5%. He wasn’t able to strand runners at the same rate and that drove up his ERA. The Reds weren’t a good defensive team last season and Mahle took the brunt of that during his 19 starts for Cincinnati. I think Mahle has a ton of value for the Twins as the season goes along and that could very well begin in this outing.

In 316.1 innings away from Great American Ball Park, he has held opposing batters to a .296 wOBA. The past two seasons, Mahle has limited hitters to .259 and .257 wOBAs in road starts, which does include two road starts for the Twins. GABP is like Coors Field East, so it makes sense that Mahle would find road success. In home starts (includes one Target Field start), he has a 5.00 ERA with a .344 wOBA against. He has seriously upgraded his park factor and also makes this start down in Miami, which is a very good pitcher’s park.

The Twins will take their cuts against a familiar face in Johnny Cueto, who made 24 starts for the White Sox last season with a 3.35 ERA and a 3.79 FIP. Cueto was one of the saviors of the season for the White Sox, as they battled pitcher injuries and other woes en route to a .500 season. It was also big for Cueto, who rekindled his career at age 36 after some injuries that left him a fringy MLB starter.

Marlins Park should be a great venue for Cueto, but the Marlins aren’t a very good defensive team. The Twins will put a lot of balls in play here and I’m not sure that Miami will against Mahle. The Marlins have struck out almost 30% of the time early in the season here and Mahle has racked up over a strikeout per inning throughout the course of his career. He will issue some walks here and there, but the Marlins don’t walk much.

I’ll lay the short price with the Twins here, as I also prefer their bullpen. It’s the same thing as the Cubs game. Better lineup, better starter, better bullpen at a short price. Shop around here as well, as the Twins are mostly -120 at other places.

Pick: Twins -125

Pittsburgh Pirates at Boston Red Sox (-145, 9)

In the interest of time, I’m skipping Phillies/Yankees and Rays/Nationals to chat about this game real quick. Johan Oviedo and Kutter Crawford are the listed starters here and I wanted to hit briefly on each guy.

Oviedo is a pretty extreme ground ball guy with questionable K/BB numbers. The Pirates got seven starts out of him last year with a 3.23 ERA and a 3.47 FIP, but he was fortunate to run a .253 BABIP against that hid a high walk rate. The Statcast metrics really like him, though, as he was 77th percentile in exit velo, 52nd percentile in Hard Hit%, 82nd percentile in xBA, 86th percentile in xSLG, 85th percentile in fastball velo and 97th percentile in Extension with his 6-foot-5 frame.

I have never really been keen on Pittsburgh’s player development, but it does seem like they have somebody to build around here in Oviedo based on the Statcast metrics. That said, he is a two-pitch pitcher with more of a relief profile to me. The Pirates might as well let him go as a starter and see what happens. Maybe I’m wrong on him, so I’ll keep an eye on this start and upcoming starts, especially since people like the Pirates more than I do.

Crawford had a 4.18 ERA with a 3.87 FIP over his first 64.2 innings at the MLB level last season, but got rocked in his final three starts, allowing 17 earned runs in 12.2 innings of work against the Orioles, Jays and Twins to finish with a 5.47 ERA and a 4.34 FIP. I actually like the raw stuff for Crawford and feel like there’s something there. We’ll see if I’m validated.

TL;DR Recap

Cubs -120
Guardians/A’s 1st 5 Over 4 (-115)
Twins -125