MLB Best Bets Today April 20

The MLB season rolls on with a Saturday full of action, as all 30 teams are slated to play sometime between 1:05 p.m. ET and 8:40 p.m. ET. We even have 16 games with a double dip in Chicago on the docket after Thursday’s rainout between the Marlins and Cubs. Every game is forecast to have sunny skies, but wind could be a factor in Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Washington, so factor that into your handicap.

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Here are the MLB best bets today for April 20:

Boston Red Sox at Pittsburgh Pirates (-122, 8)

4:05 p.m. ET

There are some excellent pitchers on the slate today, including Corbin Burnes and Cole Ragans (facing each other!), Zac Gallen, Zach Eflin, and Zack Wheeler, among others, but it is Kutter Crawford who comes into today with the highest fWAR of the group. Crawford is off to a stellar start with a 0.42 ERA and a 2.22 FIP over his 21.1 innings of work.

Like all of the Red Sox starters, we’ve got a new pitch mix for Crawford and he has struck out 24 and walked eight over 21.1 innings to open the campaign. He’s running a strong 32% Hard Hit% and that’s even with a 53% F-Strike% that should increase as the season goes along. He did pitch around some hard contact against Cleveland last time out, but that was the annual Patriots Day game with a really early start in Boston. I’m not terribly concerned about that.

Crawford’s Baseball Savant page looks really impressive, as he ranks in the 99th percentile in Pitching Run Value, 89th in Fastball Run Value, 97th in Breaking Ball Run Value, and 80th in Offspeed Run Value, so he’s had a lot of success attacking hitters with his entire arsenal. Unlike other Boston starters, he’s still throwing his four-seam fastball, but that’s because opposing hitters only batted .163 against it last season with a .326 SLG. He’s increased the usage of his sweeper from 6.7% to 28.4%, as that has been his primary offering aside from the fastball. He’s just mixed his pitches better in general and also mixes in the occasional curve and split.

On the Pirates side, you’ve got Mitch Keller, who has a 4.50 ERA with a 3.54 FIP. His 66.3% LOB% points to a little bit of bad luck, but he’s also allowed a 46.8% Hard Hit% and has been really inconsistent with generating swings and misses. Over his last two starts, he’s thrown a whole lot of fastballs, which definitely makes it tougher to generate whiffs.

To compare the Baseball Savant data between the two, Keller ranks in the 20th percentile in Pitching Run Value and the 26th percentile in Fastball Run Value. Over 53% of his pitches this season have been fastballs and that percentage in even higher over his last two starts. His fastball velo is also down about 1 mph since last season.

Aroldis Chapman will serve the second of his two-game suspension, so the Pirates are missing an arm in high leverage. Also, the full game moneyline is 10 cents better on Boston and I don’t really think the Pirates have an edge at all in the relief department. At least not one big enough to trade the 12 cents when I think Crawford will be better than Keller.

Pick: Red Sox +102

Oakland Athletics at Cleveland Guardians (-170, 7.5)

6:10 p.m. ET

The series between the A’s and Guardians continues on Saturday with a battle of left-handers. Alex Wood and Logan Allen will take the mound for their respective teams in a game that is unlikely to feature a lot of strikeouts. Allen’s last three starts have featured SwStr% marks of 7.5%, 5.3%, and 7.6% and he’s not getting many chases outside of the zone with an O-Swing% below 25% for the year. He’s allowed 15 hard-hit balls and four barrels over his last two starts, with one against the White Sox and one against the Yankees, surrendering nine runs on 13 hits in his last 9.2 innings.

The A’s could put as many as eight right-handed hitters in the lineup today, including Brent Rooker, who just came off the IL yesterday. In a small sample size of 72 batters, righties have a .299/.333/.567 slash against Allen and have hit all four homers that he has allowed, plus they’ve got 20 total hits and four walks. Righties slashed .274/.335/.435 with a .334 wOBA last season and 14 of the 16 homers he allowed.

Similarly, the Guardians will be able to load up on righties against Wood. I’d expect six righties in the lineup, but we could see more, depending on whether or not first-year skipper Stephen Vogt wants to give a lefty a day off. He’s been maximizing his matchups and tailoring his lineup based on the opposing starter, which has allowed the Guardians to get every ounce of possible production. Thus far, the Guards are third in wRC+ against lefties at 133. 

Righties own a small sample size slash of .362/.474/.638 off of Wood to this point. He’s increased by one in the BB department in every start thus far, topping out at four walks last time out against Washington. The stuff quality isn’t really there for Wood, so he’s been nibbling a good bit. The other thing here is that Cleveland is an excellent baserunning team, so that helps with a pitch-to-contact guy that will allow guys to reach.

The 1st 5 options are Over 3.5 at -160 and Over 4.5 at +110 for DraftKings. The full game is 7.5 and Over -105. With two of the top bullpens in MLB thus far, I’ll take the Over 4.5 for the 1st 5. The math doesn’t really line up well with a full game total of 7.5, but the Guardians have a 2.29 ERA (2nd) and the A’s have a 2.63 ERA (3rd) and Cleveland is also second in FIP and Oakland is sixth among bullpens.

Pick: 1st 5 A’s/Guardians Over 4.5 (+110)

Texas Rangers at Atlanta Braves (-155, 9)

7:20 p.m. ET

Nathan Eovaldi and Charlie Morton are the listed starters for this one down in Atlanta, as the Braves drew first blood last night with three homers, including a grand slam, from Travis d’Arnaud. It was also Andrew Heaney vs. Chris Sale and there’s definitely a difference between those two guys.

Tonight, I don’t think there’s much of a difference between Eovaldi and Morton. Certainly not one big enough to produce this kind of line. Eovaldi struggled last time out against the Astros, but he’s still got a 2.92 ERA with 3.85 FIP over his 24.2 innings of work. He’s struck out 22 and walked six with a solid 36.4% Hard Hit% and a 7.6% Barrel%. He’s generating lots of whiffs and the Braves are a team that will swing and miss because they are such an aggressive bunch.

Morton has made three starts with a 5.29 ERA and a 4.20 FIP, as he’s allowed all 10 of his runs and 12 of his 15 hits in the last two outings against the Mets and Marlins. His first start was against the lowly White Sox, who have already been shut out seven times this season. It’s early, but the 40-year-old Morton is on his way to running another double-digit BB%, which he did for the first time since 2016 last season.

He’s done a good job on the contact management front, but he’s faced the White Sox, Marlins, and Mets, who rank 27th, 30th, and 22nd in Hard Hit%. I’m actually surprised to see the Rangers sitting just 24th in that department and they’ve also got a low Barrel%, but this is a much more talented lineup than what those other teams bring to the equation.

Morton’s fastball velo is down about 1 full mph and I really do believe that we started to see signs of aging last season and will continue to see more. His curveball movement is down this season as well. His average vertical movement is -3% from league average after being +2% last season and his average horizontal movement is +15% compared to +42% last season, so he’s not getting the same tilt on it.

This is one where I’ll play the 1st 5 over the full game and trade some line equity. The Braves absolutely do have the best lineup in baseball, and while I think Eovaldi has a higher ceiling than Morton, it seems smart to limit the exposure to Atlanta’s lineup as much as possible.

Pick: Rangers 1st 5 (+114)