MLB Best Bets Today: Odds, predictions and picks for Thursday, April 20th

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MLB schedule today has 7 games

We’ve got about half of a normal card on Thursday and only one day game as 16 of the league’s 30 teams partake in a travel day or enjoy some downtime at home. Today marks the start of the fourth week of the MLB season and we’re already more than 10% of the way through, which is pretty crazy. 

 

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Kenta Maeda and Sean Manaea are the only starters making their third starts today, as everybody else is making a fourth. The more data points we get, the more we have to analyze and that should only help in the quest for picking winners. Hopefully you’ve done that to this point and we can continue moving forward. (Tracking sheet)

I keep hearing 2023 compared to 2022 and it’s been a sore spot for me, so I wanted to look into something this morning that I will discuss on the podcast. 

April 1-21, 2021:

BA: .233
OBP: .313
SLG: .391
HR: 608
SB: 249
K%: 24.5%
BB%: 9.1%
HR/FB%: 13.3%

March 30-April 19, 2023:

BA: .246
OBP: .322
SLG: .402
HR: 621
SB: 395
K%: 22.7%
BB%: 9.1%
HR/FB%: 12.0%

Over the last few days, the walk rate has fallen and is now in line with the 2021 season. The big decrease in K% has a lot to do with the foreign substance ban, which took place during the 2021 season, but not until there were basic checks in mid-May and stronger checks in June and beyond.

The raw number of HR is a little higher with a much higher rate of batted balls with the K% decrease, but the HR/FB% is well off the pace. Long story short, compare 2023 to 2021, not 2022 because the dead ball year means nothing in the grand scheme of things.

I’ll talk more about that on today’s edition of VSiN Daily Baseball Bets.

Here are some thoughts on the April 20 card (odds from DraftKings):

Cincinnati Reds at Pittsburgh Pirates (-165, 9)

It’s been Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo, Graham Ashcraft, and pray for rain for the Reds this season. Although, Lodolo did get knocked around by the Rays earlier this week and Greene has a 4.24 ERA, despite a 2.50 FIP and some terrific peripherals. Anyway, we’ve got Luke Weaver on the hill today and that means his name is different from the aforementioned Big Three.

This will be Weaver’s first start since June 18 of last year when he allowed nine runs on 10 hits in just 3.2 innings against the Twins. Weaver has actually been much worse as a reliever over 44.2 innings, but he has a 4.66 ERA in 406 innings as a starter. He made two rehab starts in preparation for this outing and allowed three runs on three hits in nine innings with nine strikeouts and four walks.

As I’ve mentioned before, you have to basically treat the Reds like the Rockies on the road because of their big splits and the sportsbooks are generally aware of this fact. Also, the PIrates seem to be pretty decent this year.

Roansy Contreras gets the ball for the Buccos and has a 6.00 ERA with a 3.65 FIP, so a lot of people will be looking at him as a positive regression candidate with a .367 BABIP against and a 63% LOB%. He hasn’t allowed a homer yet, which is a huge component of FIP. His Hard Hit% is 36.7%, so he hasn’t been hit all that hard. Perhaps going forward, he will be better, though he certainly has a lack of strikeouts.

Anyway, just not much interest in anything about this game, especially since I have no idea if the Reds may have fixed Weaver to some degree or not.

Colorado Rockies at Philadelphia Phillies (-230, 9)

Speaking of the Rockies, here they are on the road. They have scored 27 runs in nine road games thus far, but to be fair, they’re only 3-7 at home as well. They’re 3-14 in April and -59 in run differential. This is a really, really bad baseball team and they’re proving it regardless of venue. 

Bright spots are few and far between for this team and Ryan Feltner is not one of them. He’s allowed 13 runs on 15 hits in 13.1 innings with a 15/11 K/BB ratio. The crazy part is that his two worst starts have been on the road, but his home start was against the Nationals and he’s right-handed, so that helped. I’m sure the player prop markets will be loaded with Phillies wagers today against Feltner and I can’t really argue with that. He doesn’t miss a lot of bats, despite what we’ve seen in the strikeout department thus far.

Strahm ran into a tough outing last time out against the Reds, but he had been solid in his two prior starts. He still has a 2.13 ERA with a 3.00 FIP in his 12.2 innings of work this season. Strahm has 16 K in 12.2 innings and a 41.4% Hard Hit%. I don’t really see much of a reason to try the Rockies in a big dog role and their offense probably isn’t good enough to hold up its end of the bargain with an over bet. This will be a pretty unpalatable series throughout the weekend.

Los Angeles Dodgers at Chicago Cubs (-115, 11)

It was a joyous flight home for the Cubs after a blowout victory against the hapless soon-to-be Las Vegas Athletics. It’s right back to the grind for the Cubs, as they’ll host the Dodgers after visiting them last weekend. Chicago took two of three in that series and lost on a blown save in the ninth in the 2-1 defeat. Meanwhile, the Dodgers are just 9-10 and lost a series against the Mets prior to leaving town.

Jameson Taillon gets the call for the Cubs at Wrigley today. He has a 4.50 ERA on the season, but a 1.89 FIP. He’s got a .357 BABIP against and a 57.9% LOB%, so there are some positive regression signs in the profile. He’s got a solid 16/4 K/BB ratio, but he hasn’t been able to work all that deep into games thus far. He threw five shutout innings with seven strikeouts against the Dodgers in his last start, which was Saturday’s game when I was on the Cubs.

Taillon has done a really nice job of limiting hard contact with a 33.3% Hard Hit%. He’s been throwing fewer four-seam fastballs this season, mixing in more cutters, curveballs, and sinkers per Statcast. What’s interesting is that he has only allowed an 85.6 mph exit velocity on 13 cutters in play, but opponents are batting .529 with a .647 SLG on the pitch. Based on the batted ball data, the xBA is .302 and the xSLG is .368, so Taillon could even be better.

Michael Grove had his best start of the season in that outing against the Cubs with one run allowed on just two hits in 5.2 innings of work. He had allowed 12 runs in 7.1 innings in his first two starts. Grove allowed five hard-hit balls in 12 batted ball events, but held the Cubs to an 86.3 mph average exit velo. 

The Cubs are riding a .341 BABIP this season to some offensive success and I think they are overperforming on offense and that will likely regress a bit as we go forward. The Dodgers are also a team that I highlighted on Wednesday’s podcast looking at Hard Hit% and BABIP. They are fifth in Hard Hit% at 44.2% and 21st in batting average at .232.

The Dodgers were as high as -155 in this matchup (and opened as high as -165) at Dodger Stadium when I faded them on Saturday. Now they’re an underdog getting plus money at most shops.

I’ll take a shot with the Dodgers today. Shop around because +105s are available most places, but the DraftKings number is -105 with their 20-cent baseball lines. Definitely take +105 if you can find it. That’s a big difference between -105, but I’m tracking and citing DK lines all season. Overall, I just think this price has been overadjusted. The Dodgers offense will improve moving forward.

Pick: Dodgers -105

San Diego Padres (-145, 10) at Arizona Diamondbacks

The big story in this game is the return of Fernando Tatis Jr. from his PED suspension. After lighting up Triple-A pitching with a .515 batting average and seven homers in 39 plate appearances, he’ll be back in a Padres lineup that needs a shot of life. They’re scored three or fewer runs in seven of the last eight games. Maybe Tatis can provide that injection of offense that is so badly needed to enhance the team’s performance.

They may need it given Michael Wacha’s most recent start. Wacha allowed seven runs on 11 hits over 4.1 innings against the Brewers. He’s given up 11 runs on 19 hits in 16.1 innings and his last two starts have been the worst from an exit velocity standpoint. He actually had really strong results against the Braves with 10 strikeouts over six innings, but melted down against the Brewers. 

Wacha is dealing with a loss of velocity, though it has slowly ticked up across his three outings. He’s still 1.4 mph below last season on the fastball and 1.4 mph below last season on the sinker. It hasn’t impacted his ability to get swings and misses. He actually has a 77.9% Z-Contact%, which means pitches swung at and missed in the zone. That’s usually a sign of good stuff, but it’s also a regression indicator for a guy like him because his career mark is 85.3%.

Ryne Nelson gets his fourth crack at a big league lineup for this season after allowing one run on just five hits over six innings against the Marlins. His lone blemish was a solo homer in the fifth that made it a 1-1 game and the Diamondbacks ultimately lost thanks to a Luis Arraez pinch-hit RBI single. I remember it vividly because Arraez being out pushed me onto the Diamondbacks at a dog price.

Nelson has been rather good with seven runs allowed on 15 hits in 17 innings. He’s struck out 10 and walked five and really limited hard contact effectively with a 32.7% Hard Hit%. I like him and like the command profile. I also like young arms with a pitching coach like Brent Strom. The question here is whether or not the offense can give him some support.

Arizona isn’t walking much with a 5.2% BB%, so they have to hit their way on base every time. They’ve done a good job of that with a .259 BA and the lack of walks doesn’t bother me that much against Wacha because he’s a guy with low walk rates most years. I guess it’s just a matter of whether or not the batted balls find holes and also if the Padres offense awakens from its slumber with Tatis back up.

This price is probably juiced up a bit with the return of Tatis. I’m just not sure I want to fire on Arizona here. I do wish the Padres bullpen had the recent usage on it that Arizona’s does, but you need to win games to use your best relievers and San Diego hasn’t done that enough lately.

New York Mets (-115, 8.5) at San Francisco Giants

We’ve got a quality pitching matchup here between Kodai Senga and Sean Manaea. Senga has allowed six runs on 13 hits in 16 innings of work. He has a 3.38 ERA, but a 4.52 xERA and a 5.01 FIP. He’s allowed three homers and walked 10 to go with 21 strikeouts in two starts against Miami and a start against Oakland. The Giants aren’t a great lineup, but are at least a step up from those two squads.

I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but it matters. Senga is right-handed and the Giants are second in wOBA and wRC+ against righties, with a .358 wOBA and a 122 wRC+. Only the Rays are better with absurd .385 and 155 marks, but the level of competition has a lot to do with that.

Senga has 42 plate appearances against righties and has held them to a .189/.286/.378 slash with a .297 wOBA, while lefties have a .261/.393/.391 slash and a .359 wOBA in 28 plate appearances. He’s running a 43.6% Hard Hit%, so he has given up some loud contact when batters have made contact, but he’s also had an absurd amount of swinging strikes with his “ghost fork” forkball and an upper 90s heater.

Interestingly, Senga has allowed a .444 BA and a 1.444 SLG on his sweeper and a .385 BA and a .385 SLG on his cutter. He’s allowed a .167 BA and a .222 SLG on the fastball and a .050 BA and a .050 SLG on the forkball with 16 of his 21 strikeouts. I realize you can’t throw a ton of forkballs, but it sure looks like he needs to shrink his arsenal a little bit.

Manaea has made two starts and one relief appearance with six runs allowed on nine hits in 11.1 innings of work. He’s struck out 13 and walked four out of 47 batters faced. He’s given up a couple homers, but he, too, has faced two bad lineups in his starts. He shut down the Royals over six innings, though he did allow a lot of hard contact. He also pitched against the Tigers.

The Mets are a league average offense against southpaws, so Manaea should get a stiffer test today. This could also be more of a test for Senga. The Mets have used their bullpen heavily over the last few days. I’d also expect Michael Conforto to be back in the Giants lineup against his former team. This game is probably lined pretty accurately.

Minnesota Twins at Boston Red Sox (-125, 9)

The lone day game on the card is in Boston between the Twins and Red Sox. I don’t have a ton to say about this one with such limited lead time, but did want to mention a couple things. Byron Buxton is getting the day off, but the bigger thing is to look at Kenta Maeda.

The Twins skipped Maeda’s last start due to “general fatigue”. He hasn’t walked anybody in 11 innings, which is awesome, but he has allowed some hard contact and he’s barely breaking 90. His spin rates look fine to me, as they’re better than they’ve ever been. This may just be an arm health thing coming back from Tommy John and the Twins are playing it smart while they’re getting a lot of great pitching.

I’m not sure I’d read too much into it for right now, but I’ll be watching closely.

Los Angeles Angels at New York Yankees (-155, 8)

My favorite pitching matchup of the day is in the Bronx between the Angels and Yankees. It will be Patrick Sandoval for the Halos and Nestor Cortes for the Pinstripes. The Yankees are missing Giancarlo Stanton, who is a huge bat against lefties, so that should work in Sandoval’s favor. 

That said, Sandoval has some noteworthy regression signs. He’s got a 1.23 ERA with a 4.37 xERA and a 4.07 FIP. He’s running a .217 BABIP against as a 50% GB% guy and also has an 83.3% LOB%. Those are pretty unsustainable numbers, especially if he can’t find more strikeouts in his bag of tricks. He has continued his home run avoidance from last season, which is great, but the balls in play fortunes are going to turn. He allowed a .316 BABIP last season and has a .289 BABIP against for his career.

However, he’s also running just a 27.7% Hard Hit%, which certainly makes it easier to prevent hits and help out your fielders. He also has a swinging strike rate conducive to racking up a few more Ks at 11.5%. He just isn’t getting the same rate of chases this season and he hasn’t thrown as many first-pitch strikes as usual. When those two things stabilize, he’ll add more strikeouts to potentially cancel out the BABIP increases.

Cortes has looked great this season with a 2.60 ERA and a 3.78 FIP. There are some modest regression signs in his profile as well, namely an 87.2% LOB%. Cortes hasn’t allowed a lot of baserunners, though, as he’s walked two of 68 batters and only allowed 16 hits in his 17.1 innings of work. He allowed two solo homers last time out against the Twins, but had a season-high seven strikeouts.

There is some LOB% regression for both guys and some BABIP regression for Sandoval, so that’s enough to keep me off of the under in this game. I don’t have a side play either. I lean Angels with Sandoval at a big underdog price, but the bullpen continues to scare me and Cortes is such a strong starter that I’m not sure the Angels give Sandoval a ton of support.

TL;DR Recap

Dodgers -105