MLB Best Bets Today: Odds, predictions and picks for Tuesday, April 4th

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MLB schedule today has 14 games

Holy offense, Batman! There were 180 runs scored on Monday across the 15 games, for a robust average of 12 runs per game. There was a miscommunication in today’s VSiN Daily Newsletter regarding the note about home runs on Monday, as there were 53 dingers after we saw just 101 HR hit over the first four days of the season.

 

Most of yesterday’s starters hadn’t pitched in a week or more since leaving Spring Training or got their final tune-ups in minor league games, but we also saw a batting average of .259 and there were 173 singles out of the 275 hits. Yesterday’s K% was also just 20.5%. It is only one day of data, but we had mostly fourth and fifth starters on the mound yesterday and guys like that are going to be far more impacted by the shift ban than others. That will be something to watch for as the season moves forward.

I do only have one play today, but there are a lot of starters to research and follow, so I’ve shared a lot of information in today’s article.

Yesterday’s offensive explosion also skewed the data about some early returns on the shift ban that I was going to post this afternoon, but that will still go out so we can all take a look. I’ll have to re-run the numbers and get that out later today. (Tracking sheet)

Also coming later is the latest edition of the VSiN Daily Baseball Bets podcast, which I hope to have out by around 3 p.m. ET.

Here are some thoughts on the April 4 card (odds from DraftKings):

Arizona Diamondbacks at San Diego Padres (-150, 7)

For the first time this season, we’re starting to get repeat starters, so guys that have a 2023 data point are making their second trips to the mound. We have one in this game, as Zac Gallen will give it a go at Petco Park. Gallen gave up five runs on six hits with seven strikeouts and three walks against the Dodgers in his season-opening start, while Yu Darvish is taking the hill for the first time.

Darvish pitched for Team Japan in the World Baseball Classic, so he got bumped back a little bit. He also only pitched twice in the WBC with one start and one relief outing in the Championship Game against Team USA. He was not announced on Opening Day for the Padres because he was pitching a minor league game for his last Spring Training start. It’s tough to know how sharp Darvish will be in this one with such an odd spring and also how far the Padres will be pushing him. He threw 80 pitches over five innings in that March 30 minor league start.

I think it’s tough to expect Darvish to be at his best in this outing. Gallen’s velocity was a full tick below 2022, though, so he’s still trying to get into the rhythms of the season. Arizona has also used Scott McGough and Andrew Chafin three of the last four days and Miguel Castro has pitched back-to-back days, so the pen is a little iffy after last night’s walk-off loss. No bet here, but let’s see how Darvish looks.

Chicago Cubs (-130, 9) at Cincinnati Reds

One of yesterday’s high-scoring affairs was this one, as Drew Smyly got three runs from his offense in the top of the first and the top of the fifth and gave back three runs both times in yesterday’s lone loser out of the three picks. Today’s two starters have not pitched yet, as Hayden Wesneski takes the ball for the Cubs and Luis Cessa goes for the Reds.

Wesneski pitched 33 innings at the MLB level after being acquired from New York in the Scott Effross deal. He had a 2.18 ERA with a 3.20 FIP in four starts and two relief efforts with 33 strikeouts against seven walks and only allowed eight earned runs on 24 hits. Wesneski also had solid Triple-A numbers for the Yankees before heading to the PCL for the Cubs, where bad luck with men on base led to a 5.66 ERA. He had a 3.36 FIP over those 20.2 innings.

He had a terrific spring and made the Cubs starting rotation with relative ease in the fifth spot. He also held opponents to just a 25.8% Hard Hit% in 89 batted ball events last season at the MLB level with a deep arsenal and a wipeout slider. There is a lot to like here, but we’re not getting a bargain today.

That’s because Cessa is a below average pitcher in a lot of respects. He owns a 4.13 ERA and a 4.66 FIP over 399 MLB innings, where he’s primarily been used as a reliever. He made 10 starts last season for the Reds and had a 4.30 ERA with a .247/.304/.446 slash against and a .325 wOBA against. He wasn’t any better as a reliever and finished the year with a 4.57 ERA and a 5.02 FIP.

Cessa had a really good spring, but his 10 starts from last season got added on to the 19 he made from 2016-18, so he hasn’t been starting full-time for a long time. I’m always skeptical of guys like that, but this is a pretty decent price to pay on the Cubs and it’s too rich for my blood. I could see a Wesneski strikeout prop if you’re into that sort of thing, though.

Temps are in the 70s with high humidity, so even though the wind is blowing in a little from RF, the weather conditions here may be conducive for some offense.

New York Mets (-150, 8) at Milwaukee Brewers

The Metropolitans are a big road favorite against the Brewers, which will happen when the listed starters are Max Scherzer and Wade Miley. Scherzer seemed to tire a bit later in his start against the Marlins, but he didn’t have his sharpest stuff overall. He struck out four of the first nine batters he faced and only allowed a measly single and then walked two and gave up a double the second time through the order, but no damage otherwise. The Marlins scored three in the sixth and tied the game, but the bullpen and the offense bailed out the Mets and they came away with a 5-3 win.

All in all, he allowed three runs on four hits with six strikeouts against two walks. He only allowed four hard-hit balls, but two were barreled. His velocity was down a full tick after a drop in 2022, so that will be something to keep an eye on between his age and the pitch clock. He had 13 whiffs on 49 swings and the spin rates looked fine, but his velo was down around 1 mph across the board.

We have no 2023 data points for Miley and 2022 ones are scarce. He only pitched 37 innings last season due to injury and posted a 3.16 ERA with a 3.95 FIP. He made four starts from May 10-June 10 and then didn’t return again until September 6. He had a 3.50 ERA with a 4.67 FIP over those final 18 innings of the year. Spring Training stats don’t normally tell us a ton, but for reference, Miley threw 10.2 innings and allowed six hits (3 HR) and five runs with eight strikeouts and four walks.

I’m curious to see what happens with Milwaukee on offense in this game. The one knock on Scherzer in two of the last three seasons has been giving up the long ball. The Brewers were third in HR last season and fourth in home homers with 110. They left cold Chicago, came home, and dropped a 10-spot on the Mets last night. I thought about the over here if I could get a couple of Brewers homers, preferably with someone on base, because I don’t have very high hopes for Miley here, but I couldn’t quite get there at 8.

Miley owns a 49.2% GB% for his career and just an 18.4% K%. He pitches to a lot of contact and is not a great guy to bet on with the shift ban. A lot of back-end starters seem to be struggling because strikeouts are more valuable than ever and a lot of those guys don’t get them with any frequency. Miley is going for his 100th career win, for whatever that’s worth.

Atlanta Braves at St. Louis Cardinals (-135, 10)

A couple of southpaws take the mound at Busch Stadium here, as we’ll see Dylan Dodd make his Major League debut for the Braves and see the return of Steven Matz for the Redbirds. I ran a Colorado Rockies at Los Angeles Dodgers (-260, 7.5)

Just wanted to throw a quick mention on this game. The stat line shows that German Marquez, who has those huge home/road splits I’ve mentioned before, pitched well last week against the Padres with six innings of two-run ball with zero walks, but he did allow 12 hard-hit balls out of 19 balls in play and two barrels. The command wasn’t spectacular and he had a career-worst 46.8% Hard Hit% last season.

His velocity was up and he didn’t walk anybody, so I guess those are two positives, but he gave up a ton of hard contact and didn’t really get burned for it. We’ll see if the Dodgers make similar high-velocity contact and have better results on it, but I’m going to hold off on doing anything with Marquez on the road until I see those numbers improve. High-velocity contact should be worse in a post-shift world.

Interestingly, Urias had a pretty similar line, with seven of his 14 batted balls classified as hard-hit and a 92.9 mph exit velocity. He, too, allowed two runs over six innings with zero walks, but allowed some hard-hit balls. He pitched for Mexico in the WBC, so he had a bit of a weird spring.

Toronto Blue Jays (-170, 10) at Kansas City Royals

A couple of lefties take the mound on what could be a rough day at Kauffman Stadium. It was a rough day for the Blue Jays yesterday, as Kansas City’s offense unloaded for nine runs against Jose Berrios and the bullpen, but Toronto scratched out theirs with five runs, mostly after Brady Singer left the game.

This will not be a fun night to pitch with 20-25 mph winds blowing out towards left on a pretty warm night in KC with temperatures in the 80s at first pitch. Rain does move in late, so we’ll have to see if they can get the game finished in time. Perhaps the pitch clock will help in this one.

The pitching matchup also seems to lend itself to runs. Kikuchi has not had much success since coming over from Japan, as he owns a 5.02 ERA with a 5.08 FIP in his 466.1 innings of work. He has allowed 89 home runs over his four seasons and 86 homers over his three full seasons, as he pitched pretty well in the COVID year. He gave up 23 long balls in 100.2 innings last season over 20 starts and 12 relief efforts. He gave up 19 HR in 82.1 innings as a starter and a .368 wOBA, so there really aren’t a lot of reasons to believe in his profile for this season. Kikuchi has allowed a career .508 SLG to right-handed batters.

This also looks to be a really bad spot for Bubic, who has a 4.89 ERA with a 4.93 FIP in his 309 career MLB innings. The odd thing is that Bubic has actually fared better against righties with a .337 wOBA against in 1,105 plate appearances, while lefties own a .413 wOBA in 260, but not all righties are created like what the Blue Jays are throwing out there.

To make matters worse, Bubic has a 10.5% BB% for his career to go with a below average K% of 20%. Last season, his K% actually dropped to 18.7%, with no improvement in his BB%. He also allowed a career-worst 44.9% Hard Hit%.

This is obviously a big total, but the shift ban is going to hurt dudes without elite stuff or elite K% and these two fit the bill. Anything hit in the air to LF is going to get a boost and we have two lefties on the mound with 7-8 righties in the Toronto lineup and at least six for the Royals in all likelihood. I also don’t have much love for either one of these bullpens.

We’re laying a little vig on the 10, but this game should have all kinds of runs scored. I think -115 or -120 are fine here on the Over 10 total. This is probably super square, but it would take a Herculean effort for these two not to get bombed today.

Pick: Over 10 (-115)

Baltimore Orioles at Texas Rangers (-135, 8.5)

Kyle Gibson was announced as a late starter for the O’s in this one. He’ll be on regular rest. He was supposed to pitch on Wednesday, but he’ll slot in today after Tyler Wells was needed in relief when Kyle Bradish got hit by a comebacker last night. Gibson allowed four runs on six hits with three strikeouts over five innings in his start against Boston to open the season.

I can also add a few words about Andrew Heaney, who gets the call for Texas. Heaney had a strong 3.10 ERA with a 3.75 FIP in 72.2 innings for the Dodgers last season, but he just cannot stay healthy. He’s only thrown 707 MLB innings despite debuting in 2014 for the Marlins. His numbers have been all over the map because he’s never really been healthy, but two constants have been strikeouts and home runs. He owns a strong 25.4% K%, but also a 16.1% HR/FB%.

I have no idea which version of Heaney we get in this start, for this season or for the rest of his career, as he is inconsistent from pitch to pitch and from year to year. No play here for me, especially with Gibson announced late.

Detroit Tigers at Houston Astros (-285, 7.5)

I believe this is the biggest favorite we’ve had in the MLB season to this point, as we’ll see Matt Manning for the big underdog Tigers and Framber Valdez for the heavily-favored Astros. I do like Manning a good amount, but probably not against this lineup. I talked a lot about Manning going into last season because his 5.80 ERA and 4.62 FIP in 2021 were a tad misleading. He had four really awful starts, one blah starts and then 13 starts with three or fewer earned runs allowed.

The bad starts really skewed his numbers because he gave up six or more runs four times. He was solid more often than he was bad. Then I felt validated in 2022 because he opened the season with six innings of one-hit ball against the Red Sox, but he got hurt in his second start and then didn’t return until early August. All in all, he had a 3.43 ERA with a 3.78 FIP, but he didn’t miss many bats and that’s scary going into the post-shift world.

I still think I can find spots to play on Manning, but maybe not against the Astros and maybe not with such a low projection for his offense. I’m still not super keen on Valdez, who had a .353 BABIP against in his first start with a 70.6% GB%, but he didn’t allow any runs on the six hits he allowed against the White Sox. His huge ground ball numbers in a post-shift world could lead to some more runs and I think it’s really hard to lay big numbers with him. We’ll see if the Astros add some more strikeouts to his repertoire.

The Tigers won yesterday in extras and April is usually the month to back underdogs, but I won’t be backing this one.

Cleveland Guardians (-180, 7) at Oakland A’s

We had a ton of runs in Oakland yesterday, as the 1st 5 over cashed with ease and the full-game over was more than doubled in Cleveland’s 12-11 victory. The Guardians are built so well for the rule changes and we’ve seen them add a ton of value on the bases already and also rack up a bunch of cheap hits, much like they did last season. This team is extremely annoying to play against and I absolutely love it.

I’m sure opponents don’t and we’ll see if JP Sears is able to find some more success. Going forward this season, I do like Sears as a guy to bet at home. He’s a pitch-to-contact lefty who can use the big ballpark to his advantage. I’d like to see more fly balls in the profile with the shift ban, but he’s done an excellent job of avoiding home runs throughout his minor league career and we’ve even seen some good strikeout numbers at times in the minors.

Sears came over in the Frankie Montas deal, which has already not really worked out for the Yankees, but could work out for the A’s, who are desperate to find some useful arms. The Guardians were a bottom-five offense against lefties last season, but blasted Robbie Ray in Seattle and added Josh Bell and Mike Zunino to give the lineup a little more punch in that split.

I’d be interested in backing Sears here if not for Shane Bieber on the other side. Bieber only struck out three and threw a couple of wild pitches in his first start against the Mariners. He gave up six hits and stranded four runners on third base to throw six shutout frames. It wasn’t his sharpest outing and Zunino had issues catching him, so I’ll be interested to see if maybe Zunino is the DH tonight with maybe Cam Gallagher or Meibrys Viloria behind the dish.

I can’t see the A’s really doing much against Bieber, but I can’t play a total of 7 in the current MLB climate. If this was Sears against Hunter Gaddis or Cal Quantrill, it would obviously be a lower number, but I’d be willing to take a shot. I just can’t do that here.

Los Angeles Angels at Seattle Mariners (-170, 7.5)

Jose Suarez was something of a pleasant surprise for the Angels last season, but maybe they knew all along what they had in him. He made his debut at 21 back in 2019 with some ugly numbers, but he was solid in 2021 with a 3.75 ERA and a 4.12 FIP. In 2022, he was even better with a 3.96 ERA and a 3.91 FIP. He added some strikeouts and cut down on the walks, while also becoming less reliant on ground balls, which is important in the post-shift world.

Suarez ranked a bit better than average in terms of exit velocity against and Hard Hit% and it looks like he may be a guy that the Angels are building up into a pretty good pitcher, a la Reid Detmers, who got the call in yesterday’s game. I will be interested to see if we get a velocity spike from Suarez, much like what we saw with Detmers in Spring Training.

The first half for Suarez last season was a little ugly, especially in April, but he held opposing batters to a .264 wOBA in the second half and had a 2.81 ERA with a 2.97 FIP in 64 innings of work. With Suarez, we saw a big uptick in four-seam fastballs in the second half, which was paired with an increase in slider usage. Think about a guy like Patrick Sandoval and how the Angels have really worked on his slider. We’ve also seen Detmers go more slider-heavy and that pitch has also seen an uptick in velo.

The Mariners will counter with Luis Castillo, who did not allow a run over six dominant innings against the Guardians on Opening Day. He allowed just one hit with six strikeouts and really got in rhythm with the pitch clock. He was working fast and absolutely pounding the strike zone. I gave a lot of thought to taking the Angels at the underdog price in this one, but Castillo was so unhittable in that start and it really stuck with me.

But, Suarez is a guy to look to back when he’s facing non-elite starters and his offense has a bit better chance at creating some margin for error. The Under 7.5 is moderately interesting, but not at -125 and most of the market is down to 7 anyway.

Minnesota Twins at Miami Marlins (-140, 7)

Kenta Maeda makes his return from Tommy John surgery here as the Twins look to stay unbeaten on the season. To do so, they’ll have to beat the reigning NL Cy Young winner in Sandy Alcantara, who was not terribly sharp on Opening Day. Alcantara allowed three runs on three hits with four walks and two strikeouts over his 5.2 innings of work. His velocity was down  a little relative to last season and his Hard Hit% was 41.2% out of the 17 balls in play.

The Mets certainly had a lot of familiarity with Alcantara and maybe that played a part. The Twins don’t really have any, so that’s something to think about here. Also, he’s back into a routine now after pitching in the WBC, so those are guys that I’m giving a little longer leash early in the season. That said, I did bet against Miami in that game with Scherzer going for the Mets and that was a winner.

With Maeda, I honestly have no idea what to expect. He wasn’t terribly sharp in the spring with a 14/10 K/BB ratio in 14.2 innings. He’s in his age-35 season coming back from Tommy John and you never quite know what will happen with those types of guys. Maeda had a 4.66 ERA with a 4.10 FIP in 106.1 innings in 2021, but he was obviously pitching hurt. He’s been a really reliable starter otherwise.

His velocity dropped during that 2021 season and that will be hurtful for any pitcher. Usually velo comes back fine post-TJS, but the command is typically the last thing to return and Maeda didn’t have great command in the spring. It is certainly intriguing to take the Twins at a dog price given the hot start to the season, but not enough with Maeda coming back from a major operation.

Philadelphia Phillies at New York Yankees (-155, 8.5)

A lot is being made of the slow start for the Phillies, but that seems really unfair to me. They’re missing two key bats in Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins. Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler have had a couple of rough starts, but those are guys with track records that should be just fine. I get that it hasn’t been pretty, but all the headlines and the buzz will eventually create some value on this team if they continue to struggle.

Matt Strahm gets the call today as he returns to starting for the first time since 2019. He worked 50 games as a reliever for the Red Sox last season with a 3.83 ERA and a 3.72 FIP, so he pitched quite well in that capacity. He’s been a solid pitcher throughout his MLB career, but he’s only made 25 starts and 16 of them came during that 2019 season. Turning lineups over, especially one like New York’s, is a big ask for guys like that.

Strahm is expected to go about 65-70 pitches in this one. I do like this Phillies bullpen a lot more on paper than last year’s unit, but they’ve had some bumps in the road in the early going to say the least. I still think that there are some quality arms back there and it is a group that I think will be a strength more often than not with some new faces like Craig Kimbrel and Gregory Soto.

Domingo German gets the call here for the Yankees coming off of a 3.61 ERA and a 4.44 FIP in 72.1 innings in 2022. The right-hander saw a huge decrease in K% last season with a drop from 23.9% to 19.5%. It sure felt like he got fortunate on his balls in play as well, as he had a 40.6% Hard Hit%, but only a .262 BABIP against. The Yankees were one of the best defensive teams in baseball last season, which certainly helped.

German gave up five runs in his first start against Houston and four runs in his last start against Texas. In between, he never allowed more than three runs in a start, but there were times when he didn’t really give the Yankees a whole lot of length. I did give a lot of thought to going against German and the Yankees here, but Strahm back in a starting role against a right-handed-heavy lineup is just too much to overcome. I do think he is a better pitcher than people realize and there will be value betting on him down the line.

Pittsburgh Pirates at Boston Red Sox (-150, 9)

What an interesting game this was yesterday. The Pirates won 7-6, but eight of the game’s 13 runs were scored in the first inning. Johan Oviedo and Kutter Crawford both had awful starts and the bullpens were left to pick up the pieces. Today’s game features Roansy Contreras for the Pirates and Nick Pivetta for the Red Sox.

Contreras made a brief MLB debut in 2021 for three innings, but threw 95 frames at the MLB level in 2022 with a 3.79 ERA and a 4.38 FIP in 18 starts and three relief outings. He issued a few too many walks for my liking and a lot of hard contact with a 45.9% Hard Hit% and an 11% Barrel%. Those are two scary numbers going into Fenway Park.

Pivetta had a 4.56 ERA with a 4.42 FIP, but one of the big things about him last season is that the AL East destroyed him. He gave up at least four runs in each of his four starts against the Yankees, including one with seven and another with six. The Rays beat him up a couple of times. The Blue Jays did some damage as well. He had an ERA well above 6.00 against division opponents, but was substantially better against others.

The Pirates classify as “others”, so we’ll see how he does today, but no play on this game from me. These two teams have played some wild games this season, especially Boston with some really high-scoring games against Baltimore.

TL;DR Recap

Blue Jays/Royals Over 10 (-115)