I guess we should call it Southpaw Sunday in the Major Leagues today as there will be 13 left-handed started pitchers across the 15 games. Generally speaking, a team will face a left-handed starter about 30% of the time, but almost half of today’s arms are southpaws in what is a pretty rare day.
Before I do some recap stuff and look at Sunday’s card, I do have to let you know that this article goes behind the paywall tomorrow. That was the plan all along, so head over to VSiN.com/subscribe to see what the different options are. We’ll be putting the premium tag a little ways down the article, though, so free readers can still see my recap observations and some notes on the pitchers. A VSiN subscription comes with a lot more than just access to my article, so I’d really encourage you to check it out and see NHL and NBA best bets from my guys Andy MacNeil and Jonathan Von Tobel, as well as access to the daily best bets email from show hosts and guests, our Point Spread Weekly content and all of our betting tools.
I’m back in Vegas now, as my dad is on the road to recovery. A few people reached out and I wanted to express my appreciation for their compassion and concern. I’ll be on The Run Line tonight with my dude Ben Wilson from 8-10 p.m. ET and you can listen or watch live (with a subscription) right here at VSiN.com under ‘Watch & Listen’ in the top right corner of the home page.
Yesterday’s Recap (plus Friday notes)
D-Backs/Mets: New York came up on the short end 3-2, but Carlos Carrasco turned in a fine start for the Metropolitans. He threw five shutout innings with eight strikeouts (17 whiffs in 41 swings) and the command was better than his first start. He’s faced 0.5 good lineups with the D-Backs and Nats, but he seems to be healthy and throwing the ball well with 13 K in 10.2 innings. That would be a huge boost for the Mets, as he’d be one of the best No. 4 starters in baseball if he’s back to form.
Braves/Padres: MacKenzie Gore’s MLB debut was on Friday for the Padres. He allowed two runs on three hits over 5.1 innings with three strikeouts and a couple walks. Gore threw 73% fastballs in that start with nine curves, seven sliders and one changeup. Given that he basically only threw heat and still pitched well against a tough lineup seems like a good sign. I’m not sure why he didn’t mix his pitches at all, but he kept his team in the game.
On Saturday, Braves starter Ian Anderson had 15 whiffs on 29 non-fastball swings. If his command catches up to the caliber of his stuff, he’s going to be something very special because he can flash big-time potential like this.
Phillies/Marlins: I mentioned that Ranger Suarez pitched better in his first start than his stat line indicated. He allowed nine baserunners over five innings yesterday, but the Phillies staked him to an 8-0 lead and he gave up both runs in the fifth, while throwing 73% sinkers. He had high fastball usage last season as well, with really only a changeup as a secondary pitch. I think he merits close attention moving forward, just to see what’s real and what isn’t.
Cardinals/Brewers: So, it looks as though Victor Caratini and Omar Narvaez are in a platoon timeshare. Caratini gets the call against lefties and Narvaez against righties. Things have settled down with Caratini behind the plate now, as Adrian Houser pitched well yesterday and Corbin Burnes was outstanding on Wednesday. It was a fun angle while it lasted, but Narvaez is still clearly the better receiver of the two.
After getting shut down by Steven Matz yesterday, the Brewers are now hitting .189/.238/.316 against lefties on the season.
Cubs/Rockies: Just as we all expected, the Colorado Rockies have the best bullpen in baseball. To this point, they are among four teams tied with 0.8 fWAR (FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement Player) with a 1.78 ERA and a 2.84 FIP. They also have a 4.04 xFIP, one of the lowest K% marks in the league and a .253 BABIP against to go with an 82% LOB. Collectively, their 36.5% Hard Hit% is just outside the top 10, but these metrics are not sustainable.
That said, the early part of the season is very manageable for Colorado. After Chicago leaves today, they host Philadelphia before heading to Detroit and Philadelphia and coming home to Cincinnati and Washington. They may be able to carry a solid record for a while, so I’ll be watching very closely as the summer approaches for chances to fade them as they come back to earth.
Reds/Dodgers: I watch clips from Pitching Ninja or overlays from Alex Fast on Twitter and wonder how anybody ever gets a hit. Reds starter Hunter Greene threw 39 pitches over 100 mph yesterday. He gave up two earned over 5.1 innings and had six strikeouts with no walks, which is the most important stat for him. He had 16 whiffs in 35 swings, including an absurd 46% whiff rate on his fastball. Julio Urias was just strong over five innings and 65 pitches to keep the Reds at bay. His velo stabilized and his spin rates were fine. Seems like maybe it was a Colorado thing in his first start.
Rays/White Sox: Corey Kluber’s second start looked nearly identical to his first, except for one important detail. He didn’t walk anybody. He threw 65% curveballs and cutters again, but we didn’t see the changeup much against a right-handed-heavy lineup. Kluber threw a lot more strikes and pitched ahead in the count more, which are also good developments. Given how desperate the Rays are for starting pitchers, I think they have to be thrilled with Kluber thus far.
Michael Kopech threw the ball well for his pitching-starved team, so that’s another good sign for the White Sox. The Chicago bullpen is pretty taxed right now, which is my main takeaway. Liam Hendriks has pitched four of the last five and thrown 84 pitches. Kendall Graveman and Jose Ruiz would be pitching for the fourth time in six days. Reynaldo Lopez probably isn’t working back-to-back days yet. If you’re backing them today, be careful.
A’s/Blue Jays: Paul Blackburn held the Jays in check with two runs over five innings thanks to his shiny, new curveball. However, there are other, more pressing issues to discuss. Hyun-jin Ryu was bad again, as he allowed five runs on six hits in four innings. The dreaded “forearm soreness” came out after the game and he went into this start with an ailing hammy. The 35-year-old has an 8.27 ERA with a 5.20 FIP in his last 12 starts dating back to Aug. 8 of last season. He’s only thrown six innings twice. I’m extremely concerned.
Also, the Jays lost Teoscar Hernandez to a strained oblique. We’re seeing a lot of obliques and soft-muscle injuries early in the year and it’s not going away.
Twins/Red Sox: On Friday night, Joe Ryan had 19 whiffs in 46 swings against the Red Sox. I think he’s legit. I talked about his minor league strikeout numbers prior to that start and he’s had two good outings against talented lineups to this point. Unfortunately, I think the market will be hip to him pretty quickly as well, though his 2.70 ERA with a 4.96 FIP through 10 innings may keep his prices down a little. Not only does Ryan have 11 K in 10 IP, but he ranks in the 87th percentile in average exit velocity and 70th in Hard Hit% thus far. We’ll see what his road favorite price is on Thursday afternoon against Kansas City, but I’m thinking I’ll have a bet on him.
Tigers/Royals: We now know why Casey Mize looked pedestrian at the start of the season – a sprained MCL in his elbow. A lot of pitchers shy away from throwing splitters because of the extra strain it puts on the arm. Mize bringing his back in spring training may be part of this whole equation. To make matters worse, Matt Manning left after two innings on Saturday with shoulder discomfort. Javier Baez is also on the IL. Nothing hurts a season win total over bet more than injuries, especially to a team still trying to build up depth.
Angels/Rangers: Another strong, efficient start for Noah Syndergaard on Saturday with six innings of two-run ball. He did only have four strikeouts and only has five in 11.1 innings, but he’s induced a lot of weak contact, so the command is just fine.
On the Rangers side, Marcus Semien raised his average to .147/.216/.206 with a RBI double and he swiped a base. Semien seems to be pressing a bit about the new contract with a lot of wild swings on pitches he couldn’t hit with an oar. He’s not the only one in the lineup struggling, but the only one making a ton of money to struggle. The Rangers are 2-6 because they have to outscore teams to win with their awful pitching staff. If that offense doesn’t get going, it will only get worse.
Astros/Mariners: Jeremy Pena had the three hardest-hit balls for the Astros in yesterday’s game and is slashing .345/.375/.621 in eight games. Smart teams make smart decisions and going with Pena over Carlos Correa is one of them.
Justin Verlander had 17 swings and misses on 49 swings yesterday. He looks to be back in pre-injury form already. It only took him 87 pitches to get through eight innings with eight punchies. What a special pitcher. Chris Flexen is not a special pitcher. The Astros hit 13 balls at least 95 mph against him. He’s lucky he only allowed three runs on five hits. The Astros were only 2-for-12 with a sac fly on their 95 %plussign% batted balls yesterday, but did have singles on both batted balls under 75 mph. Baseball is weird.
Giants/Guardians: The Guardians came home and faced a decent pitching staff and now can’t hit again. They’ve been shut down by Carlos Rodon and Anthony DeSclafani. It wasn’t that bad at the ballpark on Friday, but it was chilly and there were about 200 people in attendance on Saturday. Progressive Field is not a good park for offense in the cooler months. In March/April home games dating back to 2017, the InGuardians are batting .235/.315/.393 with an 88 wRC , so 12% below league average.
Weather: Winds are blowing out for the Red Sox and Mets, while they are blowing in for the Rockies, White Sox and Orioles. They’re blowing in from left in that Yankees/Orioles game, which would seem to hurt a right-handed-heavy Yankees lineup.
Also, COVID is back around the big leagues again. The A’s and Mets have multiple players on the COVID-19 list, as well as Yordan Alvarez for the Astros and Mitch Haniger of the Mariners.
Sunday morning line moves can have less to do with opinions on the game and more with the modeling projections as players get a day off.
Nationals (-125, 8) at Pirates: Not a big Patrick Corbin guy and I don’t think many others are either, but the Nationals have taken a little bit of money in that one because Bryan Reynolds is getting a day off.
Cardinals at Brewers (-135, 8.5): The Brewers are getting a little love today with Aaron Ashby on the mound against Dakota Hudson. Josh Hader and Devin Williams are well-rested if it comes to that. This is a pretty vintage line move, though. Ashby has a 4.17 ERA with a 3.48 FIP, albeit in 36.2 career innings. Hudson has a 3.19 ERA with a 4.70 FIP in 253.2 career innings. Low ERA, high FIP usually leads to a fade in the markets.
Reds at Dodgers (-220, 8.5): Andrew Heaney looked really good in his Dodgers debut and his side is taking the money here. Tyler Mahle goes for the Reds and his road numbers were extremely good last season, but the Dodgers are obviously a difficult assignment.
Braves at Padres (-130, 8): It’s one thing to analyze the stats to prove a point. It’s another to see how a guy is evaluated by the betting markets. Yu Darvish is only in the -126 range against the Braves in Bryce Elder’s second career MLB start and just his 27th pro ball start. Darvish was destroyed by the Giants last time out to the tune of nine runs in just 1.2 innings. He hasn’t been the same guy for a while now and this line is very indicative of that.
Twins at Red Sox (-125, 9.5): For the third straight game, the Red Sox are taking money against the Twins. I’m not entirely sure if the market feels Boston is undervalued or Minnesota is overvalued. Maybe it’s a combination of both. Maybe it’s a projection thing with Byron Buxton out injured. Whatever the case, we’ve seen this happen twice already with Boston winning yesterday and losing on Friday.
Rays at White Sox (-110, 8.5): Two things to remember here: 1. JP Feyereisen is just an opener, likely for right-hander Tommy Romero. Make sure you are aware of openers because the bulk guy matters more. 2. The White Sox pen is very overworked already. No line move really here, but I just wanted to mention those two things.
What I’ll Be Watching
Drew Smyly/Austin Gomber: Smyly is a guy that I backed earlier in the week in a 2-1 win over the Pirates. He increased the usage of his curveball and threw his cutter almost as much as his fastball. I like those two changes quite a bit, but I’m wary of curveball-dominant pitchers in a place where it won’t spin as much. It’s an interesting start for Smyly to say the least, but I wouldn’t read too much into bad results if there are any.
Gomber had a big uptick in sliders last start, a pitch that opposing batters only hit .198 on with a .339 SLG. He also had some huge spin rate increases year over year that are more than just making the start in Texas as opposed to Colorado. In general, the Rockies seem a little more in tune with analytics than most seasons. Something to keep in mind. Let’s see if the spin rate increase sticks going to the thin air.
Matt Brash: Brash was dominant against a right-handed-heavy White Sox lineup in his first start and now draws the Astros. Houston will be without Yordan Alvarez (COVID) and Jeremy Pena (pre-planned off day). There’s still plenty of talent in that lineup, so it will be a good test for Brash. Houston struck out at far and away the lowest clip of any team last season. Let’s see what he does.
Sunday Best Bets
Shop around for the best lines! I’m using a market consensus number that should be widely available to most, but every cent matters, so do the best you can to get the best line possible.
Braves/Padres Over 8 (%plussign% 100): Since July 3, Yu Darvish has a 7.04 ERA and a 5.16 FIP in 16 starts covering 78 innings. He’s given up 19 home runs in that span. His Barrel% over that time is 11.7%, which is well above league average and his Hard Hit% is 38.6%. In two starts this season, his Hard Hit% is 48% with 12 out of 25 batted balls hit at least 95 mph. In eight of those 16 starts, his average exit velocity against has been at least 90 mph.
The Braves make a lot of hard, violent contact, so they should be able to square some balls up tonight against Darvish. The Padres bullpen also ranks dead last in HH% at 49.5%, so they’ve allowed a ton of hard contact to this point as well.
The San Diego offense ranks 12th in HH% at 39.4%. Bryce Elder was impressive to a degree in his debut, but did yield a couple of home runs and nine batted balls of at least 95 mph. We should get a fair amount of hard contact in this game that will give the teams a chance to score runs. The Braves also have some mild fatigue concerns in the bullpen. Kenley Jansen has pitched three of the last four days and Will Smith and Collin McHugh would each be working back-to-back days. I’ll give the over at even money a shot tonight.
Sundays are so tricky. They’re my least favorite days to bet and analyze baseball, especially living in the Pacific Time Zone now. The games just all start so early and guys wind up getting days off.
Angels (-110) over Rangers: This one had a chance at making the cut, but Jared Walsh, Anthony Rendon and others are getting a rest, while guys like Jack Mayfield (82 wRC %plussign% against LHP) bats cleanup. Lineup construction matters in the sense that your best hitters should come up the most times. Mayfield is not a good hitter, but there he is batting fourth. I don’t get it. If the Angels were using a regular, or at least optimized, lineup, I’d have probably been on this one.
Guardians (%plussign% 115) over Giants: I strongly considered Cleveland today. Their lineup projects better against lefties with the ability to utilize platoon advantages and it’ll be 40 degrees and cold in Cleveland, leading me to assume that the Giants will be happy to have won the series and get out of town to enjoy an off day in New York City. I’m just not sure what we’ll get from Aaron Civale, who was let down badly by the defense last time out. Ultimately, neither play made the cut, but I just wanted to share a little more info.
With the article going behind the paywall tomorrow, I’ll wait to fill in the picks on the tracking sheet HERE and we also have that new tracker coming at VSiN.com soon as well.