Boston Is a Wicked Smart Play in Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018 11:28 AM UTC

Tuesday, Jul. 3, 2018 11:28 AM UTC

Washington hosts Boston tonight at 6:05 ET. The Red Sox feature a relatively unknown starting pitcher, but bettors can count on him.

Boston Red Sox (57-29) vs Washington Nationals (42-41)Free MLB Pick: Boston F5Best Line Offered: Bookmaker

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Boston’s Brian Johnson (1-2, 4.28 ERA) makes his second consecutive start in place of the injured Steven Wright. Johnson has bounced back and forth between Triple-A, the bullpen and the rotation. Even though he’s pitched more often as a reliever, he has the endurance for longer outings, thriving for six innings in April against Miami and achieving a complete-game shutout last season against Seattle.

Johnson is a southpaw who relies primarily on his fastball. He throws it about 50% of the time overall and in all scenarios. It lacks velocity, but he consistently locates it away from the more dangerous parts of the strike zone. His fastball's three most frequent pitch locations are in the top row of the zone, even though his well above-average vertical release point lends his fastball a greater downward plane so that it appears to be dropping further. His curveball plays off his fastball. It creates a 13 mph velocity differential. Moreover, he concentrates its location in the lowest row of the zone to change the batter’s eye level. Lastly, Johnson emphasizes a slider, particularly to left-handed batters, because sliders, due to their horizontal movement, are harder for lefties to track from same-handed pitchers. His slider is also harder to track because it lacks vertical movement.

While Johnson boasts some elements of deception, he has zero electric or put-away stuff. But he consistently locates his pitches well and, even though he isn’t exciting, is repeatedly capable of strong outings. He has had three outings, two of which were starts, in which he lasted at least four innings. He allowed only one run in each of them. Most impressive was his performance against Detroit, which is notoriously strong against southpaws. Conversely, Washington can’t be trusted against left-handed pitchers. In Washington's last three games against them — against Blake Snell, CC Sabathia and Derek Holland with his 4+ ERA — they were shut out. Washington is yielding -14.7 units against lefties, hitting .214 against southpaw starters compared to .249 against right-handed ones. Superstar Bryce Harper, for example, is batting .207 against them. The Nats, losers of 13 of their last 17, can’t be trusted against anybody.

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Tanner Roark (3-9, 4.10 ERA) is an unreliable MLB bet for Washington. He’s showing poor form with an xFIP (like ERA, but factors out luck) over 4.00 in seven consecutive starts. Roark also struggles at home, where he’s yielding -5.9 units. He particularly has trouble with the home run ball, yielding 1.51 homers per nine innings at home. Overall, he’s allowed a homer in five of his last six outings.

Roark relies on a variety of pitches, throwing five with over 10% frequency. His main pitch is his sinker, which he throws 37% of the time. During his recent stretch of bad form, during which he’s lost three straight decisions, he’s struggled with his main pitch. Three of his past four opponents slugged .500 or better against it. They’re taking advantage of his leaving it in the middle and upper-middle regions of the zone. Based on the metric SLG-xSLG, which measures a team’s actual slugging percentage with what it should be based on quality of contact, Boston is tremendously underachieving against the sinker thrown by righties. In the past month, they’ve achieved the sixth-highest average exit velocity against this pitch and they’ll continue crushing Roark’s sinker.

The Red Sox are yielding +14.5 units against right-handed starters. Roark struggles particularly at home against lefties and Boston boasts plenty of lefties to take advantage. Andrew Benintendi is slugging .531 against righties. Rafael Devers is slugging .708 in the past seven days. Though not a lefty, Mookie Betts is slugging .639 against righties and .600 in the past seven days.

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