After scanning today’s baseball betting card, I like three underdogs to win. Read on to find out which teams and why.
Cincinnati Reds vs. Kansas City Royals
Wednesday, August 19, 2020 – 5:05 p.m. ET at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City
Online sportsbooks are waiting to release MLB odds for this game probably because it’s a doubleheader and it can be frustrating to predict who will pitch in a doubleheader. But reports from reputable sources indicate that Luis Castillo and Brad Keller will be the starting pitchers for the day game. Since the Royals have a terrible record and Castillo is well-reputed, I expect to be able to take the Royals at + money.
Luis Castillo’s Disadvantage
Cincinnati starter Luis Castillo (0-2, 3.91 ERA) finds himself in a difficult match-up for today’s contest. It’s true that, during Castillo’s period of maturation as a young pitcher, he has incorporated greater variety into his pitching arsenal.
However, he is still very much reliant on velocity. He throws his fastball and sinker with a combined 48 percent frequency. Both pitches average around 97 mph. This detail is significant because the Royals rank sixth in slugging .518 against the high-velo (94-98 mph) fastball and sinker from righties combined.
It is true that Castillo offers a change-up. Before this year, his change-up had always been a really solid offering for him. Last year, for example, batters hit .129 against it. But this year, opponents are hitting .244 against Castillo’s change-up. The key difference is that Castillo is not hitting the borders of the zone with this pitch nearly as much as he used to.
Pitch percentages by location show that he is leaving his change-up more frequently in the middle parts of the plate. Batters are taking advantage. So, his change-up isn’t dangerous at the moment and his high-velocity pitches will be very hittable for Kansas City batters.
Kansas City starter Brad Keller (2-0, 0.00 ERA) is generating more soft contact and less hard contact than he ever has before. His positive form inspires hope that he will build off of his achievements against active Cincinnati batters.
In 34 at-bats, they are hitting .118 and slugging .147 collectively against Keller. While 34 at-bats isn’t the best data sample, the fact that they only have one extra-base hit against him is very promising.
Red batters also have six more strikeouts than hits against Keller. Those who are hitless with Keller on the mound include Joey Votto and Eugenio Suarez.
Houston Astros vs. Colorado Rockies
Wednesday, August 19, 2020 – 8:40 p.m. ET at Coors Field in Denver
Overrated: Framber Valdez
Based on surface-level statistics, it does seem to be the case that Houston starter Framber Valdez (1-2, 1.90 ERA) has improved massively from last season to this one. MLB bettors sure seem to be agree. As of Wednesday morning, the Astros are priced as high as -166 at the best online betting sites.
But we should remain skeptical of Valdez because he is unproven in one significant respect: he hasn’t faced a lineup that can actually hit lefties. Valdez is a southpaw and has faced four teams — which is every opponent he’s had this far -- that rank in the bottom third against left-handed pitchers. In fact, three of those teams — the Angels, Dodgers, and Mariners — rank in the bottom four in BA against southpaws.
Colorado, however, ranks third in batting .299 against lefties. One batter to keep an eye on will be Trevor Story. He is batting a ridiculous .385 and slugging .846 when facing southpaws.
Valdez at Coors
Valdez matches up especially poorly with the Rockies at Coors Field. I don’t want to get too much into the physics. But the effects of Denver’s lower air density on baseball pitches have been subject to considerable study.
One fact is that the curveball loses considerable (over two inches on average) vertical break. This fact is akin to giving a pitcher a new pitch because he has to relearn how to aim his curveball. Plus, just the fact that his pitch will move less makes it less formidable.
These details will plague Valdez because his curveball is his second-most frequent pitch. His favorite pitch is the sinker. The proposition that it is a very bad pitch for Coors Field is somewhat more contested. But importantly, this pitch loses meaningful arm-side run at Coors.
Colorado starter Ryan Castellani (0-0, 1.04 ERA) has enjoyed an extremely promising pair of starts — his first two in professional baseball. He relies primarily on his fastball, which he throws more than half the time.
It has strong movement and sets up his tight slider, which is a huge generator of whiffs for him and a notoriously good pitch for Coors’ atmosphere. Castellani matches up well with the Astros, who rank in the bottom third in slugging against the fastball.
Los Angeles Angels vs. San Francisco Giants
Wednesday, August 19, 2020 – 9:45 p.m. ET at Oracle Park in San Francisco
Patrick Sandoval: Overrated
I can’t figure out why Angel starter Patrick Sandoval (0-2, 3.94 ERA) is favored today. Is it partly because he thrived against one of the worst lineups and one of the best match-ups for him in the Mariners?
In contrast to the Mariners, San Francisco is one of the better teams in slugging against southpaw pitchers. The Giants also rank 10th in slugging against Sandoval’s favorite pitches — the fastball, slider, and change-up — from lefties, combined.
One batter to look out for is Wilmer Flores as he loves facing lefties. He is slugging .520 against them. Also, keep in mind that the Giants are absolutely built to hit in their home ballpark.
This is, ideally, true of every team. But it seems to be more true of the Giants. Because oddsmakers are having trouble appreciating this fact, the „over“ is 8-1 in San Francisco home games this year.
Whereas San Francisco ranks 24th in slugging on the road, it ranks 9th in slugging at home. The Giants slug .644 on the road, which is well below league average, but .821 at home.
San Francisco’s Johnny Cueto (1-0, 4.62 ERA) should be today's favored pitcher. While his ERA seems unappealing, his high ERA derives primarily from a very poor outing in Los Angeles against the Dodgers.
The Dodgers form zero basis for comparison with the Angels because they are stacked. In contrast, Cueto has a solid history against the Angels. Active Angel batters have accumulated a .203 BA and .354 slugging rate in 79 collective at-bats against Cueto. Superstar Mike Trout, for example, is 1-for-9 (.111) when facing Cueto.
With your MLB Picks, I recommend waiting for MLB oddsmakers to release first-half betting odds. In particular, San Francisco’s bullpen is not fun to rely upon. Unless something changes drastically soon, the Giants will be small first-half underdogs.