Eat the Chalk with Confidence in Rays-Red Sox Affair

Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale in action

Mark Lathrop

Saturday, April 15, 2017 2:33 PM GMT

Our sabermetrics MLB handicapper explains why the Tampa Bay Rays face the worst possible matchup for them on Saturday, and why we should have no problem laying the run line backing the Red Sox.

Tampa Bay Rays vs Boston Red Sox

The Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox continue an early AL East division series in which both teams are trying to clear themselves from the middle of the division standings. In the always competitive AL East, four teams won 81 or more games last year so this start is not much of a surprise. Only the Toronto Blue Jays have failed to launch their 2017 season, as they sit at 1-8 on the year.

The Red Sox bring Chris Sale to the mound on Saturday, who has been nothing short of brilliant in his first two starts this season. Over 14.2 innings pitched, Sale has only given up 2 earned runs in compiling a 1.23 ERA and 0.68 WHIP. Even more impressive is Sale’s early season 17/2 K/BB rate. Again, I will point to the excellent analysis of Jeff Sullivan on Sale (this time with a link), who has apparently gone back to the pitch mix that gave him so much success on the White Sox. Namely, Sale is throwing his fastball less and his breaking balls more. The result has been a return to the ridiculous strikeout rates that we are accustomed to seeing with Sale, and a whiff rate of 12.7% over his first two starts.

Many of us wondered how Sale would fare in Fenway Park with the Green Monster looming in left field. Sale likely doesn’t care about it since batters are not getting much contact on the ball against him. The one caveat with Sale’s early season performance is his BABIP of .212, nearly 80 points lower than his career average. His performance still truly warrants an ERA of 1.93 from an FIP perspective. Amazingly good.

In this matchup with the Rays, Sale faces almost the perfect opponent for his arsenal. Tampa Bay’s batters this year are putting up a team whiff or swinging strike percentage, of 13.1% on the year. Only the Royals are worse in the MLB, and it indicates that the Rays have made every pitcher they’ve faced look like Chris Sale early on in this season from this perspective. Imagine what the real Chris Sale will do against them! Naturally, this also means that Tampa Bay’s offense leads the league so far in striking out.

With imminent demise on the horizon, the Rays turn to Jake Odorizzi on Saturday. Odorizzi has put up an ERA of 4.50 on the season, but his BABIP of .182 indicates that even that result has been smoke and mirrors.

With Sale on the mound, it is not surprising that Boston is heavy moneyline favorites at -200 at BookMaker. I don’t like giving up that much juice, but because this matchup is so egregious I have no problem laying the run line in favor of Sale. I’m taking Boston -1.5 runs for this game as one of my Saturday MLB Picks.

 

Free MLB Pick: Red Sox -1.5Best Line Offered: at Pinnacle

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