Minnesota Bettors Won't Be 'Rico' After Playing Cleveland in San Juan

Tuesday, April 17, 2018 11:12 AM UTC

Tuesday, Apr. 17, 2018 11:12 AM UTC

Cleveland plays Minnesota at 7:10 ET in Puerto Rico. Cleveland is heavy chalk behind Cy Young candidate Corey Kluber, but is Minnesota likely to maintain its strong form?

Puerto Rico: Cleveland Indians (8-6) vs Minnesota Twins (7-4)Free MLB Pick: Cleveland RL -120Best Line Offered: Pinnacle

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Last season while with the Rays, Minnesota's Jake Odorizzi (1-0 2.20 ERA) took a major step back from his 2016 form. His home run per nine innings rate skyrocketed to 1.88, his walk per nine innings rate to 3.83 and his FIP (like ERA, but factors out luck) to 5.43. His main issue was command -- consistently controlling the location especially of his fastball. In his best seasons, he has been confident enough in his fastball to rely most frequently on it. But in 2017, he too often made mistakes with the location of his fastballs, and batters were more able to prey on these errors with slugging rates of .700 or better in four of nine quadrants within the middle of the zone. In 2016, hitters had not slugged at .700 or better in any part of the strike zone against his fastball. Odorizzi was having trouble locating his pitches, which is also why he was walking more batters. Odorizzi was also giving into batters too often in the more dangerous parts of the zone. The key statistic is that he threw a career-low 40.1% of his pitches in the strike zone but encouraged batters to swing a career-high 74.1% of the time at pitches in the zone. Hitters could be selective and comfortable against him. No wonder Tampa Bay wasn't sad to see him go.

This year, Odorizzi is reinventing himself as a pitcher who relies most heavily on the sinker. In turn, his fastball usage has plummeted. Additionally, he has drastically changed the vertical release point of his sinker, which indicates that he is working on his mechanics. Odorizzi is a pitcher in flux and this makes him unreliable. He has been giving up fewer homers so far, but his BB/9 rate is a disgusting 5.51. He is also still allowing opponents to be selective because hitters are swinging at fewer pitches inside the zone but making contact with them at a higher rate. He had a strong first start against the fourth-worst offense in terms of runs per game (Baltimore) then an FIP of 7.21 and 4.22 in his following two starts. Odorizzi, given his issues with command, stuff and pitch selection, is achieving at an unsustainable rate.

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Cleveland's offensive rut is also unsustainable. Finally, the Indians have produced an average of six runs in the past three games. Their last game, a Friday loss to Toronto (weekend games postponed), ended their five-game winning streak. Look for them to bounce back as heavy chalk Tuesday after blowing a four-run lead. In terms of expected batting average, which calculates what a team's batting average should be based on each individual player's hit probability, minus batting average, Cleveland is by far the most underachieving team. The Indians show upside and a strong recent streak against a pitcher in an identity and ability crisis. Odorizzi struggles especially against left-handed batters, giving up a 6.62 FIP against them so far. Cleveland's Francisco Lindor, a switch-hitter, is batting .306 and slugging .528 against right-handed starters so far.

Corey Kluber (1-1 1.57 ERA) is an elite pitcher worthy of the heavy chalk for Cleveland. He is likewise elite historically against Minnesota. In 196 at-bats, the Twins are batting a career .189 against him. He has given up zero earned runs in his last two starts, totaling 14 innings, against them. Minnesota, according to the xBA-BA metric, has been grossly overachieving -- more so than every other team besides one. Individually, this is especially true of the one Twin who hits above .200 in his career against Kluber, Joe Mauer, who, like his team, has tremendous downside coming into this game. I love accounting for strong form in a wager, sure, but not when a team is playing unsustainably well, outside of its skill level. Indians it is for a Tuesday MLB pick.

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