It’s been a slow start to the 2015 season for both the Pittsburgh Pirates and Milwaukee Brewers. There isn’t much difference in the baseball odds for Saturday’s NL Central matchup at Miller Park.
Getting swept in your opening series isn’t the ideal way to start off a baseball season. But that’s exactly what happened to both the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Milwaukee Brewers. Pittsburgh dropped three straight games at the hands of the Cincinnati Reds by a combined score of 13-8. The Brewers had it worse, getting crushed 20-6 by the Colorado Rockies – at home, no less.
Milwaukee’s misery continued Friday with a 6-2 loss to the Pirates (+119), also at Miller Park. They’ll reconvene Saturday night (7:10 p.m. ET) with the Brewers favored slightly at –115 on the MLB odds board; Vance Worley is scheduled to start for Pittsburgh against Jimmy Nelson and the Brew Crew. Can Milwaukee finally get its first win of the 2015 campaign?
Frame by Frame
Unless you’re old enough to remember when Barry Bonds was skinny, you’re probably used to the idea of the Pirates losing baseball games. These are different times, though: Pittsburgh has been to the playoffs each of the last two seasons, and the baseball odds at Bovada have the Pirates listed at 20-1 to win the World Series. Not too shabby.
Too bad the Pirates are already on the decline. They won 94 games in 2013 and led the National League with 23.42 units of profit on the season; in 2014, it was down to 88 wins and 5.97 units. Things could get even worse in 2015. According to Neil Paine via FanGraphs, Pittsburgh has shed 6.1 expected WAR amongst its position players, mostly through the departure of catcher Russell Martin (4.9 WAR) to the Toronto Blue Jays.
Analytics fans are gushing over Martin and his ability to frame pitches, something that turns out to be more valuable than previously understood – although statheads might be blowing things a bit out of proportion. New catcher Francisco Cervelli is pretty good at pitch framing himself, and he had a .802 OPS last year for the New York Yankees, so things can’t be that bad behind the plate but are they worth our MLB pick?
The Brewers (66-1 on the World Series futures market) are in rebuilding mode after three mediocre seasons, including an 82-80 record last year that cost supporters 7.21 betting units in losses – Milwaukee was leading the Central for most of the first half of the season before collapsing and finishing eight games behind the St. Louis Cardinals. This year’s team is also facing a downgrade at catcher, but that’s assuming pitch-framer extraordinaire Jonathan Lucroy (6.2 WAR) regresses to the mean after leading the NL with 53 doubles, more than twice his previous high. Lucroy’s BABIP rose from .290 in 2013 to .324 last year, while his isolated power fell from .175 to .164. He’s already 1-for-16 this year with a pair of walks.
Then you have Nelson, who made 12 starts for Milwaukee last year as a rookie and posted a decent 3.78 FIP, but lost 4.75 units on a team record of 4-8. Nelson was burned by a .344 BABIP that should come down this year if he gets some defense behind him. The Pirates will feel more secure with Worley, who posted a 3.44 FIP last year and generated 4.87 betting units on a team record of 11-6.
Nelson has never faced anyone in the Pittsburgh lineup at the major-league level, so we turn our attention to Worley. He’s allowed a .725 OPS to current Milwaukee hitters; most of the damage was done by Ryan Braun at 6-of-16 with a .912 OPS, but Braun is almost certainly not available in your fantasy league. Avoid playing Lucroy, who’s 2-for-10 with three strikeouts. Look instead at third-year shortstop Jean Segura, despite his small sample size of three at-bats – he has two hits and a walk against Worley, and is owned in 68% of Yahoo leagues.
Free MLB Pick: Take the Pirates at The Greek