Smoking-Hot Indians and Yankees Lineups Call for First Five 'Over' Bet

Rainman M.

Friday, May 4, 2018 11:38 AM UTC

Friday, May. 4, 2018 11:38 AM UTC

New York hosts Cleveland tonight at 7:05 ET in an ALDS rematch. Both lineups have been hitting very well and the starting pitching matchup will work in the hitters' favor.

Cleveland Indians (17-14) at New York Yankees (21-10)Free MLB Pick: First 5 OverBest Line Offered: Bookmaker

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Cleveland’s starter Josh Tomlin (0-4, 9.16 ERA) has been a disaster this season. One could argue that April is anyhow a month in which he typically struggles. However, April 2018 was particularly bad and indicative of future difficulties. Last April, opponents didn’t slug over .600 against any of his pitches. This year, however, they did so against all five of them. This season, there is more variance in the vertical release points of his pitches. For instance, the variance of his fastball after only four starts this season adds up to the same amount of variance after his first five starts last year. Increased variance in vertical release points indicates mechanical discomfort. A pitcher who isn’t even comfortable with his delivery isn’t reliable.

Furthermore, Tomlin’s stuff is weak. Part of that problem is that he faces more hitter-friendly counts since he is starting with a first-pitch strike at a 9% lower rate than his career average. He is getting slugged in the middle parts of the strike zone, meaning that the quality of his pitches is so poor that he has to be extra effective with his location. The problem with that is that he is locating his pitches poorly — meaning predictably and with too little variance. Last season, he threw over 7% of his pitches in just one spot in the strike zone. This season, there are four such spots.

While Tomlin is figuring stuff out, the Yanks’ lineup has it figured out. Yankee hitting has been crucial for their winning 12 of their last 13 games, although the numbers are deflated by playing in more pitcher-friendly parks. After two long road trips this season, the Yanks have produced double-digit runs in their first game back home. Watch out for Didi Gregorius, who has five hits in his past three games and is batting .333 on the season. Aaron Judge is batting .339 and slugging .714 at home.

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CC Sabathia (2-0, 1.71 ERA) counters for New York. Sabathia benefited in his last two starts from playing two teams, the Angels and Twins, who had been in the midst of a slump. He does have good career numbers against Cleveland, one of this former clubs, but bettors should ignore them. Sabathia accrued his numbers against Cleveland largely as he was a different pitcher. Since 2016, he has practically eliminated the fastball from his repertoire. Sabathia relies particularly on a slider and cutter combo. Arizona ace Zack Greinke correctly pointed out that pitchers who rely on both pitches tend to run into trouble. Both pitches are thrown so similarly that pitchers who throw them end up with a mediocre blend of both instead of optimally fine-tuning the one or the other. Since 2017, the Indians rank seventh in slugging against these two pitches and 11th when southpaws are throwing them.

The Indians’ lineup has been the most underachieving in baseball, as measured by the metric BA-xBA (batting average minus expected batting average). Their underachievement has been evident overall and against left-handed pitchers. But the Indians are finally waking up. They’ve averaged 10 runs per game in the past seven. So Sabathia will have to deal with a hot lineup.

Last year, Sabathia’s FIP was 4.61 against right-handed batters. His vertical release points haven’t lowered -- which pitchers do to better disguise their pitches against same-handed batters -- so I don't expect the current reverse splits to continue. Watch out for Francisco Lindor, who is hitting .333 vs southpaws and has raised his slugging percentage by almost .100 since April 29. Jose Ramirez is hitting .308 against lefties. He’s slugging over .500 in his past week and slugs .773 in his career at Yankee Stadium. Plenty of runs will be scored in the first five innings for a Friday MLB pick.

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