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MLB Best Bets for Monday (5/17)

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After a packed Sunday slate, Monday offers us a relaxed nine-gamer to ease us into a full new week of MLB betting. With no afternoon games scheduled, bettors will have to be patient waiting until 6:40 p.m. E.T. for the first pitch of the day in the San Francisco vs. Cincinnati game. Having only 9 games may make it harder to find value, but a short slate isn’t going to scare us away.

New York Mets @ Atlanta Braves

The first- and third-place teams in the NL East will kick off a three-game series today in Atlanta. Taijuan Walker will toe the rubber for New York, while Atlanta will counter with lefty Max Fried.

New York is coming into the series with top-10 numbers in both wOBA (.330) and wRC+ (113) against right-handed pitching with a .298 BABIP and a league-average HR/FB ratio, suggesting their stats are essentially where you would expect them to be given neither good nor bad luck. They own the league’s highest BB%, a K% in the bottom half of the league, and top-3 BB/K and OBP numbers. Their CSW% (called & swinging strike %) ranks bottom-5 in the majors, their contact% is top-10, and their line-drive% is second only to Washington, pointing to the fact that not only are they tough to strikeout, but they also make contact at an above-average rate and when they do, it’s often hit on a line.

Taijuan Walker has been impressive for New York through seven starts and 41 innings this year, posting a 2.20 ERA and a 2.93 FIP. Somewhat surprising since Citi Field has the lowest run-scoring environment in the league, Walker actually has had better splits on the road, where he has pitched to the tune of a 2.86 FIP while allowing opposing batters to scratch out just a .224 wOBA against him. The first two times through the order has been a nightmare for hitters against him, where he’s been able to hold opposing batters to a mere .203 wOBA while putting up a minuscule 2.25 FIP. If Walker is able to give New York his typical five to six solid innings, they’ll be able to turn it over to their bullpen that currently has the lowest 2.92 FIP in the league, possibly making runs tough to come by for Atlanta in game one.

Atlanta has somewhat similar numbers against righties as New York does against lefties, as they too have top-10 numbers in both wOBA (.327) and wRC+ (104). They could be lacking some of the most potent fire-power in the league, however, as Ronald Acuña Jr., aside from a pinch-hit appearance yesterday, hasn’t played since May 13th due to an ankle injury. On top of their best playing being absent or at the very least banged up, Atlanta also happens to rank among the worst 10 teams in the majors when facing four-seam fastballs and sliders and in the bottom half of the league against split-fingered fastballs, all of which account for 70% of Walker’s arsenal. Atlanta’s offense is one of the more powerful lineups in the league, but New York could be catching them at a vulnerable time with a favorable matchup.

After turning in a masterful 2020 season, Max Fried has taken quite a few steps back this year. His ERA has ballooned up to 6.55 while his FIP sits just shy of 5.00. He ranks in the bottom 25% of all pitchers in xwOBA, xERA, xBA and xSLG while posting roughly league-average marks in BB%, K%, barrel%, and hard hit%. His splits at home have been much worse than when on the road, putting up an alarmingly high 6.42 FIP while allowing a .402 wOBA. To add insult to injury, he’s also been torched by righties this year allowing a .442 wOBA with a sub-par 5.60 FIP, neither a great sign when facing a lineup that is projected to throw out Francisco Lindor and Pete Alonso from the right side of the plate.

The Pick

The pitching matchup, splits, and the risk of Acuna Jr. not playing make this matchup much closer than it appears. I do have New York as slight road-dogs, but only at a price of about +105. With books out there pricing New York all the way up to +130 dogs, I’ll be grabbing the value on their side and backing Taijuan Walker and the Mets. New York +130.

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