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MLB Best Bets for Sunday (4/18)

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Sunday’s MLB slate is fully loaded with 16 games and a little bit of everything. There’s a double-dose of dirty laundry as the Sox and Sox play two sevens, an interleague matchup featuring Cleveland at Cincinnati, a COVID-19 postponement between the Twins and Angels, and Atlanta playing at Wrigley in the Sunday night prime-time matchup to wrap up the week.

Nothing better than some baseball on a Sunday afternoon, so let’s see where the value can be found. 

Arizona Diamondbacks @ Washington Nationals

Arizona and Washington will wrap up their four-game series, with Washington trying to go for the 3-1 series win. Madison Bumgarner takes the mound for Arizona, while Washington will turn to home-grown star Stephen Strasburg.

Bumgarner, once known for his postseason heroics, is now known for being one of the worst starters in the league. He hasn’t pitched more than 5 innings in any game this year, while also not allowing any fewer than 5 earned runs in any of his three starts (6, 5 and 6 earned runs). After finishing 2019 — his last season in San Francisco — with an equal 3.90 ERA and 3.90 FIP, he pitched to the tune of a 6.48 ERA and 7.18 FIP in 2020, his first year with Arizona. Those hoping the shortened season was more of a fluke than a sign of things to come have been sadly mistaken. His horrible 2020 season has leaked into 2021, leaving him with an 11.20 ERA and a 6.22 FIP through three starts. He’s been getting torched by both sides of the plate, with lefties locking in a .511 wOBA (11 batters) and righties at a .465 wOBA (62 batters faced), while his road numbers are just as bad allowing a .477 wOBA and a 6.14 FIP. Behind MadBum is Arizona’s mediocre bullpen that was projected to finish as the 24th-ranked group in the majors. They have exceeded expectations somewhat so far, posting roughly league-average numbers in ERA- (96), FIP- (105), and xFIP- (104), but this was more possible because of their low projections and not because they’re pitching that well. As a whole, Arizona has one of the worst pitching staffs (relievers and starters) in the league.

Washington comes into the fourth game of the series absolutely on fire against left-handers. They’ve posted the sixth-highest wOBA (.368) and the eighth-highest wRC+ (128), while also having a hard-hit rate in the top half of the league. Taking away their series against the Los Angeles Dodgers in which they only scored 5 runs, they’re averaging 4.9 R/G against the rest of the league, a mark that would rank them in the top-10. They have a top-five OPS against lefties, an O-Swing% in the bottom half of the league, and a top-10 Z-Contact%. For a pitcher like Bumgarner who has been struggling with command (5.27 BB/9 this season), a patient lineup that makes consistent contact when they get strikes could be a very tough matchup. 

The pick

Unless MadBum is priced as a +1000 underdog, I’m not sure I’ll ever back him. He hasn’t showed that he’s capable of being the pitcher he was in San Francisco and, if anything, has proved that his sub-par performances are becoming his new norm. I don’t usually like paying this much for a team total, but this seems too good to pass up. Washington RL (-1.5) +100 & Washington TT o4.5 -130.

Pittsburgh Pirates @ Milwaukee Brewers

After splitting the first two games of the series, Pittsburgh and Milwaukee are both looking to take Game 3 and the series this afternoon. Pittsburgh is sending out Chad Kuhl to take the bump against Milwaukee’s Freddy Peralta.

Pittsburgh has gotten off to a 6-9 start through 15 games this year, which is better than a lot of people would have anticipated. Even though they have slightly below-league-average numbers, they’re still a top-10 team against right-handers on the young season with a .318 wOBA (ninth) and 98 wRC+ (11th); marks better than Atlanta, Chicago (White Sox and Cubs), and the New York Yankees. They have a top-10 BB%, the seventh-highest Z-Contact%, and are a mere 0.003 away from being a top-10 OPS team so far this season (11th at .710). Even individually, Pittsburgh players are putting up impressive league-wide underlying stats with Colin Moran posting a top-10 barrel rate and Phillip Evans with the 14th-ranked hard-hit rate. By no means are they going to break any offensive records this season, but Pittsburgh is hitting a lot better than originally projected.

Kuhl’s 2021 hasn’t gotten off to the start he would’ve hoped, posting a 6.75 ERA and an 8.86 FIP through his first three starts; numbers that would make MadBum look like a borderline all-star. While these numbers are extremely bad, there’s at least a sliver of hope as to the reason; his control. He’s never exactly exhibited great control, with 4 BB/9 over the course of his career, but this year has been especially bad with 12.66 BB/9. Admittedly, his .179 BABIP allowed is very low, but his 26.7% hard-hit rate and 20% soft-contact rate suggest that it might not all be related to good luck. Kuhl has increased his ground ball rate to 45% this year and has proven he can miss barrels and induce soft contact; if he’s able to harness his control a little bit, he could be on the cusp of a solid start.

Since the start of 2020, Milwaukee has been one of the more disappointing offensive teams. Overall, they have the 29th-ranked .286 wOBA and 28th ranked 77 wRC+ to start 2021. Against righties they have even worse numbers of .277 wOBA and 71 wRC+ and surprisingly even worse numbers at home with a miniscule .261 wOBA and 62 wRC+. Oh, and they just put Christian Yelich on the IL. Their hard-hit rate is among the bottom-3 in the league, K% is top-6, Contact% bottom-10, and OPS is second-to-last. There’s not a whole lot going right for Milwaukee’s lineup right now and it gets even worse with their best offensive star injured.

Peralta has dazzled this year, with a 0.69 ERA and 2.53 FIP so far on the season through 13 innings. We should pump the breaks a little bit on his numbers though, because of those 13 innings, 11 have come against the Chicago Cubs who have forgotten how to hit entirely this year with league-low marks, by a long shot, with a .262 wOBA and 62 wRC+. His BABIP allowed is only .235, which is primed for some regression back to a league-average of .300 when you combine it with his bottom-of-the-league hard-hit rate. The control has been worse than usual for Peralta this season too, giving up over 6 BB/9 on the season. The Milwaukee bullpen, while originally projected to be a top-five unit, has been abysmal this year, posting the fourth-highest 5.11 FIP and -stats roughly 23% worse than league-average.

The pick

 The value is on the underdog in this matchup. Should Pittsburgh be the underdog? Yes, absolutely, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. But are they +180 underdogs? Definitely not. +180 suggest a winning percentage of only 35%, but my projections have Pittsburgh closer to a +140 road dog (~42%). With Yelich out and a few underlying stat advantages leaving Pittsburgh’s way, I’m leaning black and yellow in this matchup. Pittsburgh +180

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