We have a fun-sized but manageable seven-game slate Wednesday night. Let's take a closer look at a couple of my favorite plays.Reds' 1st 5 innings (-150) vs. Cubs, 6:40 p.m. ETOn the surface, this is one of tonight's least appealing games. The Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Cubs have combined to go 30-54 this season and the projected starters, Kyle Hendricks and Luis Castillo, both sport ERAs above five.We're going to bet it anyway because value is value, and there's value in backing the Reds inside the first five innings.We'll start with the pitching matchup. Hendricks has really labored this season, performing more poorly than his counting stats suggest. He owns a 5.54 FIP, second-worst among Wednesday's starters, and his K-BB% of 8.5% is also near the bottom of the barrel. He can get hit around, especially by lefties.The Reds are projected to start four left-handed hitters, headlined by Joey Votto. Tommy Pham, while struggling, has historically hit righties well, and Brandon Drury owns a .250 ISO against them this season.As a whole, the Reds have enjoyed plenty of success against right-handed pitching of late. They rank 10th in team ISO and 16th in wOBA against righties in May. Pretty good!The picture isn't as bright for the Cubs. For one, they own a .296 wOBA against righties this month, putting them 24th in the majors.While Castillo's ERA in the early going isn't impressive, his underlying metrics suggest he's been better than advertised. He owns a 4.02 FIP and 3.79 SIERA, indicating his 4.60 ERA is a little undeserved. Part of the issue is a 65.8% strand rate, which should regress favorably.Given the way the Reds are currently hitting righties and the pitching advantage, I have no problem if you want to take things one step further and back them -0.5 (-110) over the first five innings.Rangers @ Angels over 8.5 runs (-120), 9:38 p.m. ETIf you like offense, this should be the game for you, as the pitching matchup - Glenn Otto versus Reid Detmers - isn't exactly must-see TV.Otto ranks last among all of Wednesday's starters in FIP (5.63) and SIERA (5.11) while slotting second last in terms of HR/FB rate. He gives up a lot of home runs and a lot of walks. That's not ideal against anybody, let alone an offense like the Los Angeles Angels possess.They have mashed right-handed pitching all season, particularly on home soil. They rank third in the majors in both wOBA (.345) and ISO (.190) when playing in their own park. With the likes of Taylor Ward and Jared Walsh stepping up to support superstars like Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, the Angels' dangerous lineup should score its share of runs, win or lose.This is also a good spot for the Texas Rangers' offense. Detmers owns a 4.15 ERA despite allowing a .172 batting average on balls put in play. Put another way, he's giving up runs even though an unsustainable amount of contact is leading to outs. That number should regress quite a bit and, when it does, the runs will follow.The Rangers hit lefties pretty well too: They sit 11th in the majors in ISO (.155) and 12th in wRC+ (104) against left-handed pitching. Considering Detmers' counting stats aren't good and yet remain more encouraging than his underlying metrics, Texas' bats could be in for a good night.Simply put, the combination of firepower and poor pitching in this game figures to lead to a lot of offense.Todd Cordell is a sports betting writer at theScore. Be sure to follow him on Twitter @ToddCordell.Copyright © 2022 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.
We're roughly one-quarter of the way into the MLB season, which means a lot of the statistics are reaching a large enough sample to be illustrative of successes or failures.Here's a list of players with outlier statistics and whether their performance will continue.Taylor Ward, Angels Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images Sport / GettyWonky stat: 249 wRC+ (1st in MLB)To say the 28-year-old Ward is enjoying a breakout would be a massive understatement. Not only does he lead all of baseball in wRC+, the most reliable statistic in measuring a hitter's performance, but he also leads in AVG, OBP, and SLG.Entering this season, the outfielder didn't have much of a major-league track record. Over 159 career games spanning back to 2018, Ward had posted a .230/.305/.388 slash line. That equated to a 90 wRC+, or 10% worse than the league average.So what's changed? Well, most importantly, he's walking more. One-third of his career walks have come this year alone. That usually indicates a hitter is being more selective, and Ward has definitely changed his approach. Instead of swinging at 27.2% of pitches outside the zone between 2018-21, Ward is now offering at merely 18.6%. That puts his chase rate in the 99th percentile among all major leaguers, according to Baseball Savant.As a result, he's seen a 4.4% bump in contact rate and a 4% dip in whiff rate. Additionally, when he does expand the zone, he's making contact on those pitches 67.2% of the time as opposed to 56.5% previously.Pitchers have already begun adjusting, as Ward is seeing only 39.6% of pitches in the zone now in the month of May. To his credit, though, his approach has stayed identical. He's still swinging at 17% of those offerings, and, on pitches below the zone, he's still making good enough contact on them to post expected batting averages above .300.Can this continue? Yes. He almost certainly won't finish the season atop the league leaderboard in wRC+, and he probably won't even beat his teammates Mike Trout or Shohei Ohtani. But Ward has shown a genuine change, and it's working.Nestor Cortes Jr., Yankees Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / GettyWonky stat: 1.35 ERA (1st in AL)With all due respect to Cortes, if anyone out there had the former 36th-round pick on pace to win the Junior Circuit's ERA title, we're going to need to see the receipts."Nasty" Nestor has arguably put himself in a position to be the AL Cy Young front-runner after spending the last four years bouncing between teams. Entering this season, he had a 4.66 ERA over 172 career frames. Now, it looks like he's trying to double his career innings in a single season.So what's changed? The lefty started showing these changes last year, keeping his strikeout rate at an impressive 27.5% while reducing his walk rate to 6.7% over 93 innings. That's the same strikeout-minus-walk rate that Charlie Morton and Nathan Eovaldi posted last year, albeit over larger workloads.Somehow, though, Cortes has elevated beyond even that. What was so impressive about his sudden success last year was that he kept his strikeout rate at a very good level while cutting his walk rate, which gave him problems early in his career. Now, he's kept the walks low and elevated his K rate to 32.5%, sixth among qualified starters so far this year. And Cortes is doing it with a fastball that ranks in the fourth percentile by velocity.Interestingly, he isn't inducing weak contact especially well. He's in the 61st percentile in barrel rate, 44th in exit velocity, and 47th in hard-hit rate. But his increased reliance on an 86-mph cutter - Cortes now throws it 40.5% of the time after not even using it until 2020 - seems to create enough deception between his fastball to keep hitters off balance. Even further, he's staying ahead of hitters with impressive command, throwing a first-pitch strike 69.5% of the time - third in baseball.Can this continue? For a guy who throws a fastball that even Jered Weaver might scoff at, it's hard not to root for the success to continue. However, there's a reason why breakouts like this are so rare, especially in the modern, velocity-obsessed game. Ideally, Cortes will continue to be deceptive, and the fact that he doesn't throw as hard as other guys means he's able to stay healthier. However, are we really getting 150-plus innings of this?Marcus Semien, Rangers Cooper Neill / Major League Baseball / GettyWonky stat: ***38 wRC+ (2nd-last in MLB)***Semien has been terrible in pretty much every conceivable way. He's looking completely lost at the plate while also not helping his team defensively, costing 8.6 runs on offense and 0.5 on defense, according to FanGraphs. This is coming on the heels of one of the best seasons by a second baseman in recent memory, which earned Semien a massive seven-year, $175-million contract from the Rangers.So what's changed? Surprisingly, some of the underlying numbers don't look that bad. He's walking less, but he's also striking out less. So, while he isn't being as selective, Semien isn't really racking up Ks, either.His contact rate is still a respectable 78.9%, barely below his career norm of 79.6%. But the big problem here is that he's swinging a lot more, both on pitches inside and outside the zone. The former Silver Slugger and Gold Glove winner is swinging at 78.6% of pitches in the zone (a year-over-year increase of 7%), but also 34.4% of pitches outside the zone (up 8.6 percentage points). In total, Semien is swinging at more than half of the pitches he sees now (53%) versus his career average of 44.3%. That's typically the swing rate of a slap hitter, not a slugger who hit 45 homers last year.So, it's really no wonder that the quality of contact has taken a nosedive, given that he's expanding the zone at a rate he hasn't since his first 21 games in the big leagues with the Chicago White Sox back in 2013. As a result, he ranks dead last with a .184 expected batting average and .239 expected wOBA and second last with a .290 expected slugging.It's also worth noting that hitting ahead of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. last year likely helped Semien, but not as much as you'd think. He's still seeing roughly the same amount of pitches inside the zone as he did in 2021, and now he's hitting in front of Corey Seager, who's performing just fine after a relatively quiet start. So lineup protection isn't the easy answer one might expect.Can this continue? There's no chance this keeps up. Semien might never be as good as he was last year when he finished third in MVP voting. But it seems like he's trying to live up to his nine-figure deal in every single plate appearance lately. He'll have to readjust his approach to increase his quality of contact. Otherwise, Baseball Savant including 2015 Grady Sizemore - the final year of the once-promising speedster's career - in Semien's "similar batters" section might be more than just ominous.Zack Greinke, Royals Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / GettyWonky stat: 9.8% strikeout rate (last in MLB)It's been a decade since a qualified starting pitcher had a strikeout rate in the single digits (Henderson Alvarez, 9.8% in 2012). Even Mark Buehrle, perhaps the last pitch-to-contact God, never posted K rates below 10%.But Greinke isn't just not missing bats - he's succeeding without missing bats. He's walking barely anyone and not giving up that many homers, either.So what's changed? A lot of people are going to point to his velocity dip. His 88-mph fastball sits in the fifth percentile in the majors. However, that's been happening for a few years now, and Greinke never really featured blow-you-away velocity. Here are his average fastball velocity and percentile ranks since 2015, when he finished as NL Cy Young runner-up: Year Velocity Percentile 2015 92.3 46th 2016 91.9 36th 2017 90.8 24th 2018 89.5 13th 2019 89.9 12th 2020 88 5th 2021 89 8th 2022 88.8 5th So, Greinke has been dealing with incredibly similar velocities over the past two years. Here's how those years panned out versus what's happening this season: Year K% BB% HR/9 ERA FIP 2020 24.5% 3.3% 0.81 4.03 2.80 2021 17.2% 5.2% 1.58 4.16 4.71 2022 9.8% 2.2% 0.41 3.48 3.27 What's changed, then, might not actually be entirely up to Greinke. Last year, he was a pretty similar pitcher by velocity. But he was getting more strikeouts, giving up more walks, and surrendering way more homers, which hurt both his ERA and FIP. Interestingly, though, league-wide HR/9 has dropped from 1.26 last year to 0.99 this year thanks at least in part to the deadened ball. But that doesn't account for Greinke's incredible ability to suppress dingers far beyond what the ball seems to be causing.In lieu of missing bats, he's missing barrels. Some analytics indicate that hitters have almost all the say regarding quality of contact, but it seems to be a factor pitchers can also influence. Atlanta Braves ace Max Fried has made a career out of avoiding barrels with elite chase rates, ho-hum velocity, and strikeout numbers.He's throwing his off-speed stuff less than his breaking balls now, and he seems to be finishing his slider in the strike zone more often as well. Other than that, Greinke's relying on his defense - which ranks sixth in the majors, according to FanGraphs - to get outs for him, and it's working.Can this continue? It's hard to say. Eventually, the 38-year-old will be finished. But for now, he's found a way to suppress hard contact without walking anyone. The lack of strikeouts almost doesn't matter if you can do those two things.Copyright © 2022 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.
Ben dives into every division in baseball. In the AL East, Verlander argues why Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees is the top position player, why Nestor Cortes is the top pitcher, and why the New York Yankees are the best team. In the AL central, Verlander explains why Byron Buxton of the Baltimore Orioles is the top position player, why Dylan Cease of the Chicago White Sox is the top pitcher, and why the Minnesota Twins are the best team. In the AL west, Verlander reveals why Taylor Ward of the Los Angeles Angels is the best position player, why Justin Verlander of the Houston Astros is the best pitcher, and why the Houston Astros are the best team.
Plus, notes on the return of glove-first shortstops and Angels outfielder Taylor Ward s breakout year.
You can't win 'em all, but we'd certainly like to win more than we did Tuesday when we struck out on all three of our MLB bets. Here are our top plays for Wednesday:White Sox (-150) vs. Guardians, 2:10 p.m. ETWe thought Monday's heartbreaking loss would carry over for the White Sox and their depleted bullpen, but Chicago kept rolling in Tuesday's convincing victory over the Guardians, securing its eighth win in nine games.White Sox veteran Vince Velasquez gets the call in the third game of this series after arguably his two best starts in a Chicago uniform. The 29-year-old righty allowed just one run on seven hits in 10 2/3 combined frames against the loaded Angels and Red Sox lineups, notching 24 swinging strikes across those starts despite low strikeout totals.Cleveland starter Aaron Civale, meanwhile, has been one of the worst pitchers by any metric this season, ranking near the bottom in ERA (9.45), WHIP (1.70), and batting average allowed (.315). He has his work cut out for him against a surging White Sox lineup that has plated at least three runs in 10 straight games.Phillies under 3 runs (even) @ Mariners, 3:40 p.m.Does anyone really want to bet against Logan Gilbert right now? The second-year starter has carried the momentum from a promising rookie campaign into a dominant 2022: He leads the American League in ERA (1.36) after holding five of his first six opponents to one run or fewer in at least five innings of work.His strikeout numbers won't wow anyone, but the crafty right-hander has generated 30 of his 33 punchouts with his fastball-slider combo, with each pitch producing a whiff rate of at least 20% and combining for a .215 average allowed on those offerings. Reigning Cy Young winner Robbie Ray used a similar mix to pitch four perfect innings Tuesday, finishing with 10 strikeouts in 5 2/3 frames in the Mariners' 5-4 win over the Phillies.Philadelphia took Ray deep in the fifth inning to spoil his perfect bid, and the Phillies hit two more round-trippers in later innings. Don't expect such a power surge against Gilbert, who has allowed just four extra-base hits (two homers) all year. Seattle's bullpen has been one of the better units by advanced metrics, but Gilbert's work early should help this one cash.Angels (-125) vs. Rays, 7:07 p.m.Good things happen for the Angels when Shohei Ohtani is on the mound. Los Angeles has won each of his last three starts and 16 of 28 (57.1%) dating back to his MVP year in 2021. He turned in arguably his finest showing yet in his last start, fanning 11 Red Sox batters through seven scoreless innings while finishing 2-for-4 at the plate.Ohtani and Mike Trout have been the catalysts for their team's offensive explosion, hitting a combined five home runs over the last two games to help the Angels score 23 total runs in a pair of blowout wins over the Rays. It's not just them, though; the likes of Jared Walsh, Taylor Ward, and Brandon Marsh have helped round out one of the AL's most dangerous orders.Tampa Bay starter Shane McClanahan has impressed with an AL-best 47 punchouts and 13.1 K/9, but he's already allowed five home runs in six starts and is susceptible to hard contact - which is in no short supply for the Angels. Los Angeles won the first two games of this series by a combined 20 runs and should secure a clean sweep with Ohtani on the mound.C Jackson Cowart is a sports betting writer at theScore. You can follow him on Twitter (@CJacksonCowart) or email him at [email protected] © 2022 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.