By Dalton Brown
If you’ve been watching baseball regularly, you’ve probably noticed the crackdown the league is attempting when it comes to pitchers using sticky substances. While pitchers have been using substances to improve their grip and increase spin rates since baseball has been played, there’s plenty of data that suggests that the practice has created too large of an advantage in recent years. That being said, MLB has come under scrutiny from many fans and players for choosing to begin enforcement on these substances mid-season.
This week, as Major League Baseball umpires officially began checking every pitcher to enter the game as they left the mound, their reactions became absurd quickly. While some laughed it off or looked visibly annoyed, Max Scherzer and Sergio Romo began taking off their pants on the field when the umpire called them over for a “substance check”. In Scherzer’s case, his decision to disrobe followed Phillies manager Joe Girardi requesting the umpire check him for a third time within a single game. It led to a shouting match between Girardi and Scherzer, and ultimately resulted in Joe Girardi being ejected from the game.
If the checks continue to happen on every pitcher and coaches can request them ad nauseum, MLB will likely undo any progress it’s made toward speeding up the game. More importantly, the league would continue to erode its relationship with an MLBPA they’ll be negotiating with on a new CBA this offseason. As I see it, the league knows better - my best guess is that within days or weeks the substance checks will become less frequent and more random. From a betting perspective, the assumption would be that these changes would lead to more games going over their totals. Yet had an individual bet nothing but overs for the duration of the three days since enforcement began, they’d have lost money with an 18-18 record. While a small sample for baseball, it’s enough to serve as a reminder to the casual bettor that the oddsmakers have access to the same news we all do, and are damn good at adjusting lines to account.
Let's try to beat them this weekend anyway.
Last week: 1-1
Friday, June 25, 7:07 PM ET
Baltimore Orioles (Matt Harvey) @ Toronto Blue Jays (Alek Manoah)
Where do I begin with Matt Harvey? At 3-9 with an ERA of 7.80, there’s no secret to the fact that he’s having a terrible season. He’s allowed 4 or more runs in 9 of 15 starts this season, as well as 8 of his last 9. He just faced Toronto last week, and was touched up for 9 hits and 2 walks over 4.1 innings, allowing 4 runs. It was actually one of his better efforts, too - it marked the first time in four weeks he’d thrown a pitch in the 5th inning, an inning he hasn’t completed in more than 7 weeks. In June, opposing batters are hitting .373 against him. I’ll spare you a deeper look into his advanced stats - they’re all awful as well.
He’s opposed by rookie Alek Manoah, fresh off the worst start of his young career in his last outing against these Orioles. Unlike Harvey, though, I’m willing to bet Manoah puts forth a much stronger effort on Friday night in Buffalo. Through 5 starts, he’s been a bit of an enigma. His two poor starts have come against the Marlins and Orioles, while he allowed a total of 2 earned runs over three starts against the Red Sox, White Sox, and Yankees. While I’m admittedly speculating, that strikes me as a focus issue more than anything - I’d be willing to bet Alek Manoah spent quite a bit more time scouting those three top tier opponents than he did lowly Baltimore or Miami. Given his most recent result though, it’s hard to imagine him overlooking BAL at home - and with his full attention, I think he’ll put forth a solid effort against the O’s - and with any luck, 100% of the Orioles hits against him won’t be HR's like they were on June 19 when he allowed 4.
Baltimore is also an abhorrent 11-25 on the road, having lost an astounding 20 in a row. It doesn’t help the Orioles either to be facing a righty in Manoah - against right-handed pitching this season, Baltimore’s wRC+ is an abysmal 82 (compared to an excellent 114 against righties). Should Matt Harvey get into the trouble we expect them to, Baltimore will turn to their bullpen early. This could be additionally catastrophic news, as the Orioles turned to their bullpen on Thursday night 1 out into the game after starter Dean Kremer allowed 6 ER on 2 hits/5 walks. It’s bad in Baltimore, and this run line is cheaper than it should be.
The Pick: Blue Jays -1.5 (playable up to -140)
Saturday, June 26, 4:10 PM ET
Atlanta Braves (Ian Anderson) @ Cincinnati Reds (Luis Castillo)
Luis Castillo’s 2021 season is a story of a man digging himself up after being buried alive, gasping for air as he slowly reaches the surface. In June, he finally started to find some of that oxygen he so craves - although his record certainly hasn’t shown it, and therein lies the value. Luis Castillo’s record now sits at 2-10, even uglier than that of Matt Harvey above - and despite his 2.19 ERA in June, he’s gone 1-2 to continue the trend of his abysmal season on paper. For comparison, May saw Castillo pitch to an 8.04 ERA while allowing a batting average against of .325 - in June, that number has dropped to .155 as well.
For Atlanta, Ian Anderson has so far managed to validate the organization’s excitement following his performances in the Postseason as a rookie in 2020. Over his last 6 starts, though, his results have been decidedly mixed as he’s bounced back and forth between allowing four and zero runs (3 times each).
Anderson has produced starts without allowing an earned run 4 times in 2020 before his most recent scoreless outing on Sunday in NY - in the starts that have followed, he’s pitched to a pedestrian ERA of 4.62. While such a statistic may not be worth reading into at all, I’m more inclined to believe there’s something to it when the pitcher in question is only 23 years old. On Saturday, any lack of focus would certainly haunt Anderson as he pitches to CIN on the road. The Reds wRC+ of 108 vs. righties ranks 5th in baseball - at home, that balloons to an absolutely absurd 131 (31% better than the average offense). ATL has seen the opposite happen on the road, where their wRC+ against righties drops from 117 to 88.
Given his stats, I am eager to play them in the 1st 5 innings to avoid their 30th-ranked 5.70 bullpen ERA.
The Pick: Reds F5 (+100 or better)