Keeping it short and sweet this weekend after last week's Tony La Russa rant. As always, let's now turn our attention to the weekend and examine a few betting angles worth wagering on for Friday/Saturday.
Last Week: 2-0
Friday, May 28th
San Diego Padres (Lamet) @ Houston Astros (Valdez)
Friday night’s matchup in Houston between the Padres and Astros matches up two of baseball’s most underappreciated pitchers in Dinelson Lamet and Framber Valdez. On San Diego’s side, Lamet has been lights out when healthy throughout his career to a DRA- (via Baseball Prospectus) of 72, or a whopping 28% better than the average pitcher. Originally a two-pitch righty with a mid-90's fastball and above-average slider, Lamet has honed in on a more complete repertoire dating back to late 2019 that features more velocity, an added sinker, and more depth to what is now looked at as a “power-slurve” of sorts.
While it pains me to fade a pitcher with Lamet’s talent, there are reasons for concern for Friday night's game in Houston. The Houston Astros have the second best batting average (.256), seventh best OPS (.740), and third best wRC+ (112) against right-handed pitching in Major League Baseball this season, and they've been especially lethal against them at home (134 wRC+, best in MLB). San Diego continues to be careful with Dinelson Lamet given his injury history, and the Padres indeed haven’t stretched him beyond three innings in any appearance on the mound yet this season. Friday night might see the Padres ask for a bit more from Lamet, but it’s difficult to imagine Jayce Tingler leaving Lamet in the game too long if the Astros make life as difficult on him, just as they have against most right-handed pitching this season.
On the opposite side, Houston will send its own rehabbing starting pitcher to the mound in Framber Valdez. The 2020 season was a coming out party for the righty, as he posted an absurdly nice DRA- of 69 despite a .314 BABIP against him. Despite this being his first outing of the season, it seems to be that Valdez is a fair amount ahead of Lamet in his injury recovery after tossing 4 scoreless innings in his last rehab start. What makes Valdez especially attractive in this spot is the Padres’ putrid offensive numbers against left-handed pitching. For a team with the offensive firepower the Padres have, their below average wRC+ of 93 and 27th-ranked 9 total home runs against left-handed pitching this season are alarming. For comparison, the categorically 26th-ranked Cardinals have hit 12 home runs despite 93 fewer at-bats.
While I’m certain Valdez will have a pitch count keeping him from pushing too deep into this game, I’d expect Dusty Baker to push for 4-5 innings from the lefty, which would likely be all we’d need to avoid an early disaster from the Astros ailing bullpen. Grab HOU F5 and make sure shop around for the best line.
The Pick: Astros (First 5 Innings) -120 or better
Saturday, May 29
Texas Rangers (Foltynewicz) @ Seattle Mariners (Dunn)
I’ll get this out of the way up front: the Seattle Mariners offense is bad. They don’t hit lefties well, they don’t hit righties well, they don’t hit starters well, and they certainly don’t hit bullpens well. And although betting Seattle can make one queasy if your stomach isn’t strong enough, Saturday night looks like the time to take some Tums and give it a go as the Mariners host the Texas Rangers at 10:10 p.m. EST.
Seattle’s Justin Dunn isn’t a name that grabs many headlines - entering this season, the young righty hadn’t exactly wowed anyone with his work at the big league level. He’s been an entirely different pitcher in 2021 though, and I’m fully sold on his development when digging deeper into what’s changed. Most notably to the naked eye is that Dunn is in much better physical shape in 2021 than he was in 2020; he’s lost 10 pounds, cut dairy entirely from his diet this past offseason and focused on increasing his velocity.
It’s worked quite well too, as his fastball velocity has jumped from 91.3 miles per hour in 2020 to 93.7 miles per hour on average in 2021, per Baseball Savant. Dunn has seen marked improvement in his results as well - his DRA- has dropped from 135 to 114, the hard hit rate against him has dropped 9%, and his K% and HR% numbers have also each moved significantly in the right direction. The matchup with the Texas Rangers is an especially good one for Dunn here too - despite having not faced them since making obvious improvements, he’s posted a 3-0 record and a 2.00 ERA against the Rangers over three previous starts.
And while Texas isn’t quite the bottom-feeder offensively Seattle is, the Rangers' .231 batting average against right-handed pitching isn’t enough to convince me that they’ll suddenly figure out Dunn come Saturday. Mike Foltynewicz will take the mound for Texas on the opposite side, a pitcher who is fresh off his best start of the season against the Astros last weekend where he threw seven scoreless innings.
While I understand the instinct to want to buy Folty after that performance, I believe it’s giving us extra value here on a pitcher who has been awful for quite a while now. For the season, Folty ranks in the 17th percentile of hard hit percentage against, the 12th percentile in average exit velocity against, and the 5th percentile in Whiff% per Baseball Savant. His DRA- of 128 corroborates the same story, one in which our protagonist is one of the worst starting pitchers in the league. He faced these same Mariners earlier this month, allowing 4 runs in a 5-4 loss at home. Add in Seattle’s marginally better bullpen than the Rangers’, and I’m not seeing any reason why Texas should be favored when they head to the Pacific Northwest.
The Pick: Mariners -110 or better