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Free MLB Pick – Friday, July 8

#901/902 ‘OVER’ Chicago Cubs (Arrieta) at Pittsburgh Pirates (Liriano) 6:10 PM CT

Jake Arrieta is still a top shelf pitcher in the National League but his groundball rate has slipped dramatically in recent weeks and the results have been much less impressive since late May. Over his last eight starts Arrieta has a 3.77 ERA and his season xFIP is more than a run higher than his season ERA. His strikeout rate is still strong but his walk rate has climbed dramatically, allowing 3.5 free passes per nine innings and he is only six walks short of his 2015 season total despite pitching fewer than half as many innings so far this season. There is no question that Arrieta remains a strong pitcher on a great team but the Cubs would be wise to wait on the long term contract as on the wrong side of 30 Arrieta is looking more and more like a potential one-year wonder. Francisco Liriano is just a bit older than Arrieta and the left-hander enjoyed one of the great rookie seasons any pitcher has had in 2006 for the Twins, going 12-3 plus a save with a 2.16 ERA and a 10.7 K/9. Liriano has had plenty of ups-and-downs since but he has turned in a fine career with 93 MLB wins. His 2016 season is on pace to be perhaps his worst since 2009 however as he has been a huge disappointment for the Pirates, unable to follow-up a solid 2015 season with the club. His strikeout rate has fallen dramatically from last season while his walk rate is incredibly high at 5.7 BB/9. There doesn’t appear to be anything phony in the numbers as his 5.34 ERA is nearly identical to his 5.33 FIP and his .304 BABIP is right around the typical league average. Liriano has allowed 27 earned runs in his last seven starts for a 6.88 ERA in that span and he has allowed at least four runs in four straight home starts. The Cubs have 12 runs against Liriano in fewer than 10 innings this season and Chicago is 19-9 this season vs. left-handed starters. The Cubs have been a great ‘over’ team on the road at 26/16/3 while PNC Park has featured 9.2 runs per game this season with the ‘over’ 27/14/3 and the Pirates have shown recent life on offense with four or more runs in nine of the last 11 games. With these pitchers there figures to be many extra base runners with both starters in the NL bottom 10 among qualified starters in BB/9 and the low total leaves little margin for error with two of the better hitting teams in baseball matching up.

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Free MLB Pick – Thursday, June 30

#902 Milwaukee Brewers (Davies) + over Los Angeles Dodgers (Maeda)

Zach Davies allowed 23 hits and 14 runs in his first three starts of the season but he has delivered strong results since with a 2.64 ERA over his last 10 starts, and only once in that span has Davies surrendered more than three earned runs. His strikeout rate is also climbing with 41 Ks in his last eight starts and his walk rate has declined substantially as well in that recent run. Miller Park is one of the better offensive parks in the league but the Brewers are 6-3 in Davies home starts where his WHIP is just 1.02 with a 3.11 ERA. The Dodgers are a losing team with a similar winning percentage to the Brewers on the days when Clayton Kershaw does not pitch despite a strong overall record. Los Angeles is 14-2 in Kershaw starts but just 8-7 behind Kenta Maeda. After a dominant April Maeda has looked much more ordinary in May and June and he has allowed four or more runs in four of his last nine starts. The Brewers saw him two weeks ago in a 2-1 win for the Dodgers at home but Milwaukee is 13-23 in road games but a winning team at home. The Dodgers have a losing road record on the season and the bullpen has been worked hard of late with short recent starting efforts on the current road trip. The Brewers have scored 4.5 runs per game at home on the season while Los Angeles is one of baseball’s weakest offensive performers, averaging just 4.2 runs per game on the season with a .234 team average. Milwaukee is a capable team and this will be one of the toughest pitching venues Maeda has pitched in his rookie season as he has benefitted from pitching his home games in the lowest scoring park in baseball.

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Free MLB Pick – Monday, June 27

‘UNDER 7.5’ Houston Astros (McHugh) at Los Angeles Angels (Shoemaker) 9:05 PM CT

After scoring 26 runs Friday and Saturday the Astros were shut down with just one run Sunday in Kansas City, ending a seven-game winning streak for a Houston squad that has climbed back into playoff contention. Houston’s scoring has been erratic as they have been held to four or fewer runs in five of the last 10 games and on the year the road production features a big decline from the numbers in Houston. Matt Shoemaker has a lousy record for the Angels but he has been on a dominant run since mid-May posting 62 strikeouts in his last seven starts with a quality start in six of those games. Two of those quality starts came against this Houston lineup, posting big strikeouts counts in a 7-2 win and a 3-2 loss. While the Angels scored seven runs Sunday to break a six-game slide this is a team that has topped four runs just three times in the last 10 games. The Angels are one of the worst scoring teams in baseball this year and Collin McHugh presents a tough matchup for the team. After a slow start McHugh has been heading in the right direction in recent weeks and his FIP is nearly a full run below his ERA. McHugh is generating strikeouts at a strong rate while rarely walking batters and he pitched well against the Angels last week in a 3-2 win at home. Both bullpens have capable recent numbers and the ‘under’ is riding a 9-2 run in Houston road games. Over nine runs per game have been scored in Anaheim this season but in 17 of 39 games there has been seven or fewer runs scored and this is a pitching matchup that is much stronger than the season numbers suggest with both starters on strong recent runs.

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Free MLB Pick – Friday, June 24

#906 Miami Marlins (Koehler) +150 over Chicago Cubs (Hendricks) 6:10 PM CT

There has been some recent erosion in the numbers for Kyle Hendricks who still owns a great 2.94 ERA and a nearly 4:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The Cubs have lost four of his last seven starts and for the first time all season Chicago has lost four consecutive games. While the run differential for the Cubs is still remarkable, leading baseball by a mile at +162, the division lead is now just nine games over the Cardinals and the Rangers are actually just a game behind the Cubs for baseball’s best record. Hendricks featured a lot of groundball outs in the first two months of the season and there has been a sharp decline in those percentages over his last three starts. His strikeout numbers have been good in that run but he has allowed seven runs in his last three starts, including giving up three home runs. Incredibly the Cubs are only 6-7 behind Hendricks and 41-17 behind the other starters for the team and the home/road splits severely contrast for the right-hander with Hendricks 1-5 on the road with a 4.36 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP. The recent slide has mostly been due to the offense however as Chicago is batting just .229 in the last 10 games while scoring 3.8 runs per game, big drops from the season production. Chicago has been held to four or fewer runs in eight of the last 10 games and they face a hot pitcher in Tom Koehler. With rather average career numbers Koehler may be on track for a career year as he has been outstanding since early May. After allowing eight runs on May 1 Koehler owns a 2.58 ERA in nine starts since, posting seven quality starts in that run and allowing only one home run in over 55 innings of work. His season numbers are much stronger in Miami and this is a Marlins team that has quietly charged right into the playoff race including a recent 7-3 run the past 10 games. Miami’s bullpen owns a dominant 1.67 ERA in the past 10 games while the late innings have been a recent sore spot for the Cubs and Miami is batting .311 with 5.6 runs per game in that span vs. right-handed pitching. The host has won five of the last six in this series and despite his team playing in its worst stretch of the season Hendricks is a similarly priced road favorite today against a 39-34 Marlins team as he was at home vs. a 34-39 Pirates team in his last start.

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Free MLB Pick – Tuesday, June 21

#959 Seattle Mariners (Paxton) + over Detroit Tigers (Verlander) 6:10 PM CT

After showing some promise in a brief call-up in 2014 James Paxton proved not ready for primetime struggling at the big league level last season. At nearly age 28, patience may be wearing thin for the left-hander with a big-time arm but in four starts so far this season Paxton may be finally realizing his potential. His strikeout rate in the small sample is nearly 11.9 K/9 and he owns a 2.86 ERA. Paxton has taken two losses in his four starts but seven unearned runs have been factored in with some tough breaks in his first two starts back with the Mariners. Paxton owns a very low ERA and FIP despite a .403 BABIP that is sure to come down and with his swing-and-miss rate the ceiling is very high for Paxton to help the Mariners chase down a playoff spot. Opposing Paxton will be one of the American League’s best and most well known starters with Justin Verlander in the midst of a resurgent season. Verlander has been a big part of keeping the Tigers afloat at .500 so far this season but there is reason to be a little suspicious of the numbers for the former MVP and Cy Young winner. His BABIP is .271 as he has caught some breaks and his groundball rate is very similar to last season when the right-hander greatly struggled and well off the pace of his best seasons. Detroit has not been the strong hitting team vs. left-handed pitching that they generally have been in recent seasons, going just 8-10 this year vs. left-handed starters and batting 20 points worse as a team in those matchups. In contrast the Mariners are one of the league’s best scoring teams vs. right-handed pitching posting 5.3 runs per game. Seattle is in a bit of a slide having lost seven of the last nine games on this long road trip but in last night’s lengthy game the Mariners out-hit the Tigers 19-14 despite the loss and Seattle’s bullpen was preserved better than Detroit’s with the Tigers having five relievers pitch at least an inning. Verlander is capable of another good outing but Seattle looks promising in a bounce-back spot with underdog pricing.

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National League Value Starters

National League Value Starters

06/18/2016

There are several months to go but it is easy to be excited about the National League playoffs given how stacked the league is with power arms and elite starting pitching. The American League All Star team will have an unenviable task next month as Terry Collins will be able to trot out a truly elite starter in every inning if he wants to.

As the separation grows between the contenders and the rest of the league the cost to support the elite starters on quality teams will continue to grow. Ultimately identifying quality starters at lower price points will be the key to having success in the National League given how steep the prices will be on the starters for the Cubs, Nationals, Giants, and Mets, as well obviously Clayton Kershaw.

There are several National League starters that project a few tiers down that still can offer some promising potential on many nights while falling in line at costs that are much easier to stomach in most matchups. Here are a handful of possible value starters in the NL for the coming weeks.

Jerad Eickhoff (Philadelphia Phillies): Aaron Nola was the dominant starter for the Phillies in the first two months of the season and remains the highest priced starter in that rotation. It was Eickhoff that wowed in eight starts last season however and after some ups-and-downs in April he is starting to put it together again in 2016. Eickhoff is almost 26 and he won’t be on a sharp innings watch like Nola or Vincent Velasquez in the Phillies rotation and he has allowed three or fewer runs in seven of his last eight starts. Eickhoff owns a better than 3:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and despite his 4-8 record he has picked up a win in three of his last five starts after starting the season 1-6. His ERA is just 3.40 with a FIP that is only slightly higher and his walks and home runs allowed have been kept in check of late. With a limited offense the Phillies are sometimes tough to support but the team has still won 30 games with similar home and road results and Eickhoff might be the best pitcher to support for the Phillies with the ‘under’ also looking playable in many of his upcoming starts.

Michael Wacha (St. Louis Cardinals): Wacha looked like he was on the superstar fast track starring for the Cardinals late in the 2013 season and in the playoffs. Injuries derailed him in 2014 but he had a fine 2015 season for the 100-win Cardinals. Wacha has already taken as many losses as he did last season at 2-7 but his FIP is 3.51, significantly lower than his season FIP was in 2015 when he wound up 17-7 with a 3.38 ERA. The Cardinals had a slow start to the season but the team is rounding back into form and while catching the Cubs might be a challenge in the NL Central this certainly looks like a team poised to claim a wild card spot. Wacha’s marginal numbers will lead to reasonable pricing to support him even though he is still capable of a dominant outing. The schedule has worked against Wacha as since mid-May his starts have come against the Rockies, Cubs, Nationals, Giants, Pirates, and Rangers, taking on some of baseball’s best offensive teams. Even so he has a quality start in three of his last four outings and he offers great promise the rest of the season at discounted pricing compared to the lines he drew last season.

Bartolo Colon (New York Mets): Backing Noah Syndergaard or Steven Matz is certainly more comforting but Colon’s prices are sharply discounted on the following nights for the Mets. The 43-year old is occasionally the butt of jokes but there is nothing funny about the success he is having against NL hitters. Colon has delivered five consecutive starts with two or fewer runs allowed and his ERA is down to just 3.01. He owns a better than 4:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and while he gives up a lot of hits, he usually escapes with limited damage and he has only allowed two home runs over his last six starts. The Mets are 8-4 in his last 12 starts and with New York possessing an unreliable offense Colon can be supported at a much more reasonable price than the rest of the rotation, avoiding the risk of laying -200 or greater behind an offense that is often sweating out one-run games.

Jake Peavy (San Francisco Giants): While it seems like Jake Peavy has been around forever he is only freshly 35 and could have a few solid years remaining in his career. Peavy is 3-6 with a 5.83 ERA but after a rocky start to the season he has been pretty reliable in recent weeks. His season FIP is a much more respectable 4.16 and his ERA is only 1.82 over his last four starts. Peavy is still getting nearly seven strikeouts per nine innings and after allowing six home runs in his first six starts of the season he has allowed just two in his last seven starts. Everyone would prefer to support Madison Bumgarner or Johnny Cueto but Peavy might be the value option to support a Giants squad that scores nearly 4.5 runs per game despite playing in a pitching-friendly ballpark, while also playing strong defense and generally looking like one of the best teams in baseball.

Zach Davies (Milwaukee Brewers): Davies hasn’t been considered a high ceiling prospect and with his small frame he was only a 26th round draft pick by the Orioles in 2011. Davies is only 23 however and after a shaky April he has emerged as a reliable option in the Milwaukee rotation. Davies has a K/9 of 8.3 over the last month while turning in four straight quality starts. Davies has actually allowed six or fewer hits in 10 consecutive starts and while he has been a little fortunate with a low .262 BABIP on the season his command has been strong with a low walk rate. Davies seems to have solved Miller Park which typically is a tough venue for pitchers as he owns a 2.88 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP in eight home starts with the Brewers winning five of those games. While Milwaukee isn’t likely to be a playoff contender the Brewers have a winning home record and Milwaukee has played above .500 ball since the calendar turned to May as this has been a competitive team that is still frequently getting solid underdog pricing.

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American League Value Starters

American League Value Starters

06/13/2016

Most of the elite starting pitchers reside in the National League as only three of MLB’s top 17 leaders in FIP are AL starters at this point in the 2016 season. Even so, it still costs a premium to back well established AL starters such as Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, Justin Verlander, among others. Here are some names that won’t offer the same chance of a dominant outing but can often be found with much more reasonable pricing and could be worth a look in many future matchups.

Matt Shoemaker (Los Angeles Angels): Pitching for the struggling Angels will keep Matt Shoemaker in the underdog role in many matchups but the 29-year old right-hander has pitched much better than his 3-7 record indicates. Shoemaker has been on a particularly strong run since mid-May, actually posting some of the best numbers in the AL in the past month. Shoemaker has pitched at least seven innings in five consecutive starts while posting 48 strikeouts in that span and delivering four quality starts. He owns a 5:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio on the season and his FIP is more than a run lower than his ERA. Opportunities in late June against Oakland and Houston could be favorable for Shoemaker even with an erratic offense providing support behind him.

C.C. Sabathia (New York Yankees): Many felt C.C. Sabathia’s career might be over when he stepped away from the team late last season but after a mediocre April in 2016 Sabathia has been on a roll in recent weeks and starting to look like the All Star starter of past seasons. His 2.28 ERA is a bit lower than will be sustainable but Sabathia has not allowed more than three runs in any of his 10 starts this season. His strikeout rate isn’t close to his best seasons and he is allowing frequent walks but he has allowed just two home runs in nearly 60 innings, no small feat for a Yankees pitcher. Sabathia has delivered great recent outings against formidable offensive teams including the Blue Jays, Orioles, and Tigers and he has a strong bullpen to help him pull out wins even with a limited offense for New York.

Collin McHugh (Houston Astros): With a 5-5 record and a 5.22 ERA McHugh is among the many Astros that has disappointed this season but his strikeout rate continues to climb back up in recent starts and strong outings may be ahead for the curveball artist that has been a bit streaky the past two seasons. McHugh has posted 37 strikeouts over his last five starts and while he has had few dominant outings he has gone nine straight starts without allowing more than four runs. His numbers have been hurt by pitching in some tough venues with recent road starts at Boston, Arizona, and Texas and his control has been excellent with one or zero walks allowed in nine of his 13 starts this season. The Astros may be on the verge of making a run to climb back into the postseason race and McHugh could offer some value in the coming weeks with his marginal conventional numbers.

Sean Manaea (Oakland Athletics): Young starters with potential are frequently overvalued when they get off to hot starts and AL starters like Michael Fulmer, Matt Andriese, and Danny Duffy are starting to get a bit overvalued. From a value perspective the rocky first three starts Sean Manaea are a great benefit as his conventional numbers still look pretty rough despite clearly turning a corner on the mound. The 24-year old rookie allowed 16 runs in his first 13 innings of work but in five starts since his numbers have improved dramatically. His strikeout numbers are climbing and he has allowed just 30 hits in his last five starts spanning nearly 33 innings. Take away one brutal start at Fenway Park vs. the league’s best offense and his numbers look much more reasonable and while Oakland doesn’t look like a playoff contender, they have a similar record to division foes Houston and Los Angeles despite being valued like one of the worst teams in the AL. Pitching at the Coliseum should also allow for some favorable situations for the young left-hander.

Colby Lewis (Texas Rangers): The Rangers have the best record in the American League and supporting Colby Lewis won’t cost the premium that backing Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish, or even Martin Perez will. Lewis owns a FIP that is more than a run higher than his ERA but his numbers have been improving since the first month of the season and the bottom line is that he is now 21-7 in his last 28 decisions since May of last season. His 3.45 FIP is the 12th best in the AL over the last month and given how well the Rangers are playing Lewis will be worth a look in future matchups as the 36-year old continues to provide solid starts behind a team that has been dominant at home and shown improvement in the bullpen. Texas has had a knack for winning close games this season and Lewis could continue a charmed late career run.

Trevor Bauer (Cleveland Indians): The rotation for the Indians features high end talent but backing Corey Kluber or Danny Salazar will be expensive even with some erratic results for those strikeout artists. Bauer isn’t as dazzling but he has allowed three or fewer runs in eight of his nine starts since moving into the rotation in late April. Bauer is still producing a decent strikeout rate and he has for the most part kept the ball in the ballpark with only six home runs allowed in over 68 innings of work. Bauer is getting a much greater rate of ground balls than he did the past two seasons and while his strikeout numbers are a bit less impressive than were projected early in his career, he has also lowered his walk rate and he has become a more reliable and consistent starter on a first place team.

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Free MLB Pick – Monday, June 13

#959 Milwaukee Brewers (Anderson) +120 over San Francisco Giants (Cain) 9:15 PM CT

With expectations for 2016 that were extremely low the Brewers have been a pleasant surprise, only three games below .500 and creeping into the wild card race. Improvement in the pitching staff has been a primary cause and Chase Anderson is central in that regard. Anderson is 3-1 in his last five starts and he has allowed just 10 earned runs over his last six starts walking only four batters in that run as well. Anderson isn’t a big swing and miss producer but his command has been sharp and he has minimized the home run damage of late after allowing eight home runs in his first six starts of the season. The Milwaukee bullpen also owns an ERA below 3.00 in the past 10 games and AT&T Park is favorable for pitching. The Giants had a late night game last night and Matt Cain is certainly hard to count on. He has just one win in 10 starts this season last starting on May 27 following a hamstring strain. In the last 10 games the Giants are batting .192 as a team and they have topped four runs just once in the last seven games. Cain has allowed three or more runs in half of his starts this season and he is getting barely six strikeouts per nine innings as he isn’t close to the pitcher he was a few years ago. San Francisco has needed a lot of bullpen innings the past two days and coming off back-to-back wins over the 2015 NL Champions this is a Brewers team playing with confidence despite still being priced as a much lesser squad in the NL picture.

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Free MLB Pick – Friday, May 27

#906 New York Mets (deGrom) – over Los Angeles Dodgers (Urias) 6:10 PM CT

Julio Urias is one of the better pitching prospects in baseball and he will make his MLB debut tonight for the Dodgers. His minor league K/9 is north of 9.00 in three-plus seasons making a quick rise to AAA and in 41 innings this season he owns a 1.10 ERA. His FIP is 2.89 however and he has a strict pitch and innings limit this season, never eclipsing six innings in his starts this season. He has a ton of potential but also may not be deserving of the line move that now has him in a toss-up matchup with Jacob deGrom. The 2014 rookie of the year had a strong 2015 season in helping the Mets to the World Series and while his season had an unconventional and emotionally taxing start in 2016 he has given no reason to expect anything other than another quality season in the loaded New York rotation. deGrom owns a 3.07 ERA on the season and there is little to suggest there is anything phony in that production. His strikeout rate has been a bit down this season but he has also only made three home starts and only once all season did he allow more than three runs in a game. deGrom was brilliant in two postseason starts vs. the Dodgers last season allowing just two runs and posting 20 strikeouts in two wins for New York and the Dodgers have not had a good start to the season offensively in 2016. The bullpen edge is severe for the Mets with deGrom certainly a good bet to last longer the Urias who will be under a microscope in his debut. The average price to support the Mets with deGrom on the mound has been -170 this season with the Mets 3-0 behind him at home and this will be one of the cheaper prices all season on deGrom and it won’t be going against an established pitcher.

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Free MLB Pick – Monday, May 23

Oakland Athletics (Hill) + over Seattle Mariners (Walker)

An Oakland team that has competed reasonably well this season wiped away last week’s four-game winning streak by being on the wrong end of a four-game sweep vs. the Yankees at home over the weekend. With just nine runs in the four games the offense failed and Taijuan Walker is certainly a tough matchup Monday night. Walker has shown severe regression in May however after a brilliant month of April. In four April starts he struck out 25 while allowing four earned runs, so far in May through four starts he has struck out 16 while allowing 14 runs, including at least three runs allowed in each start. Walker made his 2016 debut vs. Oakland in a decent outing with seven hits and two runs allowed over six innings but the Mariners have oddly been a much worse performing team at home. Safeco is a pitcher’s park and Seattle is batting just .216 at home this season and the Mariners have a much worse season record vs. left-handed pitching. Rich Hill has been a terrific comeback story as a former top prospect for the Cubs who broke into the big leagues in 2005. He pitched minimally from 2008-2011 before regaining a job in various bullpens, bouncing around several organizations. He has blossomed this season for Oakland with a 2.54 ERA posting 10.7 K/9 and already picking up six wins. His command can be a little spotty at times but a fierce curveball is still his trademark and he gave Seattle fits early in the season with 10 strikeouts in six innings.  Oakland actually has three more road wins than Seattle has home wins this season as escaping the Coliseum and heading to a park that should suit Hill well should be favorable for the underdog Athletics tonight.

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