This article is part of our MLB Betting series.
Previous day: 1-3, -1.88 RWBucks
Season: 27-40, -16.76 RWBucks
I went on my old Prospectus colleague's new podcast this week, chatting for a couple of hours with Kevin Goldstein on all manner of baseball topics. One we dug in on a bit was the incredible amount of parity in the season's early going. With a little less than 20% of the schedule played, not a single MLB team is playing even .600 baseball. Just three, the Tigers, Rockies, and, uh, Twins, are under .400. The other 27 teams are separated by just five games. Four teams are 17-15. Four more are 15-16.
There's no single good explanation for it. I'm fond of saying "variance swamps everything," but that's usually used to cover performances that are very good or very bad in the short term. Still, it can also apply to a strangely compressed group of teams. The Dodgers probably aren't a .531 team, but early-season injuries and some bad luck in non-standard games (0-2 in seven-inning doubleheaders; 1-6 under the new extra-inning rules) have dragged them down. The Giants, with the best record in the NL at 18-13, are a more difficult call – they have the second-best run differential in the league, but by third-order record have been a sub-.500 club.
Have the books found an edge? VSIN's Dave Tuley reports that favorites are 242-219 so far, a .524 winning percentage that probably isn't profitable when you consider most of those favorites are at higher prices than the -110 that implies. So the money has been made on dogs so far. As they say in the commercials, though, past performance is no guarantee of future results. Totals have a near even split, with unders ahead by a few games.
The biggest trends in the game are 1) strikeouts up, again; 2) less productivity on contact, owing to better defensive positioning and a deadened baseball; 3) a high rate of injuries, especially to good players, that have weakened lineups. The second of those drove unders early in the year, but the books quickly caught up. Scoring was down about a third of a run compared to April 2019, a little more than that accounting for the new rules in doubleheaders and extra innings. The latter just means the hours leading up to game time take on greater importance, learning who's playing and not, especially given that MLB is now working with the books to keep that information from getting out.
Five weeks in, and we may know less today than we did when the season started. That's a little frustrating, but it also creates opportunity. Do the work, dig in on the numbers, catch a little variance, make some money.
Speaking of opportunity...it's a full slate of games on a Friday!
Both these starters have been erratic in five starts, with Patrick Corbin having both higher highs and lower lows. The Yankees, however, are sixth-best in MLB at hitting lefties, while the Nationals are sixth-worst against righties. The return of Juan Soto will help, but not enough, as Corbin's struggles avoiding hard contact run into a lineup that generates a ton of it. 1.5 RWBucks.
The Diamondbacks have been the best team in baseball against lefties, with Carson Kelly, the switch-hitting Eduardo Escobar, and rookie Pavin Smith setting the pace. Peterson has allowed an incredible amount of hard contact, and is by far the lesser starter in this matchup. 1 RWBuck.
There's some reliever risk here with a Reds bullpen that can blow up at any time and the Indians probably missing James Karinchak, who pitched the last two days. Still, we get a cold night by the lake, with a starter in Plesac who pounds the zone and whose underlying performance is a run better than his ERA. 1 RWBuck.
Having successfully weaned myself off Mitch Keller in time for him to have his best start of the season, let's bring in the other Keller I can't seem to quit. To date, Brad Keller has been locating his sinker terribly, leading to hideous on-contact numbers and an ERA like a good credit score. The White Sox didn't have a deep offense six weeks ago, and now they're down two key outfielders in the wake of the Luis Robert injury. There's a good #3 starter somewhere in Keller, and he starts finding his way back to it tonight. 1 RWBuck.