Zylbert: Banking on Starting Pitcher Regression in Rockies-Cubs

Zylbert: Banking on Starting Pitcher Regression in Rockies-Cubs article feature image

USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Javier Baez and David Dahl

Betting odds: Colorado Rockies at Chicago Cubs

Over/Under: 7
First Pitch: 8:08 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Probable Pitchers: Kyle Freeland (17-7, 2.85 ERA) vs. Jon Lester (18-6, 3.32 ERA)

Zylbert’s 2018 MLB Over/Under Betting Record: 102-73-4, +21.35 units
Last Result: Marlins-Mets Under 7, Alcantara vs. Syndergaard (WIN)

*Each bet graded as if it were to win 1 unit

Those betting the over in tonight’s National League wild-card game could be going down a dangerous path, since Colorado’s Freeland saw the under hit a whopping 24 times in his 33 starts (72.7%) in 2018. That was the best under record in baseball behind only Philadelphia’s Aaron Nola (23-8-2).

Unders were also Freeland’s forté a year ago in his rookie campaign, when he was 18-8-2 in favor of such bets. That means in his two seasons in the big leagues, the under has gone an absurd 42-16-3 (72.4%) when Freeland is starting.

But I’m going with the over in this win-or-go-home affair anyway.

There’s no denying that Colorado’s second-year southpaw had an outstanding year. He went 17-7, and his 2.85 ERA made him the third qualified starter in franchise history to finish with a mark below 3.00. But there are other factors that indicate that Freeland might not be at his sharpest tonight in his postseason debut.

The 2014 first-round draft pick registered a 3.67 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), which points to Freeland not being as dominant as his overall numbers may suggest.

Strangely, he’s also been considerably better when working from hitter-friendly Coors Field. Freeland has put up a 3.04 ERA and .270 batting average against in 34 career games (31 starts) at home, but fortunately, this is a road start for the 25-year-old.

Away from Colorado, he’s posted a 3.75 ERA — nearly a full run higher than he has at home — and his .301 batting average against is a decent amount higher, as well. Additionally, he racks up more strikeouts at Coors (7.57 K/9) compared to what he gets on the road (6.48 K/9).

His strikeout rate is also notably lower when pitching on shorter rest, which is the case this evening. When pitching on less than five days’ rest this season, Freeland recorded 7.2 K/9. On five or six days of rest, he had 8.3 K/9.

And of course, let’s not forget the matchup. Freeland is about to tangle with a lineup that manufactured the sixth-best team batting average in baseball (.260) against left-handed pitching.

A lefty being on the hill will benefit the Rockies at the plate, too. Their .272 batting average opposite southpaws led the NL, as did their .798 OPS and 74 homers.

It’s true that the Rockies don’t hit as well on the road, but Colorado can put up some runs off Cubs lefty Lester.

Just like his counterpart, the 13-year veteran ended up with an FIP (4.39) significantly higher than his ERA (3.32). In fact, that’s the highest FIP he’s notched since 2007 — his second season in the majors.

Lester also endured a severe dip in strikeouts with 7.38 K/9. That’s his lowest mark in six years and easily his worst since joining the Cubs in 2015.

While Lester has a solid postseason track record dating back to his time with the Red Sox, his lone experience in a matchup similar to tonight’s game was anything but that.

While most people remember the classic 2014 AL wild-card game for the A’s bullpen surrendering two late leads, Lester was also a culprit in that frightening collapse, giving up six runs in 7.1 innings.

Finally, each side’s relievers could potentially assist us, as well. The Rockies were 26th in team bullpen ERA (4.62), and while the Cubs finished second (3.35), they’re missing two of their key relievers (Brandon Morrow, Carl Edwards Jr.), while another (Pedro Strop) is just now coming back from a hamstring strain.

Play: OVER 7 (-125)