MLB Betting Preview | Pitchers to Buy, Fade This Week, Including Kyle Hendricks, Tony Gonsolin
Todd Kirkland/Getty Images. Pictured: Tony Gonsolin and Will Smith
The daily grind of betting MLB can be grueling, but one of the ways you can attempt to gain an edge is by looking ahead at pitching matchups worth targeting.
As you know, a starting pitching matchup is the most integral part of assessing a game from a value standpoint.
While most sportsbooks don’t post lines until approximately a day in advance — once starting pitching matchups are confirmed — if you’re on top of the ball, you can jump on pitchers with value before the markets adjust post-opening and create positive ROI.
With that, here are five pitchers I’m either going to be looking to buy or sell this week based on their projected matchups.
Kyle Hendricks, Chicago Cubs
I briefly touched on Kyle Hendricks' struggles in my Triple 7s and if you follow me in the Action app, you saw me log the Padres TT over 4.5 (-102) last night. Even with that number nearing (-120), I still love the Padres' bats to get going and club Hendricks on Monday night.
Hendricks returned from injury just over a week ago and has struggled despite a 3.86 ERA. Over 9 1/3 total innings, the right-hander has given up six runs — three earned — on 12 hits and five walks. He was fortunate not to have been hit harder against Tampa and I expect that to turn against San Diego here.
When he first came into the bigs, Hendricks was phenomenal at inducing soft contact. He was never a strikeout pitcher, but he forced ground balls nearly 50% of the time and limited the long ball. His command was extremely solid, too.
But that has begun to dissipate over the last three seasons. His changeup and sinker don't have the same success they once had. Opponents have begun to tee off on Hendricks in the process. This season has been a small sample size but the two prior: xBAs above .270 and xSLGs above .455.
Because of the pitches losing effectiveness, Hendricks' ground ball rates have taken a nose dive. It's gone from the mid-50s all the way down to 43.1% in 2021 and 36.2% in 2022. We've seen an increase in both fly balls and line drives which has led to opponents having their way often.
Hendricks hasn't generated the same chases and his strikeouts have dipped below 20% while his walks have crept up. He's posted his two worst barrel rates in his career over the last two seasons with xERAs near 5. It just seems like the 33-year-old's effectiveness is in the rearview mirror and the Padres' offense is a perfect combatant to tear apart the righty.
While I'm not keen on backing Blake Snell, especially as a large favorite, that Padres TT over is a great look to fade Hendricks. I also like Juan Soto over 1.5 total bases (+125), as I broke down in my Triple 7s.
Freddy Peralta, Milwaukee Brewers
Projected Start: Tuesday vs. Baltimore Orioles (Kyle Gibson)
At a near-PK, I love the idea of Freddy Peralta to bounce back against the Orioles in their lesser split.
After two seasons with sub-2.80 xERAs, Peralta has struggled a bit this season. While his velocity has taken a step forward, his strikeout rates have dipped and his barrel rate has jumped to 9.7% — a career-worst. But I don't expect this to last.
When looking at his pitch mix, his curveball has taken a step back and his changeup has graded out poorly. But those are his least-used pitches — his changeup only 12.3% of the time — compared to the four-seam and slider, which are thrown a combined 73.5% of the time.
So why is that good? Both of them have taken a big step forward from a Stuff+ perspective. Both now sit in the 120s after hovering around league-average last season. Despite the increase in Stuff+, the success hasn't come. Positive regression is on the horizon for the right-hander who has been a consistent staple in Milwaukee's rotation the last few seasons.
Opposite him is Kyle Gibson, who despite below-average numbers, has been overperforming quite considerably over the first couple of months. Gibson's strikeout rate sits at a career-low 15.9% and his walk rate has begun to creep back up. Despite an increase in xBA, xSLG and hard-hit% from last season — he had a 5.05 ERA — Gibson has a 3.89 ERA.
The last three starts he's given up just four runs in 19 2/3 innings and has a 73.9 LOB% — the second-highest of his long career. I don't buy the 35-year-old having long-lasting success with how hard he's been hit — he's been a bit fortunate — and that should change in the near future.
Especially with Cedric Mullins' injury and Gunnar Henderson entering the week with a back injury, the price on the Brewers is too cheap for me to pass up. They have a significant starting pitcher edge in my mind with a strong backend of a bullpen. The offenses are about even vs. RHP.
Michael Wacha, San Diego Padres
Projected Start: Wednesday vs. Seattle Mariners (George Kirby)
My colleague Anthony Dabbundo has long been on the fade Michael Wacha train and I think Wednesday is a great time to pounce.
When looking at Wacha, you see a slight increase in strikeouts and a decrease in both barrel rate and xBA from last season. He induces soft contact at an extremely high rate but has taken a considerable step back in ground balls. So after a 3.32 ERA in 2022, his success should continue in 2023, right?
I don't believe that's the case. His xERA last year was up at 4.56 — he overperformed expectations tremendously — and the same has rung true in 2023 (4.22 xERA to 3.48 actual). Look at his Stuff+ and all his pitchers aside from the changeup are graded as below average. So much so that his fastball and slider are in the 70s (100 is considered average).
So he's relying on one pitch — the changeup — to bail him out consistently? That doesn't sound like a recipe for success. While that pitch has been effective all season, his fastball (.169 BA vs. .231 xBA) should negatively regress quick. It's got a Stuff+ rating on 71, which is the worst on the entire Padres team and among the worst in baseball.
Wacha ranks in the bottom half of all pitchers in barrel rate, K%, xBA, xSLG and whiff rate. It's only a matter of time before he struggles and begins to fall down to earth after an incredible May where he threw 32 innings of three-run ball. The matchup on Wednesday is perfect, too.
George Kirby will get the start for Seattle and he's been great this season. Low walks, a barrel rate that has dropped over 3% and an xERA of 3.22. He's one of the dark horses the Payoff Pitch podcast discussed preseason for AL Cy Young and despite a low K%, he's found a ton of success through two months.
Tony Gonsolin, Los Angeles Dodgers
One of the luckiest pitchers in baseball this season has been Tony Gonsolin.
From an outsider's perspective, since Gonsolin returned to the mound in late April, he's been untouchable because of his 1.77 ERA. Take a look at expected indicators and you'd quickly think otherwise.
Gonsolin's xERA is over three runs higher than actual, at 4.83. His xFIP has jumped above 5 and opponents have just a .155 BABIP. Yes, .155! That is incredibly unsustainable — league average is around .300 — and Gonsolin's projections THE BAT, Steamer, etc. all had him in the .280-.290 range.
It's even more wild when you look at Gonsolin's decline in strikeouts. He has a career-worst 17.7 K% and 39.6 hard-hit rate. So opponents are putting the ball in play and hitting the ball hard, they've just been outs. And when they do get on, Gonsolin mitigates damage (84.5 LOB%).
Gonsolin ranks in the bottom 50% of pitchers in just about every metric: average exit velocity, xBA, xSLG, K%, BB%, whiff%. He's in the 52nd percentile in barrel rate (7.9%), but even that is a career-low for the right-hander.
It's only a matter of time before Gonsolin falls down to earth. Given his increase in BB%, it's only a matter of time before base runners turn into runs. There are two opportunities to fade Gonsolin this week, but my favorite comes Sunday against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.