MLB Betting Preview | Pitchers to Buy, Fade This Week, Including Zack Wheeler, Taj Bradley, Framber Valdez

MLB Betting Preview | Pitchers to Buy, Fade This Week, Including Zack Wheeler, Taj Bradley, Framber Valdez article feature image

Mitchell Leff/Getty Images. Pictured: Phillies pitcher Zack Wheeler.

The daily grind of betting Major League Baseball 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.

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Zack Wheeler, Philadelphia Phillies

Projected Starts: Monday vs. Diamondbacks (Tommy Henry) · Saturday vs. Braves (Charlie Morton)

There are plenty of pitchers due for positive regression after a slow couple of months, but one I’m targeting, in particular, is Zack Wheeler in his second start of the week against Atlanta on Saturday night.

Currently, he’s scheduled to pitch against Charlie Morton. The 39-year-old has some issues himself — he owns a .252 xBA, .420 xSLG 4.40 xERA versus 2.85 actual ERA — but this is more about Wheeler’s strengths.

The right-hander has a 2.9% barrel percentage, inside the top 8% of all pitchers. He’s limiting hard contact at a high level and has seen his strikeout rate rise to nearly 30%, similar to his dominant 2021 season. His xERA sits nearly a run lower than his actual ERA at 3.34, too.

Wheeler is an above-average pitcher in nearly every metric. He generates swings and misses, doesn't issue free passes often and has a deep and effective arsenal where velocity remains in the mid-90s (on his hard stuff).

His biggest issue has been an unsustainable .333 BABIP and 64.3 LOB%. To put things into perspective, Wheeler’s career average is nearly 10% higher, and his previous career low was 72.9%.

For a pitcher who has been as effective as Wheeler when considering all advanced metrics, it’s hard to believe he’s struggled through the opening two months. The Phillies have a big series with Atlanta this weekend, and the perfect opportunity to strike is behind Wheeler against an overrated and aging Morton.

Taj Bradley, Tampa Bay Rays

Projected Start: Tuesday vs. Blue Jays (Jose Berrios)

It always seems like the Tampa Bay Rays have unlimited starting pitchers who come up and dominate the bigs. Taj Bradley is no different, and in his limited time — four starts — the 22-year-old rookie has not disappointed.

Bradley’s four-pitch arsenal is among the best in baseball, and he’s produced a .183 xBA and .320 xSLG out of it. He has suffered some bad luck in his limited innings, with an xERA (2.52) over a run lower than his actual (3.54).

But the right-hander has a 33.8 K%, and he rarely issues walks. In his last two starts, five of the nine base runners he allowed have scored. That's an unsustainable rate, and we should see a much better performance as he settles in.

Opposite him is Jose Berrios, who remains a concern across the board. A consistent fade last season, Berrios’ xERA remains in the 5s. His barrel rate (10.4%) has taken another step back, as has his xSLG (.493).

Yandy Diaz has returned to the Rays' lineup and has cemented himself as a dominant bat for Tampa Bay. Berrios has a tendency to give up the long-ball plenty — five home runs in his last four starts — and while his strikeouts have taken a step up, Tuesday presents a perfect fade opportunity.

Back Bradley to have a strong performance against Toronto. The Rays' bullpen is deep but has struggled at times — second-worst 4.80 xFIP — while Toronto ranks sixth. A look at the F5 ML might be smarter given the stark difference between pitchers.

Joe Musgrove, San Diego Padres

Projected Start: Friday vs. Yankees (Luis Severino)

I expected Joe Musgrove to struggle given his preseason injury and delayed start to the season, but his woes have continued into late May. He has given up three or more runs in all but one start.

But given the Padres’ recent slide and their matchup against the Yankees on Friday night, they'll be undervalued behind the right-hander.

As bad as Musgrove has been, his xERA (4.37) is nearly 2.5 runs lower than his actual (6.75). His xBA has only slightly increased from last season, to .230, but his barrel rate has jumped up above double digits.

Positive regression is on the horizon for Musgrove. For starters, his BABIP is .329. Over the last three seasons, his LOB% has remained in the high 70s — his worst season was 77.3%. This year? Down at 66.5%.

I doubt Musgrove will continue to surrender over 2 HR/9 as the season progresses. He’s abandoned his slider this season, throwing it half as frequently as last year, but his arsenal remains deep and velocity hasn’t declined.

Luis Severino made his season debut on Sunday, and while he looked sharp, it was against the Reds. We should get a good number in the plus-money territory for Musgrove and the Padres offense, one that I expect to turn it around as May comes to a close.

The F5 under could be a solid look here, too, given Severino's strong return.

Shane Bieber, Cleveland Guardians

Projected Start: Saturday vs. Cardinals (Jack Flaherty)

Yes, you read this right. I am advocating for a bet on Jack Flaherty and the Cardinals. But it’s less because of the right-hander and more of a fade of Shane Bieber.

The very same Bieber who has thrown eight innings of two-run ball against both the Mets and Yankees this month. He’s been one of the luckiest pitchers in baseball when it comes to xERA (5.03) when compared to actual ERA (3.19), and there are some obvious concerns for Bieber.

Once again, his velocity is down a tad. He’s taken a very steep fall from his dominant COVID-19 year Cy Young (2.62 xERA, 41.1 K%) and now sits with a career-low 18.5 K% and a hard-hit rate above 50%.

His fastball velocity ranks in the bottom 6% of all pitchers. His xBA (.291) is far and away a career-worst, with his next lowest coming in his rookie season (.256). He’s relying on pitching to contact now more than ever, and that’s going to be a problem against a Cardinals offense that ranks third in wRC+ against right-handers.

Bieber has benefitted from timely defense. Across the board his numbers are down — groundball rate, HR/9, BB/9, etc. — and is long overdue for negative regression.

He blew up against the White Sox in the fifth inning, but I expect more consistent struggles for Bieber over the next month.

Framber Valdez, Houston Astros

Projected Start: Saturday vs. Athletics (TBD)

For the second straight start, Framber Valdez is facing the Oakland Athletics. He just threw a complete game shutout against them in a 2-0 win, but I’m going to look to fade the left-hander on Saturday in some capacity in the rematch.

Oakland’s bullpen has its issues, as does its starting rotation. But the offense has actually carried its weight despite the 10-38 record. The Athletics rank sixth in wRC+ against left-handed pitching, not that you would have guessed it after Sunday’s four-hit performance.

But Valdez is a pitcher I will be looking to fade in June — and will likely start on Saturday — depending on the pitching matchup. If not, I’ll look for Oakland’s TT over.

Valdez has some concerns. His xERA of 4.10 sits nearly 1.5 runs higher than his actual ERA. His barrel rate has nearly doubled and sits just inside double digits at 9.9. His xBA and xSLG have risen to career lows, and he’s given up a near-50% hard-hit rate.

The strikeouts are still there, and his walks have impressively lessened. But his HR/9 has nearly doubled this season, which is mostly where the concerns come from. This will be a hold-your-nose bet where we could see Oakland in that +300 range once again — though it’ll likely be slightly shorter on its home field.

If you’re against taking a full-game position, I would look toward props. Brent Rooker went 0-for-4 on Sunday, but he has a 228 wRC+ against left-handed pitching. For reference, 100 is average. His total bases prop will be in the (+) money territory, and he's more than capable of extra-base power.

Esteury Ruiz (153) and Ramon Laureano (146) have also been consistent against lefties, as has Jesus Aguilar (178).

Valdez ranks in the bottom 3% of all pitchers in average exit velocity, and that should come back to bite him in his second matchup with Oakland in one week.

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