MLB Betting Preview | Pitchers to Buy, Fade This Week, Including Dylan Cease, Yu Darvish
Bailey Hillesheim/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Dylan Cease
The daily grind of MLB betting can be grueling, but one way 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.
This week, I break down two pitchers I am buying and three that I am looking to fade, two of which face off against one another on Friday.
Pitchers I'm Buying This Week
Dylan Cease, White Sox
Projected Start: Wednesday vs. Texas Rangers (Andrew Heaney)
Early in the season, the red flags began to pop up for Dylan Cease. His velocity noticeably dropped and his Stuff+ took a hit. As a result, strikeouts were far and few between and Cease was hit extremely hard.
But since that two-month span where his ERA floated around the 5 mark and his K/9 dipped below 9.0, Cease has looked significantly better. He posted a 2.20 ERA in June with 42 strikeouts in 28 2/3 innings. While July has been a bit more inconsistent, his Stuff+ ranks inside the top 10 among all starting pitchers.
Most important, his fastball (120 Stuff+) has regained its effectiveness. Cease relies mainly on two pitches — the fastball and slider — and both are performing at a dominant level of late.
Given the state of the White Sox organization — they’ve offloaded just about any useful bullpen arm — and the fact that Tim Anderson could very well be moved by deadline day, there are going to be plenty of opportunities where Chicago will be undervalued in the market.
Look no further than Wednesday, when Andrew Heaney and the Texas Rangers take on Cease. When looking at these two starting pitchers, there’s a clear discrepancy in talent. Heaney (4.78 xERA) is nearly a run higher than Cease (4.08 xERA), and that’s with an awful start from the latter.
Cease is better than Heaney across the board: less barrels, a significantly lower xSLG and a better K-BB%. Heaney is trending in the opposite direction of Cease, too. The southpaw has an ERA above 5.40 in both June and July after a hot start to the season.
I expect that to continue on Wednesday even against a White Sox team that could be gutted of a couple more pieces come deadline day. I’ll likely be looking toward CHW in the first five innings, assuming the line opens with Cease as a slight dog.
Yu Darvish, Padres
Projected Start: Friday vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (Bobby Miller)
The Padres find themselves in what could very well be a season-changing series with the Dodgers as Yu Darvish takes the mound in the series opener.
While Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove have dominated atop the Padres rotation, Darvish has lagged behind a bit. But he’s among many positive regression candidates as the season heats up.
Despite a slightly improved strikeout rate and an uptick in both barrel% and xSLG, Darvish’s ERA (4.53) sits at his lowest since 2018. But expected metrics indicate that Darvish has been a bit unfortunate — his xERA sits nearly a run lower at 3.70, and his xFIP is not too far behind at 3.82.
His biggest struggles have come with BABIP (.308) and HR/9 (1.26). Darvish has increased his ground ball rate six percentage points this season, yet has given up more home runs than normal — even with a decreased barrel rate. And despite his xBA sitting close to last season’s mark, his BABIP is nearly 60 points higher.
There are a lot of signs that Darvish will positively regress in the coming starts. He has been undervalued in the market often because of it, a prime example being a medium-sized favorite on open against the lowly Martin Perez.
Whether it’s taking a Padres ML or an under, Darvish is a player to target over the next couple months as San Diego tries to make a playoff push.
Pitchers I'm Selling This Week
Johnny Cueto, Marlins
Projected Start: Thursday vs. Philadelphia Phillies (Aaron Nola)
Returning from the injured list in mid-July, Johnny Cueto was handed a rotation spot and has looked much better than anticipated. The 37-year-old has a 3.00 ERA since that three-inning return against Baltimore and has a near-9 K/9 rate.
But I’m not confident in success continuing for the aging right-hander. His ground ball rate is at an all-time low of 32.6 percent — granted, it’s just been 15 innings — with an FIP of 5.72. But what’s most stunning is Cueto’s .154 BABIP.
His career numbers sit around .283 and every major projection slated Cueto around .300 in his 17th season. His strikeout numbers should decline, too.
Opposite Cueto will be Aaron Nola. Despite his struggles against Pittsburgh his last time out, I’m buying the right-hander. Nola’s Stuff+ over the last 30 days ranks 11th among all pitchers, and he carries above-average ratings on nearly every pitch in his deep arsenal.
Nola continues to post elite control with a high chase rate — 92nd percentile — and he’s been a bit unlucky. Expected metrics sit around 3.78 compared to his actual ERA nearly a run higher (4.43).
This is a perfect spot for Nola and the Phillies to jump all over a Miami team that has continued to overperform. The Marlins have won a projected six more games than expected.
I’m not buying Cueto’s success since his return and believe the right-hander will negatively regress in the coming weeks. Whether it’s a Phillies team total or backing them outright, Nola and Co. should roll by Miami on Thursday.
Kyle Hendricks, Cubs & Bryce Elder, Braves
Projected Matchup: Friday against one another
If you look at Stuff+ rankings over the last 30 days, two of the seven worst pitchers face off on Friday in Kyle Hendricks and Bryce Elder.
Hendricks ranks dead last among qualified pitchers with a 55 Stuff+ over the past month. Elder is six spots below at 80. Both pitchers have below-average fastballs and rely on timely sinkers to get out of jams and keep the ball on the ground.
Despite that, both pitchers have sub-3.5 ERAs. While location is not an issue for Hendricks, he generates very few swings and misses. He is in the bottom 20% of all pitchers in xBA and bottom 5% in strikeout rate.
While he’s shored up on his barrel and hard-hit rate, I am not buying Hendricks’ last three starts where he’s thrown 19 1/3 innings of seven-run ball. I’m expecting more of the Hendricks against the Yankees and Red Sox, where he gave up nine runs — six home runs — over 10 1/3 innings.
As for Elder, his xERA is nearly a run higher than actual, and his strikeout rate has dipped below 18%. He has benefited from playing against the Brewers over the last two starts — 13 innings, three runs — but was previously tattooed by the Rays and Diamondbacks.
Advanced metrics suggest both Hendricks and Elder are due for negative regression and their Stuff+ reflects that. Meanwhile, the offenses for both ball clubs have been trending up and should give plenty of fits on Friday night.
I’d look toward the team total over depending which starter you feel more confident fading or full game over, even if the wind is blowing in.