MLB Props Picks, Predictions: Find Value in Backing Justin Steele (April 14)
Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images. Pictured: Justin Steele.
Brandon Woodruff hit over 6.5 strikeouts easily yesterday, but John Means left the game with left forearm tightness after notching just two Ks.
The Action Network’s MLB player props team could use a big day today, so we’re targeting three players for Thursday’s slate.
Let’s look at two starting pitchers worth backing based on our projections. Then, we’ll target a Yankees slugger who should find success against his opponent.
Our Action Labs Props tool grades each prop on a scale from 1-10, and I’ll be sure to include the grade for each of my betting recommendations in my discussions below.
Sandy Alcantara over 5.5 Strikeouts (+105)
|Phillies @ Marlins||Marlins -115|
|First Pitch||6:40 p.m. ET|
This is a bit of a tough matchup for Alcantara, but there’s enough here to back him.
First, the right-hander is rock-solid at home. In Miami last season, Sandy punched out at least six in 11 of his 16 starts. That 69% hit rate would translate to -220 implied odds to the over.
Second, Alcantara punched out six or more Phillies in two of his four starts against them in 2021. But the Phillies are swinging and missing at a high rate in early ’21, posting the third-highest strikeout rate against RHPs through six games (27.4%).
Third, the projections are high on Alcantara today. Our Action Labs Player Props tool has him at 6.1 Ks today, while FanGraphs SaberSim projections mark him for 5.6. Either way, there’s value here at plus-money.
Alcantara only threw 83 pitches on Opening Day, which is understandable after a shortened spring training and against a lineup like the Dodgers. I’d expect Alcantara to throw at least 90 pitches tonight. If he gets to the sixth inning, we can reasonably expect him to punch out one Phillies batter per frame.
Pick: Over 6.5 Ks (+105)
Action Labs Grade: 8/10
Aaron Judge over 1.5 Total Bases (+110)
|Blue Jays @ Yankees||Yankees -135|
|First Pitch||7:05 p.m. ET|
Judge has been feeling himself to start the season, slugging .500 with a .370 on-base percentage through the first six games, eclipsing his base total in four of them.
That includes the last two games against Toronto, where Judge has accumulated seven total bases.
BELLY TO BELLY AARON JUDGE WAY GONE pic.twitter.com/qDkU7cIVaJ
— 4 Train Savages (@FourSavages) April 14, 2022
Judge has a good chance to smack an extra-base hit today.
Enter Kevin Gausman. The former Oriole turned Giant turned Blue Jay has transformed his career and is projected to have a 3.3 fWAR season. But he struggled in his first outing (5 IP, 3 ER, 8 H, 5 K vs. TEX) and has really struggled against Judge.
In 22 lifetime plate appearances against Gausman, Judge is 8-for-17 with five extra-base hits. Those batted balls have had a 101.8 mph average exit velocity and 17-degree launch angle.
Add it all up, and Judge has posted a .883 xSLG and a .582 xwOBA against Gausman in his career.
Gausman is going to throw a four-seam or a split-finger fastball almost 90% of the time. Meanwhile, Judge is a fastball killer, posting a .722 xSLG on fastballs last season, and is seeing early returns on the pitch group this year.
Image credit: Baseball Savant
At anything better than EV, I’ll back Judge to smack another Gausman fastball into the gap on Thursday night.
Pick: Over 1.5 TBs (+110)
Justin Steele over 3.5 Strikeouts (-105)
|Cubs @ Rockies||Cubs +105|
|First Pitch||8:40 p.m. ET|
The Cubs and Rockies are a combined 7-3 so far this season and will open a series tonight at Coors Field. A big-time meeting between two National League powerhouses, just as we all expected!
Steele is an intriguing young pitcher. The Cubs are experimenting with him in the rotation and the bullpen, and his upside is still extremely high even though he’s 26 years old and already had Tommy John surgery.
Steele has a slight problem with the long ball and his control isn’t ideal (projected for over 4.00 walks per nine innings this season), but he’s got the stuff to strike out anyone in the league.
Steele has a four-seam with rising action that can touch 97mph, and he got batters to whiff almost 30% of the time when throwing it. He also has a sinker that he can push in on righties. He’s also recently developed a slider that breaks horizontally 6.7 inches more than the average MLB slider.
Put it all together and Steele has posted some extreme strikeout numbers. He hit 13.25 K/9 in 2018 rookie ball and hit close to 10 at both Double-A and Triple-A.
Steele was called up for 20 games last year, including nine starts. He went over 3.5 strikeouts in eight of those starts, pitching at least five innings in seven of them.
And in Steele’s one start against Colorado last season, he punched out five after only pitching 3 2/3 innings.
Plus, Steele was hot in his 2022 debut, shutting down Milwaukee over five innings.
Justin Steele was lights out in his first start of the season! 👊🏼
5.0 IP, 4 H, 1 BB, 5 K’s 🔥
— Cubs Zone ™️ (@CubsZone) April 9, 2022
The Action Labs Player Props tool projects him for 4.7 Ks tonight, giving us an 18.1% edge over the DraftKings line — the biggest edge on Thursday’s player prop slate.
Pick: Over 3.5 Ks (-105)
Action Labs Grade: 10/10