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Thursday MLB Picks: How We’re Betting Mets vs. Phillies

Thursday MLB Picks: How We’re Betting Mets vs. Phillies article feature image

Mike Stobe/Getty Images. Pictured: Seth Lugo

Editor’s note: Our pick for the Twins-White Sox game, which already started, has been moved to the bottom of this story.

As a getaway day for a handful of teams, Thursday’s MLB slate gets going early. Two games will be underway just after 2 p.m. ET, and one of them has been a landing spot for one of our expert’s favorite bets of the day.

Take a look at how we’re betting Twins-White Sox (2:10 p.m. ET) and Mets-Phillies (7:05 p.m. ET) below.

Note: Odds as of 12 p.m. ET.

Advanced Stats Glossary

FIP or Fielding Independent Pitching measures what a pitcher’s ERA would look like if the pitcher experienced league-average defense and luck. xFIP is a regressed version of FIP that adjusts or “normalizes’ the home run component based on park factors.

wRC+ or Weighted Runs Created Plus takes the statistic Runs Created and adjusts that number to account for critical external factors — like ballpark or era. It’s adjusted, so a wRC+ of 100 is league average, and 150 would be 50 percent above league average.

wOBA or Weighted On-Base Average is a catch-all hitting metric with more predictive value than on-base percentage. An average MLB hitter can be expected to post a .320 wOBA. xwOBA is a regressed version of wOBA that accounts for variables like park factors.

BJ Cunningham: Mets Moneyline (+114) vs. Phillies

Nola has been one of the best pitchers in baseball, posting a 2.43 xFIP so far this season. He’s made a stronger commitment to utilizing his off-speed pitches, which has drastically increased his effectiveness.

Most notably, Nola is throwing his changeup 10.4% more often this season (29.0% in 2020 vs. 18.6% in 2019). That decision has paid dividends: His changeup has allowed only a .210 wOBA to opposing batters and has produced a 38.1% whiff rate. Both of those marks are drastic improvements from his 2019 metrics.

Nola’s commitment to throwing his off-speed pitches more frequently has also greatly improved the effectiveness of his fastball. He has allowed only four hits on 208 fastballs this season, so it’s clear that his new mix of pitches is really keeping opposing batters on their toes.

However, Nola will have a tough match against the Mets’ offense, which has been one of the best in baseball this season. It has the second-best wOBA (.351) and the best wRC+ (124). It had most of its success versus right-handed pitching, boasting the best wRC+ in MLB (129). The Mets have been absolutely crushing changeups (8.2 weighted changeup runs) and fastballs (27.8 weighted fastball runs), which both rank third in MLB, and those are Nola’s best two pitches. So that will be a fascinating matchup to watch tonight.

Lugo has been the Mets best reliever over the past two years, but has made a seamless transition to the starting rotation. He’s been flat-out amazing for the Mets this season, posting a 2.25 xFIP, which is the second-best mark in baseball to only Shane Bieber.

He mainly has a three-pitch arsenal of fastball-curveball-sinker that he uses really effectively. All three pitches generated a whiff rate over 28% and held hitters to a .211 average. He’ll have a great matchup against a Phillies lineup without its best two hitters.

The Phillies have been pretty good offensively this season. Philadelphia’s lineup boasts the seventh-best wOBA (.335) and eighth-best wRC+ (108) in MLB. But, most of its success has come against left-handed pitchers, as Philadelphia has a .371 wOBA against lefties, compared to only a .320 wOBA against righties.

The Phillies lost two of their best hitters this past week as JT Realmuto and Rhys Hoskins both went down with injuries. Either Hoskins or Realmuto has led the Phillies in every statistical category and they’ve combined for 21 home runs and 56 RBIs. So the Phillies are likely going to struggle against Lugo without those two guys in the lineup.

Even though Nola has been fantastic so far this season, I don’t think the Phillies should be favored in this game, especially given how good Lugo and the Mets lineup have been this season. I’ll take the Mets as underdogs tonight.

Sean Zerillo: White Sox Moneyline (+155) vs. Twins

The Twins and White Sox conclude a crucial four-game series in Chicago this afternoon, with the home team currently in command of a two-game lead in the AL Central race.

The Twins have just nine games remaining on their 2020 regular season schedule, but this is their last opportunity to make up double ground in the standings against their divisional rival.

Minnesota should have the starting pitching edge on Thursday, with Kenta Maeda (2.86 xFIP, .264 xwOBA) set to face Reynaldo Lopez (6.25 xFIP, .371 xwOBA).

Maeda is having the best season of his MLB career, while dialing back his fastball usage (down to 25.6% from 40.7% career) and leaning more frequently on both his slider (up to 40.1% from 29.1% career) and changeup (up to 28.9% from 15.6% career). These are tweaks that he started to make in 2019 with the Dodgers, but they are much more pronounced in 2020.

On a per-pitch basis, the changeup and slider have always been Maeda’s two best offerings, and the 32-year-old righty seems to have finally optimized his approach against MLB hitters. Maeda defeated the White Sox on July 26 (5 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 6 K) and he has not allowed more than three runs in any of his nine starts in 2020.

Conversely, Lopez has struggled to find his form this season while dealing with a rib cage injury and shoulder soreness. Lopez hasn’t thrown more than 70 pitches in any game, but he is coming off of his best outing of the season on Sept. 12 against Detroit (5 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 2 K).

His velocity is down more than a tick over 2019 (95.5 mph to 94.2 mph), and he has also struggled to find his command (F-Strike% down -7.2% over career; Zone% down 2.5% over career) to date, but Lopez is always capable of turning in dominant outings with his big-time stuff, and he’s typically the type of pitcher that I love to back as a sizable underdog.

Reynaldo López, 11Ks in 28 Seconds.

— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 5, 2019

I project the White Sox at 40.01% for the first five innings (F5) on Thursday, and at 44% for the full game. As a result, I see value only on their game moneyline, and I would bet them at +150 (implied 40%) or better — which represents a 4%  edge compared to my projection.

If Lopez isn’t sharp, the Pale Hose could get blown out this afternoon, but if he’s on his game then this is almost a coin-flip affair. I think the projection accurately accounts for that level of variance.

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