Today's Free Picks for
Posted at 11:15 AM EST.
7:10 PM EST. We all know about the Red Sox. They are baseball royalty and get more coverage than any team not named the Yankees so it was quite a shock to a lot of bettors when the Rays went off for six runs in the eighth inning last night to erase a 4-0 lead in what seemed like a sure win for Boston and its ace starter, Chris Sale. Yes indeed, we all know about the Red Sox. Little is known about the Rays.
The first thing one has to do in considering the Rays’ upcoming season is to fight off cynicism. They decimated the roster, aren’t trying to be good in 2018, have their sights set on a new ballpark, and seem to be playing for 2027 or thereabouts. Any breakouts (or collapses) will probably occur in conditions of competitive irrelevance. But if nothing else, one has to acknowledge that whatever the Rays are doing, they’re doing it thoroughly. Don’t sleep on this team as sabermetrics - the house wine―has the Rays at 83 wins, or enough to qualify for the postseason. Yet nobody (the Rays included) seems inclined to trust that figure. While we’re not really buying the 83 win projection, at minimum, Kevin Kiermaier is a legit stud while Denard Span, Brad Miller, C.J. Cron, Wilson Ramos and Matt Duffy are all decent major leaguers. Furthermore, the Rays keep producing high end starters, which brings us to today’s starter, Blake Snell.
Snell went 5-7 with a 4.04 ERA in 129 innings for the Rays last season. There was a general skills’ step-up in the second half, led by an improving groundball rate and a drop in walks. Snell’s swing and miss spike was supported by velocity that was several mph above his first half. Snell is a former top prospect who made some strides late last season and with just five wins, he is most certainly under the radar. He had very strong skills in August while missing bats at a decent rate (12%) and getting ahead of hitters at a rate (57% first pitch strike rate) much higher than he did in any other month. He still needs to attack the strike zone more frequently but with mid-90s velocity and three off-speed pitches that generate whiffs, few young pitchers have better raw tools than Snell does and he’s very likely going to be a profit source until the market catches up to him.
David Price had a lousy 2017 but a great spring in 2018 and you will now pay for that somewhat meaningless spring record (3-0 - 2.25 ERA). Injuries were probably to blame for Price's increased walk rate last year. For the first time since he became a major league regular in 2009, Price threw less than 100 innings in 2017, as elbow soreness and blister and fingernail problems kept him out of action. What kind of impact did the injuries have on his skills, and can we hope for better results in 2018?
Price's 2017 ERA wasn't supported by his skills, but that's probably the least important takeaway here. He posted his worst control rate since 2010, and that was the main driving factor behind his drop in xERA and skills but given his injury issues, a loss of control hardly seems surprising. He threw fewer four-seam fastballs (12.1%, down 5.2% from 2016) and change-ups (14.6%, -8.3%), and instead used more sinkers (45.3%, +13.8%). Perhaps those shifts were necessitated by the elbow pain, the blisters or the cracked fingernail, or all of the above, and it's possible having to alter his usage patterns negatively affected his control. However, even if we do set aside 2017 because of his injuries, Price's skills showed slight decline in both 2015 and ‘16, as his xERA, command and skills all slid from his outstanding 2014 season, and now that he's 32, it might be time to adjust one’s expectations a little. There still might be a highly skilled pitcher here with #2 or #3 starting pitcher but with elbow woes, command issues, we wouldn’t recommending paying a price to find out. Definite overlay.
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TAMPA BAY +130 (Risking 2 units - To Win: 2.60)