Today's Free Picks for
Posted at 12:00 PM EST
Philadelphia -1½ +120 over WASHINGTON
7:05 PM EST. Zack Wheeler (RHP - PHI) has thus far upped his strikeouts while generating manageable contact. Wheeler has a would-be career-best 12.8% swing and miss rate while being consistently effective over his last three starts. Current Washington bats own a .667 OPS against him, and the Nationals are pegged to their lesser platoon numbers when facing right-handed pitching (.669 OPS). That’s the brief skinny on Zach Wheeler but as regular readers of this column are aware of, this wager is not about getting behind Zach Wheeler.
Hello Jon Lester. The Cubbies wanted Lester out of town so badly that they paid him a $10 million buyout on his $25 million mutual option for 2021. That’s right, they paid Lester 10M to scram. Lester, who turned 37 on January 7, was also signed for 155 million the last time he was a free agent so it’s not like he needs the money. No, he needs the wins because he has 193 career wins and 200 is a prestigious milestone that very few pitchers will ever attain again. Dude is desperate for wins and thus, he’s not going out with dignity. Instead, he should get repeatedly lit up and we must try and take advantage.
Lester is coming off the worst of his 15 major league seasons. Though he went to the post 12 times in 2020 and ran his streak to making an essentially full complement of starts for the 13th straight year, he was cuffed for a 5.16 ERA and a 5.76 xERA while striking out just 15.8% of the hitters he faced, the third-lowest mark of any qualifying pitcher. His drop of nearly six percentage points relative to 2019 was the fourth-largest among the 22 pitchers who qualified for the ERA title in both seasons.
There’s ample evidence that points to a decline in Lester’s stuff, not just from 2019 to ’20 but in the years since the Cubs won it all in ’16. Over the past three years, Lester’s hard-hit rate jumped from 28.7% to 33.1% to 38.9%, for example, while his xOBA climbed from .283 to .334 to .348. This year the numbers are even worse and now Lester must rely on his infield defense and Batting Average on Batted Balls in Play (BABIP) to get through games, given his waning ability to miss bats, it’s worth noting that the Nationals’ infield defense is full of potholes, with two of its four projected starters well below average over the past two seasons according to multiple metrics.
Through two starts, Lester has an ERA of 2.70 after walking four batters and striking out six through 10 innings. His fastball is straight down Broadway at 88.7 MPH and his swing and miss rate is 8.2%. There are baseball games where a team probably should have scored 10 runs but scored two (see the Cubbies last night, for instance). That’s the type of great fortune Lester has had in two starts this year and if he gets lucky again, we’ll try again in five days from now.
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Philadelphia -1½ +126 (Risking 2 units - To Win: 2.52)