Today's Free Picks for
Posted at 12:00 PM EST.
MINNESOTA +160 over N.Y. Yankees
8:10 PM EST. Randy Dobnak (RHP - MIN) is rated in the red for his fourth start of the year, a home turn against the banged-up-and-scuffling New York Yankees. The Yankees’ struggles of late (.647 OPS last two weeks) have been very real and very much driven by a plodding, right-listing lineup’s ineffectiveness against right-handed pitchers. Dobnak’s stuff provides some decent leverage—although leverage via groundballs more than strikeouts. We understand that Dobnak is a risk but this isn’t about Dobnak.
Trevor Bauer seemed to have it all figured out. He spent years harassing Major League Baseball about its substance-abuse problem—the substance in question being pine tar and other, more powerful tack—that enables pitchers to increase spin rate to astronomical degrees. He went so far as to write about it in the Players’ Tribune.
When baseball effectively ignored him, Bauer announced publicly that he would try the tactic himself, for an inning in April 2018, and found immediate success. When baseball continued to not give a shit, Bauer adopted the practice whole hog last year, winning a Cy Young Award and $100 million over three seasons from the Dodgers. Bauer’s stated plan: Continue to tack up for as long as baseball ignores it, and stop once effective policing begins. Which is what he wanted in the first place. Accordingly, details came down over the weekend about MLB’s new stance toward pitcher tack, and the policy, if reports are accurate, seems to have teeth.
According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, proposals include eight-to-10 random checks of pitchers per game, with starters being checked at least twice as they depart the field so as to minimize disruption. Current penalties involve 10-game suspensions, which are still on the table. Those who pay attention to such things could see this coming. Earlier this season MLB confiscated a number of balls from one of Bauer’s starts. In May, umpire Joe West took Giovanny Gallegos’ cap due to a discoloration on the brim. This week, Sports Illustrated published a cover story calling sticky stuff “The new steroids,” and hitters across the league have been speaking out on the topic.
Are pitchers paying attention? Let’s turn back to Bauer, who faced Atlanta on Sunday with what we can assume to be a diminished supply of sticky stuff on his person. The tell: Entering the game, the average spin rate of Bauer’s four-seam fastball was 2,835 RPM; Sunday he averaged only 2,612 RPM. On Sunday, Bauer yielded three runs on six hits over six innings. It was the most hits he’s allowed this year, and tied for the most earned runs. Notably, Bauer also issued four walks, double his season average, while striking out seven, less than his season average. Opponents had hit .150 against him on the year; Sunday, Atlanta batters hit .250. Also, Bauer had at least occasional trouble finding the zone.
Afterward, reporters brought up the topic of sticky stuff with the pitcher. “I’ve made a lot of public comments,” Bauer replied. “If you want to go research it and make your own decision, go for it.” When asked about the cause for the RPM drop, the pitcher was cagey in his response: “I don’t know. Hot, humid day in Atlanta.”
This is the reason most pitchers give for adding illegal tack. In humidity, as well as in cold weather, gripping a baseball becomes more difficult, and pitchers—those who admit to it, anyway—say that an extra dollop of pine tar or the like can help bring them back to normal. For a guy like Bauer, it can help transform a 4.48 ERA in 2019 to a 1.73 ERA in 2020.
That brings us to today’s starter for the Yanks. Gerrit Cole (RHP - NYY), who appears to be a personal target of Bauer, and who has been named in court about this stuff—allowed five runs over five innings against the Rays. His spin rate was down across the board, especially on his fastball, which dropped from 2,552 RPM on the season to 2,436. (In 2017, Cole’s last year in Pittsburgh, his four-seam spin averaged 2,164. His first season with Houston he improved that by about 200 RPM. The following year he improved it again by a similar amount). Even without a higher spin rate, Gerrit Cole is capable of defeating the Twins but one also has to consider that the “elephant in the room” is a big distraction for him. Furthermore, it’s quite possible that his cheating is the reason for his great success and if the Rays whacked Cole, surely the Twinkies can too.
We have a few pitchers on our radar whose spin rate increase is off the charts compared to their previous years. Take away the cheating and they turn into something far less than what they have displayed this year. We targeted Martin Perez last night and it paid off and we’ll continue to try to take advantage of baseball finally addressing another cheating scandal.
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MINNESOTA +160 (Risking 2 units - To Win: 3.20)