This article is part of our MLB Betting series.
Previous day: 2-1, +1.42 RWBucks
Season: 18-25, -6.48 RWBucks
I hadn't gotten a chance to use "Shift + =" in a few days, took me a while to get the keystrokes down. Let's see if we can get more practice with that sequence this week.
On Slack this morning, someone was talking about the standings, and I mentioned that aside from looking up a specific fact or two for writing purposes, I hadn't looked at them yet. I have a sense of how every team is playing, but as policy, I tend to not look at the standings in April. The natural variance of player and team performance is exceptionally wide in baseball; whatever you think it is, it's wider than that. So 20 games, which is what most teams have played give or take, is as likely to mislead you as inform you. Good teams can go 5-10, as the Yankees did to start the season. Bad teams, and I'm looking at the Mariners and Giants here, can play .600 ball for a few weeks. It happens all the time, we just tend to overreact to it when those few weeks are all we have.
The most actionable information in the season's early going is personnel availability, which is mostly injuries. In the standings you see the effects of the Rays' wave of reliever injuries, the Jays playing without their big offseason investments, the Royals' near-perfect health to date. The Nationals had a stars-and-scrubs roster to begin with and are missing two of the stars.
Whatever you thought a team was four weeks ago still contains more signal than the standings do. In fact, it takes about half the season for results to become more predictive than preseason projections. That's just, as the bard wrote, how baseball go.
How do we put that into action? By not overreacting to results, by remembering that those preseason numbers still have lots of meaning even if it doesn't always feel like they do. One of my favorite sayings is "variance swamps everything," and hewing to that is never more important than it is in April. Today's picks, and tomorrow's, and those of days to come, will reflect that thinking.
The Yankees are first in the AL in walks drawn and third in home runs, their offense mostly crippled by a .245 batting average on balls in play, next-to-last in MLB. Some of that number is skill, not just luck; the Yankees hit a lot of balls in the air and are fairly easy to shift against. It's still well below their baseline and can be expected to continue to rise. Matt Harvey has been a passable five-inning starter so far, walking just three of the 88 batters he's faced. Bolstering the run-line choice – I wavered between this and a first-five pick – is a Yankees' pen that has been the best in baseball to date. 1 RWBuck.
This combines a few running threads, including belief in the Braves' offense (fifth in wOBA against righties) and an eagerness to fade Zach Davies. Davies was a batted-ball fluke in the short 2020 season and has walked more men than he's struck out in 2021. He didn't have velocity to lose, working at 88-89 last year, and now he's down to 87 mph. This is the first 2 RWBucks pick of the season.
Circling back again to preseason evaluations, this is getting the better starter in a pick 'em spot against a team that has struggled against right-handers (11th in the NL in wOBA). Wheeler's starts have been plagued by poor offense (a single run in two of the four) and awful bullpen work (13 runs allowed in 10 1/3 innings pitched); he's not pitched quite to expectations (3.80 ERA, 4.24 FIP), but we'll go back to the well. 1 RWBuck.
Nothing fancy here, just a snap-fade of a very hyped five-inning starter with control problems. I have not seen a lineup as of 5 p.m. ET, but if Shohei Ohtani hits as a pitcher, as is expected, Joe Maddon's hands will be tied with a short bench and relievers in the lineup for half the game. If Ohtani doesn't bat, the Angels play without one of their four good hitters. 1 RWBuck.