I’m going to try and be much more selective about betting baseball, at least with favorites. Today I’ll be taking a favorite that currently has a 51% chance of making the playoffs. While I don’t necessarily believe that motivation equates to better performance on the field, I would rather be betting on a team with an incentive to win than one out of the race. For today’s MLB best bet, we’re heading to St. Louis.
Milwaukee Brewers -140 at St. Louis Cardinals
Corbin Burnes vs. Kwang Hyun Kim
A 32-year-old rookie from Korea, Kwang Hyun Kim has baffled MLB hitters in this shortened season. Despite striking out just 5.56 batters per nine, Kim holds a 1.59 ERA through his first 34 big league innings. Kim came over from the KBO, where was excellent in his final two seasons following Tommy John surgery in 2017. He’s brought the same finesse game to MLB, but has enjoyed much better success. The simple explanation is that the league hasn’t seen him enough. And while that may be true, let’s dig a little deeper.
Kim relies mainly on a four-seem fastball, throwing it 48% of the time to all parts of the plate. He complements the fastball with a slider thrown 33.7% of the time and will occasionally mix in a curve, and less frequently a change. This repertoire is mostly meant to induce contact, as seen by the obscenely low K-rate. For a finesse pitcher with that low of a K-rate, Kim walks more than you’d like at 2.65 batters per nine. Among those with at least 30 IP this season, Kim ranks 22nd from the bottom in K%-BB% at just 8.3%.
Taking a quick look at the luck metrics makes Kim an easy target to bet against. As a starter, his BABIP is third lowest in baseball at .191. His LOB% is also absurdly unsustainable at 86.8%, 9th highest in MLB. Looking at swinging strike rate, Kwang is 10th from the bottom in baseball at just 7.5%. However, Statcast is somewhat buying into Kwang due to his ability, so far, to induce weak contact.
Kim’s xERA of 3.86 paints the best picture from the advanced metrics. But that number is measuring what his ERA should be at this point, and not estimating what it will be in the future. Regression is surely coming for Kim, and the Brewers are one of the better suited teams to take advantage.
The Brew Crew ranks 7th in wOBA against LHP at .339 and 10th in wRC+ at 111. What the Brewers really have going for them, though, is Corbin Burnes.
Is Corbin Burnes an Ace?
He surely has been this season. Allow me to cherry-pick a stat called FIP-. Like ERA-, and xFIP-, this stat takes into account park and league factors to level the playing field when comparing numbers. Similar to a stat like wRC+, the minus version means lower is better, and each point below 100 represents a percentage against the league average. Corbin Burnes leads MLB with a FIP- of 30, meaning he is 70-percent better than a league-average pitcher when it comes to FIP. In order, the three pitchers following him are Jacob deGrom (46), Shane Bieber (46), and Yu Darvish (50).
Switching over to xFIP-, Burnes falls to 10th at 65. He stays in 10th with an xFIP of 2.90 and moves up to 8th in SIERA at 3.08. His xERA per Statcast comes in at 3.04, so it’s clear that Burnes has become one of the best pitchers in baseball during the 2020 season.
Just for good measure, here’s his blood-red Statcast graphic:
Unlike Kwang Hyung Kim, Burnes is producing his results with more smoke and less mirrors. When it comes to swinging-strike rate, Burnes ranks 10th in baseball at 15%. Kim was 10th worst at 7.5%.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals prefer facing LHP rather than RHP. They rank 23rd in wOBA at .306 and 21st in wRC+ at 93. The Brewers at -140 isn’t exactly cheap on the surface, but it looks like a bargain when considering the matchups.
The Play: Brewers -140, 1.4 units to win 1 unit