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Saturday’s Major League Baseball Best Bet: Oakland Athletics

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Oakland right-hander Sonny Gray is coming off an excellent 2014 campaign wherein he was 14-10 with a 3.08 ERA and 1.19 WHIP, including going 4-1 with a 2.01 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in April and 10-3 with a 2.79 ERA and 1.19 WHIP prior to the All-Star game. In other words, Gray is known for his fast starts, which continued this season when the young hurler threw eight shutout innings against the Rangers (8 IP; 1 H; 3 K; 1 BB).

Gray became the first Major League Baseball pitcher since the Indians’ Bob Lemon in 1953 to throw eight or more innings and allow one hit or fewer on Opening Day. The 25-year-old owns a career-best 18 inning scoreless streak dating back to September 23 of last season. Let’s also note that Gray was 6-3 with a 3.22 ERA in day games last year. More importantly, Gray’s peripheral numbers were fully supports by his underlying metrics:

Gray’s 2014 Metrics:

3.46 FIP & 3.47 xFIP
3.56 SIERA
3.37 FIP at home
2.74 FIP in March/April

Gray is also 4-1 with a career 2.36 ERA and 1.07 WHIP versus Seattle. In his first full season in the majors, Gray was impressive in all facets of the game, including garnering an elite 55.9% ground ball rate. Gray was also effective against both right and left-handed batters, keeping both hitters below a .290 wOBA and above a 20% strikeout rate. Meanwhile, the Mariners send southpaw J.A. Happ to the mound, who was 11-11 with a 4.22 ERA and 1.34 WHIP in 2014.

The 32-year-old was 4-6 with a 5.67 ERA and 1.58 WHIP on the road, while also posting a 4.75 ERA and 1.36 WHIP in day games. Happ’s pedestrian skill set was also evident in his underlying metrics:

Happ’s 2014 Metrics:

4.27 FIP & 3.94 SIERA
4.51 FIP & 4.55 xFIP on the road
7.75 FIP & 5.89 xFIP in March/April
4.28 FIP & 4.26 xFIP in the first half of season

Happ is also coming off a disastrous spring training wherein he was 2-3 with a 6.11 ERA and 1.81 WHIP. Indeed, the aging left-hander allowed 14 runs on 24 hits and 8 walks in 17.2 inning of work. Even more concerning is the fact that teams hit .329 against Happ during the exhibition season.

With that said, there is no question that Happ made some improvements in 2014, including increasing his strikeout rate and cutting his walk rate. Happ also increased his velocity for the second consecutive year, and the fly ball pitcher should have limited success in the spacious confines of Safeco Field.

With an outstanding ground ball rate, Gray relies upon his defense to record outs. And, that reliance is well-founded in that Oakland was the most efficient defensive team in 2014. From a technical standpoint, Oakland is a profitable 18-5 (+11.3 units) as a home favorite of -125 to -150 over the last two seasons (81-37 L/118). With Gray toeing the rubber, the Athletics are 14-5 versus American League West foes, and 4-1 in the last five as favorites of -150 or less.

Conversely, Seattle is a money-burning 1-6 in its last seven road games, 0-4 in its last four games as an underdog and 1-6 in its last seven games following a loss. Finally, with umpire Mark Carlson behind the plate, home teams are 8-2 over the last ten games. Interestingly, Oakland is 6-1 in its last seven games with Carlson behind the plate, whereas the Mariners are 2-8 in their last ten contests with Carlson calling balls and strikes.  Take Oakland in this Major League Baseball division clash and invest with confidence.

Major League Baseball Best Bet: Oakland Athletics (-136)

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