Underdog MLB Picks to Click 6/6

Jun 6th 2023

Jackson Roberts

I don’t believe there even was a Picks article last week, was there? If so, there’s definitely no way I included a pair of rookies both struggling to clear the Mendoza Line. And if, hypothetically, I’d picked a pitcher facing the Oakland A’s and that pitcher threw 7.1 innings of one-run ball, that pitcher definitely would have picked up the win as well.

No sir, this column is about winning picks only, so I’m glad to be back to deliver on that promise this week. As we enter June, we’re starting to figure out where both players and teams really stand amongst their peers at this point in the season, which should help the Picks avoid picking an albatross.

With all that in mind, let’s get to a slate this week that I believe is balanced, trending upward and poised for a big week. Onward we roll into the long, gorgeous baseball summer!

C - Sean Murphy (ATL)

Catcher has been a tricky position to project this season, so why not go with the catcher who’s lapped all his peers in WAR, wOBA, WRC+ and OPS+? Murphy is on pace for the best season of his career by a country mile, and he’s done it with career high power, contact and walk rate numbers. With the protection of the Braves’ excellent lineup, he’s thriving since escaping the pitchers’ haven of the Oakland Coliseum.

This week, Murphy faces the Mets, who he seemed to take savage pleasure in destroying when the teams met earlier this spring. In a three-game set, Murphy went 4-for-9, including a two-homer, six-RBI game. I see no reason why he shouldn’t be able to replicate that success Tuesday against Carlos Carrasco, who couldn’t make it past the second inning when he last saw the Braves in August.

1B - Max Muncy (LAD)

Traditional baseball fans would take one look at Muncy’s Baseball Reference page and immediately start screaming, crying, throwing up. You aren’t supposed to be able to hit .203 and have a chance at a spot on the All-Star roster. But that’s exactly what Muncy is doing.

Why? Well, here’s a list of National League players with more home runs than Muncy:

  1. Pete Alonso

And here’s a list of NL players with more RBI:

  1. Pete Alonso 

  2. Nolan Gorman

  3. Matt Olson

Yep, that pretty much sums it up.

And this week, Muncy gets to hit at Great American Ball Park, which is where home runs hold their annual awareness convention. To be a left-handed hitter there is to feel like Barry Bonds in his prime. He’s definitely going deep at least once in the series.

2B - Ketel Marte (ARI)

This is the first-ever pick to appear in this column in back-to-back weeks, and Marte deserves it for following through on my “favorite pick of the week” declaration by going deep off Kyle Freeland in the very first inning. You make the Picks look good, you get back in the Picks. It’s one of the Fundamental Laws of Underdog.

Marte is also having a really nice all-around season. Not to the extent he was in 2019 when he finished fourth in MVP voting, but probably his best year since. He’s a 29-year-old all-around stud who leads MLB with four triples and although he’s slightly overshadowed in the desert by rookie phenom Corbin Carroll, he’s exactly the type of veteran presence you need to make a playoff push with an inexperienced roster.

And as far as Tuesday is concerned, you have to like his chances against Nationals rookie Jake Irvin, who is in the bottom 1% of all pitchers in whiff rate. For a contact hitter like Marte, that sounds like a chance to really catch some barrels.

SS - Dansby Swanson (CHC)

Lost in the shuffle of what has been a disappointing season for the revamped Cubs has been the start to a career year for Swanson. He’s on pace for career highs in, among other things, on-base percentage and defensive WAR, while ranking tied for second in MLB with seven outs above average. 

Defense isn’t a factor in the decision-making behind this column, but the bat has more than held its own. Swanson’s career high in OPS+ over a full season was last year’s 114, which was good enough for a 12th place MVP finish. This year, it’s 120, which makes you an advanced stats monster when you play Gold Glove shortstop defense. Heading to face the Angels, whose starting pitching has floundered of late, Swanson looks to be set up for more production this week. 

3B - Ke’Bryan Hayes (PIT)

To be honest, I’m struggling to figure out why Hayes has an OPS below .700. His exit velocities are bordering on elite, his average launch angle is at a career high, he’s well above average in strikeout and whiff rates and his hard hit rate is in the 86th percentile. 

Statcast doesn’t think Hayes should be having an All-Star caliber year, but it does think he’s been unlucky. His xWOBA of .326 and xSLG of .429 are 29 and 24 points higher than their actual values, respectively

So what better time for luck to swing the other way than a series with the karmic equivalent of a murder of crows? The Oakland A’s are cursed to surrender runs in bunches as long as their current ownership group treats the current economy like a schoolkid who saves their lunch money in a piggy bank and instead wanders around the cafeteria asking people for a bite of their food. Surely their pitching staff can let up a couple rockets to Hayes.

OF - Luis Robert Jr. (CWS)

The White Sox swept just their second series of the year over the weekend against Detroit, which included one walk-off grand slam and another walk-off grand fastball to the umpire’s face. With surprisingly good vibes for a team nine games under .500, the Sox look to a matchup with the surging Yankees to continue their slow crawl up the AL Central standings.

Tuesday starter Clarke Schmidt lines up particularly well for Robert. Schmidt is a pitcher with plus spin rates who has nonetheless surrendered consistently hard contact–in the bottom 10% in hard hit rate. He’s a mistake-making pitcher and Robert, who whiffs a lot but is in the 90th percentile in max exit velocity, is the definition of a mistake hitter.

OF - Leody Taveras (TEX)

Taveras is exactly the type of player every surprisingly good team finds themselves with on their roster, a guy with a career slash line of .242/.297/.366 who somehow has managed an .813 OPS and 124 OPS+ in 44 games thus far. It isn’t just the Marcus Semiens and Adolis Garcías powering the Rangers to an MLB-best run differential. The role players have stepped up big as well.

Taveras was particularly scorching in May, hitting .368 in 95 at-bats. He’ll look to continue his stretch of great hitting against Cardinals rookie Matthew Liberatore, who has surrendered a 1.75 WHIP to righties this year compared to 0.33 against lefties.

OF - Seiya Suzuki (CHC)

Hm, we’re going heavy on Cubs hitters this week, eh? I suppose that indicates, more so than anything, a lack of confidence in Tyler Anderson. Anderson went from the best veteran pitching factory in baseball in Chavez Ravine to perhaps the worst, just 31 miles away.

A season ago, Anderson had a strikeout rate of 19.5% and a walk rate of 4.8%, which was in the 92nd percentile of MLB. This season, the strikeouts are down to 13.8% and the walks have more than doubled, now at 10.5%. His pitch mix is similar but his average fastball velocity is down 1.2 mph and it is getting destroyed, for a slugging percentage of .638.

From a matchup fit, you couldn’t do better in this Cubs lineup than Suzuki. The sophomore outfielder has a .969 OPS against lefties this season, compared to .769 against righties. He also has a hard hit rate above 60% against four-seamers and sinkers, both featured in Anderson’s arsenal.

DH - Andrew McCutchen (PIT)

“Primary DH Cutch” is thriving this season, posting a 123 OPS+. That would be the highest mark of his career since… wait for it… 2017, his last year with the Pirates, when he posted exactly a 123. Oh, beautiful symmetry.

And like his teammate Ke’Bryan Hayes, McCutchen gets to feast on Oakland A’s pitching for the first half of the week, which has been as much of a cheat code as one could hope for in this column thus far. Tuesday starter James Kaprielian, once a shiny trade chip in the Yankees’ farm system, is 0-6 with an 8.12 ERA this season. He’s also in the second percentile in fastball spin rate. Ouch, ouch and ouch.

SP - Joe Musgrove (SD)

Musgrove got off to a brutal start to the season, which isn’t a total shocker when you consider that just before it started, he dropped a kettlebell on his left big toe. His last two outings, against the Yankees and Marlins respectively, he went 12.1 combined innings and surrendered just one earned run. He seems to be heating up along with the weather and back in a pitchers’ park in San Diego, looks to continue his successes.

Enter the Seattle Mariners, who lost five of six last week and rank in the bottom five in team batting average, slugging percentage and OPS. Outside of Jarred Kelenic, whose on-base percentage has been taking a nosedive of late, there isn’t a single qualified Mariner bat with an OPS above .750. And dating back to last Tuesday, they’ve gone five games without a home run.

It’s also a matchup that should favor Musgrove based on lack of familiarity, as he hasn’t faced Seattle since he was a Pirate in 2019. Only two players on this Mariners roster, Kolten Wong and Eugenio Suarez, have more than two plate appearances against the 30-year-old righty.