In handicapping baseball games many factors are a part of the process. And if you ask 10 world class handicappers/bettors, you likely would get 10 different approaches.
It’s almost certain all 10 have a number of factors in common, albeit given varying degrees of importance according to each handicapper’s or bettor’s style.
One factor treated differently is a team’s momentum, or current form. Most newspapers and websites that publish standings on a daily basis will indicate a team’s current streak and/or the team’s record over its last 10 games. As such, this widely published data often becomes the “current form” factor incorporated into many handicapping models.
For many years the edges handicappers and bettors enjoyed over both their peers and bettors as well as bookmakers was the ability to gain access to information before it became widely available. Late injury information was often worth a half point to a point in the pointspread sports of basketball and football.
In baseball that data could be worth much more – perhaps 15 to 25 cents in the case of a star slugger being out of the lineup – in major league baseball.
In the current environment access to such information is virtually instantaneous, with the difference in accessibility measured in seconds rather than hours.
As such, modern edges often come in how widely disseminated information is used and incorporated into handicapping and betting models. Thinking “outside the box,”
and using available information in ways the masses are not, often uncovers patterns and insights overlooked by others.
The explosion in the widespread availability and use of sabermetrics in handicapping baseball is reflected in some lines and line movements that were very rare in past seasons. The increasing use of metrics and the introduction of an increased number of very well-funded betting groups into the marketplace has seen an increase in the volatility of baseball line moves affecting both sides and totals.
Already in 2015 there have been several dozen instances of totals closing a full run higher or lower from where it opened. As recently as five seasons ago a move of even half a run was a relative rarity. More often than not totals were adjusted almost exclusively by varying the vig attached to the Over or Under.
Some of the modern day metrics are very straightforward. Others are much more complex. Some are easily understood and computed. Almost all are widely publicized and have been making their way into the mainstream media in recent seasons as well.
It’s long been stated by baseball insiders that a team’s current momentum is only as good as the next game’s starting pitcher. While that concept still has some validity baseball has changed in the several decades since complete games were the norm rather than the exception.
The increasing reliance on bullpens that has now resulted in eighth inning set up specialists for the ninth inning closers has added another factor into current momentum, bullpen usage and the resultant availability of key relievers that may be unavailable for a given game depending on recent usage.
In using current form as a handicapping factor it may be worthwhile to consider using something other than, or in addition to, a team’s current streak and/or last ten games record. Perhaps using a longer time frame would give a better indication of how well a team has been playing going back more than a week and a half that usually defines a team’s last 10 games.
Of course the use of any time frame or number of games can be considered arbitrary, but it should be reasonable. One such possibility would be to use a team’s last 20 games as a reasonable indicator of meaningful current form. In general, 20 games would represent four times through a team’s 5 man starting rotation and would encompass a period of roughly 3.5 weeks.
With teams approaching the midpoint of the 162 game schedule, using a team’s last 20 games would mean looking at how a team has performed over the most recent quarter of a season. That fraction would be reduced as the season continues such that after 100 games using the last 20 games would be looking at the last fifth of a team’s season.
Using a team’s last 20 or 25,or even 30 games would give a better look at how a team is performing over a much shorter part of the season and allow for some perspective to be gained by separating recent performance from season-to-date performance while at the same time going beyond the standard measures of current form as portrayed in the typical reporting of MLB standings.
Using the last 20 games as a measure of current performance through last Sunday the best performing team has been Baltimore. The Orioles have gone 16-4 over their last 20 games, good enough to forge a tie with Tampa Bay at the top of the AL East.
Performing almost as well as Baltimore is the trio of Kansas City, St. Louis and Toronto, each of whom has gone 14-6 over their past 20 games. St. Louis’ performance is not a surprise as the Cardinals have been baseball’s best team virtually since Opening Day, winning slightly more than 2 of every 3 games (51-24). Kansas City has built a 5.5 game lead in the AL Central as the Royals look to show last season’s trip to the World Series was not a fluke. And Toronto has gotten back into the race in the AL East along with the Orioles. Despite starting the week in fourth place the Blue Jays are just 1 game behind the Orioles and Rays.
It’s no surprise Philadelphia has the worst record over the last 20 games, 6-14. Things have gotten so bad in the City of Brotherly Love that Ryne Sandburg became the third managerial casualty of the season. But unlike the changes in Miami and Milwaukee Sandburg’s departure was voluntary.
Almost as bad as Philadelphia has been over its last 20 games are Miami, Cleveland and the Chicago White Sox, each of which has gone just 7-13 over the last 20 games. Although Terry Francona should be safe as manager of the Indians, the White Sox’s Robin Ventura’s status may be not as secure.
And those who have predicted Minnesota’s fine early start was a mirage may have been correct as the Twins have gone just 8-12 over their last 20 games after going 32-23 previously.
Wishing you a happy Fourth of July holiday weekend, here’s a look at three series of interest.
Giants at Nationals: The defending World Series Champions against the wannabe World Series Champions meet for the first time this season. Both teams have overcome sluggish starts to their seasons to climb into expected contender status in their respective Divisions. Washington has a 2.5 game lead over the Mets in the NL East. The Giants are just 1 game behind the Dodgers in the NL West and currently control the second NL Wild Card.
Both teams’ success has been a result of solid pitching and offenses that have been much more productive on the road than at home. The Nationals are averaging a full run more per game away from home while the Giants’ contrast is even greater, scoring just 3.5 runs per game at home but a whopping 5.1 rpg on the road. Both teams’ aces have delivered as expected. Washington’s Max Scherzer has been brilliant, with a 1.79 ERA and 0.79 WHIP in 15 starts, including a no hitter and one hitter the past two weeks.
San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner has been almost as good with his 2.99 ERA and 1.04 WHIP through 16 starts. Beyond the aces the Giants have gotten the better overall starting pitching and both bullpens have been solid. The managerial edge goes to Bruce Bochy of the Giants while the Nats’ Matt Williams is still learning on the job.
PLAYS: Giants +125 or more in almost any matchup; Giants +150 or more with any starter against Scherzer; OVER 7 or lower in any matchup not involving Bumgarner or Scherzer; Nationals -120 or less in any matchup not involving Bumgarner or Chris Heston.
Rays at Yankees: Two of the top teams in the tightly bunched AL East meet in their fourth series this season. After winning the first 5 games between the teams in 2015 the Yankees lost 4 of the next 5. And after all 3 games in their opening series went OVER the total when the teams met in Tampa, 6 of the next 7 have stayed UNDER. In the 10 games the Yankees and Rays averaged a combined 7.6 runs per game.
Tampa has gotten much better starting pitching than expected with three of their planned starters sidelined all season but for 3 starts from Drew Smyly. Of the 8 pitchers that have started for the Rays, only Alex Colome has an ERA above 3.90 and WHIP above 1.26. In 12 starts his ERA is 4.51 with a WHIP of 1.42. New York has also gotten better than expected starting pitching but also has a much stronger offense than the Rays.
There has been no true ace although both Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda have been solid. The Yankees have been explosive at home, averaging 5.8 runs per game at home, nearly 2 rpg more than they’ve averaged on the road and more than 2 full runs more than Tampa has averaged on the road (3.6 rpg). These contrasts have the makings for a tightly competitive series between a pair of Division rivals.
PLAYS: UNDER 8 or higher in any matchup; Tampa Bay +140 or more in any matchup; Tampa Bay +125 or more against CC Sabathia or Nathan Eovaldi; Yankees -125 or less in any matchup except in starts by Sabathia or Eovaldi.
Indians at Pirates: These regional rivals meet for the only time this season. Pittsburgh overcame a sluggish start to the season and starts the week in second place in the NL Central. In fact, the Pirates are on pace to win 91 games, 5 more than their projected Season Wins Total. Cleveland is on pace to fall a dozen games below its projected total of 84.5. The Pirates have gotten strong starting pitching from the trio of AJ Burnett, Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano.
The offense has been better over the last month as both Andrew McCutchen and Josh Harrison have overcome sluggish starts that had each hitting around .200 well into the season. Cleveland has yet to break out of its slump both on the mound and at the plate. Last season’s Cy Young Award winner, Corey Kluber, has cost backers over 15 units this season as the Tribe is just 3-13 in his starts.
Those are decent stats but hard to produce wins when the offense is averaging just 3.9 runs per game, below the MLB average.
PLAYS: UNDER 7 or higher in any matchup; Cleveland +140 or more in any matchup; Pittsburgh -125 or lower in starts by Burnett, Cole or Liriano against any Cleveland starter.
Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to Gaming Today readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Contact Andy at [email protected]