Batting average still a valuable tool for MLB betting

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Those of us in the Baby Boomer generation, who grew up from the mid 1950’s through the mid 1970’s, remember a simpler time when information was hard to come by. This was well before cable tv and the internet with the options for following major league baseball rather limited. 

There was no sports talk radio and most of the readily available information came from either broadcasts or telecasts of the team (or teams) in your local market or from your local newspaper. If you wanted information about other teams the main source of information was The Sporting News, a weekly newspaper that carried box scores of all major league games from the previous week plus tidbits or full columns from various beat writers from across the country.

Oh, and the highlight of the week was the arrival of the Sunday newspaper which carried the basic hitting and pitching statistics that were generally relied upon in those days to evaluate and compare players for most of the major leaguers who had achieved a certain amount of plate appearances or innings pitched.

In my teenage years I used to look forward to the Sunday paper and being able to see how my local players (Mets and Yankees) were performing as compared to the other stars of the era who were rarely seen on tv aside from games against my local teams or on the one nationally telecast “Game of the Week” on Saturday afternoons.

Things have changed in the nearly half century since those supposed days of innocence. Statistics – both new age and traditional – are omnipresent, available at will on the internet and updated not daily or weekly but instantaneously – after each pitch and at bat. 

Whether you are listening online or on the radio, enjoying a day at the beach with your mobile phone, or if you are at the ballpark you are updated instantly as to the key statistics following the most recent event in the game.

Batting average was once considered one of the best statistics to measure the ability of a hitter. But while it has been supplanted over the past few decades as a primary indicator with the work of the sabermetrics community it is still a basic indicator that is easily understood although its usefulness has diminished greatly.

“Back in the day” it was one of the key stats used to compare players and while the Sunday paper listed most of the hitters who met the qualifications for being listed the paper often included hitters batting, say, .225 or better.

If that were in place today some of the game’s best known and accomplished offensive stars would not be listed.

One of the major stories of the early season has been the number of hitters who have struggled at the plate. Veteran major leaguers who have long been among the best players in the game have struggled. Guys such as Victor Martinez, Ian Kinsler, Edwin Encarnacion, Ben Zobrist, Hanley Ramirez, Manny Machado, Eric Hosmer, Jose Abreu, Carlos Gonzalez are just some of those who have struggled through the first three weeks of the new season, all batting below .225.

While it’s not uncommon for stars to struggle in April the list of those struggling greatly is both stunning and lengthy. An All Star lineup – two deep – can be fashioned from the list of players off to such horrid starts.

Yet it is almost a certainty that a month from now, around Memorial Day, that list will be trimmed significantly as most of the aforementioned players, and others off to head scratching starts, will have started to find their well-established form and will have worked their ways up the list.

Despite the unusually high number of established players who are having trouble at the plate those struggles have not translated into a significant split between OVERs and UNDERs at the betting windows.

Through Sunday there have been 125 games that have gone OVER the total with 141 staying UNDER, in addition to 14 that have pushed the closing total at the Westgate SuperBook. Ignoring the pushes that’s a split of 53 percent UNDER and 47% OVER.

The 280 games played through Sunday had produced an average of 8.4 total runs per game, about a half run per game from the average total runs per game from last season.

OK. Enough of the nostalgia. Let’s take a look at three series to be played this weekend.

New York Mets at Washington – These teams met this past weekend in New York and the Nationals took all three games. Sunday night’s loss was the Mets eighth in nine games and dropped them to 8-11 for the season, in fourth place in the NL East and 5.5 games behind first place Washington. Both teams have gotten strong starting pitching but the Mets have suffered from a lack of offense when they are not hitting home runs. 

Yoenis Cespedes missed last week’s series but was set to return to the lineup in mid week. Despite just 20 total runs being scored in the series, the games produced 1 OVER, 1 UNDER and 1 push. 

Strong starting pitching should again be the theme of this series and in games involving the Mets’ Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard or Jacob DeGrom matched up against the Nats’ Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez or Tanner Roark look to play UNDER Totals of 7 or higher and also UNDER First 5 Inning Totals of 3.5 or higher. 

Also look to play the underdog in any of those matchups if priced at plus 125 or more. In matchups involving none of those above cited pitchers look to play OVER Totals of 7.5 or lower and if just one of those 7 named pitchers starts look to back that hurler if required to lay no more than minus 140.

Baltimore at New York Yankees – Baltimore started this week at 12-5 and atop the AL East, a game and a half ahead of the second place Yankees (11-7). Both teams entered the season with major questions concerning their starting pitching with fewer questions surrounding their lineups. Baltimore has gotten several strong efforts from both Dylan Bundy and Wade Miley while both Kevin Gausman and Ubaldo Jimenez have struggled. 

The Yanks have gotten mostly solid outings from C C Sabathia, Michael Pineda and young Luis Severino but staff ace Masahiro Tanaka has struggled in 3 of his 4 starts. But both staffs have gotten good relief from their bullpens. The Yankees have been more productive at the plate, averaging 5.1 runs per game whereas the Orioles are slightly below average at 4.0 rpg. But both teams have excelled in allowing just 3.5 runs per game. The Yanks lead the majors with a plus 30 runs differential (Baltimore is plus 7). 

This handicaps as a high scoring series especially with neither team having a true “ace’ at the front of their rotation. Look to play OVER Totals of 8.5 or less in any matchup. The Yankees are returning home following a series in Boston and New York has won 8 of its 9 home games this season. With their outstanding back end of the bullpen look to play the Yankees throughout this series when laying no more than minus 130. 

On the other hand, if the Orioles are plus 150 or higher in any matchup, the value would be with the O’s.

Chicago Cubs at Boston – This is clearly the most attractive – and most eagerly anticipated – interleague series of the entire season with many plots and subplots surrounding the matchup. Both teams are considered favorites to make the Playoffs. And were if offered the Over/Under for the number of times the TV and radio announcers will refer to this matchup as a potential (if not likely) World Series preview would be quite high. Yet neither team has gotten off to especially strong starts. Through Sunday the Cubs were a modest 10-8 and the BoSox were nearly identical at 11-8.

Boston’s key offseason acquisition, lefty starter Chris Sale, has been nothing short of brilliant with his 0.91 ERA and 0.71 WHIP through 4 starts, with a 7-1 strikeout to walk ratio while averaging 7.4 innings per start. But the rest of the rotation has been noticeably below average, including defending AL Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello. And David Price has yet to make a start as he rehabs from a spring training injury. 

The Cubs have also had issues with their rotation with only Jon Lester showing anything resembling proven form. Boston’s offense has averaged 4.9 runs per game whereas the Cubs have been below average at 4.1 rpg. Still, the offenses figure to have the edge in this series given the overall lackluster performance of the pitchers, save for Sale. 

In playing this series look to play OVER Totals of 9 or less in games not started by Sale or Lester. If Sale and Lester face one another look UNDER a Total of 8 or higher. Should Sale and Lester not oppose each other look to back Sale at minus 150 or less and to back Lester at minus 135 or less. Otherwise, look to play either team as an underdog of plus 125 or more.

About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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