Kapler already draws Philly wrath

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The 2018 baseball season is only one weekend old and already there have been a number of unusual occurrences on the field of play with much of the attention being given to what can best be described as unusual managerial decisions.

Whether it be questionable bullpen use (or in the case of Gabe Kapler, first season manager of Philadelphia who called for a pitcher to enter the game without having even warmed up) it is becoming more evident each season that analytics are overcoming long held baseball tenets in decision making, both in roster and lineup construction as well as in game strategies.

Long time readers of this column know my fondness for, and reliance upon, statistics in guiding me through the handicapping and betting process. But I also understand the limitations and shortcomings of placing too much reliance on just the numbers.

There are many problems inherent in relying purely on statistics, the most glaring of which involve small sample sizes accumulated over a prolonged period of time. Players change from season to season, improving or declining at varying rates.

The “value” of intangibles is hard if not impossible to measure. And attempts to measure intangibles such as clutch performance depend upon the assumptions and parameters used in defining clutch – leading to a frequently cited thought that if a factor or characteristic cannot be measured it is of little or no importance.

That conclusion is hard to fathom. Just because something cannot be adequately measured and quantified does not mean it is irrelevant or of minor importance.

“Feel” has always been part of the game and should remain so. Feel is best described as the subconscious accumulation of past experiences that leads to a decision on the most likely outcome based on what has occurred in the past, under varying circumstances and conditions of differing levels of importance.

Athletes are not robots or machines. Managers should operate as though the players or the managers themselves are.

Space limitations precluded the publication of the column I had penned for last week’s issue in which I presented my thoughts and predictions for the 2018 season. Essentially there are a half dozen or so teams that are clearly better than the rest of the teams and that is borne out by the projected Season Win Totals.

Boston, the Chicago Cubs, Cleveland, Houston, the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees and Washington comprise that elite group of teams that will be favored in the vast percentage of games in which they face one of the other 23 MLB teams.

Sportsbooks will be expecting plenty of parlay wagers tying anywhere from two to all seven teams together on a frequent basis, much as we have seen parlays of huge moneyline favorites linked in college and pro football along with the NBA and college basketball. Rather than risk a little to win a lot with multiple team pointspread parlays in those other sports, bettors have become enamored of backing huge favorites just to win the game.

Of course, that’s essentially how baseball is generally bet – using the moneyline.

There is a pointspread element to betting on baseball that involves laying or taking a run and a half (and, at more books in recent seasons, using a two-and-a-half runs line).

With run lines becoming more popular among bettors we should expect to see more bettors, especially casual ones, not just laying the run and a half more frequently but doing so in multiple run line parlays, turning many of the high priced favorites into underdogs or low priced favorites.

Using an example from Monday, when GamingToday went to press, Houston was a -210 home favorite against Baltimore (Morton vs. Tillman) that became -115 laying the run and a half.

Books will also be flooded with public money when one of those elite teams is only modestly favored over a non-elite. On Monday, for example, Washington was favored by just -120 on the road at expected non-contender Atlanta.

Of course, the caution in employing such a strategy this early in the season is there is a chance at least one of those seven elite teams will end up being just ordinary, or perhaps worse. And there will be teams not in the aforementioned group of elite teams that might (or likely will) emerge as a legitimate contender.

My handicapping toolbox places heavy emphasis on the matchup of the two starting pitchers in a game. The way the game is played and managed has changed over the years with a greater reliance on bullpen usage. Starting pitching still forms the foundation of the analysis that then augmented by consideration of the lineup, availability of relievers based upon recent usage, depth of the bench and other factors that are possible, if not likely, to still come into play.

Whereas starting pitching may have been as much as 80 percent of the handicapping equations 25 years ago it is now perhaps in the 55 to 65 percent range, which pretty much equates to the average length of a game, in percentage format, in which the starting pitcher lasts.

In 2017 there were 172 starters who made at least 12 starts and only 37 of them averaged at least 6.0 innings per start (two thirds of a complete nine inning game). That’s just 21 percent of those 172 starters.

However, 157 of the 172 (91 percent) averaged at least 5.0 innings per start, which is 55 percent of a nine inning game.

The starting pitcher still accounts for most of the action in a game, certainly based on the fact each play begins with the delivery of a pitch. The starting pitcher is also the one known certainty about who will pitch prior to the start of a game. The use of specific relievers depends on score, situation, recent usage and other factors that may or may not develop as the game unfolds.

Again, statistics are a guide and even the explosion of modern era stats, generally referred to a sabermetrics, aids many in our enjoyment and understanding of the game, but within the context of what has happened and even, to an extent, what might happen given the percentages of what has happened in the past.

There is still uncertainty as to the predictive value of these stats in a single isolated situation (such as an at bat or a single game) as to their value in predicting the longer term (such as a season).

Still, statistics are at the heart of baseball and this has always been true for a season that consists of 162 games per team, over 30 starts for starting pitchers able to avoid injuries and who have proven ability, and over 600 plate appearances for players who start 150 or more games in a season.

It remains important to understand their limitations and where their use can be more harmful than helpful. At the same time “feel” and other intangibles need to be recognized, although the amount of weight assigned to those variables in the handicapping process can, and should, vary as no two games present identical situations and challenges.

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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