Many observers of the sporting scene contend that baseball is the truest of all major sports due to the length of the season.
Whereas the NBA and NHL play 82 game regular season schedules and the NFL just 16 games, Major League Baseball stretches its season over 6 months and 162 games. The longer the season, the theory goes, the more likely the team with the best record is indeed the best team.
Of course the best team – or the team with the best record – does not always win the World Series because following that lengthy 162 game regular season the teams that survive and make the Playoffs must then win series that are best of five, best of seven and then, in the World Series, best of seven once again. And over a short series the lesser team has a better chance of advancing than in a longer series.
We saw some of this in play last week to the extent that one of baseball’s best teams, the Washington Nationals, were swept at home in a three game series by a team considered to be one of MLB’s worst teams, the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Phillies followed up that sweep with a home sweep of Cleveland in the weekend’s lone interleague series. As of Monday morning Philadelphia was in third place in the NL East with a solid winning record of 15-10.
What are we to think of the Phillies going forward? Here’s where we get to introduce sabermetrics into the equation, using one of the oldest “laws of sabermetrics.” Over 30 years ago Bill James, often referred to as the father of sabermetrics, devised what he called the Pythagorian Theorem – an attempt to predict what a team’s overall winning percentage would be based upon that team’s runs differential.
At 15-10 were the Phillies to play at that pace for the entirety of the season they would finish with 97 wins. Using the Pythagorian Theorem the Phils would win just 67 games as their runs differential is a minus 16 (having scored just 82 runs in their 25 games while allowing 98). Interestingly the Phillies had a projected season wins Total of – you guessed it – 67.
Future columns will focus on betting the run line which requires the bettor to either lay a run and a half (with the favorite) or take a run and a half (with the underdog). It is worth noting that some teams, when they win, do so by margins.
Through Sunday both Colorado and St Louis have 12 wins apiece. Both the Rockies and Cardinals have won 11 of those 12 games by 2 runs or more. 15 of the Cubs’ 17 wins have been by at least 2 runs as have 10 of Toronto’s 12 wins.
Home teams have won just 178 of the 369 games played thus far (48.2 percent).
Totals results have been nearly even with 171 games going OVER, 174 staying UNDER and 23 ending in PUSHes, using the closing lines at the Westgate Race and Sports Book. One game resulted in “no action” for the Total because it did not go the required 8.5 innings (even though the game had already gone OVER when the game was called – an antiquated rule that needs to be revised).
A phenomenon involving Totals over the past couple of seasons has seen significant movement between Opening and Closing lines. For many years Totals would not move but rather be adjusted by moving the vig towards either the OVER or UNDER. Then we saw adjustments of a half run such that a game which opened at 8 might close at 8.5 (if there was heavy OVER action) or 7.5 (if the heavy action was on the UNDER).
Over the past season or so it has not been uncommon to see movement of a full run, sometimes with buyback, sometimes without. This topic shall be addressed in an upcoming column.
Here’s a preview of a trio of series to be played this weekend.
Washington at Chicago Cubs: This four game series, starting Thursday, could be a preview of the NLCS. Both teams are off to strong starts, lead their Divisions and are the only teams winning more than 70 percent of their games. Both teams started the week having allowed just 61 runs, the fewest in all of baseball. The Cubs, however, have been much more potent at the plate, having scored 40 more runs than the Nationals.
Only St. Louis (143) has scored more than the Cubs (139). Both teams have gotten strong starting pitching. Using my definition of a “Quality Start” as being one in which a starting pitcher goes at least 6 innings while allowing no more than 2 earned runs 16 of the Cubs 23 games meet that definition as do 17 of the Nats’ 24.
Quality starts have the effect of putting less pressure on the bullpen while also keeping the bullpen fresh as the season wears on. The best way to approach this series would be to look both UNDER the Total and towards the Underdog. Totals can vary at Wrigley Field due to severe wind fluctuations and effects but the guideline can be to look UNDER Totals of 7 of higher as the Totals will be based both on the starting pitching matchup and the wind. What is truly amazing, despite the limited number of starts, is that none of five pitchers who have made starts for each team has a WHIP of 1.20 or higher – meaning they have greatly limited the number of batters to reach base. Either team is playable as an underdog in any matchup provided no starter is making his first start of the season.
Kansas City at Cleveland: These AL Central rivals are meeting for the first time this season. Kansas City is seeking to win a third straight AL pennant but following a fast start has struggled a bit, starting this week third in the Division with a modest 13-11 mark.
As a result this series projects as a low scoring series. Danny Salazar and the now DL’d Carlos Carrasco have been the best Cleveland starters, although “ace” Corey Kluber is showing signs of rounding into shape. Ian Kennedy has put up the best stats of Kansas City’s five starters. The Indians have not hit lefties well in recent seasons but KC does not have a lefty in its rotation.
The most attractive option would be to play UNDER Totals of 9 or higher although we may well see Totals a half run to a run lower. UNDER Totals of 8 or 8.5 would be fine if Kennedy or Edinson Volquez match up against Kluber or Salazar. The Indians are playable as favorites of minus 140 or less in starts by Kluber or Salazar whereas the Royals may be played as underdogs of plus 140 or more against Salazar or Kluber or as underdogs of plus 125 or more in other matchups.
LA Dodgers at Toronto: Veteran JA Happ has put up solid numbers for Toronto with youngsters Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman developing nicely. As their records suggest both teams have similar profiles. Overall, the offenses have been right about average, averaging a shade over 4 runs per game. In matchups of Kershaw or Maeda against Stroman or Sanchez look to play UNDER Totals of 8 or higher.
In all other matchups, with the exception of Kershaw, OVER Totals of 8.5 or higher can be considered. Toronto as favorites of minus 130 with any starter against other than Kershaw or Maeda is playable. The Dodgers may be played up to minus 150 in a start by Kershaw against any Toronto starter with a matchup against Stroman or Sanchez providing an opportunity for the UNDER as well.
Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to GamingToday readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Email: [email protected]