With teams having played just over 40 games, a quarter of the 2014 regular season has been completed. The first major milepost of the season is next Monday as Memorial Day has generally been the initial point during the season when teams take stock of how they are playing and what weaknesses need to be addressed.
The Detroit Tigers are threatening to make it a runaway in the AL Central. At 27-12 the Tigers have the best record in baseball and a 7 game lead over second place Kansas City in their Division.
Entering Monday’s game at Cleveland, the Tigers had won 11 straight road games! At 22-21 the Royals are the only other AL Central team with a winning record and have to be considered a slight disappointment to date. Minnesota’s 21-21 record is a pleasant surprise but Cleveland, at 19-25, has been one of baseball’s biggest early season disappointments.
Oakland is the only other AL team playing better than .600 ball and its 28-16 record has the A’s 3½ games ahead of the LA Angels. Oakland continues to play winning baseball despite a limited budget and a roster devoid of household names.
The most tightly bunched Divisions are the East in both leagues. In the AL East the New York Yankees start this week with a half-game lead over Baltimore and last place Tampa Bay just 5 behind New York. In the NL East Atlanta’s recent struggles has the Braves a half-game ahead of Washington and 1½ up on third place Miami whose 23-22 record is one of baseball’s biggest positive surprises. The Mets and Phillies are just 3½ out of first.
Only two teams are also playing better than .600 ball in the senior circuit with San Francisco having the NL’s best record, 28-17. The Giants lead the West by 3 games over Colorado. The biggest Division lead in the NL belongs to 27-17 Milwaukee. The Brewers lead St Louis by 4 games in the Central. The Brewers have been paced by a solid starting rotation and a bullpen that may be the most improved in all of baseball versus last season.
Last week’s column looked at pitchers who post strong statistics but, often due to poor sun support, have been losing propositions at the betting windows despite those strong stats. A case was made to play games UNDER the total when those ‘hard luck’ pitchers take the mound.
Looking at the other side of the equation there are a number of starting pitchers with below average stats that often have produced profits, often because they get great run support and/or a bullpen that bails them out. But more often than not these pitchers also have not rewarded their backers and are often so highly priced as underdogs that you often have to lay huge prices to play against them.
Through Sunday, 26 pitchers have made at least 5 starts and have season to date ERAs of greater than 4.50 and WHIPs greater than 1.50. Collectively their teams are just 67-121 in those starts (35.6%) and have shown a net collective loss of 54.9 units over those 188 games.
As you might expect, those 188 games have produced considerably more OVERs than UNDERs. Excluding pushes, those 26 pitchers have been involved in 105 OVERs and just 72 UNDERs (59.3%).
With lower ‘vig’ generally attached to Totals as compared to the price you must pay to go against bad starting pitchers it might be worth considering plays on the OVER when one of the starting pitchers has developed such a poor statistical profile as described above.
We may not get to profit much longer by playing OVER in those starts as such weak starting pitchers may often be banished to the bullpen, demoted to the minors or outright released if their poor efforts continue much longer. Still, of the 26 pitchers meeting the above criteria, 6 have already made 8 starts this season and another 7 have started 8 times. And most are veterans whose places in their team’s starting rotation remains unchallenged.
Here’s a look at four series to be played over the Memorial Day weekend.
St. Louis at Cincinnati: St. Louis has taken two of three games in each of these NL Central rivals’ two prior series this season. The OVER/UNDER is 3-3. Veteran Adam Wainwright and young Michael Wacha are the top two starting pitchers for St. Louis. But the early front runner for the NL Cy Young Award pitches for the Reds. Johnny Cueto has been brilliant through his first 9 starts, posting a 1.25 ERA and 0.71 WHIP in his 8 starts, averaging 8.0 innings per start. However the Reds have not provided Cueto much support at the plate going just 5-4 in his 9 starts.The same fate has befallen Mike Leake as well. The one Cincy starter whose stats are in line has been Alfredo Simon. The Reds are 6-2 when Simon starts.
PLAYS: UNDER 7 or higher in matchups of Wainwright or Wacha against Cueto, Leake or Simon or First 5 Innings (UNDER 3.5 in those matchups if the total for the full game is less than 7); St Louis +125 or more with Wainwright or Wacha against Cueto, Leake or Simon; St. Louis -120 or less against other Cincinnati starters; Cincinnati -160 or less with Cueto not facing Wainwright or Wacha; Cincinnati -130 or less with Leake or Simon not opposing Wainwright or Wacha.
Colorado at Atlanta: First meeting. Colorado averages just 4.0 rpg away from Coors Field. Atlanta’s offense averages just 3.2 runs per game both at home and on the road. Of the 7 pitchers who have started for Atlanta thus far, only Mike Minor, who started the season on the DL, has an ERA above 3.00 and 5 of the 7 have WHIPs below 1.25. The Rockies have gotten decent starting pitching with Jorge de la Rosa and Jordan Lyles posting the best statistics. But neither pitcher, nor any other starter, has averaged more than 6.0 innings per start which places a greater than normal burden on the bullpen
PLAYS: UNDER 8 or higher in any matchup; Atlanta -130 or lower in any matchup; Colorado +130 or more in starts by de la Rosa or Lyles; Colorado +150 or more behind other starters.
Texas at Detroit: A four game series beginning Thursday. First meeting. Justin Verlander is the acclaimed ‘ace’ of the Detroit staff but his stats, while still very good, have been inferior to those posted by both Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello. The Tigers are 21-5 when those three starters take the bump. Anibal Sanchez, who just returned from the DL with a solid effort Sunday night in Boston, has been effective although averaging just under 5.0 innings per start through his 6 starts to date. Yu Darvish has been the lone reliable starter for the Rangers and likely the only one worth backing in this series.
PLAYS: Texas as underdogs of any price in a start by Darvish against any Detroit starter; Detroit -150 or lower with any starter not opposing Darvish; UNDER 7 or higher in a start by Darvish against any Detroit starter; OVER 7.5 if Darvish, Porcello, Scherzer or Verlander don’t start.
KC at LA Angels: First meeting. Jered Weaver and CJ Wilson have fared well as the top duo on the Angels but Garrett Richards has pitched been just as good, if not better, through his first 8 starts. For the Royals, veteran James Shields and rookie Yordano Ventura were expected to pitch well but veteran Jason Vargas has been every bit as good as Shields and Ventura. The Angels have fared best in starts by lefty Tyler Skaggs, winning 7 of his 8 outings despite just modest stats posted by him. The Angels have been much more productive at the plate, averaging 4.8 rpg at home and 5.2 rpg one the road. Contrast that to the Royals’ split of 3.8/4.0.
PLAYS: Angels -125 or less in any matchup; Royals +120 or more in starts by Shields, Vargas or Ventura against any Angels starter; OVER 7 or lower in any matchup; UNDER 8.5 or higher in any matchup.
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]