Walks should be a factor when pricing MLB

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The late “Fordham Flash,” Frankie Frisch, is noted for his famous quote, “Oh, those bases on balls,” uttered all too frequently in his role as manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first half of the 1940s.

Elected to the Hall of Fame for his playing career, as a manager Frisch knew the negative consequences of issuing too many walks, allowing a batter to reach base through no effort of his own other than the discipline to lay off four pitches judged outside the strike zone by the home plate umpire.

Frisch knew what he was talking about. The walk is analogous to the turnover in basketball, hockey and, especially, football. You simply cannot give the opposition additional opportunities to score regardless the sport.

The same is true in baseball. Whereas an error is often considered as giving the team at bat a fourth out there is a distinction between an error and a walk in terms of their potential impact.

A walk puts added pressure on the pitcher and adds to his pitch count, a factor upon which greater emphasis is being placed each season. It also adds a potential run.

Handicapping baseball involves breaking down performances and tendencies with statistics. By analyzing stats, handicappers and bettors can form opinions that separate teams and players into relative groupings and assist in the formulation of a proper line for an upcoming game.

Bear in mind a baseball line is simply a reflection of the team’s likelihood of winning. A favorite laying -150 is considered a 3 to 2 chalk – having a 60 percent chance of winning. A 2 to 1 favorite (-200) is considered to have a 66.7 percent chance of winning.

Starting pitching has long been considered the primary factor in establishing a baseball line. The percentage assigned to the value of the starting pitcher over the years has dropped. At one time the value assigned for the starting pitcher may have been as high as 75 to 80 percent. Now it might be in the 50 to 60 percent range.

Over the years my techniques have varied and have been tweaked but as I have evolved as a handicapper I have begun to place an even greater emphasis on walks and strikeouts – the two factors that determine the fate of a batter who does not put the ball in play.

I like to back pitchers who have a combination of issuing few walks while also having a solid strikeout to walk ratio. Four to one or better is a general guideline I follow in looking for pitchers to back. Of course as we get deeper into the season I do place a minimum limit on the number of innings pitched, which increases as the season lengthens.

Through this past Sunday, for example, there were 113 starting pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched. Twenty-four of them had strikeout to walk ratios of 4 to 1 or better, comprising a collective 311 starts. The record of the team backing those pitchers in the 311 starts had a record of 188-123 with a net profit of 14.75 units.

I use 2.5 walks per nine innings as my guide and the results for 2018 thus far approximate those just noted for starting pitchers with 4 to 1 strikeout to walk ratios and having pitched at least 50 innings.

By looking for pitchers who avoid issuing walks and are also able to strike out batters you will be backing pitchers who avoid turnovers while also demonstrating an above average ability to fool hitters.

Less for Balti-more: Buck Showalter in eight previous seasons with Baltimore has produced winning records five times, and a sixth season was exactly .500. After winning 89 games two seasons ago Baltimore went 75-87 last year and 2018 is on pace to be Showalter’s worst as a manager by a wide margin.

Through Sunday, Baltimore was on pace to win just 48 games with a record of 19-45 and a winning percentage of 29.7. One has to wonder if Showalter will survive the season or decide to leave of his own volition.

He is considered as sharp a manager as there is in the game but the losing has to be getting to him – along with the prospects that Manny Machado and/or Adam Jones will be traded within the next two months.

Here are thoughts on three weekend series.

San Francisco at LA Dodgers: The teams split their opening weekend series of four games with the Giants taking four of six in their pair of series in San Francisco. The Over/Under is 5-5 with the teams averaging 7.9 runs per game.

The Dodgers are playing their best baseball of the season, winning 17 of their last 25.

Look to back Madison Bumgarner laying no more than -160. Otherwise, look to back the Dodgers at no more than -150.

The Dodgers’ Ross Stripling has pitched very well over his last half dozen starts and if he matches up against Bumgarner look UNDER 7 or higher. The Dodgers have been an OVER team in starts by Rich Hill (6-0) and Alex Wood (8-4-1) so look to OVER 8 or lower if either doesn’t face Bumgarner.

Boston at Seattle: Each team has an ace with Boston’s Chris Sale somewhat more accomplished than Seattle’s James Paxton, who had his breakout season in 2017. Both are lefties and within four months of one another in age as each will turn 30 within the next year. Veteran David Price is Boston’s next best starter and Marco Gonzales is Seattle’s de facto number two. Again, both are lefties.

Sale or Price can be backed against other than Paxton or Gonzales and vice versa. Sale and Paxton can be backed at -150 or less whereas Price or Gonzales can be backed at -130 or less. If Sale or Price opposes Paxton or Gonzales look to play the Underdog and UNDER 7.5 or higher. In starts not involving any of those four pitchers go OVER 8.5 or less. Seattle has seen 21 of its 41 wins decided by one run.

Washington at Toronto: Of the three interleague series this is the most attractive. After a sluggish start the Nationals have assumed their expected perch atop the NL East, percentage points ahead of Atlanta with whom they are tied for the lead, each nine games above .500.

If the Nats don’t start Max Scherzer, Tanner Roark or Gio Gonzalez in Sunday’s finale look to play the Blue Jays as home underdogs. Otherwise the Nats can be backed in starts by Scherzer, Gonzalez or Tanner Roark. Gonzalez and Roark can be backed at -150 or less and Scherzer can be backed laying a run and a half as he is likely to be priced at -200 or higher. Toronto can be played as underdogs of +140 or more in starts by Sam Gaviglio or J.A. Happ not facing the aforementioned Washington trio. Look UNDER 7.5 or higher if Scherzer opposes Happ or Gaviglio.

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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