Scoring is down, but Yanks up

May 17, 2005 5:37 AM

After the first six weeks in baseball, scoring is down from what it was during the past three seasons.

Going back to 2000 the average runs per game for the full season was 10.26. Through May 15 of that season the average a higher, 10.79. Over the next two seasons, run production declined significantly, to 9.52 runs per game for all of 2001 and then to 9.24 runs per game in 2002. The decline in early season run production was even more dramatic in each of those seasons.

An upward trend began in 2003 that continued last season. In fact, 2004 run production pretty much matched the levels of 2001. We don’t know how the balance of the season will unfold but comparing this season to last, run production is down a half run per game through May 15.

The "over / under" results reflect this decrease in scoring with 46.5 percent of all games resulting in a decision going "under." The decline is most pronounced in the American League where 136 of 245 decisions (55.5 percent) have been "under."

Indeed, the decrease in overall run production is largely due to a decline in AL scoring. The NL is down from 9.35 to 9.12 runs per game. In 2004 AL teams combined to score 10.14 runs per game through May 15. For 2005 that total is down more than three quarters of a run, to 9.34. The average "over / under" line in the AL is down slightly (9.42 to 9.36). This suggests that there may well continue to be value in AL "unders" for the next few weeks.

The slight decline in the NL might be solely attributed to the season long absence of Barry Bonds. It’s much harder to speculate about the AL decline although clearly many starting pitchers have put up some very impressive numbers through the first six weeks.

Baseball’s "hot" teams entering the week are the New York Yankees and Boston in the AL and Atlanta, Pittsburgh and San Diego in the NL. Of these teams, Pittsburgh may provide some excellent short term value. Winners of seven of their last ten games, the Pirates are rarely favored. Pittsburgh is 12-9 away from home, often a signal of a team on the improve. Only St. Louis has a better NL road record.

A development worth watching in the AL is that eight of the 14 teams have winning road records and another is at .500. Only six have winning records at home. It would be prudent to pay attention to this for the next few weeks, as opportunities may arise to take advantage of lines generally tilted in favor of the home team and giving value to emerging road warriors.

Much of the buzz in baseball this week is Interleague play. Several regional and intracity rivalries highlight the card with Colorado and Pittsburgh facing one another in the lone NL series to be played Friday through Monday. Interestingly, after this one weekend of Interleague play, there will be more than two weeks of regular American and National League play until Interleague play resumes June 7.

Be sure to keep in mind that the designated hitter is used only in games played in AL ballparks but pitchers must go to the plate at NL venues.

Here’s a look at four attractive Interleague series this weekend.

White Sox at Cubs: As pleasant of a surprise as the White Sox have been, the Cubs have been as great a disappointment. Freddy Garcia has the highest ERA (4.03) among the five White Sox starters. That would be the envy of any staff. The only starter who has had any semblance of trouble keeping runners off base has been Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez. Still the Sox are 6-1 in his starts and that 2.91 ERA shows Duque has been able to wiggle out of jams. The only consistent starter for the Cubs has been Mark Prior. Carlos Zambrano and Greg Maddux have ERAs above 4.00, Kerry Wood is on the DL and Ryan Dempster is in the bullpen.

Preferred plays: White Sox as underdogs or —120 favorites. UNDER at 9 or higher.

Braves at Red Sox: Games at Fenway are producing more than 10 runs per contest this season. The Red Sox have played well despite pitching aces Curt Schilling and David Wells starting only eight times. Bronson Arroyo has been the most effective starter to date with both Matt Clement and recently activated Wade Miller putting up solid numbers. The Atlanta staff has been one of baseball’s best with all five starters sporting ERAs of 3.54 or less. All have average to outstanding control. The usually slow starting offense has come alive of late.

Preferred plays: Atlanta as underdogs throughout the series except against Arroyo. Starts by Boston’s Arroyo or Clement may be played UNDER at 8 or higher. OVER in starts by any other Boston hurler if total no higher than 9. Bet Arroyo is favored no higher than -125.

Yankees at Mets: This should be a very entertaining series. Mets are playing well and the Yankees havd turned around their early season disastrous start. Current form greatly favors the Yanks and they might be attractively priced as the road team. They had great success the past few seasons against Pedro Martinez when the Mets’ ace was pitching for Boston.

Preferred plays: Yanks as underdogs against Pedro if they face him. Otherwise OVER is best bet throughout the series, especially at 9 or lower. Mike Mussina (3.46) and Randy Johnson (3.75) are the only Yankee starters with ERAs under 4.40. Pedro is the only Mets starter (3.38) below 4.70, aside from injured spot starter Jae Seo. Bet Mets vs. Mussina or Johnson if at least +150. Otherwise, the Yankees are playable if no than —140 favorite.

Angels at Dodgers: Both teams begn the week at 21-16. Anaheim has been more of a disappointment, while the Dodgers have been something of a surprise considering the offense they lost from last season. Of course, part of the Dodgers’ early season success is due to their quick 12-2 start. They’ve been well under .500 since. The key pitchers to back for Anaheim in this series are Bartolo Colon and Kelvim Escobar. For the Dodgers Brad Penny and Derek Lowe are supportable.

Preferred plays: Any game featuring two of these starters calls for a play on the Underdog and UNDER 8. Starts by Anaheim’s Jarrod Washburn or John Lackey are playable to an OVER of 9, especially if veteran Scott Erickson starts for the host. Take +125 underdog.