All-Star Game has us craving NFL

July 09, 2002 10:17 AM


Baseball’s annual midsummer three-day vacation allows the Sports Books to begin getting ready for the upcoming football season as activity essentially ceases.

It’s not much of a surprise to see that baseball’s two best teams over the past decade, the New York Yankees and the Atlanta Braves, have baseball’s best record at the All Star break. But while Atlanta is leading the NL East by a comfortable 9½ games, the Yankees are trying to shake free of their long time rival Boston.

The Red Sox have the third best record in the American League, and currently hold the wild card, but trail the Yankees by a pair of games at the break. Although out of contention for the playoffs, Baltimore has used some fine starting pitching to fashion a record just one game below .500 at the All Star break.

Minnesota is threatening to make the AL Central race a runaway. The Twins have a 7½-game lead over Chicago and are the only team above .500 in what many consider baseball’s weakest division. Five teams in the AL have better records than Minnesota at the break.

Keep in mind that the Twins have been without the services of a pair of pitchers who had fine seasons in 2001 ”” Brad Radke and Joe Mays. Minnesota will only be strengthened when these hurlers return.

The AL West may be baseball’s best overall division with Seattle, Anaheim and Oakland all vying for the postseason. Only five games separate the three teams yet two of them might be out of the playoffs unless one can gain ground on Boston for the wild card.

Atlanta has a comfortable lead in the NL East with the next three teams all tightly bunched and realistically looking at a wild card challenge. Montreal continues to be a major surprise and appear on the verge of making their second major acquisition over the past two weeks with the proposed acquisition from Florida of outfielder Cliff Floyd and pitcher Ryan Dempster.

The Expos have played very steady baseball under manager Frank Robinson and their solid starting pitching rotation suggests they have a better shot at contending for the wild card than Florida and the New York Mets. Florida is unloading talent while the Mets seem to be a collection of individual players rather than a team.

St. Louis has started to regroup following the tragic death of Darryl Kile. The Cards have won six of their last 10 prior to the All Star break and have a two game lead over second place Cincinnati. But the Cards own the worst record of any Division leader in baseball. Houston is making a bit of a charge but they are still four games below break even at the break.

The NL West has the makings of a three game race with the Los Angeles Dodgers currently leading Arizona by 2½ games with San Francisco just two games further back. The Giants would be leading the NL Central with their record and all three teams enter the All Star break having split their past 10 contests.

In handicapping baseball and in making lines on the games the most significant factor continues to be the quality of the opposing starting pitchers. The importance of this factor has declined over the years with the increasing importance of the bullpen in terms of both middle relief and the closer.

A large majority of those who wager on baseball look no further than a pitcher’s ERA or won-lost record. These numbers can be deceiving, largely in part to the effects of the bullpen.

A tool that has increasingly gained popularity among serious handicappers and bettors is considered a secondary measure of a starting pitcher’s effectiveness. This statistic is known by the acronym WHIP, which stands for Walks plus Hits per Inning Pitched. In other words, how many runners will a pitcher allow to reach base for each inning that he pitches.

The fewer baserunners allowed, the more effective the pitcher and the deeper into a game he can be expected to pitch. Such a pitcher typically throws fewer pitches than one who allows many baserunners and thus can be extended deeper into a game.

A pitcher with a higher WHIP is less likely to go deep into the game and gives the opposing team more opportunities to score.

The 54 pitchers with WHIPs greater than 1.50 have had their teams win just under 42 percent of those starts and have shown a loss of about 14 cents for every dollar wagered on their starts.

The 47 pitchers with WHIPs of less than 1.25 have seen their teams win over 61 percent of those starts and have shown an average profit of 16 cents per dollar.

Here’s a look at some of the more interesting series to be played this weekend following the All Star break with all but two of the National League series being four game series that begin on Thursday.

Braves at Expos: Pitching should be the key this series with Montreal having a very solid starting rotation. The Expos are likely to be underdogs throughout the four-game series. The UNDER is also the preferred play at a total of 8 or higher, although a matchup of Atlanta’s Greg Maddux against Ohka or Colon can be played UNDER 7. A possible game to go OVER the total might be when Tom Glavine starts for the Braves.

D’backs at Dodgers: This series also figures to be dominated by pitching. Despite his fine record, Kaz Ishii has very mediocre stats including a 1.55 WHIP, suggesting the OVER could be played in his start, especially if he starts against either Schilling or Johnson. Ishii can be played against if facing Anderson or Helling. The OVER works in starts by Arizona’s Miguel Batista or the Dodgers’ Omar Daal.

Yanks at Indians: NY has already bolstered its roster with the additions of OF Raul Mondesi and starter Jeff Weaver. The Yankees have the clear edge in pitching with only Andy Pettitte putting up struggling numbers. The OVER may be the best play in the series at a total of 10 or lower. If any Yanks pitcher besides Pettitte is favored by —140 or less the Yanks would be a play against anyone other than Finley.

A’s at O’s: Baltimore has been a very pleasant surprise for manager Mike Hargrove. Sidney Ponson is a much sought after pitcher in trade talks but Jason Johnson, Rodrigo Lopez and Travis Driskill have all performed well. Oakland’s strength has been starting pitching. Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson are all in fine form. The A’s added Ted Lilly to the rotation last week via trade and young Aaron Harang has shown some promise. The UNDER is good at totals of 9 or higher, while Baltimore is worth playing as underdogs when Johnson or Lopez starts.