Weekend clashes offer good Under bets

May 6, 2003 6:12 AM

In handicapping baseball there are a myriad of factors that can be considered. As has been pointed out on numerous occasions the primary factor used by most handicappers is an assessment of the opposing starting pitchers.

These are the guys who will start the game and pitch as deeply into the contest as they can before getting arm weary or otherwise into trouble. Of course the bullpen, and especially its recent usage, has become even more significant of a factor in recent seasons.

The problem with handicapping a bullpen is that by doing so you are playing an "if/then" game whereby you are concluding that "if’ the starter can only go ”˜x’ number of innings "then" the bullpen is likely to produce a result of ”˜y.’

Simply put, the known factors are the two starting pitchers. If we can gauge how effective they will be in their upcoming effort, we have a better chance of determining whether or not the bullpen will be a factor.

In most cases you’ll get a very basic breakdown of a pitcher’s results over his last few games and for the season to date, occasionally with a home/road split shown. One key item that bears reviewing is often labeled TRBS or "Team Record Behind Starter." This stat bears a direct correlation to how you would have fared so far this season at the betting windows by backing a specific starter.

Unfortunately the most vital piece of information is left out of these handouts. It would be far better to track each starter’s cumulative profit and loss for the season. For example, consider Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling and Barry Zito ”” three of the premier pitchers in the game. Their teams are a combined 11-6 SU when these pitchers have started in 2003. But had you backed these three hurlers in those 17 starts you’d be out $600 dollars on a $100 unit basis. That’s due to these pitchers laying huge prices to be backed.

Consider on the other hand Ben Sheets, Victor Zambrano and Todd Ritchie. These three toil for three weak teams ”” Sheets and Ritchie for Milwaukee and Zambrano for Tampa Bay. Their teams are a combined 7-10 when they take the hill but they’ve combined for slightly more than a $200 profit as large underdogs for the most part.

The key is looking beyond just a pitcher’s personal record or even his team’s record when he starts. You must consider the price you get or lay to back a pitcher. The best situations, over the years, will be found in backing underdog pitchers with competitive stats. More on this subject next week.

Here’s a look at four series being played this weekend.

Cardinals at Cubs: These long time rivals are both contending for the top spot in the NL Central almost a fifth of the way into the season. The Cubs are doing it with pitching. They have three solid starters in Kerry Wood, Mark Prior and Matt Clement. St Louis is relying more on its offense although both Matt Morris and Woody Williams are capable starting pitchers. Winds at Wrigley Field heavily influence totals. Matchups involving two of the five pitchers just mentioned favor the UNDER. Any of the five starters as an underdog are worth playing. The Cubs have shown the better early season bullpen.

Giants at Braves: Both teams are playing well one month into the season although the Giants have cooled a bit following a torrid start. San Francisco actually has a more solid starting rotation although Atlanta is starting to reap benefits from its off season acquisitions. Both teams are well managed and feature balanced offenses. Both bullpens are also strong which makes the UNDER the preferred play throughout the series. The preferred side plays will be the underdog. We may get decent dog prices with Atlanta should Shane Reynolds or Mike Hampton get starts.

Yankees at A’s: Last weekend, Oakland took two of three at Yankee Stadium. As expected the starting pitchers were the story and all three games went UNDER. We should see at least two UNDER the number in this series. At totals of 8 or higher, play UNDER. The depth of both teams makes the underdog in each game playable, especially since there is strength in both teams’ fourth and fifth starters. Note that closer Mariano Rivera has returned for the Yankees, which should enhance the prospects for UNDER results in Yankees games.

White Sox at M’s: Seattle swept the three game series in Chicago last weekend with spectacular starting pitching that limited the White Sox to just five total runs. At the same time the Mariners bats feasted on Chicago’s starting pitchers, knocking out red-hot Esteban Loaiza in the fourth inning. Seattle should be favored throughout this series, but look for the White Sox to take two of the three games. Look for fewer runs and better efforts from Loaiza and Bartolo Colon, who along with Mark Buehrle make attractive plays as underdogs. The one situation that would favor a play on the hosts would be if Seattle’s Gil Meche is an underdog.