Wanna trade?

Jul 20, 2004 6:08 AM

The focus of the baseball world turns from the All Star Game to the upcoming trading deadline at the end of the month.

Rumors usually outpace reality when it comes to trade deadlines, but it appears that pitching is more of the focus this season. Arizona’s Randy Johnson and Pittsburgh’s Kris Benson are the most frequently mentioned names on non-contending teams. The list from contending teams includes Boston’s Derek Lowe, Philadelphia’s Kevin Millwood and St. Louis ace Matt Morris.

There usually is a surprise or two in the waning hours and that may well again happen this season. Of note over the weekend was the reacquisition by the Chicago White Sox of Carl Everitt, who is expected to fill in for injured slugger Frank Thomas, perhaps out for the balance of the regular season.

The American League’s 9-4 victory in last Tuesday’s All Star Game in Houston secured home field advantage for the World Series.

A look at the standings shows 10 of the National League’s 16 teams are above .500 with two more just one game below. St. Louis has the largest edge of any first place team in baseball, eight games ahead of the Chicago Cubs in the Central starting this week. Philadelphia and Atlanta are tied for the lead in the East while Los Angeles has a 2½ game margin over San Francisco in the West.

The wild card race is extremely tight and competitive. San Francisco has a slim one game lead over both San Diego and the Cubs. Even the two sub .500 teams (Houston and Florida) are within five games of the Giants. Only Montreal, Pittsburgh, Colorado and Arizona are realistically out of contention although some might argue that the Pirates have some outside hope. Most teams still have at least 70 games to play.

The New York Yankees have a seven game lead over Boston in the AL East along with the best record in baseball. The three remaining East teams are all more than a dozen games behind New York. The AL Central is shaping up as a two-team race between the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota with the Sox up a half game entering the week. The West remains a three-team race with surprising Texas now 2½ clear of Oakland with Anaheim 1½ further back.

The wild card race shows Boston and Oakland tied with identical records. Anaheim is 1½ games back and Minnesota 2½ out starting the week. Only Cleveland and Detroit have realistically remote chances of making a challenge.

Over the weekend, the Tigers exceeded their total wins from last season with No. 44 against the Yankees. If not for the job Buck Showalter is doing in Texas, it would be Detroit’s Alan Trammell as the clear Manager of the Year with the Tigers having a real shot at finishing at .500.

Only two pitchers this season show a profit of more than 10 units had you backed them in all of their starts. Cincinnati’s Paul Wilson is +10.97 units and Cleveland’s Cliff Lee +10.48. Neither is having an outstanding season but both are receiving enough run support to give nice profits to their backers despite ERAs above 3.50.

Yet consider the results for both Houston’s Roy Oswalt and Montreal’s Livan Hernandez. Each has an ERA very similar to those of Wilson and Lee. However, backers of Oswalt are down nearly 14 units for the season and Hernandez’ supporters owe nearly nine units.

There are 10 pitchers who have shown a season to date profit of more than 7½ units while nine have lost at least that amount. Some hurlers, for whatever reason, throw well but get little support and are considered "hard luck" pitchers. Similarly there are those pitchers who continue to put up ugly stats but prove profitable because they are supported at the plate by their teammates.

In the long run, money can be made playing the good pitchers and wagering against the bad ones (for as long as they last in the majors). Pay attention to short term results when you want to play hard luck pitchers or against inferior ones that have benefited from good fortune.

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

Cubs at Phillies: Chicago has relied mostly on strong starting pitching. If the results were better at the plate, the Cubs would be challenging St. Louis for the Central lead. Philadelphia has a more balanced contribution and one of the game’s best closers in Billy Wagner. On the surface this appears to be a matchup of strength vs. strength and weakness vs. weakness. The Cubs’ pitching against the Phils bats is the matchup of strengths. We favor the pitching .

Play "under" at totals of 8 or higher. Because the Phils lack a true ace, the Cubs are also playable as underdogs in any game. The Phillies would be playable as —120 underdogs against either Kerry Wood or Mark Prior.

Giants at Cardinals: Both teams have relied more on offense than pitching to assume contending roles. The Giants’ Jason Schmidt may be the best starting pitcher in the game. He has won 12 straight decisions and is playable against any St Louis starter provided he is not favored by more than -130. That may be the case given the Cardinals’ extraordinary offense.

In fact, other than Schmidt, the remaining starters are average at best. The "over" is preferred at 9 or less. St. Louis would be the play against any Giants starter other than Schmidt provided the price is no higher than -140.

Yankees at Red Sox: This would initially appear to be a high scoring series given the rather average performance of New York’s starting pitchers over the last month. Conversely the Yankees bats continue to be productive with both Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez hitting with more consistency. At 10 or lower the "over" is preferred in starts other than by Boston”˜s Curt Schilling or Pedro Martinez.

We also advise betting either team if priced as an underdog of at least +125. Boston’s best shot in the series would be with Schilling on the mound. However, if he is favored by more than —130, he would not be playable. The same applies to Martinez. But if either is attractively priced at -130 or less, they are worth backing.

Rangers at Athletics: Oakland has been a strong second half team the past several seasons and the Texas pitching is a concern as the season approaches the 100-game mark. Oakland should be favored in all three games of the series. Texas can be recommended as a play when Kenny Rogers or Ryan Drese starts and only at a price of +150.

Oakland would be playable most likely in starts by Rich Harder or Mark Redman if favored no more than -130. The "under" would be preferred but only at 9 or higher. This should be a well-played series as the AL West battles amongst themselves through the end of July.