MLB injuries should be a focus to strong handicapping
June 20, 2017 3:00 AM
by Jim Feist
Baseball has a long regular season, almost twice as many games as pro basketball, and ten times more games than the NFL regular season. Baseball athletes have to play just about every day and sometimes even have to play twice in a day during double-headers.
This is why it’s essential to keep up on injuries. In football, if a starting quarterback or star running back is injured and expected to miss a game, that injury will be reflected in the betting line.
NFL QBs Tom Brady and Drew Brees might be a 10-point home favorite over a below-average team, but without them they might be only a 3-point favorite. The bulk of baseball lines are based on the starting pitchers. Sides and totals will be adjusted a bit when star players are out of the lineup, but not to the extent football lines often move. For bettors, sometimes the loss of one or two important positional players can be a large enough void that it offers great value to wager against a team.
This season the Mets and Blue Jays were hit hard by injuries and had long stretches where they struggled. The Red Sox pitching staff was banged up to start the season, including David Price being on the shelf for April, so they didn’t get off to the kind of start many predicted. The Reds and Phillies can’t find any pitching, while the Royals have struggled badly at the plate.
The Milwaukee Brewers have been a big surprise, making a run in the NL Central dominated by the Cubbies the last two years. The Brewers have been solid on offense all year, one of the best home run hitting teams in the league. And even the pitching staff has surprised, Top 10 in ERA for much of the first half, anchored by some good bullpen depth. Last month they went to Wrigley Field for a big series and won the first game, 6-3, as a +156 dog. Teams that have balance like that are decent bets to cash as a dog in the right situation.
Having an ace atop the rotation is a huge asset, stabilizing a pitching staff and preventing losing streaks. Tampa Bay might be a team to watch in the second half, like Milwaukee, with very good balance. The offense has been Top 10 in runs and homers, while Chris Archer has been strong, topping Price’s team strikeout record in a month in May.
A few weeks ago the Vegas books took a hit when bettors were all over big dog San Diego, stealing a three-game sweep at Wrigley. The finale was a 2-1 win as a +190 dog as the defending champion Cubs continued to underperform. Chicago’s offense has been the biggest reason why, in the middle of the pack in runs and on-base percentage.
Injuries and returning players can be a significant factor. Boston can’t keep 2B Dustin Pedroia healthy and they just added starter Eduardo Rodriguez to their long injury list. A few seasons ago, the Red Sox got off to a hot 24-8 start, but lost star slugger Manny Ramirez in mid-May when he broke his finger in Seattle on a foolish home plate flop.
Ramirez was hitting .372 when he got hurt and went on the DL for a month; and the team proceeded to go 7-6 on a home stand without him. They scored one run to the Mariners and were shut out twice at home by the White Sox and Athletics.
If a team has a capable replacement to fill in, it may be able to survive an injury, but still might be overvalued by oddsmakers, who lean heavily on overall and home/away records. When a star player or pitcher goes on the shelf it can have a domino effect on lineups and pitching staffs. Managers may have to use bullpen arms more, which can place heavy wear and tear on arms up and down the roster. Also, a team’s offensive production can suffer, too, which can be an edge for totals players.
One season injuries to key players devastated the Minnesota Twins pennant-express. The Twins were 55-32 at the All-Star break and were winning with a great combination of speed, defense and starting pitching. Then injuries decimated the roster and severely dented the team’s speed and defense. Minnesota went 30-45 in the second-half and missed the playoffs. Big payroll teams have depth on the bench, but small market teams like the Twins and Rays often can’t afford it.
So pay close attention to whether a team is at full strength or not, either through injuries or other factors. Many times oddsmakers fail to make proper adjustments, which can provide great value in taking a look at underdogs. Keep your eyes peeled for key injuries, bad lines and big dogs.