Baseball statistics are meant to be viewed and analyzed over a large sample size, even though the game itself is broken down into individual matchups. Countless times we see good hitters fail to get the job done in key spots of the game or elite closers that buckle under the pressure of a one-run lead. Most of these star players will have success more frequently than others, but it’s those singular scenarios in a game that can be the difference between winning and losing.
Of course, it’s not just that one at bat that made the difference in the game. There are always other big spots in the game that become afterthoughts because the one high-leverage plate appearance went awry. Over the course of 50 such plate appearances, an elite player may have a success rate of 35 percent. Keep that in mind because it means that he fails nearly two-thirds of the time. It’s one of the things that make baseball such a difficult game to beat over the course of the season.
Take, for example, Clayton Kershaw. He is unquestionably elite. Over his seven-year career, the Dodgers are 121-77 in his 198 career starts. That means that the Dodgers win 61.1 percent of the time when Kershaw pitches. A 61.1 percent chance of winning equates to a -157 line. The average line for Clayton Kershaw over that seven-year span is -119. Over the last three years, the Dodgers are 53-29 when Kershaw starts. That equates to a -182 with a 63.6 percent winning percentage. The average line on Kershaw over the last three seasons is -173. Obviously, what happens on a game-by-game basis is important because if Kershaw loses as a -295, a bettor will have to win with Kershaw three straight times to simply break even as a flat bettor. It’s tough to lay that kind of chalk on a regular basis as well. It’s also tough to imagine that the Dodgers lose nearly 30 percent of the time when Kershaw pitches.
But, that’s part of what makes baseball so tough. You may back a team in a game where their .340 hitter goes 0-for-4 and leaves seven men on base. The predictive value in baseball statistics comes over a large sample size of events, not the one specific event you need in order to cash a ticket.
For what seems like the first time in a long time, it was a rather calm week with injuries, though every injury was met with trade discussion with the trade deadline on Thursday. Here are some of the more pertinent injury notes for bettors to keep in mind: Zach Putnam, who had a couple of save opportunities for the beleaguered White Sox bullpen, is on the DL with shoulder inflammation. Troy Tulowitzki has seen a specialist regarding his quad injury as the Rockies season continues to go down the tubes. Oft-injured southpaw Brett Anderson is reportedly dealing with a blister for the Rockies. Grant Green of the Angels is out with a lumbar sprain, which weakens their depth and may lead to a minor transaction this week. Kelly Johnson is out indefinitely for the Yankees with a groin strain. There are problems in the Oakland outfield as Coco Crisp is seeing a specialist for a MRI on his neck and Craig Gentry fractured his hand on a bunt attempt. Starling Marte suffered a concussion and the Pirates have him on the 7-day concussion DL. The Padres keep getting dealt a bad hand as Cameron Maybin was suspended 25 games for taking amphetamines, Ian Kennedy, their top trade chip, has an oblique injury, and Carlos Quentin is injured again, to the surprise of nobody.
One of the “-isms” from sabermetricians is that batting strikeouts are overblown. The core theories behind sabermetrics and run scoring are based upon the notion that not making outs is all that matters, hence the spotlight on on-base percentage, or OBP. Outs are outs. Those that don’t subscribe to sabermetric theories will argue that balls put into play that are still outs can serve a variety of purposes, such as advancing runners or allowing runners to move up a base. Sabermetricians will counter that it’s still an out that, in all likelihood, lowered the probability of scoring a run and that strikeouts generally don’t turn into double plays.
As somebody who sees both sides of the argument, as a former stat-head in a traditional sense and now as an amateur sabermetrician, there are some important things to point out about strikeouts and performance so far this season. The following is a list of the top 10 teams in K%, or percentage of plate appearances ending with a strikeout (through July 28):
1. Houston Astros (23.6)
2. Miami Marlins (23.3)
3. Chicago Cubs (22.7)
4. San Diego Padres (22.5)
5. Chicago White Sox (22.4)
6. Atlanta Braves (22.0)
7. Minnesota Twins (21.6)
8. Washington Nationals (21.4)
9. New York Mets (21.3)
10. Seattle Mariners (21.2)
Of the 10 teams on this list, only three, the Braves, Nationals, and Mariners have a winning record. Using our ATS standings at BangTheBook, these 10 teams are -18.99 units on the season.
On the flip side, let’s look at the bottom 10 in K% (through July 28):
1. KC Royals (15.9)
2. Oakland A’s (17.4)
3. Tampa Bay Rays (18.2)
4. Toronto Blue Jays (18.4)
5. New York Yankees (18.5)
6. Detroit Tigers (18.6)
7. St. Louis Cardinals (18.8)
8. Cleveland Indians (18.9)
9. Arizona Diamondbacks (19.1)
10. Texas Rangers (19.4)
Of the 10 teams on this list, six of them have winning records, though only two of them are division leaders. Using our ATS standings at BangTheBook, these 10 teams are -48.70 units. Keep in mind that 38 of the 48 units have been lost by Arizona and Texas.
As strikeouts continue to rise rapidly, with pitchers setting a new record high in K% in each of the last seven seasons, it could be something that affects a bettor’s decisions about a game. It’s clear from the above list that teams that strikeout more are losing more, as seven of the 10 teams in the top list are below .500. It may not be having a huge impact on the profit that bettors are making, but the game is constantly changing and adjusting and bettors need to do the same.
One area that has undoubtedly been impacted by the rise in strikeouts is totals. Pitchers are getting 4.12 runs of support per game this season, down from 4.36 just two years ago in 2012 and down nearly 0.8 runs per game since 2006, the highest mark in the last 13 seasons.
The 10 teams with the highest strikeout percentages have combined for a totals record of 477-515-58, while the 10 teams with the lowest strikeout percentages have combined for a totals record of 498-506-46. There are three teams from each of the AL East and AL Central that makes up the 10 teams in the lowest strikeout percentage category, so that could explain the rash of unders, but it’s still closer to even than the teams that strike out more.
As a bettor, you can combine this strikeout information with last week’s examination of team fielding and perhaps you can connect some dots and find some things that will make the remainder of the baseball season profitable.