As the trading deadline approaches in Major League Baseball, players on teams all across the league are sitting on pins and needles, wondering if they’ll be traded and have to deal with everything that goes along with being sent to a new team. It’s a difficult time for players and teammates alike with the uncertainty surrounding the ballclub. Not only do the individual players have to play through the distractions, but the team is in a state of limbo, wondering whether they will be buyers, sellers, or stay at the same level.
The social media generation has probably heightened the uncertainty as unsubstantiated rumors are posted, retracted, posted again, and wind up not being true at all. Players have openly discussed times they found out about a trade via Twitter before even being called by a member of the front office or their agent. It can be a trying time for players and sometimes their performance will suffer because of it.
The time after the All-Star Break is good for players in other respects because they can come back reinvigorated from the four-day break because the dog days of summer are definitely upon us, especially if a team’s buyer/seller position is pretty obvious to tell. Players also get a chance to rest nagging injuries and, most importantly, get a mental break from the grind of the season.
Speaking of injuries, make no mistake that injuries are still popping up in all corners of the league and some will likely affect a team’s plans at the deadline. Ubaldo Jimenez is out until August with an ankle injury. He hadn’t been pitching well anyway, but that could prompt the Orioles to get another starter, which they may have done anyway. The Reds are without Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips due to quad and thumb injuries. After charging to get within 1.5 games before the break, the Reds are 0-4 out of the break and have fallen 3.5 games off the pace. Troy Tulowitzki is day-to-day with a leg issue, while Justin Morneau is on the 15-day DL with a neck problem. Carlos Gonzalez also left Monday’s game with an injury, leaving the Rockies offense in shambles. CJ Wilson is out for the Angels, while Erick Aybar has been hampered by a hamstring injury, and Collin Cowgill is out with a broken nose. The Angels may be looking for additional rotation help as well. Matt Cain and Brandon Belt are on the shelf for the Giants. Cain has been dealing with problems all season and Belt has a concussion. The Giants are locked in a race for both the NL West and a wild card. The Cardinals, who have climbed to within a half-game of the Brewers, are without catcher and team leader Yadier Molina until September with a thumb injury.
With the focus shifting almost entirely towards football preparation and the start of the season, books may be slow to adjust in baseball, so opportunities could be available for teams that go on a run, especially those that have struggled so far this season. Some teams are going to start getting a bump from prospects after the July 31 trade deadline and that’s something that bettors will want to be aware of.
What’s really interesting at this stage of the game is how bad the bad teams have gotten. The Astros and Rangers are approaching 60 losses and are more than 20 games back in the American League West. The Phillies have fallen 13 games under .500 since the start of May and they’re going to continue fading as a team full of veterans not accustomed to this type of season. The Rockies have been hit badly by injuries, but terrible pitching has put them in line for 60 losses over the next couple of days and they’re 15 games back in the NL West, even trailing Arizona, who started the season 9-22, by 2.5 games. These are teams that have been written off by the oddsmakers, so be on the lookout for teams like that to go on a run with the focus on football. You could cash a string of +150 or higher tickets to help build that football bankroll if you still pay attention to MLB on a daily basis.
Is it possible that offense may be on the upswing in the near future? The normal range for BABIP, or batting average on balls in play, is between .290 and .310. Over the last 14 days, 16 teams have posted BABIPs of .311 or higher and only seven teams are below .290. The caveat to the teams below .290 is that home runs don’t count and four of those seven teams have hit 10 or more home runs over the last two weeks. Over the last 14 days, starting pitchers are receiving 4.74 runs of support compared to 4.44 over the course of the season to date.
Could it be that pitchers are starting to wear down? That doesn’t seem to be the case. Strikeout and walk rates are about the same and so is the league-wide home run rate. This may simply be a small sample size fluctuation, because league-wide slugging percentages against are actually lower in that two-week period than they are over the course of the season. For the rest of the year, it should continue to be a time where pitching bests hitting, just like it has been over the last few seasons since the steroid witch hunt eradicated PEDs and other substances from the game.
What should bettors be looking for this week with the trade deadline just eight days away? With really no statistical evidence to support this, it would seem that fading starting pitchers that are on the trade block could be profitable. These guys are dealing with distractions and human nature suggests that they will be affected. There aren’t a whole lot of guys on that list to discuss, but pitchers like Jake Peavy and A.J. Burnett are guys that have struggled throughout the season. The Royals have said they’re not interested in being sellers, but a bad stretch this week into next week could put James Shields on the block as he would instantly be the most sought-after trade candidate.
Another angle that may be profitable at this time of year is to focus on backing teams with strong bullpens. It’s an angle that you want to monitor throughout the season, but especially now as managers are looking to rack up wins to get the front office to be proactive on the trade front. Shortly after the trade deadline, you may want to look to fade some of those teams because teams with good bullpens tend to be in the hunt and managers will want to pace their relievers for the stretch run.
Bullpen arms seem to be the easiest currency to move around at the deadline and sometimes those new additions struggle in their first few appearances with their new clubs. It’s a lot on a father to move his family around or be away from his family because the school year is on the horizon. That transition and its accompanying distractions, coupled with the focus it requires to pitch in high-leverage situations, can be tiring. Bad bullpens put these pitchers, who may have been in 7th inning roles, into primary setup roles and that’s also a tough transition for some guys. Be aware of this and don’t value bullpen acquisitions too highly until you see how things shake out.
One final note for this week’s look around Major League Baseball is to keep an eye on Pythagorean Win-Loss both now and throughout the rest of the season. Things tend to even out in Major League Baseball over large sample sizes and that includes Pythagorean Win-Loss. Pythagorean Win-Loss is what a team’s record should be using its run differential as the deciding factor. Sometimes teams deserve the discrepancy between actual record and PythWL, like the Rockies and Mets, who have had awful bullpens most of the season. The Brewers are three games better than their PythWL would suggest and they’ve also been slowly coming back to the pack as the other teams in the division have inched closer. Since reaching a high mark of 19 games over .500 at 51-32, the Brewers are 4-13. By PythWL, the Nationals should have a six-game lead over the Braves, but their actual lead is just one game entering play on Tuesday. These are things to watch going forward as actual record and PythWL tend to be very close for the majority of teams at the end of the season.