Even though the consensus opinion is that it’s hard to evaluate a team before they play 40 games, the standings are starting to take shape in Major League Baseball and a lot of teams are performing as expected. The Astros, Cubs, and Diamondbacks hold the worst records in the league and a lot of teams are hovering around .500. So far, four of the six projected division leaders are in first place, including the Braves who were supposed to win the division before the Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy Tommy John announcements.
As projected, the Pirates and Reds have taken a few steps back in the NL Central standings, the Angels appear much-improved with a misleading 8-10 record, and everybody’s trendy pick of the Kansas City Royals looks good right now as the Royals aren’t hitting, but continue to play good defense and get solid starting pitching.
This past week and a half, some teams showed why fast starts aren’t always what they seem. The Seattle Mariners started the year and their newfound expectations with a 5-3 record. They’ve now lost eight out of 10 entering play on Monday. The Astros started a respectable 5-6 but have also lost eight of 10. The Pirates started out 6-3 but have also been defeated in eight of their last 10. The White Sox had seriously fallen off the pace in terms of run differential prior to Sunday’s 16-2 rout of the Rangers. They entered the game -14 in run differential despite their hot offensive start.
The Brewers were a team that was mentioned in last week’s article as a team that would start to come back to the pack. They went 4-3, but had two ninth inning comebacks against Pittsburgh to snag a series victory. They are a team that is living right so far this season, but it’s been said that everything evens out in baseball.
What did we learn this past week and what are some things to watch for? Here are some thoughts from the third week of the MLB season.
What We Learned
1. The Padres are legit.
Unfortunately for the San Diego Padres, their offense has started very, very slowly. The Padres have scored 53 runs in 19 games. Despite their putrid offensive numbers, the Padres are 9-10 because the pitching staff has held the opposition to just 60 runs. In seven games this week, the total combined runs: 38. The Padres went 4-3 against the Rockies and Giants.
As offenses tend to do when struggling, the hitters are really pressing in key spots. With the bases empty, the Padres are batting .256/.297/.402. With men on base, those numbers fall to .198/.265/.288. In Joe Peta’s tremendous book, Trading Bases, he discusses the concept of “Cluster Luck”, which is applicable to both hitters and pitchers. When performance with bases empty and runners on is drastically different, a study of baseball statistics suggests that those numbers should fall within a standard correlation. With young teams like the Padres, it will only take a few timely hits for everybody to relax in those high leverage situations. This is a team that you should keep an eye on.
What To Look For
It’s never easy to back the Padres on the road since they have a lot of guys that are tailored to pitching at Petco Park, but there are going to be some big underdog numbers on the Padres as they have a 10-game road trip against the Brewers, Nationals, and Giants to end the month. This is a solid pitching staff with a good bullpen that won’t get blown out very often, so you’re bound to have a good amount of live dogs at nice plus money payouts during this road trip by backing the Padres.
With Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy, and Tyson Ross at Miller Park, you’re getting two extreme ground ball pitchers and Kennedy, whose advanced metrics suggest that he has pitched much better than his 1-3 record and 4.13 ERA. Kennedy and Ross are sure to be pretty big underdogs, but they are righties going up against a righty-heavy lineup. Keep in mind that if they are in the +125 or +130 range, you only need them to win 45 percent of the time to show a nice profit.
What We Learned
2. The Texas Rangers are fooling you.
The Texas Rangers are 11-8, 2.5 games behind the Oakland Athletics, and look a lot better than a team that was supposed to be in shambles because of injuries to Derek Holland and Matt Harrison. Guess what? They’re really not that good. The Rangers have yet to play a team with a record above .500, as they’ve played the Phillies, Rays, Red Sox, Astros, Mariners, and White Sox. The Rays and Red Sox will get better, but those other four teams aren’t very good. Texas lost their series against both the Rays and Red Sox and had two 1-0 wins over Houston. The Rangers are 5-2 in one-run games, even though their relievers have the sixth-highest bullpen ERA and a below average FIP. They also have the second-lowest strikeout percentage. Expect regression in that department.
The Rangers offense is only two percent above league average so far, so facing some better pitching will weaken an already limited group. The Rangers will still be without Adrian Beltre for the majority of the week, so expect them to have some difficulty with Oakland.
What To Look For
The Rangers were overpriced on Monday night with Yu Darvish on the mound, but every other Rangers starter is a total crapshoot. With signs of regression from the bullpen, expect a bump in the road for the Rangers. The perception of their offense and their ballpark certainly inflates lines, but this isn’t the same Rangers team that oddsmakers are accustomed to seeing and it doesn’t seem that they have adjusted. Case in point, Robbie Ross was a -160 or -170 favorite on Sunday in his fourth career start. The White Sox rolled to an easy win. There’s no reason for that line to be that high and it was anyway. Look for spots to go against the Rangers in the coming weeks.
What We Learned
3. You can’t win the World Series in April, but you can lose it.
That’s one of the old expressions in baseball. Essentially, you can bury yourself in April, but a hot start isn’t always sustainable. Thirteen teams in the American League are 8-10 or better and 12 in the National League fit the same criteria. What happens in the betting market is that lines become inflated because the teams that are supposed to be good are going to overshadow teams that are supposed to struggle but really haven’t yet. You’ll wind up seeing -130s and -135s in matchups of two teams hovering around .500.
At that point, you need to examine why the team that is supposed to be good isn’t playing that well right now. Decide if it’s worth betting on that trend to continue or betting on that trend to slow down or stop altogether.
What To Look For
Watch for high-profile, high-payroll teams to be overvalued. The expectation is that these teams are better than the rest and they will start to play that way. Every year, there are a handful of teams with big payrolls and high expectations that never get going. There are sure to be some this season. Use everything available at your disposal to find these teams and go against them. You’ll cash a lot of plus money bets if you can find the right ones.