You’ve no doubt heard something along the lines of pitching being 80 percent of baseball or something close to it at some point. It was the great Connie Mack who supposedly made the claim that pitching is 75 percent of baseball, a number that has fluctuated a bit over the years. Then there are the old standbys, such as “good pitching stops good hitting,” etc. But is that really true? Not according to my friend Jim Barnes, who is one of the all-time handicapping greats, and the creator of the Journal of Handicapping and some other publications that are worthwhile to track down.
Barnes has always been a proponent that a team’s offense is far more important than its pitching, even when advanced pitching statistics are somewhat en vogue now. But one of the things that gets too many baseball bettors in trouble is all they do is look at the starting pitchers and back whichever one they believe is better.
So what I did is to make a list of the top 10 teams in terms of runs scored per game and runs allowed per game entering games of Sunday, June 4. There were five teams who made both lists: Washington, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox.
That left five teams on each list. For the highest-scoring teams we had Colorado, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, New York Mets and Detroit Tigers. For the teams that have allowed the fewest runs, there was Arizona, Cleveland, St. Louis, Los Angeles Angels and Kansas City Royals.
The five top offensive teams had a combined record of 130-137, but they showed a flat-bet profit of $561. The five top pitching teams had a combined record of 141-137, but showed a flat-bet loss of $1,293, with Cleveland and St. Louis the two primary culprits. So even though the top pitching teams have a better record, it’s a vast difference when it comes to money won or money lost on those teams.
The primary reason for this is that the line is heavily influenced by the starting pitchers, as the oddsmakers know that many bettors are going to base their wagers on who starts the game. Teams with good pitchers are frequently going to be overpriced simply on the name of the starter.
Using the same criteria for the 2016 season, where there were again five teams in both the offensive and pitching top 10, the top five offensive teams had a combined 391-399 record for a loss of $569, while the top five pitching teams were 428-381 for a loss of $3,593. Again, the better pitching teams had a better record, but fared much worse in money won.
While this is far from being a definite look at the hitting or pitching debate, it does show that those who believe hitting is more important may very well be on the right track.