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A diamond gem in Boston

Jeff Fogle
VSiN.com

redsox
Christian Vazquez hit a three-run homer with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning to boost the Red Sox to victory.
© USA Today Sports Images

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Sweet come-from-behind (BAH-BAH-BAH)…baseball never seemed so good…(So good! So good! So good!). Boston outslugs Cleveland in game-of-the-year nominee.

MLB: Red Sox (-165) rally from down 5-0, 7-5, and 10-9 in the ninth to win Diamond thriller
What a game! It’s already amazing enough that the potential playoff preview between the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox was such a see-saw affair.

  • Cleveland blew 5-0 lead
  • Cleveland blew a 7-5 lead
  • Boston blew a 9-7 lead (9-8 in the ninth)
  • Cleveland blew a 10-9 lead in the bottom of the ninth

All that…with two of the best starting pitchers in the majors on the mound…and THEN two of the best bullpens in baseball backing them up. The Over/Under was SEVEN! It went Over in the bottom of the second, and the 22-run two-team salute to tenacity ultimately more than tripled the market number. 

Condolences to Indians fans and backers. That was a very tough loss. At least Kansas City also lost Tuesday night (7-2 in Baltimore), so Cleveland stood pat atop the AL Central. Boston moved back into first place over the New York Yankees (a 4-3 loser to Detroit). Yes, a 3-run homer in the bottom of the ninth to win a game AND retake first place in the AL East.

Games over or under .500

  • AL East: Boston plus 10, NY Yankees plus 9, Tampa Bay plus 2, Baltimore -2
  • AL Central: Cleveland plus 9, Kansas City plus 5

There’s a lot of baseball left to be played in 2017. This may go down as a minor footnote if neither team is able to mount a deep postseason charge. For now, on one night in August, fans and bettors were treated to unforgettable baseball thrills from a pair of elite teams. Something worth singing about

MLB: Wednesday previews for AL contender showdowns
There are four games on the Wednesday night card that match teams who are either in the thick of the playoff chase, or…in the case of Baltimore and Texas…not yet so far out that they’ve thrown in the towel. Let’s run our preview stats for those games. The league rankings we use for offense is from weighted-runs-created-plus, which is ideal because it’s park-adjusted. We use rankings in reliever xFIP for bullpens, which is a fielding-independent measure designed to use the same scale as ERA. (All stats from the amazing fangraphs site.)

Kansas City at Baltimore

  • Offense (wRC-plus): Kansas City #15 in AL, Baltimore #9 in AL
  • Bullpen (xFIP): Kansas City #9 in AL, Baltimore #12 in AL
  • Wednesday: Vargas (4.91 xFIP) vs. Hellickson (5.38 xFIP for the Phillies)
  • Early Line: Pick-em, total of 10 (Under -120)

Vargas only has an ERA of 3.00, so he’s apparently been pitching in extreme good fortune this season (helped by leaving almost 84% of runners on base). Hellickson struggled badly through 20 starts in the National League. He’s not likely to thrive while stepping into a pennant race. But he is facing an offense that looks to have cooled off by the Chesapeake. KC will try to avoid a sweep against a vulnerable arm. 

Cleveland at Boston

  • Offense (wRC-plus): Cleveland #3 in AL, Boston #12 in AL
  • Bullpen (xFIP): Cleveland #1 in AL, Boston #4 in AL
  • Wednesday: Bauer (3.73 xFIP) vs. Porcello (4.33 xFIP)
  • Early Line: Boston -125, total of 10

Bauer’s ERA is well over five, so he’s been pitching in bad luck...confirmed by a .345 batting average allowed on balls in play (way above average) and only a 68% strand rate. Cleveland’s dropped the first two games, and doesn’t want to get swept before they head home for a huge four-game series with the Yankees. They won’t be able to match Tuesday night’s thriller. Will both bullpens be shell-shocked? 

Seattle at Texas

  • Offense (wRC-plus): Seattle #6 in AL, Texas #10 in AL
  • Bullpen (xFIP): Seattle #10 in AL, Texas #11 in AL
  • Wednesday: Miranda (5.19 xFIP) vs. Cashner (5.26 xFIP)
  • Early Line: Pick-em, total of 11

Both pitchers have better ERA’s thanks to some good fortune. But the market has anticipated Over sentiment with that high opening total. Gives us a chance to remind you that Texas has an unimpressive offense this year once you adjust for playing home games in a good scoring park. Bleak outlook the rest of the way without Darvish…as this team is below average on offense and in the bullpen. Seattle’s quietly picked up two games on the Royals in the Wildcard race. 

Tampa Bay at Houston

  • Offense (wRC-plus): Tampa Bay #4 in AL, Houston #1 in AL
  • Bullpen (xFIP): Tampa Bay #8 in AL, Houston #2 in AL
  • Wednesday: Pruitt (4.06 xFIP) vs. Keuchel (2.98 xFIP)
  • Early Line: Houston -200, total of 9 Under -125

Keuchel has only made 12 starts this season. Keeping him healthy and sharp is going to be a priority for the Astros heading into October. Because, no matter how good this offense is (and its #1 ranking is far clear of the AL field), you can’t count on going the distance by winning high scoring playoff shootouts. Not the rubber game because this series has a fourth entry Thursday. 

MLB: Dodgers and Astros vs. the field? What does analytics say about the right price?
If you’ve been watching “A Numbers Game” with Gill Alexander this week, you’ve heard the host talk to oddsmakers Jimmy Vaccaro and Vinny Magliulo about a potential World Series Championship betting prop that would featuring the combination of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros vs. the field. 

Both oddsmakers agreed that “the field” (which includes Boston, Cleveland, the NY Yankees, Washington, and the Chicago Cubs) would be the favorite. Even though the Dodgers and Astros are the two biggest individual favorites at most sportsbooks, they’re still outnumbered in the big picture. Last night we showed you that the Westgate had Houston and LA’s World Series win percentage equivalents at a combined 47%. But that was on a scale that would soar up near (120%) because of the house edge. So, it wasn’t as close to a coin flip as you may have been thinking.

The “cool standings” page at fangraphs has an assessment that can be used to help us formulate a real-world “no-vig” estimate. They have it…

LA Dodgers 19.3%
Houston 15.8% 
Everyone Else 64.9%

A bit of a surprise…but the fangraphs model knows postseason play can be a real crapshoot because it’s so hard for teams to score when it’s only frontline pitchers on the mound. Among the “others” are Cleveland at 15.5%, the Cubs at 13.8%, Boston at 11.5%, Washington at 10.4%, and the Yankees at 5.3%.

When you divide 64.9% by 35.1%, you get 1.85, which means a no-vig price of -185. That’s higher than what the oddsmakers were suggesting (and certainly higher than what Gill would lay even with his belief that Cleveland offers the best value to go all the way at the moment). 

What would YOU make the price if you were booking? What would you have to see to bet either side of the prop? Is the market right that the Dodgers should be higher than what fangraphs is giving them credit for? Should be fun to play around with as the summer progresses.

MLB: Handicapping tutorial on stat evaluation
Today in our weekly Wednesday handicapping tutorial, let’s talk about a “shortcut” too many analysts use when evaluating pitchers. If you’re of a certain age, you got in the habit of scanning your morning newspaper to get your baseball fix. You’d glance at the standings, scour the boxscores, and look through the stats listed for that day’s “probable pitchers.” You’d naturally form expectations by what you read. 

One of the most misleading stats from those pitching forms was ERA over the last three starts. Not only was there a tendency for readers to turn handicapping into roulette (a pitcher who was great over his last three starts was “hot” to some readers, or “due to have a bad game” to others), but ERA itself over such a small sample can paint a misleading picture.

Imagine for a moment, we have a pitcher who just posted these performance lines in his last three starts...

Start One: 6 innings pitched, only 1 earned run allowed
Start Two: 3 innings pitched, with 6 earned runs allowed
Start Three: 7 innings pitched, with 2 earned runs allowed

You’d see that he had an ERA of 5.06 over his last three starts, while pitching just a total of 16 innings (barely over 5 IP per start). That’s bad. But is that pitcher really struggling?

  • He had two very sharp quality starts in three outings
  • Those two quality starts were so good his team probably won

You want to bet on pitchers who put their teams in position to win two games in three! Not avoid them because one lemon messed up his recent stats. 

Or…what if that bad outing (3 IP with 6 ER) came at altitude in Colorado? As long as he’s not pitching in Colorado you’d want to back him. What if that bad outing came against an offensive juggernaut, but tonight he’s pitching against a weak offense. You’re going to lay off a pitcher who’s proven he can shut people down more often than not because of an ERA over five in his last three outings? 

The first lesson here is STOP USING SHORTCUTS. Look at larger sample sizes and be aware of context. But if you’re not convinced yet that the general “analytics” approach of studying “skill sets” (ability to strikeout hitters, while avoiding walks and home runs) is the way to go, at least use “medians” rather than “averages” when evaluating the stats of pitchers or teams. 

Focusing on midpoints in our sample above would give you 6 IP, 2 ER, and a subsequent ERA of 3.00. That’s a better representation of that night’s expectations than an ERA of 5.04. 

This general principal is true in all sports. If a football team has scored 14, 16, 17, 21, and 48 in its last five games…that’s an average of 23.2. But they’re not really “likely” to score 23 points the next time out, are they? They scored 21 or less 80% of the time. Their median (midpoint) was only 17. That one outlier when everything went their way against what was probably an out-manned opponent created illusions. 

Here’s a mental puzzle you can play with. Imagine two basketball teams are playing each other in a neutral court series. The victory margins for the superior team so far have been, 3, 5, and 16 points. That’s an average win of 8 points per game. Do you make the pointspread Favorite -8 in the fourth game? Seems too high since the dog stayed within eight pretty easily twice already. The margin in the outlier has warped the overall average. If these teams kept performing to that trio of results in perpetuity, the dog would cover plus eight 67% of the time. Using the median of Favorite -5 would split betting results evenly. 

A point spread can be thought of as the median of likely future results for a game. A moneyline is a representation of the median for future straight up win percentages for a game. Using medians when evaluating baseball pitchers or offenses will help square up your mindset with the betting market. 

If you have any handicapping or sports betting topics you’d like us to discuss, drop us a note or post a Facebook comment in the widget below today’s edition of VSiN City.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals will rest starters Thursday, go with Blaine Gabbert and Trevor Knight at quarterback in HOF game
Though sports bettors may be excited that football is back on the card, Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians isn’t thrilled with having to play a game so close to the start of training camp. Arians announced Tuesday that he wouldn’t play ANY starters in Thursday night’s Hall of Fame game against the Dallas Cowboys. At the quarterback position, he’s sitting both first team (Carson Palmer) and second-team (Drew Stanton) signal callers. 

Blaine Gabbert is expected to play the first half at QB, with Trevor Knight playing the second half.

Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett hasn’t yet been as open with his quarterback plans. But he did announce that a handful of players wouldn’t even make the trip. Click here for a rundown.

Betting markets reacted quickly, but not dramatically to the news. A game that was a solid pick-em across the board moved to Dallas -1. It’s not like Dallas is likely to play its best athletes more than a series! The Over/Under dropped from a high around 37 to a fairly solid 35. 

Tough to preview a game with so many backups. Let’s at least take a look at these teams’ odds to win their respective divisions at the South Point.

NFC East
Dallas plus 110 (48% win equivalent)
NY Giants 12/5 (29%)
Philadelphia 7/2 (22%)
Washington 6/1 (17%)

NFC West
Seattle -350 (78%)
Arizona plus 325 (23%)
LA Rams 12/1 (8%)
San Francisco 35/1 (3%)

Another reminder that sports books bake vigorish into future prices to create a house edge. That’s why the percentage equivalents soar past the 100% mark in both divisions. Many sharps prefer attacking Regular Season Win Totals (particularly if they’re betting Unders) because finding true value can be difficult with futures. 

We’ll update any HOF news for you Thursday here in VSiN City, then run the boxscore numbers for you Friday morning to give you a sense of what’s ahead on the field next week when the rest of the NFL joins the fun. 

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See you Thursday.

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