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Arizona-Colorado series not what it seems

Jeff Fogle
VSiN.com

One of the most exciting series possible right now in Major League Baseball begins Tuesday night when the Arizona Diamondbacks (44-26) visit the Colorado Rockies (46-26) to start a three-game set. Be sure you know the true strengths and weaknesses of these teams before making your final betting decisions.

MLB: Beware of grand illusions when evaluating the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies
It’s shaping up as a heck of a series. Not only are both teams having great seasons, but both have been on very nice runs lately. Each also possesses a tangible “we’re tired of losing and NOW is our time” kind of energy that hometown crowds have been very responsive to. They also share the following characteristics…

  • They both play in great hitting parks, with their home stadiums currently ranked #1 and #2 in park effects this season. (Arizona’s park has increased scoring by 39%, while Colorado’s park has increased scoring by 34%).
  • Their true strengths and weaknesses are hidden by that home park pollution.

More than a few series previews have mentioned the high run scoring counts for these offenses in 2017 without mentioning the part about park effects. ESPN’s preview noted “The Rockies lead the National League with 383 runs scored. Arizona is second (359).” 

Generally, when teams in great hitting parks do well, the media credits their offense because there are so many great individual stat lines. (The same thing is true in reverse when teams in great pitching parks do well…all the credit goes to their best pitchers and the bullpen). 

The fact is, the main reason those two offenses sit atop the NL in runs scored is because of their ballparks. If you look only at ROAD statistics…

  • Road On-base percentage: Colorado ranks only #7 in the NL with a mark of .322. Arizona’s performance in this important stat has been horrible, with just .298 registering #13 in the NL (only head of woeful Philadelphia and San Diego). 
  • Road Slugging percentage: Colorado drops to #8 in the NL with a mark of .406. Arizona is even worse, with their pathetic road slugging percentage of .379 ranking #14, and only besting Philadelphia.  

Once you get these offenses out of their home parks, Colorado drops down to league average (in the inferior of the two Major leagues), while Arizona has one of the worst road offenses in baseball. Yes, this approach can be a little warped because Colorado’s hitters don’t ever get to play “road” games in their own park, while everyone else gets a few games at altitude. Nor do Arizona hitters get to hit in the desert through this lens. At this point in the schedule, that’s not enough of a factor to change any conclusions you’d draw from the data. 

Colorado and Arizona aren’t setting the NL ablaze because they have great offenses. They lead the NL in scoring because they get so much help from their home parks. The Rockies and Diamondbacks are dominating the league because of their excellent pitching. That’s just harder to see when those pitchers have to throw so many of their innings in hitting paradises.

  • Road ERA: Arizona is #1 in the National League with a gaudy 3.19 performance thus far. Colorado is #2 in the league with 3.39. To give you some perspective for how dominant those numbers are. Only three NL teams have road ERA’s below 4.00 (these two plus the LA Dodgers…who also have a great record). The midpoint of the league is around 4.40. Five teams have road ERA’s greater than 5.00 (NY Mets, St. Louis, San Diego, Cincinnati San Francisco)!
  • Road WHIP: this is walks plus hits allowed per inning for the uninitiated…Colorado is #1 in the league with a 1.19 mark, while Arizona is #3 at 1.29. (All rankings reflect “entering the new week” because of publication deadlines).  

There are no perfect metrics in baseball. It’s surely possible that Arizona’s extreme home/road performance splits will regress. Maybe they’re not as helpless as Philadelphia and San Diego with the bats in normal conditions. We can at least say for now that it’s very unlikely they’re a great offense. Great offenses wouldn’t have such horrible “road only” stats this deep into the season. 

For now, it’s best to think of these teams going forward as:

  • Arizona: struggling offense but a great pitching staff
  • Colorado: mediocre offense but a great pitching staff

When they play each other, those live arms won’t be catching any breaks because every game will be played in a park that helps offenses. Here are the final scores from six earlier 2017 meetings between these two surprise Cinderellas…

In Arizona: 

  • Colorado won by scores of 3-1 and 7-6, while losing a 2-0 decision in 13 innings

In Colorado:

  • Colorado won by scores of 5-2 and 9-1, while losing by a score of 6-3

That’s an average of 7.2 runs per game at the end of nine innings, well below the norms for both of these stadiums. 

Because this is such a big series, let’s run our “three true outcomes” data for the probable pitchers. 

Tuesday

  • Zach Greinke: 29.1% K’s, 5.3% walks, 1.3 HR/9, 3.10 xFIP
  • German Marquez: 21.5% K’s, 9.3% walks, 1.0 HR/9, 4.49 xFIP

Greinke has regained his best career form thus far, and is certainly on the short list of Cy Young candidates if the D-backs can continue playing at a high level. Marquez is a bit better than those numbers suggest due to home park influences. Only allowing one home run every nine innings when you play half your games in Colorado is tough to pull off. 

Wednesday

  • Tajuan Walker: 21.2% K’s, 7.8% walks, 0.6 HR/9, 4.10 xFIP
  • Jeff Hoffman: 28.4% K’s, 4.7% walks, 0.8 HR/9, 3.82 xFIP

Hoffman has only had a handful of starts, so that Clayton Kershaw like K/BB data is likely to fall back to earth. Great HR marks here…proving that you can win a lot of games if you can keep opponents from exploiting your home park’s tendencies. 

Thursday

  • Zack Godley: 22.6% K’s, 8.2% walks, 0.5 HR/9, 3.32 xFIP
  • Antonio Senzatela: 17.6% K’s, 7.0% walks, 1.4 HR/9, 4.32 xFIP

If either of these pitchers played in a media center, they’d be getting more positive press. That’s good news for bettors because we want ESPN to miss major stories like what’s happening with these franchises in 2017. Both have been making money for their backers hand over fist. 

Note that Arizona/Colorado is the only series in play Tuesday night matching teams who both currently have winning records. 

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers part ways with general manager David Griffin!
A shocking development in the NBA Monday night. Amidst all the chatter about the Cleveland Cavaliers acquiring either Paul George from the Indiana Pacers, or Jimmy Butler from the Chicago Bulls, the franchise parted ways with general manager David Griffin.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN was first to report the story. More details will surely come out Tuesday. Be sure to watch Mitch and Pauly on “Follow the Money” beginning Tuesday at 2 p.m. ET, 11 a.m. here in Las Vegas for the latest. In the meantime, additional reading:

ESPN’s news article with a video discussing ramifications
An informative summary from Business Insider Sports
A local take from CBS-Cleveland
The official statement from NBA.com
Adrian Wojnarowski of the Vertical on Chauncey Billups' potential new role for the Cavs

Cleveland entered the week at even money to win the Eastern Conference, 7/2 to win the 2018 NBA title at the South Point. This news isn’t likely to influence those odds much. But, fallout could loom very large over the NBA landscape in coming weeks depending LeBron James’ response to this shocking development. 

More throughout the day on VSiN broadcasts!

NFL: New England likely to dominate AFC East again
Last week we provided brief team capsules for everyone in the NFC. This week, we go division-by-division in the AFC. We start with the home of the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots…the AFC East. 

New England Patriots
2017 Regular Season Win Estimate: 12.5 (Under -120)
Odds to win AFC: 3/2
Odds to win Super Bowl: 11/5

2016 Record: 14-2 
Yards-per-Play: 5.9 on offense, 5.2 allowed
Third Down Conversions: 46% on offense, 37% allowed

Passing: 8.1 yards-per-pass attempt, 32 TD’s, 2 interceptions thrown
Pass defense: 6.8 yards-per-pass attempt, 21 TD’s allowed, 13 interceptions 

Defensive Impact: 23 takeaways, 34 sacks

To the degree something about the most prominent team in the NFL can be “under” publicized, New England’s defense sure deserved a lot more credit than it was getting last year for that championship run. Yes, Tom Brady is a Hall-of-Famer and in the discussion for best ever. And, yes, a 32/2 TD/INT ratio is something to rave about! But, think about what this defense accomplished against a schedule that spent the whole season playing catch up. The Pats basically had Minnesota or Arizona’s stellar pass defense, while ALSO having Tom Brady running their offense. No wonder they went 14-2, and are positioned to make another run at a high victory count. This was a complete team in 2016, and early Vegas money expects the same in 2017.

Miami Dolphins
2017 Regular Season Win Estimate: 7.5 (Under -115)
Odds to win AFC: 12/1
Odds to win Super Bowl: 30/1

2016 Record: 10-6 
Yards-per-Play: 5.8 on offense, 5.6 allowed
Third Down Conversions: 37% on offense, 36% allowed

Passing: 7.8 yards-per-pass attempt, 27 TD’s, 15 interceptions thrown
Pass defense: 6.9 yards-per-pass attempt, 30 TD’s allowed, 16 interceptions 

Defensive Impact: 25 takeaways, 33 sacks

While the Dolphins didn’t strike many observers as a “legitimate” 10-win team a year ago (which is why their ’17 Win Estimate has them below .500), the stat differentials aren’t showing many skeletons in the closet. They had positive marks on both YPP and third downs, while posting almost a yard more per pass attempt. The fact that they allowed more TD passes than they threw is disturbing in that light. Can they take a step forward from ’16? The market is expecting about two steps back. 

Buffalo Bills
2017 Regular Season Win Estimate: 6.5 (Over -125)
Odds to win AFC: 35/1
Odds to win Super Bowl: 75/1

2016 Record: 7-9 
Yards-per-Play: 5.6 on offense, 5.6 allowed
Third Down Conversions: 41% on offense, 40% allowed

Passing: 6.9 yards-per-pass attempt, 17 TD’s, 7 interceptions thrown
Pass defense: 7.5 yards-per-pass attempt, 19 TD’s allowed, 12 interceptions 

Defensive Impact: 18 takeaways, 39 sacks

Year-to-year stats often don’t mean much amidst upheaval. When the dust settles, you have to assume that the conservative passing offense will be revamped in a way that will increase both TD passes and interceptions. The market sees this as the third worst team in the AFC this season (only the Jets below, and Cleveland at 250/1 have worse Futures prices than Buffalo’s 125/1). 

NY Jets
2017 Regular Season Win Estimate: 4.5 (Over -120)
Odds to win AFC: 50/1
Odds to win Super Bowl: 125/1

2016 Record: 5-11 
Yards-per-Play: 5.3 on offense, 5.5 allowed
Third Down Conversions: 36% on offense, 40% allowed

Passing: 6.6 yards-per-pass attempt, 16 TD’s, 25 interceptions thrown
Pass defense: 7.5 yards-per-pass attempt, 30 TD’s allowed, 8 interceptions 

Defensive Impact: 14 takeaways, 27 sacks

There are early indicators that the ’17 Jets may be in the tank already. That looked to have started last season. You see a very passive defense in those numbers…with low counts in takeaways and sacks while making the composite opposing quarterback look like a star. Remember how great Derek Carr of Oakland played last season? His TD/INT ratio was 28/6. The Jets made everyone look like Derek Carr. On offense, their passing game was one of only three to show a negative differential in TD/INT count (Rams and Texans were the others). The new Browns.

We’ll talk about those Browns tomorrow when we study the AFC North. The South and West will follow Thursday and Friday. 

That wraps up Tuesday in VSiN City. Don’t forget that the daily betting sheets from the South Point are included with any free subscription. Click here to arrange morning email delivery. If you haven’t followed us on twitter yet, you can take care of that here. Questions and comments about daily programming or this newsletter are welcomed. Please drop us a note!

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