Have you adjusted your handicapping for juiced ball?

April 13, 2019 03:31 PM

It became a hot topic very quickly in baseball betting circles. Beginning opening day, home run rates skyrocketed from 2018 levels back to the very high “juiced ball” numbers of 2017. Hopefully you’ve made some adjustments.

New York Mets pitchers will have to make some adjustments. The Mets are matched up against the Atlanta Braves in this week’s “Sunday Night Baseball” attraction (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET). Recent history suggests that this starting rotation might be particularly vulnerable in high home run environments.

Let’s go in rotation order from the start of the season…

  • Jacob deGrom had a fantastic 2018, allowing only 10 home runs in 32 starts. Do you remember what happened back in 2017? He allowed 28 home runs in 31 starts. In 2019, deGrom has allowed six home runs in first three starts. If the quirky “ball construction” issue from 2017 is back in play, we’re talking about a high-priced betting pitcher who might allow a homer per game for the foreseeable future. Handle with caution because of his respectful money lines.
  • Noah Syndergaard didn’t pitch much back in 2017, which prevents us from making a meaningful comparison. He only allowed nine home runs in 25 starts in 2018. He’s allowed two homers in his first three starts this season. Keep an eye on him.
  • Zack Wheeler appears to be vulnerable. He only allowed 14 homers in 29 starts last season. About one every other start. Back in 2017, it was closer to one per start, 15 dingers in 17 outings.
  • Steven Matz oddly didn’t have much of a drop in home run rate last season, moving from 12 homers in 13 starts back in 2017 to 25 homers in 30 starts in 2018. Another potential trouble spot given those ratios.
  • Jason Vargas has always been prone to allowing long balls, with a high of 35 back in 2012 as a Seattle Mariner. He’s certainly not going to be helped if drag coefficients are helping hitters. Back in 2017, he allowed 27 homers in 32 starts for Kansas City.

If you’re going to be betting Mets games this season as a fan or value-hunter, be sure you’re focusing on how the skill sets of key players fit this current environment. Stats and trends from 2018 may not matter one iota.

What pitching stats should you look at beyond home runs allowed? Fangraphs.com posts flyball-to-groundball ratios for every pitcher, as well as home runs per fly ball allowed. Obviously pitchers prone to putting runners on base before dingers will be in deeper trouble than those who just allow occasional solo shots. Remember to check on WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched).

Bullpens have already evolved to become more important than ever. If 2019 dynamics reduce the number of innings that starting pitchers can go, you’ll want to start devoting time to evaluating middle relievers. Over/Unders will be won or lost based on who does or doesn’t allow home runs from innings five through nine.

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