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Here's why scoring is down in MLB

April 26, 2022 07:40 PM
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The major-league baseball season started late because of the lockout, but there have already been some interesting happenings that bettors should keep in mind. Most bettors don’t data from the previous day’s games every morning like I do, and that makes it much easier to miss things. With that thought in mind, I’ll share some of my early observations.

I always like to compare the early results of a season against the same window of games in the previous season, especially when there are interesting changes in dynamics, like in this baseball season. That way, I can quickly snap out of the “what happened last year” mindset. It’s particularly important this year with the later start, the introduction of the PitchCom technology to prevent sign stealing, the full-time usage of a lighter ball designed to cut down on home runs and the universal designated hitter. 

The only way to know what influence those factors have had is to study the data. So, a quick snapshot of games through the first 2 1/2 weeks of the season (through April 25) reveals interesting statistics. 

Offense down significantly

Through 237 games, there have been just 8.04 runs scored per game. In 2021, through a similar time period at the start of the season, or the first 235 games, the average was 8.66 per game. This is a dramatic decline of 0.62 runs per game. 

Oddsmakers must have adjusted, right? WRONG. 

These are the average totals of the game samples from 2021 and 2022 from the similar season-opening periods: 

2021: 8.28 average total (results – 123 Unders, 106 Overs, 6 ties – 53.7% Under)

2022: 8.46 average total (results – 135 Unders, 89 Overs, 13 ties – 60.3% Under) 

For the first 237 games of 2022, if bettors wagered every game Under the total, they would be up + 37.45 units!

It appears that the ball change and giving pitchers the edge with the sign technology has had a massive impact on runs. I’ll look into another key offensive stat, the number of home runs hit: 

2021: 2.28 home runs per game

2022: 1.78 home runs per game 

Yes, home runs are down significantly in the early going. I believe this is a direct result of the ball change and PitchCom usage, and it doesn’t figure to change dramatically as the temperature heats up. In fact, I have had to apply my “Extreme Cold” offensive adjustment in only four games. It was about five times that many in the same period last year. 

It seems that bettors should invest in Unders until oddsmakers adjust. As of Monday, only three teams were averaging 5.0 runs per game or more:

1. Los Angeles Dodgers (5.46)

2. Chicago Cubs (5.25)

3. Cleveland (5.0) 

Nos. 2 and 3 are surprises, and I can’t imagine many bettors have been unloading their accounts on Over plays for those teams. 

At the same time, more than half the league, or 16 teams, was averaging 4.0 runs per game or fewer, including the Reds at a league-worst 2.69. 

Has the full-time designated hitter in the National League had any positive offensive impact? Yes and no. While NL scoring is down 0.39 runs per game from last year (8.17 RPG from 8.56 RPG), the decline isn’t as significant as the overall season numbers I showed earlier of 0.62 total runs per game. This seems to indicate that the ball and technology changes have had a bigger influence in the American League. Along with that, the teams with the greatest percentage of Unders on totals this season are from the AL East: 

1. Baltimore 13-2-1 Under (80%)

2. Boston 12-4 Under (75%) 

However, the only four teams in MLB that have gone Over the total more often than Under are also from the American League (Cleveland, Texas, Los Angeles Angels, Chicago White Sox). 

If you just read the last section with bewilderment about the NL Over/Under results, this is not a misprint. EVERY NATIONAL LEAGUE TEAM as of Monday had gone UNDER the total in at least 50% of its games, a dangerous oddity for sportsbooks. 

Early bullpen success

A natural result of the decreased offensive numbers has been the improved performance of bullpens. Through Sunday’s games, two-thirds of the league’s relievers boasted ERAs under 3.85 and WHIPs under 1.260. This despite strikeout numbers being down slightly compared with norms. In addition, there have been 13 fewer blown saves this season, compared with 2021. This means fewer games are changing hands in the late innings as more bullpens are able to get the job done. I’ll have more on some surprising bullpen upgrades and downgrades since opening day a little later. 

Standings observations

It’s still early, but a quick check of the standings offers some very revealing information: 

— For everyone expecting to see a tight four-team race again in the AL East, that grouping might wind up being three by September. Boston’s offense was expected to carry the load this year and is coming up woefully short, averaging just 3.6 runs per game. The Red Sox certainly don’t have the pitching to keep up with the Yankees, Rays or Blue Jays.

— The AL Central, for the most part, has been a disappointment. The Twins were leading the division at .500 but hadn’t demonstrated anything that figured to make them a real contender. In fact, they had been 5-8 before running into baseball’s biggest disappointment, the White Sox, over the weekend. That sweep dropped the Sox to three games under .500. Chicago, the division favorite, is already suffering from injury woes and a bullpen that has underperformed after they traded Craig Kimbrel to the Dodgers.

— The Mariners have been proving that 2021 was not a fluke, while the Angels’ pitching has been better than most pessimists feared. Oakland is also performing far better than the apocalyptic predictions made before opening day.

— The Mets could run away from the NL East if they get Jacob deGrom back. Their starting rotation is the best in baseball and they are one of the few teams getting more offense than was expected. Atlanta’s pitching, particularly if the bullpen fails to live up to 2021 standards, comes up far short of New York’s, and Philadelphia is also underperforming as the offense and ace Zack Wheeler have started slowly.

— Milwaukee’s pitching staff could be even more effective over the course of the 162-game season with the downgraded offensive numbers. The Brewers were four games over .500 as of Monday and hadn’t played that well yet. St. Louis is better than advertised as Nolan Arenado and, to a lesser degree, Albert Pujols have given the lineup a jolt, while the pitching staff is loaded with power arms. The rest of the NL Central figures to be looking up at the Crew and the Cards.

— A race between the Dodgers and Giants could be just as fun in 2022 as it was last summer, although the Rockies and Padres have made things interesting so far. The Rockies' 4-1 road record is an early revelation, and the Padres seem to be faring better minus the weight of intense expectations. 

Upgrades/downgrades to my strength ratings

Seeing as how I review every MLB game the next morning, I make adjustments to all of my strength ratings based on results and the betting markets. You can see current ratings of the strength chart provided each week in Point Spread Weekly and daily on VSiN.com, but to give you a feel for the teams and units that I feel have experienced the biggest upgrades or downgrades since opening day, here is a snapshot. The moves are based on their current MLB ranks compared with where they were when the season opened on April 7. 

Most improved teams/lineups/defense/misc.

1. San Francisco + 9 spots

2. Tampa Bay + 6 spots

3. San Diego + 6 spots

4. New York Yankees + 4 spots

5. Cleveland + 4 spots 

Keep in mind, I tend to lean a bit more conservative than many experts and my preseason numbers may revert more to norms than others, thus an attempt to explain the Giants’ downgrade at the outset. But they seem to be demonstrating that 2021 was not a fluke. 

Biggest downgrades to lineups/defense/misc.

1. Chicago White Sox -10 spots

2. Philadelphia -5 spots

3. Houston -5 spots

4. Boston -5 spots 

This is a collection of teams that is generally underperforming expectations to this point, and not coincidentally, all four lost key contributors in the offseason or to injury in the early going. 

Most improved in offensive rankings

1. Oakland + 13 spots

2. Colorado + 11 spots

3. Chicago Cubs + 10 spots

4. Texas + 9 spots 

These are four offenses that didn’t have a whole lot of expectations, yet have produced enough in the early going to make their teams competitive. 

Biggest declines in offensive rankings

1. Boston -14 spots

2. Minnesota -9 spots

3. Chicago White Sox -8 spots

4. New York Yankees -7 spots 

All four of these teams boast big-time power, but perhaps not coincidentally, have been affected most by the ball and technology changes. Their offenses are badly underperforming lofty expectations. 

Most improved starting rotation rankings

1. Minnesota + 6 spots

2. New York Yankees + 5 spots

3. Tampa Bay + 4 spots 

All three are getting better-than-expected contributions from the entirety of their starting rotations. Again, probably reflective of the changes I’ve mentioned several times. To make this short list, one or two starters are really off to unexpectedly good months, notably Dylan Bundy of the Twins and Luis Severino of the Yankees. 

Biggest declines in starting rotation rankings

1. Cincinnati -5 spots

2. St. Louis -4 spots

3. Chicago White Sox -4 spots

4. San Diego Padres -4 spots

5. New York Mets -4 spots 

The Reds and Cardinals no longer have ace-level pitchers, Lucas Giolito is the only White Sox pitcher off to a good start, the Padres’ rotation is in injury flux, and the Mets were bound to fall with deGrom being pulled from the ratings because he’s sidelined. 

Most improved bullpen rankings

1. Colorado + 8 spots

2. Detroit + 8 spots

3. St. Louis + 7 spots

4. Chicago Cubs + 7 spots

5. Baltimore + 7 spots 

For all five of these teams, the outlook for the relief corps was less than optimistic. But all five teams have produced good bullpen numbers so far. 

Biggest declines in bullpen rankings

1. Los Angeles Angels -12 spots

2. Chicago White Sox -10 spots

3. Philadelphia -10 spots

4. Minnesota -7 spots

Considering how good bullpens have been overall, these teams have underperformed. The Angels have been consistently giving up runs in the late innings, particularly in the last week. The White Sox’s bullpen, led by closer Liam Hendriks, is showing it may have been a little overrated last year. The Phillies relief corps has allowed at least one run in all but one of their 16 games, while the Twins bullpen has been good, aside from a brutal seven-game stretch in mid-April.

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