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Long ball is back, analytics suggest

By Jeff Fogle  ( 

April 9, 2019 01:39 AM

Baseball Prospectus published an article last Friday that hardball handicappers and bettors should pay very close attention to. Its title says it all, “Moonshot: The Baseball is Juiced (Again)”

Author Robert Arthur is the analytics writer who helped expose the dramatic impact that a change in ball construction had on increased home run totals back in 2017. Long ball numbers returned to relative normalcy in 2018, on what was assumed to be a transition back to prior ball construction. So far in 2019, BOOM. 

Key quote: “At least so far, the baseball has played like it’s much more aerodynamic than it was last year. In fact, the current drag coefficient is really only comparable to 2017, when the baseballs were more aerodynamic than they had been in at least a decade.”

That was before the Mets out-homered the Washington Nationals 5-2 Saturday in a 6-5 victory, and before those same two teams played a 21-run slugfest Sunday (in a great pitchers’ park) that more than tripled the market Over/Under of six in a projected duel started by Max Scherzer and Zach Wheeler. 

Needless to say, if you’ve grown comfortable betting baseball Unders for full games, 5-inning propositions, and team totals…or just the “no” on whether a run will be scored in the first inning…you may want to re-evaluate your process. 

VSiN isn’t suggesting you only bet Overs. Not every offense is lighting up the scoreboard. Not every pitcher is flailing as badly as the Boston Red Sox starting rotation (it was Game 10 before a Sox starter didn’t allow a home run in his appearance!). Just remember that the math has shaded up from last season, at least with the current batch of baseballs in use.

Smart bettors should spend time studying…

  • The weather: Cold weather tends to hamper home run totals for a variety of reasons. We could include “visual conditions” too, because domes or temporarily roofed stadiums can hamper visibility. It’s harder to hit home runs if you can’t see the ball well. You can bet more aggressively on offenses in good hitting conditions.
  • The ballparks: It makes more sense to ask for run scoring explosions in the friendliest “band box” parks, less so in spacious stadiums where further fly balls just end up as outs on the warning track. Re-familiarize yourself with park effects.
  • The home run tendencies of starting pitchers: There are many statistical sites online that allow you to study ground/ball fly ball ratios of all Major League Pitchers, and the percentage of fly balls that turn into homers. Laying odds with home run-prone starting pitchers just doesn’t make any sense right now.
  • The home run capabilities of each offense: Weak hitting teams won’t benefit as much as those with wall-to-wall slugging. Power offenses playing in home-run friendly conditions will be great bets at underdog or cheap favorite prices.

No reason to stubbornly swim upstream with past betting strategies that may not be well-suited to the current reality. If baseballs are destined to continue soaring out of stadiums, bet accordingly.

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