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Make adjustments in using ballpark effects in handicapping MLB

By Jeff Fogle  (VSiN.com) 

May 12, 2019 07:48 PM

In recent weeks, VSiN has talked about key stats for evaluating offenses (team on-base percentage), and starting pitchers (innings pitched per start, K-Rates, and home run rates at the expense of often-misleading earned run averages).

Today, we’re going to zoom back a bit and talk about the big picture impact of ballpark effects.

It’s important that handicappers realize the effect that ballparks have on run production. Oddsmakers and sharps know! Whenever casual bettors are thinking that an Over/Under is too high or too low, it’s often because they haven’t taken ballpark influences into account.

How can you find this kind of information? Easy! ESPN’s ballpark factors will bring you to a chart that shows what’s been happening this season for all 30 Major League stadiums. Of course, that’s still a fairly small sample size. It’s best to look back over multiple seasons for better perspective. 

The problem with that approach right now is that there’s strong evidence a change baseball construction is causing fly balls to soar further than in 2018. It’s not technically right to call them “juiced balls” because they haven’t been injected with anything. But they’re more aerodynamically friendly to distance. 

We saw the same thing two seasons ago in 2017. For now, it’s probably best to combine early 2019 ballpark data with 2017 ballpark data (using the “pulldown” on ESPN’s web page), throwing out 2018.

Why do it that way? Because home runs are playing an important role in determining daily side and total results. Winning bettors need to know which ballparks are most likely to see long fly balls soar over the fence…and which can still keep them in the park because of dimensions or weather dynamics. 

Have you been doing that in your handicapping? Or, are you locked in to an old way of doing things…hoping to latch onto streaks or assuming ERA is all you need to know to evaluate a pitcher? This week, think about studying baseball from the following perspective…

  • Look at the home run skills of each offense (making sure to note when long ball hitters are out of the lineup because of injuries or rest). 
  • Look at the home run prevention skill sets of each starting pitcher (stats are easy to find at fangraphs.com or any other in-depth website). 
  • Look at the home run characteristics of bullpens (particularly if mediocre long relievers are likely to see action because the starter won’t go more than 4-5 innings. 
  • Look at the home run characteristics of each game’s ballpark. 

VSiN trusts you’ll know what to do if you find a slugging offense facing fly ball pitchers in a great home run park…or if you find an anemic offense facing a home run-averse pitcher in tough scoring conditions. 

You don’t need a degree in physics to pick baseball winners. But you do need a better awareness of what’s causing wins and losses in current conditions. Ignore park effects…and your bankroll will be going, going, gone.

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