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Mastering the odds at Augusta falls on Johnson and his back

Jeff Fogle
VSiN.com

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All eyes will be on Dustin Johnson (specifically, his back) during Thursday's first round of the Masters.
© USA Today Sports Images

Today in VSiN City we discuss the Masters golf tournament, the masters of the NBA’s Eastern Conference, and MLB masters of the mound. All to help you master the sports betting universe.

Back injury to world #1 Dustin Johnson could open up Masters chase
News broke late Wednesday afternoon Augusta time that pre-Masters favorite Dustin Johnson had injured his back in a fall at his rental home. Global betting markets reacted instantly as offshore sportsbooks were quick to pull head-to-head matchups. Jeff Sherman at the Westgate in Las Vegas lowered his futures price on Johnson from 11-5 to 7-1, while lifting both Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth up to 7-1 from 15-2. 

Johnson’s very late scheduled starting time of 2:03 p.m. ET Thursday should allow him to get his back loosened up. His agent told the media Wednesday the injury was “muscular” in nature rather than a bruise or contusion. That extra time comes in very handy since temperatures were forecast to be cool early in the morning. DJ’s time flips to the morning Friday, but he’s still in the last group off at 10:56 AM Eastern if he can play through to the second day. 

Note that virtual market-wide co-favorites (if DJ can’t go) Spieth and McIlroy tee off at 10:34 a.m. ET and 1:41 p.m. ET respectively Thursday. That gives Spieth a chance to set an early pace before McIlroy takes the course. On Friday, their times flip exactly…with McIlroy going at 10:34 a.m. ET Spieth’s first strike set for 1:41 p.m. ET.

Some reading for your Thursday morning warm-up…
Matt Youmans with selections and in-depth website exclusive to VSiN
The news bulletin from Wednesday outlining what happened to DJ
Key statistical indicators for Masters’ success compiled by Golfweek
Stats from the PGA Tour on “bogey avoidance, a category recommended by Dave Tindal to Gill Alexander on “A Numbers Game” earlier this week. 

Hope you enjoy what’s shaping up as a dramatic and…according to the forecast…windy first day at Augusta!

Hey, look who’s back?! LeBron and Cleveland re-establish order 
Deja’ vu a week to the day. Last Wednesday, the four-point underdog Golden State Warriors found their championship form on the road against “second best” in the West San Antonio on night two of a back-to-back. That 110-98 victory felt so one-sided down the stretch that drama seemed to literally drip away from the upcoming playoffs. 

Last night, the four-point underdog Cleveland Cavaliers did the same on the road against “second best” in the East Boston on night two of a back-to-back. Cleveland jumped way ahead early and coasted to a 114-91 blowout. 

Does this mean the next several weeks are a mere formality? That we’re destined for the third straight summer of Golden State vs. Cleveland in the NBA finals? If Cleveland plays like THIS, as Marv Albert would say…yes!

Cleveland (plus 4) 114, Boston 91

  • Two-point shooting: Cleveland 57%, Boston 54%
  • Three-pointers: Cleveland 11/36, Cleveland 7/33
  • Rebounding: Cleveland 51, Boston 38
  • Turnovers: Cleveland 10, Boston 13
  • Estimated Possessions: 95 

LeBron James was 13 of 18 on two-point shots, and 7 of 7 from the free throw line. Basically, “peak playoff” LeBron who attacks the basket and dares people to stop him. He had a plus-minus for the night of plus 32, with 36 points and 10 rebounds. Let other people worry about the regular season MVP. It’s time to start thinking about the PLAYOFFS!

Big edge on the boards for the Cavs. And, they did a great job of denying great looks around the arc…which has been an issue for them when take their foot off the gas. 

(Note that we had a transcription error in yesterday’s game preview in the category of Rebound Rate. Boston is a poor rebounding team, while Cleveland is slightly above average for the season. Apologies.)

Very tough now to be optimistic about Boston’s chances to dethrone the Cavs in the East. Sure, Cleveland won’t play this well every time out. And, even in the playoffs, Cleveland has a way of making their path more interesting than it needs to be. But…the Celtics won’t be positioned like this again…fresh as a daisy in front of a home crowd smelling blood against a tired Cavs team in a back-to-back. Confidence killer. 

Boston does still have a chance to grab the #1 seed. They’ll need some help. The Celtics trail Cleveland by one game with four to go. Though, it’s more like two because Cleveland owns the tie-breaker. 

Last 4 games for both:

  • Cleveland: vs. Atlanta, at Atlanta, at Miami, vs. Toronto
  • Boston: at Atlanta, at Charlotte, vs. Brooklyn, vs. Milwaukee

Elsewhere in NBA, Miami forges 3-way tie at bottom of East brackets
The Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, and Indiana Pacers all want to make the NBA Playoffs. Only two will break into the brackets amidst a three-way tie at 38-40 for the #7 and #8 seeds. Miami joined the deadlock with a 112-99 win over Charlotte Wednesday.

Miami (plus 2.5) 112, Charlotte 99

  • Three-pointers: Miami 21/40, Charlotte 8/25
  • Rebounds: Miami 40, Charlotte 36
  • Estimated possessions: about 89 (very slow, deliberate style)

Charlotte was in danger of making the playoffs themselves entering the night. They fall 2.5 games behind the logjam with this loss. You don’t get the sense the Hornets were battling to extend the season given how many open looks Miami got around the arc. Note also that Charlotte only forced eight turnovers. A final of 112-99 is a high scoring game for such a low pace. Nine straight Overs for the Hornets, by the way. Not much defense from either side (Miami let Charlotte shoot 51% on two-pointers and only had six takeaways themselves. That monstrous 21 of 40 night on treys sealed the win for the Heat. 

Miami may need to keep hitting bombs to survive the weekend. They visit Eastern powers Toronto (Friday) and Washington (Saturday). Chicago visits distant also-rans Philadelphia (Thursday) and Brooklyn (Saturday). Indiana has a home game with Milwaukee (Thursday) before visiting slumping Orlando (Saturday).

Also in the quest to qualify for the playoffs…

Detroit, who doesn’t seem to be questing all that hard, was in danger of sneaking back into playoff range until losing the fourth quarter 37-22 at home to Toronto in a 105-102 defeat. Detroit falls to 2-10 straight up its last 12, with the wins coming over tanking Phoenix and not-very-good Brooklyn (by a point). The Pistons are three games behind the logjam at the bottom of the East brackets with five games to play. If they had just won the games they were favored to win since March 17 they’d be the #5 seed. 

Denver fell a full-game behind Portland for the #8 seed in the West in a hard-fought 110-104 loss to Houston as a 7-point underdog. Valiant effort on night two of a back-to-back that was also the end of a five-game road trip. Those tired legs showed up in the three-point shooting category. Denver was just 7 of 38 from long range. They covered anyway! Two home games coming up for the Nuggets (New Orleans and OKC) before they finish with two road games (Dallas and OKC on the last two nights of the season).

MLB betting markets spell “cash” with a K
If you’ve started paying attention to the biggest baseball line moves every day (which makes sense since all eight won Monday and Tuesday!), you probably noticed that there was a lot of respect for Miguel Pineda and the New York Yankees Wednesday night against Alex Cobb and the Tampa Bay Rays. 

Cobb and the Rays opened around -110 to -115. The visiting Yankees were bet all the way from a short dog to a road favorite in the low -130’s. 

This is a helpful reminder that the most influential elements of modern betting markets place a lot of emphasis on the ability for starting pitchers to get strikeouts. It’s these pitchers that have the most control over their own destiny over a large sample size. It’s these pitchers that can have the great impact on whether opponents score runs or not. Offenses can’t score if they can’t put the ball in play. 

Last year’s K-Rates

  • Pineda: 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings
  • Cobb: 6.6 strikeouts per nine innings

Cobb is much more at the mercy of opposing bats. Pineda is much more likely to send hitters back to the dugout sulking. 

Now, it doesn’t always work. Pineda struggled Wednesday night in a 4-1 loss. Sometimes a high strikeout pitcher gets wild and puts too many hitters on base via walk. Sometimes a slugger connects and takes one over the wall (Pineda allowed a HR in the first inning). But, over time, sharp market influences have indicated with their money that they believe it’s a smart percentage strategy to back hurlers who “miss bats” as opposed to those who pitch to contact.

  • If a pitcher you’re not familiar with is getting surprising market respect out of the gate, it’s very likely because he had great K-rates in the minor leagues. 
  • If a pitcher is getting priced more attractively than his won-lost record or ERA might suggest, it’s very likely because he currently has a strong K-rate that suggests success moving forward.
  • If a pitcher on a mediocre or bad team is priced near pick-em or as a small favorite over a pitcher on a superior team, it’s almost universal that the pitcher on the lesser side has a much better K-rate than his favored opponent. 

If you’re new to handicapping baseball…be sure you’re aware of each starting pitcher’s strikeout rate every night. It’s worth that extra time to track down. If you prepare well in advance, you can get in front of the market by betting superior K pitchers on the openers. This creates the potential for arbitrage scenarios where you can get each team in a game at an underdog return to squeeze out a few cents of automatic profit. 

For those of you who like reading boxscores in your morning newspaper over breakfast, be sure you scan the pitching lines to see which starting hurlers are getting strikeouts, and which aren’t. As this becomes second nature to you, you’ll have a much better understanding of what makes baseball betting markets tick. (If you do that Thursday morning, you’ll notice Pineda had more strikeouts in 3.2 innings and 71 pitches than Cobb did in 5.2 innings and 90 pitches! If these pitchers go heads-up again, the market will likely keep giving Pineda the benefit of the doubt because of his strikeout potential.)

Thanks for visiting VSiN City. If you have any topics you'd like us to discuss in the future from a market perspective, drop us an email.

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