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Puck Yeah: Key indicators for handicapping NHL playoffs

Jeff Fogle  
VSiN City newsletter

Drop the puck! The NHL Playoffs start Wednesday night with three series openers. We dug up some stats so you won’t have to. Bonus notes from Major League Baseball and a Wednesday tutorial starting right now in VSiN City. 

NHL: Wednesday Playoff Previews
Postseason action begins tonight in Winnipeg, Pittsburgh, and Las Vegas. The other five first round matchups get under way Thursday. We’ll introduce you to our key indicator stats with tonight’s trio. Then we’ll attack those last five series in our Thursday report. 

Minnesota at Winnipeg (7 p.m. ET on CNBC)
Series Price: Winnipeg -240
Game One Price: Winnipeg -175, total of 5.5 (Over -125) 

Point/Goal Comparison
Minnesota: 101 points, plus 21 goal differential, plus 16 when 5-on-5
Winnipeg: 114 points, plus 59 goal differential, plus 30 when 5-on-5

Offense/Defense Rankings (goals scored/allowed per game)
Minnesota: #11 on offense, #11 on defense
Winnipeg: #2 on offense, #5 on defense

You can see why Winnipeg is such a pricey favorite. The Jets ranked in the top five in goals per game on both sides of the rink. Minnesota was a balanced, but fairly generic playoff caliber team ranking #11 in both. Goal differential was slanted toward the hosts as well. Though, the 5-on-5 differential wasn’t as dramatic as the overall number. That means this Wild dog can be live if it can stay at even strength. 

Market pricing makes it very clear that Winnipeg and Nashville are the two most respected teams in the West. Barring upsets they will face each other in the second round. Nashville would be the favorite. Either would be favored over any entry from the other side of the bracket (including the Vegas Golden Knights) in the Western finals. If you haven’t followed hockey this season, Winnipeg is a team to watch.

Philadelphia at Pittsburgh (7 p.m. ET on NBC Sports)
Series Price: Pittsburgh -250
Game One Price: Pittsburgh -180, total of 6 (Under -120) 

Point/Goal Comparison
Philadelphia: 98 points, plus 8 goal differential, plus 14 when 5-on-5
Pittsburgh: 100 points, plus 22 goal differential, minus 13 when 5-on-5

Offense/Defense Rankings (goals scored/allowed per game)
Philadelphia: #12 on offense, #15 on defense
Pittsburgh: #3 on offense, #20 on defense

You can deduce from the composite that Pittsburgh is explosive on offense, and SUPER-explosive with a man advantage. They ranked #3 overall in goals scored per game. Yet, they were MINUS 13 goals in 5-on-5 scenarios. That creates an opening for Philadelphia to compete. But, the Flyer’s lack of a dynamic skill set might mean Pittsburgh will be exposed in the next round rather than this one. Like Minnesota, Philadelphia is a fairly generic playoff team. Though, anything can happen in this sport, particularly when the favorite plays sub-par defense. 

The market sure doesn’t see Philadelphia making it competitive. And, the futures prices we discussed yesterday showed the Penguins at 6/1 at both the Westgate and South Point to win the Stanley Cup. For now, some possible vulnerabilities to keep in the back of your head for the Penguins’ expected matchup against the Washington/Columbus winner in the next round. 

Los Angeles at Vegas Golden Knights (10 p.m. ET on NBC Sports)
Series Price: VKG -135
Game One Price: VGK -140, total of 5.5 

Point/Goal Comparison
Los Angeles: 98 points, plus 36 goal differential, plus 17 when 5-on-5
Vegas: 109 points, plus 44 goal differential, plus 18 when 5-on-5

Offense/Defense Rankings (goals scored/allowed per game)
Los Angeles: #16 on offense, #1 on defense
Vegas: #5 on offense, #8 on defense

The Vegas Golden Knights have been an amazing story this season. It’s a MIRACLE that a team can literally rise from nothing to earn 109 points and a plus 44 goal differential. Speaks to the relative parity in the league that you can pick and choose role players to fill in the gaps and compete immediately. There are legitimate concerns though that VGK isn’t as likely to impress from this point forward.

*The team peaked early (in form and in health)
*Visitors won’t suffer from “Vegas Flu” in the playoffs
*As a unit, VGK has no playoff experience

All the emotions that helped Vegas start the season so well don’t necessarily disappear. But now they’re MATCHED by all playoff opponents. Everybody’s fired up for the postseason. Visitors are not going to fall into the trap of partying too hard in the city. The Knights do catch a break being on the other side of the Western bracket from Nashville and Winnipeg. They won’t have to beat BOTH to win the conference. Just don’t assume they’re going to glide through the first two rounds. 

We should mention that additional conversations with sharps after yesterday’s discussion of futures betting has suggested that VKG would likely be an even bigger dog than plus 130 in the Western finals and in the championship finals if one of the Eastern powers makes it through. That means the “rollover” betting strategy would likely do even better compared to the 6/1 (South Point) or 10/1 (Westgate) you’re seeing on the futures wall. 

Let’s update the big picture. Re-investing your original stake and proceeds round by round would yield the following returns according to a Parlay Calculator

-135/-130/-130/-130: returns 8.64 to 1
-135/-130/-110/-110: returns 10.22 to 1
-135/-130/-110/plus 130: returns 12.52 to 1
-135/-130/plus 130/plus 130: returns 15.29 to 1
-135/-130/plus 140/plus 140: returns 16.74 to 1

Should VGK catch breaks and be favored all the way through at prices near -130 on the money line, they’d return around 8.5 to 1. The most reasonable assessment that would launch dangerous possible opponents later in the brackets would yield just under 17/1.

If you missed earlier explanations…this means forgoing futures prices to put your initial stake on the series price in the first round, then re-investing everything you get back (original stake plus profit) in each subsequent round. Whether you just want to have a fun small bet to root for as a fan, or your handicapping suggests the Knights have a better than perceived chance to run the table, THIS is the way to play those situations if you want to maximize potential return.

Tomorrow we’ll run box score summaries from these games, and preview the other five first round matchups.  

MLB Tuesday: Red Sox rout Yankees 14-1 in rivalry renewal 
The first 2018 meeting between any teams in “The Magnificent 7” that were projected to win at least 90 games in Regular Season Win totals was as anti-climactic as could be. Let’s see what happened in Fenway Park, then check on a few other developing stories.

Boston (-130) 14, NY Yankees 1
Total Bases Plus Walks: New York 15, Boston 30
Starting Pitchers: Severino 5 IP, 5 ER, Sale 6 IP, 1 ER
Bullpens: New York 4 IP, 9 ER, Boston 3 IP, 0 ER

Not the pitchers’ duel many expected. The Yankees managed to turn a home run, a double, eight singles and a walk into just one run (on a night where Judge and Stanton went 5 for 8 at the plate). Boston clustered its bases nicely, particularly in a nine-run sixth inning. 

Boston is now 9-1 on the season, establishing very early on that it doesn’t want to sweat a wildcard play-in game in the only division projected to have much of a 162-game race. The Yankees fall below the .500 mark to 5-6…with the bullpen raising concerns during this current 1-4 stretch vs. Baltimore and Boston. Yankee opponents have scored 5-7-3-8-14 in those games. 

Long way to go obviously. Game 2 of this series Wednesday will feature Tanaka vs. Price, with an early line of pick-em and 8 on the total. 

Last night we talked about the hot 2018 start of the Los Angeles Angels. They stayed hot!

LA Angels (-140) 11, Texas 1
Total Bases Plus Walks: Los Angeles 29, Texas 12
Starting Pitchers: Skaggs 5 IP, 1 ER, Perez 3 IP, 8 ER
Bullpens: Los Angeles 4 IP, 0 ER, Texas 6 IP, 3 ER

Shohei Ohtani didn’t start as a hitter with a lefty on the mound for Texas. The Japanese phenom did ground out as a pinch hitter in the ninth. Second straight rout in this series for LAA, who moves to 9-3 with the win. Texas has firmly established that it is very outclassed by the Astros and Angels in the AL West. The Rangers have been outscored 41-15 in six HOME games vs. those two.

The Halos go for a sweep Wednesday with Barria vs. Moore. Early line is near pick-em with an Over/Under of 10.5 in this great hitters’ park. Speaking of Houston…

Minnesota (plus 140) 4, Houston 1
Total Bases Plus Walks: Houston 12, Minnesota 15
Starting Pitchers: Keuchel 4 IP, 3 ER, Odorizzi 6 IP, 1 ER
Bullpens: Houston 4 IP, 1 ER, Minnesota 3 IP, 0 ER

Either some wildness or a stingy umpire, as the teams combined for 13 walks. Minnesota jumped ahead 2-0 in the bottom of the first off Kuechel with an infield single, a walk, a sacrifice fly, and a double. That would be all the Twins needed. Houston’s loss dropped the Astros into a tie with the LA Angels at 9-3. Minnesota rises above the .500 mark to 5-4. 

Astros and Twins are scheduled to wrap up the series early Wednesday (1:10 p.m. ET start, 10:10 a.m. in Las Vegas). It’s McCullers -160 and 8 on the early line over Gibson

Pittsburgh (plus 130) 8, Chicago Cubs 5
Total Bases Plus Walks: Pittsburgh 20, Chicago 19
Starting Pitchers: Nova 7 IP, 3 ER, Chatwood 5 IP, 5 ER
Bullpens: Pittsburgh 2 IP, 2 ER, Chicago 4 IP, 3 ER

Nun karma can only go so far, as “Loyola” day at the Cubs home opener turned into a replay of Loyola/Michigan from the Final Four. Pittsburgh trailed early, but rallied to lead 5-2 by the midway point, peaking at 8-2 before the Cubs added some late irrelevant runs. Wind wasn’t blowing out given the Over/Under of 9. But, four home runs were hit (two by each team). 

Chicago falls to 5-5. Not a disaster considering that’s 90% of the games have been on the road. Pittsburgh’s off to a great 8-2 start. We said earlier it was harder to take them seriously than other hot starters because the early schedule has been soft. Win some more at this site, and we’re more likely to believe. 

The middle game of this series is scheduled for Wednesday night. Lester of the Cubs is -185 over Brault of Pittsburgh on the early line. No Over/Unders until game day in Wrigley because of the extreme role weather can play on scoring at this park. 

NY Mets (-200) 8, Miami 6
Total Bases Plus Walks: New York 25, Miami 20
Starting Pitchers: deGrom 6 IP, 4 ER, Smith 5 IP, 3 ER
Bullpens: NY Mets 3 IP, 2 ER, Miami 4 IP, 4 ER

We put the Mets on our “watch” list yesterday because of a hot start from a healthy rotation. Not a stellar performance from deGrom Tuesday. But, the great thing about playing Miami is that they’re bad enough to hand you a win no matter how late it is in the game. New York trailed 6-4 after seven innings, scoring two apiece in the top of the eighth and ninth. 

New York moves to 9-1, which includes an impressive road series in Washington. Miami falls to 3-8, and those three wins are starting to look pretty miraculous in retrospect. Series finale Wednesday night with the Mets and Wheeler laying -140 on the early line to Garcia (total of 8.5).

MLB Tutorial: Why managers pull starting pitchers after two times through the lineup
It’s become more common for managers to pull their starting pitchers when the opposing offense is coming up for the third time in a game. Even if the starter stays on the mound, he’s on a short leash. This often angers bettors who believe a pitcher who’s throwing well should stay on the mound until he gets into trouble. They’ll yell at the manager for ruining their bet!

Actually, the manager is trying to win the game for his team, and for you. 

Studies have made it clear that starting pitchers lose effectiveness the second time through a lineup, and then again the third time through. Elites can get away with that…because Clayton Kershaw is still very good even if he drops off a bit from where he started. But, with lesser arms, or mediocre innings munchers, it’s often a big mistake to leave a starter in for a third go-round. 

Here are MLB hitting stats against pitchers in those three states from 2017…

First time through: .250 batting, .315 on-base, .417 slugging
Second time through: .265 batting, .331 on-base, .448 slugging
Third time through: .272 batting, .338 on-base, .463 slugging

You can see that batting average goes up…on-base percentage goes up in virtual lockstep…and slugging goes up. You probably don’t have team batting performances memorized from last season. Here’s some context for those numbers, also from the full 2017 campaign.

Philadelphia Phillies: .250 batting, .315 on-base, .409 slugging
Washington Nationals: .266 batting, .332 on-base, .449 slugging
Houston Astros: .282 batting, .346 on-base, .478 slugging

Basically, the first time through the order, starting pitchers made opposing offenses look like the below-average offense of the Philadelphia Phillies. The second time through, it was the playoff-bound Washington Nationals, who finished with the fourth best batting average in the Majors. Both of those are extremely similar matches to the pitching data you just read.

It’s harder to find an elite match for the final stat line because so few offenses are great enough to match that third time through! Houston had a historically great offense, and was slightly better than the composite. So, think of the third time through as “almost Houston.”

Do you want to leave a starter on the mound when he’s about to make the opponent look like they’re almost Houston? You just left him in during the Washington stage. Managers have come to believe that it’s better to bring in a new pitcher who has a chance throw as hard as he can to turn them back into the Phillies. Doesn’t always work out. But, when you consider that it helps control the starter’s pitch count and in-season fatigue, and protect the starter from injury, WHILE bringing in an arm that can turn “almost Houston” into “Philadelphia,” the percentages favor making the move for all but the most elite starters.

If you’re a baseball bettor, you need to realize that this is likely to happen to you on a daily basis. If your pitcher is throwing well, the manager is going to take him out before you want him to. Don’t get mad, prepare. Make sure your team has middle relievers who are likely to get the job done before handing off to the set-up man and closer. These days, you have to handicap all the guys who might throw, not just the starter and closer.

Back with you tomorrow for more NHL and MLB coverage. We skipped the NBA because there were no compelling Tuesday games to recap. You can be certain that we’ll run our Holy Trinity numbers for all 16 playoff qualifiers in our Friday report, just in time for the start of the playoffs this weekend.  

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