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The Juice is on the loose . . . in MLB playoffs

Jeff Fogle
VSiN.com

October 5, 2017 12:10 AM

The “juiced ball” playoffs are here! Arizona survives a slugfest vs. Colorado to reach the MLB’s Elite Eight. We’ll preview Thursday baseball plus Patriots/Bucs in the NFL today in VSiN City.

NL Wildcard: Arizona's offense explodes in Wildcard victory
Two games into the 2017 postseason, and it’s clear the “juiced ball” dynamic is likely to play a factor in crowning a champion. After five home runs were hit Tuesday in the Bronx, the Rockies and Diamondbacks added four more (and four triples!) in Arizona’s high scoring Wednesday night win.

Arizona (-150) 11, Colorado 8

  • Totals Bases Plus Walks Drawn: Colorado 23, Arizona 37
  • Gray: 1.1 IP, 4 ER, 2 K, 0 BB, 1 HR
  • Greinke: 3.2 IP, 4 ER, 1 K, 1 BB, 0 HRs

One of the neat things about using “TB plus Walks” for an offensive sum is that it turns a baseball score into a football score. Quite the shootout here. If you divide both totals by 4, because it takes 4 bases to score a run, you get a “stat” final score of about 9-6 for the D-backs.

Sure…these first two playoff games of 2017 could be outliers. And both were played in great home run parks (Yankee Stadium increased homers 28% this season, Chase Field 22%). But it’s not like we had rag arms on the mound!

Given how poorly high quality starting pitchers have performed thus far, we may need to post bullpen numbers in every recap. 

  • Rockies Bullpen: 7.2 IP, 7 ER, 9 K, 4 BB, 1 HR
  • D-backs Bullpen: 5.1 IP, 4 ER, 5 K, 0 BB, 2 HRs

Tuesday night the Yankees bailed out Luis Severino with great bullpen work. Jon Gray wasn’t so lucky. And, Zack Greinke didn’t get much help himself. This won’t be good enough against the Dodgers in the next round. 

MLB: Composite World Series Championship odds show a loaded field
Now that we’re down to the final eight teams, we can zero in on market odds to win the World Series. Here’s a composite of offshore numbers as of Wednesday evening. 

Composite offshore odds to win the 2017 World Series

  • LA Dodgers: 3/1 (25% win equivalent)
  • Cleveland: 7/2 (22%)
  • Houston: 5/1 (17%)
  • Washington 7/1 (13%)
  • Chicago Cubs 15/2 (12%)
  • Boston: 15/2 (12%)
  • NY Yankees: 9/1 (10%)
  • Arizona: 14/1 (7%)

You’ll note that the percentages add up to more than 100% (118% actually). That’s because sports books price in a way that creates a house edge. Professional wagerers typically try to find a way to lower that betting disadvantage by focusing on series prices, or creating “rolling” open-ended parlays that allow them to take a team in its first series, then roll the winnings back into a bet on the following series, and so on. 

Loaded field! Nobody’s better than 25% to win. No two teams are better than 50% as a combo. And, “true” odds would result in even lower percentages. Given how well each of the eight survivors played at different points in the season, there are no Cinderella stories. For fans, the postseason is going to be very exciting if it just plays to part of its potential. 

For bettors…quite a challenge to determine who’s likely to play best NOW. 

(Quick side-note on the Yankees. Many stores moved them from 14/1 to 9/1 just before the Twins game. That may seem like a big move…but it’s really just a tweak from “93% to not win the World Series” to “90% to not win the World Series.” The South Point came down further to 6/1 because of action at its particular locale.)

AL Divisional Round Preview: Red Sox/Astros showdown begins with a dream pitchers’ duel
Chris Sale had a Cy Young caliber season for the Boston Red Sox. Justin Verlander looked like his old Cy Young self after being traded to Houston Astros in the latter stages of the 2017 season. Great way to start the divisional round!

Before we get to that particular pitching matchup…let’s lay some groundwork that will likely matter through the full AL brackets. We start with a ranking of the ballparks that will host action in terms of their influence on offense. The media tends to think of all four as “hitters” parks because of dimensions or past scoring. It’s interesting to note that three were relatively neutral to scoring this season, while Houston once again the best PITCHERS park in the Majors. 

AL Ballparks (Ranked in order of “hitters’ parks”)
11…Boston increased offense by 3%
14…Yankee Stadium increased offense by 2% (but home runs by 28%)
17…Cleveland decreased offense by 3%
30…Houston decreased offense by 17% (but lifted home runs by 1%)

Yes, Yankee Stadium is an easy HR park. But other issues there actually counteract the dimensions to keep scoring more in check. Houston’s Minute Maid Park seems like it should be a HR paradise because of bandbox dimensions. But the mainstream media continues to underestimate the impact of poor hitting visibility there. Homers were up only 1% over Houston’s road games this season. Scoring was down a whopping 17%. For the second straight season, Minute Maid was a pitcher’s paradise relative to the rest of the Majors.

Because of possible pollution in home numbers, we focus on “road only” data to evaluate true offensive ability.

AL Road Offense
1…Houston 6.2 runs per game
2…Cleveland 5.1 runs per game
3…NY Yankees 5.0 runs per game
4…Boston 4.9 runs per game

The four survivors had the four best road offenses in the AL. Note how far ahead Houston is! Their home park actually hid a scoring juggernaut, rather than “helping” the Astros become one. 

Now, a quick glance back at the bullpen numbers we ran the other day. We use reliever xFIP, a fielding independent measure designed to run along the same scale as ERA (from fangraphs). 

AL Relievers xFIP
1…Cleveland 3.41
2…Houston 3.69
3…Boston 3.77
4…NY Yankees 3.80

The four best bullpens according to xFIP. But that stat isn’t adjusted for ballparks. So, Houston is more mortal than it seems because of the park influence. The other three are great at run prevention. The Yankees are positioned to dominate even more than this stat suggests…but they’ve run into a virtual bullpen clone from the defending AL champion Cleveland. 

OK…now to today’s matchups and starting pitchers…

Boston at Houston (4 p.m. ET, 1 p.m. PT on FS1)

  • Game 1 money line: Houston -125, Boston plus 110
  • Run line: Houston -1.5 runs (plus 175), Boston plus 1.5 runs (-200)
  • Over/Under: 7 runs

To this point…we know that Houston has the superior offense, while Boston probably has the better bullpen. The game will be played in a tough visibility park…which plays into the hands of Chris Sale and Justin Verlander (and explains why the Over/Under is a very low SEVEN for an AL site).

  • Sale (Red Sox): 2.90 ERA, 0.97 WHIP
  • Verlander (Astros): 3.16 ERA, 1.17 WHIP

Sale was better in the classic stats. Though, many observers have pointed out that Sale started to fade a bit in the final weeks…which has been his personal history. At the same time, Verlander turned back into a superstar after joining the Astros (helped, no doubt by the park…as we suggested could happen at the time of the acquisition). Let’s go to the analytics.  

  • Sale (Red Sox): 2.65 xFIP, 36.2 K%, 5.1 BB%, 1.01 HRs per 9 IP
  • Verlander (Astros): 4.17 xFIP, 25.8 K%, 8.5 BB%, 1.18 HRs per 9 IP

We’re using two-team numbers for Verlander…who becomes less scary when his Detroit data is included. You can see why Sale is on the Cy Young short list with that K/BB differential. 

Honestly, you have to pick your poison. If you believe that Sale is fading while Verlander is going to continue his late season form…then -125 is too low. If you believe that overall skill sets are likely to rule the day in a playoff game…and that Sale could be nigh untouchable in a pitchers park no matter who the opposing offense is…then it’s a coin flip that will likely be decided by a random home run. 

For the best-of-five, a look offshore showed Houston in the 160-170 range to advance, Boston around plus 145 to plus 155 to score a series upset.

AL Divisional Round Preview: Yankees back in action against defending league champs
No time to celebrate. Off their 8-4 victory over Minnesota in the play-in game, the New York Yankees find themselves on the road Thursday to begin a best-of-five sprint against the current favorites to win the AL. 

NY Yankees at Cleveland (7:35 p.m. ET, 4.35 p.m. PT on FS1)

  • Game 1 money line: Cleveland -130, NYY plus 110
  • Run line: Cleveland -1.5 runs (plus 165), NYY plus 1.5 runs (-185)
  • Over/Under: 8.5 runs (Under -120)

Cleveland manager Terry Francona made the somewhat surprising choice to go with Trevor Bauer in Game 1. So, the Indians are a smaller favorite in G1 than they are to win the series (in the -165 to -180 range offshore Wednesday evening, with the Yankees returning plus 145 to plus 160). Another Gray wearing a gray road uniform tonight. Wednesday, it was Jon Gray of the Rockies. Tonight, Sonny Gray of the Yanks. 

  • Gray (Yanks): 3.55 ERA, 1.21 WHIP
  • Bauer (Indians): 4.19 ERA, 1.37 WHIP

Gray gets the edge in the classic pitching stats. Is there something in the analytics that caught Francona’s eye? 

  • Gray (Yanks): 3.76 xFIP, 22.6 K%, 8.4 BB%, 1.05 HRs per 9 IP
  • Bauer (Indians): 3.60 xFIP, 26.2 K%, 8.0 BB%, 1.28 HRs per 9 IP

Seeing all of Bauer’s starts firsthand, it may be much clearer that he’s been pitching in bad luck this season. Here he’s 0.16 better in xFIP, compared to being 0.64 worse in ERA. Also a superior differential in K/BB, which means a better chance at controlling his destiny. That HR rate is a concern. But it’s sure smarter to pitch Bauer here in Cleveland than in the HR paradise of New York!

Maybe it’s a bad gamble…or maybe the market is underestimating Bauer’s chances to put the Tribe up 1-0 in the series. 

Westgate SuperContest: Only one difference in Week 5 contest lines from regular Wednesday board
The Westgate announced the formal lines for Week 5 of the NFL SuperContest Wednesday at the start of “My Guys in the Desert.” Brent Musburger and John Murray ran through the numbers…

New England -5.5 at Tampa Bay
NY Giants -3.5 vs. the LA Chargers
Cincinnati -3 vs. Buffalo
Cleveland pick-em vs. the NY Jets
Pittsburgh -8 vs. Jacksonville
Tennessee -3 at Miami
Indianapolis -1.5 vs. San Francisco
Philadelphia -6.5 vs. Arizona
Detroit -2.5 vs. Carolina
LA Rams -1 vs. Seattle
Oakland -2.5 vs. Baltimore
Dallas -2 vs. Green Bay
Kansas City pick-em at Houston
Minnesota -3 at Chicago

Outside of the two games that aren’t on the formal board yet because of quarterback question marks (Tennessee at Miami with Marcus Mariota questionable, Minnesota at Chicago with Sam Bradford’s status still uncertain), there was only one difference between those lines and the numbers that were bettable at the time at the Westgate. The contest had the LA Rams at -1 over the Seattle Seahawks. If you wanted to bet that game at the Westgate counters, the line was Rams -1.5. 

Vegas veteran Dave Tuley recently joined the VSiN team. He has years of experience covering the SuperContest. We’ll likely de-emphasize coverage here in the newsletter because Dave will be doing such a great job of covering all the angles on the home page, as will all the hosts on our broadcasts. Best of luck to all of you who have entered. 

NFL: New England Patriots visit Tampa Bay Bucs in a rare “marquee” Thursday matchup
Hey! This isn’t a generic divisional matchup that the NFL is trying to pass off on football fans who’ll watch anything on a Thursday night. We have the defending Super Bowl champs, who may or may not be nearing the end of their dynasty. And we have an up-and-coming live dog host with a quarterback who could be a future star based on early returns. 

New England (2-2) at Tampa Bay (2-1)

  • Las Vegas Line: New England by 5.5, total of 55
  • Estimated Market Power Ratings: New England 87, Tampa Bay 79  

As we mentioned Tuesday, the market is still giving the Patriots a lot of respect despite their poor defensive performances out of the gate. A line of -5.5 means they’re about 8 points better on a neutral field. Tampa Bay’s no slouch…and eight points better than that is up in Super Bowl territory. 

Key Passing Stats 

  • New England: 9.0 yards-per-pass attempt, 10 TD’s, 0 interceptions thrown
  • Tampa Bay: 7.9 yards-per-pass attempt, 6 TD’s, 3 interceptions thrown

No slump for the Pats offense! It’s still as efficient as ever. It might sound kind of flippant to say that New England is “on pace” for a 40/0 TD/INT ratio. They were 32/2 last season! Tampa Bay’s getting a lot done in the air as well. But three interceptions in three games is a bit too much. Jameis Winston is still making too many mistakes. 

Because pass defense has been such an issue for the Patriots (and Bucs, it turns out), we’re going to add that into the mix this week. 

Pass Defense in Those Stats

  • New England: 9.4 yppa allowed; 11 TD’s allowed, 3 interceptions
  • Tampa Bay: 7.5 yppa allowed; 6 TD’s allowed, 2 interceptions

New England’s defense has been so bad, that it’s almost turned opposing quarterbacks into Tom Brady. Tampa Bay’s numbers are poor…because those represent just three games instead of four. That’s why the Over/Under here is so high. We have two stellar passing offenses facing two very vulnerable pass defenses. 

Impact Defense 

  • New England: 44% third down pct-allowed, 5 takeaways, 8 sacks
  • Tampa Bay: 50% third down pct-allowed, 4 takeaways, 1 sack

Oddly…the fact that these numbers are poor might actually help the Under. Brady in particular likes marching down the field in a way that runs clock. Both defenses are letting opponents move the chains…and neither has been particularly scary at forcing turnovers through four and three outings respectively. There are 28-24 type games in this league where teams trade long, time-consuming drives. New England/New Orleans ended 36-20 with 984 total yards and 7.7/6.8 for yards-per-play numbers.  

There is a chance weather will be a factor. The current forecast suggests scattered showers with a noticeable breeze. Monitor that throughout the day before making any final decisions. You don’t want to bet the Over in windy, wet, even muddy conditions. You probably don’t want the Under if scoring conditions are fine. 

We couldn’t find any good “indicator” games for analyzing Louisville/NC State, set for Thursday night in the colleges on ESPN. For the best because we’re out of room anyway! Back with you Friday to run key stats from all of Thursday’s big games (NFL, CF, and MLB), and to preview all four baseball playoff games on that day’s docket.  

If you haven’t had a chance to sign up for the FREE subscription to VSiN City, please click here to do so. You also get access to those handy South Point betting sheets every day…very helpful during a busy month like October! Our new Point Spread Weekly betting reference gets better with each passing week. The previews now include in-season game logs for easy perusal. Plus, this week Dave Tuley handicaps every game on the NFL board. Just $99 for the rest of the season

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