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U.S. Open rough not so rough except for big bombers

Jeff Fogle
VSiN.com

June 15, 2017 12:13 AM
usopen
Rickie Fowler tamed the fescue at Erin Hills.
© USA Today Sports Images

We learned Thursday that the greatest golfers in the world are still big underdogs to the name mentioned most often during TV coverage…FESCUE! If you could stay out of the deep stuff at the U.S. Open…you had a chance to post a great score. If not…disaster!

US Open Golf: Fescue grabbed some big names, but Erin Hills largely tamed as SIXTY players are at even par or better after Round 1
We had planned on running some key stats for you today in VSiN City to add context to what you watched Thursday on Fox and FoxSports1. No need for that. It was as obvious as could be that keeping the ball in these very wide fairways would position golfers for makeable birdie attempts. Veering too far off course was basically the same as hitting the ball in the water. It would take a “penalty” shot to get back in play in advance of a bogey or worse. Stats would just reflect the obvious. 

The pre-tourney favorites sure had problems with accuracy…

Current placements for top five pre-tournament favorites

  • Jordan Speith: plus 1 (currently for #61)
  • Dustin Johnson: plus 3 (tied for #102)
  • Jon Rahm: plus 4 (tied for #114)
  • Rory McIlroy: plus 6 (tied for #143)
  • Jason Day: plus 7 (tied for #151)

From disappointing to lousy. It was almost an inverted day because the “big bombers” who were supposed to be most helped by Wednesday’s heavy rain were instead among the golfers most likely to fly way off course Thursday. Four of the five market favorites failed to crack the top 100, while the top 100 has many relative no-names that only the most avid golf fans have even heard of. 

Thursday night’s updated prices have settled on new favorites, led by popular pundit choice (particularly during VSiN Coverage) and first-round leader Rickie Fowler (-7).

Composite Odds After Round 1 (drawn from a variety of Vegas locales)

  • Rickie Fowler: 4/1
  • Paul Casey: 6/1
  • Brooks Koepka: 12/1
  • Sergio Garcia: 15/1
  • Justin Rose: 15/1

Jordan Spieth is down to 40/1, while Dustin Johnson is now 50/1. We’re not going to run the full slate because the second round will have begun by the time you read this. We just wanted to give you a sense of the new favorites if you didn’t have access to Vegas lines before you went to bed. 

As we’ve been looking at an overseas exchange through the week, let’s update the numbers from Betfair. Here’s a link you can monitor through the day all weekend, as the exchange updates in real time. Remember to subtract one from the numbers you see in the blue (back all) and pink (lay all) columns for a sense of the Yes/No dynamic. 

Betfair prices after Round 1 

  • Rickie Fowler: plus 400, lay -420
  • Paul Casey: plus 800, lay -820
  • Brooks Koepka: plus 1300, lay -1350
  • Sergio Garcia: plus 1750, lay -1800
  • Justin Rose: plus 4100, lay -4300

Backing Fowler doesn’t offer much value any more anywhere. Rickie backers were able to get in at 15-1 or 20-1 earlier this week. The most liquid markets do offer more attractive options the further you go down the field. 

Friday is likely to bring more surprises. Clearly, the USGA will try to do something to make the course more challenging if weather isn’t going to be much of an issue. That could mean some tricky pin placements. Handicapping matchups may rely more on studying the short game and putting strengths and weaknesses rather than driving distance. 

Be sure to watch VSiN programming all day for updates and market news. And check out Matt Youmans daily articles through the weekend for additional U.S. Open analysis. 

MLB: A follow up on “juiced ball” theory from 538
Yesterday we alerted you to a comprehensive study published by The Ringer that presented very strong evidence that a change in how baseballs are constructed has helped juice home run totals since the All-Star Break of 2015.

Thursday, analytics publication 538 added some fuel to that fire. We encourage baseball handicappers to click here for the full article. For those who prefer to hopscotch through the highlights, some comments from article author Rob Arthur…

“I examined the rate of home runs per fly ball and found further evidence suggesting that the ball itself may be the culprit.”

“Just after the All-Star Break in 2015, MLB’s home run rate increased without warning or explanation. Since then, it has continued rising, and it now threatens the all-time record set in the heart of the steroid era. In a series of articles at FiveThirtyEight, (Ben) Lindbergh and I ruled out various explanations for the home run surge, including weather, a wave of young talent, and steroids, leaving alterations to the ball as the most likely answer. It’s either that, or 750 MLB players woke up one morning in 2015 with more pop in their bats.”

“I built a model to predict whether a given fly ball would go over the fence in 2015, based on the launch angle, exit velocity and stadium. Then I used that model to predict how many home runs there were in 2016.”

“…it turns out the new balls do tend to travel farther.”(emphasis VSiN City’s)

“…the league hit about four percent (201 total) more home runs hit than expected in 2016, even accounting for the higher exit velocities and better launch angles. That’s significantly more than you’d see by chance.” (again, emphasis VSiN City’s)

“It’s likely that many factors are contributing to the ongoing spike in home run rates, including hitters adjusting their approaches and favorable weather conditions, but we now have a compelling explanation for the bulk of the spike.”

Handicappers must adjust to this new reality. We’ll make that a point of emphasis moving forward this season on these pages. Here’s an early taste of that with a look at the best and worst home run offenses and ballparks. The first two categories can be studied further at fangraphs. The second two, on the park factors page at ESPN. 

Best Home Run/Flyball Pct (top five and ties): Milwaukee 17.7%, NY Yankees 17.1%, Tampa Bay 16.9%, Arizona 15.8%, Miami 15.3%, Toronto 15.3%, Cincinnati 15.3%.

Worst Home Run/Flyball Pct (bottom five): San Francisco 8.3%, Boston 10.3%, Pittsburgh 10.4%, St. Louis 10.8%, Seattle 10.9%

Top Five Home Run Parks: Arizona increases HR’s by 68% thus far, Philadelphia by 48%, Yankee Stadium by 42%, Cleveland by 32%, Minnesota by 22%.

Worst Five Home Run Parks: San Francisco reduces HR’s by 44% thus far, Kansas City 39%, Citi Field (Mets) 34%, Boston 32%, Pittsburgh 21%

Obviously, there’s some data working hand in hand there…as the Yankees are helped by playing home games in a launching pad, and San Francisco is hurt by playing often in a humid chill. We’ll do what we can in future reports to make adjustments for that. Today, we just wanted to get the ball rolling on this theme. 

MLB: Big Weekend in American League with Boston/Houston, Cleveland/Minnesota showdowns
One of the most exciting three-game sets of the whole 2017 season will take place this weekend when the Boston Red Sox visit the Houston Astros Friday through Sunday. Those are two of the top three favorites in current Futures prices to represent the AL in the World Series. 

South Point AL Futures Prices
Cleveland: 2/1
Houston: 11/5
Boston: 4/1
NY Yankees 4/1

Minnesota is still seen as a long shot at 30/1, but the Twins currently lead the Indians in the AL Central race by two games. 

Too many elite starting pitchers are missing that Red Sox-Astros series, unfortunately. Chris Sale pitched Thursday in Philadelphia (in a stunning 1-0 loss as a -270 favorite!). Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers are both dealing with nagging injuries and won’t see action this weekend for the Astros. 

Let’s take a quick peak at the pitching matchups for those two showcase series. Well include xFIP for each starter, which is a “fielding independent pitching” assessment whose scale is very similar to ERA. Note that Cleveland and Minnesota are playing a day-night double header Saturday. 

Boston at Houston
Friday: Drew Pomeranz (3.50 xFIP) vs. Mike Fiers (4.36 xFIP)
Saturday: Rick Porcello (4.21 xFIP) vs. David Paulino (4.11 xFIP)
Sunday: David Price (4.91 xFIP) vs. Joe Musgrove (4.62 xFIP)

Cleveland at Minnesota
Friday: Carlos Carrasco (3.72 xFIP) vs. Nik Turley (2.45 xFIP)
Saturday (G1): Ryan Merritt (minor league call-up) vs. Adalberto Mejia (5.15 xFIP)
Saturday (G2): Mike Clevinger (3.97 xFIP) vs. Chris Heston (limited action)
Sunday: Trevor Bauer (3.48 xFIP) vs. Kyle Gibson (4.92 xFIP)

There could be some fireworks in Minnesota. The last eight games there have gone 5-2-1 to the Over with an average of 16.5 runs scored per game. 

NFL: Seattle favored by default in fading NFC West
As we wrap up this week’s look at NFC team capsules, you could say that all four teams in the NFC West disappointed their fans last season. Seattle was supposed to be in the Super Bowl hunt, but had trouble playing consistently well. Arizona fell way below expectations because of Carson Palmer’s misadventures at quarterback. The LA Rams and San Francisco barely even had a quarterback!

Seattle Seahawks
2017 Regular Season Win Estimate: 10.5 (Over -120)
Odds to win NFC: 5/1
Odds to win Super Bowl: 10/1

2016 Record: 10-5-1 
Yards-per-Play: 5.6 on offense, 5.0 allowed
Third Down Conversions: 38% on offense, 39% allowed

Passing: 7.8 yards-per-pass attempt, 23 TD’s, 12 interceptions thrown
Pass defense: 7.2 yards-per-pass attempt, 16 TD’s allowed, 11 interceptions 

Defensive Impact: 19 takeaways, 42 sacks

The defense is still strong, though you’d expect a team like to this to grab more than 19 takeaways. They aren’t quite the bullies they used to be. Passing was a big disappointment. A 23/12 TD/INT ratio isn’t enough to scare other conference contenders. Remember that Atlanta’s mark was 38/7, while Green Bay was even better at 40/8. You get the sense that the players aren’t drinking the kool-aid the way they used to for this coaching staff. This is still a division you can win while trending in the wrong direction. If the passing game perks up on offense, this team will jump to the top of the NFC Futures board. 

Arizona Cardinals
2017 Regular Season Win Estimate: 8.5
Odds to win NFC: 15/1
Odds to win Super Bowl: 30/1

2016 Record: 7-8-1 
Yards-per-Play: 5.4 on offense, 4.8 allowed
Third Down Conversions: 41% on offense, 39% allowed

Passing: 6.8 yards-per-pass attempt, 28 TD’s, 17 interceptions thrown
Pass defense: 6.8 yards-per-pass attempt, 21 TD’s allowed, 14 interceptions 

Defensive Impact: 28 takeaways, 48 sacks

Amazing that a team with this great a defense couldn’t even reach the .500 mark…while getting to face the Rams and 49ers four times! Palmer fell apart, potentially hitting a career wall at the worst possible time. Be sure you study the passing game out of the gate, because that will likely determine how far this team will go. The defense is ready to win now. 

Los Angeles Rams
2017 Regular Season Win Estimate: 6 (Under -130)
Odds to win NFC: 50/1
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100/1

2016 Record: 4-12 
Yards-per-Play: 4.4 on offense, 5.2 allowed
Third Down Conversions: 32% on offense, 37% allowed

Passing: 6.2 yards-per-pass attempt, 14 TD’s, 20 interceptions thrown
Pass defense: 6.7 yards-per-pass attempt, 32 TD’s allowed, 10 interceptions 

Defensive Impact: 18 takeaways, 31 sacks

It’s very hard in the modern game to have more interceptions than TD passes on offense. You have to be REALLY bad to pull that off. The defense was the obvious strength of the team, though the TD/INT ratio on that side of the field wasn’t impressive either. At least there’s clarity on what needs to be done, which will allow new head coach Sean McVay to apply his specialty to fixing the Rams passing game. 

San Francisco 49ers
2017 Regular Season Win Estimate: 4.5 (Over -120)
Odds to win NFC: 75/1
Odds to win Super Bowl: 150/1

2016 Record: 2-14 
Yards-per-Play: 4.9 on offense, 5.9 allowed
Third Down Conversions: 35% on offense, 45% allowed

Passing: 6.4 yards-per-pass attempt, 21 TD’s, 10 interceptions thrown
Pass defense: 7.7 yards-per-pass attempt, 30 TD’s allowed, 10 interceptions 

Defensive Impact: 20 takeaways, 33 sacks

The media spent a lot of time talking about how bad the quarterback play here was (along with off-the-field issues involving one of the quarterbacks). It’s important that handicappers realize how bad this defense was too. Opponents had little trouble moving the ball on this team…marching at will even though the turf at SF’s home stadium has been known to disrupt unfamiliar visiting offenses. On the road, matadors! A lot of problems on both sides of the ball.

Have a great Father’s Day weekend! Maybe you could sign your dad up for a free subscription to the VSiN City newsletter. Is he a sports fan? If you enjoy reading sports coverage from a market perspective, he just might too. Anyone can click here to sign up for weekday morning email delivery. Don’t forget that the daily South Point betting sheets are included with each copy of VSiN City.

If you haven’t yet followed us on twitter, you can take care of that by clicking here. Comments or questions about VSiN programming or the newsletter can be sent here. We’d love to hear from you!

Enjoy this very special weekend, and we’ll see you again Monday.

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