First Week Thoughts on the MLB Season

For all 30 teams in Major League Baseball, the season is now more than a week old. There have been some early surprises as the Miami Marlins are tied with the San Francisco Giants for the best record in the National League at 5-2. Those two teams combined for 186 losses last season. The Detroit Tigers and the Seattle Mariners are the only American League teams two or more games above .500 as parity was the opening week theme in the Junior Circuit.

There have already been some injury concerns. Tampa Bay’s Matt Moore is scheduled for a MRI on his ailing left elbow. Kansas City’s Omar Infante took a Heath Bell pitch in the face and suffered a possible concussion and a broken jaw. Los Angeles Dodgers catcher AJ Ellis suffered a torn meniscus. Toronto’s Jose Reyes is already on the DL with a hamstring issue. Washington’s catcher Wilson Ramos broke his hamate bone and will be out until June. To make matters worse for the Nationals, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is dealing with more shoulder discomfort and may miss time.

Bettors have been frustrated by bullpens as the 30 MLB teams have combined for 26 blown saves entering play on Tuesday. A lack of clutch hitting has also been a league-wide epidemic. Teams batted .255/.336/.338/.723 with runners in scoring position last season. So far this season, the collective slash line of .241/.324/.366/.691 has contributed to the stranding of over 1,400 baserunners.

On varying ends of the spectrum, the Atlanta Braves have allowed just nine runs in six games, while the Arizona Diamondbacks are 2-7 after allowing 57 runs in nine games. The Miami Marlins are already eight percent of the way to 2013’s total run output after just seven games. The Twins lead the American League in runs scored with 41, after scoring the third-fewest runs in 2013.

Early season statistics are often misleading. Sample sizes simply aren’t big enough to be significant, but it doesn’t make them any more fun to look at. Ultimately, things tend to balance out throughout the season. But, as everybody knows, recent results and performance dictate the prices on the betting market. Here are three things we learned and three things to watch for on the betting market over the next week:

What We Learned

1. The AL West is Deep

The American League West is very balanced. The Houston Astros will eventually fall off the pace, but this could legitimately be a three or four-team race for that division title. The Seattle Mariners finished up the first week with the league’s top run differential at +16. That’s without their second best starter, Hisashi Iwakuma. It’s a lineup that lacks household names outside of Robinson Cano, but a team that you should have on your radar. They can pitch, they get timely hits, and have an underrated bullpen.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are hitting, but still not pitching. A return to normalcy for Josh Hamilton would make this lineup much deeper and much more dangerous. There’s no reason to say “He’s baaaaack!” after one week’s worth of games, but there are a lot of encouraging signs. The pitching staff has had its problems, but both Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs looked very good in their first starts. Richards is an underrated starter with heavy ground ball stuff and the velocity to miss bats. Skaggs saw his velocity return to normal in his first start and looked very crisp. Without a true ace, the Angels will need to use their starting pitching depth.

Avoid the Rangers right now. With the exception of Opening Day’s 10-run outburst against Cliff Lee, the Rangers managed 16 runs in six games against the Phillies, Rays, and John Lackey. They’re missing key pieces and have a rotation that requires run support. Tanner Scheppers only allowed one run against a great Boston lineup, but he allowed 10 baserunners in five innings and threw 92 pitches.

Oakland could easily be 6-1 right now. A couple timely hits and a Jim Johnson converted save opportunity could have led to a sweep of the Indians. Ryan Cook has returned from the disabled list to strengthen an already-strong bullpen. The rest of the month for the A’s features the final two games of the Minnesota series and then nothing but games against AL West opponents.

What To Watch For

With the AL West teams, there should be some profitable things to look for in the near future. The A’s were 44-32 against AL West opponents last season, but the division looks a lot different this season. Look for them be overvalued this month. For the Angels, back Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs as underdogs or as slight favorites at home. With both guys, there’s very little potential of them getting blasted in the first few innings and digging a 6-0 hole. They’ll keep you in games at very reasonable prices.

For the Mariners, Erasmo Ramirez and James Paxton should be undervalued for a couple more starts before the oddsmakers start to catch up, especially if the Mariners keep playing this way. The Rangers are tough to back right now unless Yu Darvish is on the mound. Look for their totals to continue to be inflated because of name recognition and ballpark and spots to bet unders will be there.

What We Learned

2. Defense Still Undervalued

The oddsmakers did a poor job adjusting to defense last season. The top 10 teams in defensive runs saved last season were the Royals, Diamondbacks, Pirates, Brewers, Dodgers, Braves, Rangers, Reds, Cubs, and Yankees. Those 10 teams combined for a totals record of 768-846-75 last season. Not one of those teams had more overs than unders in 2013.

Take it with a grain of salt because of the small sample, but teams making a repeat appearance in the top 10 so far are the Braves, Royals, Cubs, Dodgers, Reds, Pirates, Diamondbacks, and Brewers. In totals this season, those eight teams are 18-31-5. The leading culprit on the totals has been Arizona, whose tied for 10th in defensive runs saved and their pitching staff has issued the most walks this season. Take out Arizona and the Dodgers and there are 24 unders and five pushes in 37 games for the other six teams.

What To Watch For

Yes, I completely realize that a 768-846 record is the break-even mark of 52.4 percent. However, without knowing the vig in these games, it’s impossible to say that it cannot be profitable. That’s also betting each and every game. Spot plays, especially in meetings between two teams on this list, should have shown a profit last season and should do so again this season.

Look at that list of teams and think about the offensive talent on most of those clubs. Also, there is a nice mix of pitcher’s parks and hitter’s parks in there where the environment is factored into the line. While the oddsmakers may think that they are covering their bases (pardon the pun) by including the park factor, they’re just adding more value to the line in hitter’s parks.

Keep an eye on the defensive runs saved leaderboard at Fangraphs, especially for teams that show the ability to stay in the top 10 as holdovers from the 2013 season. Unders are sure to be profitable with those teams once again.

What We Learned

3. Milwaukee As This Year’s Cincinnati?

The Milwaukee Brewers swept the Boston Red Sox in a three-game weekend series at Fenway Park. Through the first six starts, the Brewers rotation has posted a 1.64 ERA, a 3.83 FIP, and a 3.38 xFIP. Their 3.34 K/BB is among the best in baseball and the FIP is inflated because of their five home runs allowed in 38.1 innings. But, all six starts have come at Miller Park and Fenway Park, two of the league’s top hitter’s parks annually.

This is a talented and deep rotation with strikeout pitchers at the back-end, but no real ace. Yovani Gallardo hasn’t allowed a run while scattering 11 hits in 12.1 innings of work. Kyle Lohse had the “worst” start and he gave up three runs over seven innings against the Braves. They field, they can hit, and they have a deep starting rotation.

Meanwhile, the Reds are struggling through the start of their season. Mat Latos should return this week to deepen the rotation, but the Reds have managed just 18 runs in seven games. Their two victories are by scores of 1-0 and 2-1.

What To Watch For

Expect the Brewers to be underdogs a lot over the next couple of weeks. The next 10 games following the Phillies series are against the Pirates and Cardinals. Not only will that give us an indication of how legit the Brewers are this season, but they’ll be taking on the class of the division and there’s a good chance that they pass that test with decent marks.

Adam Burke

Adam Burke

Adam Burke is a freelance writer and amateur handicapper with a knack for finding value through matchup analysis and a deep understanding of the sports betting market. His main area of expertise is baseball, with a background in sabermetrics and advanced statistics. He is the host of The Gridiron Gambling Report and our college football and college basketball BangTheBook.com podcasts on the BlogTalkRadio Network.

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