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Baseball Totals: Early Trends

   by Bryan Leonard - 05/01/2007

Trends are an interesting aspect of handicapping. I’m not a strong follower of trends, unless I can identify reasons behind them. For instance, if an NBA team is 17-6 against the spread on Sundays, that’s a trend that means nothing to me. There could be reasons within that trend explaining it, such as 80% of the games were at home, or it could just be a fluke, a statistical anomaly.

However, the trends that interest me are the ones that can help predict what will happen against the spread. These angles have to have reasons behind them that make sense. In baseball, it’s not surprising that the NY Yankees began the season 12-4 over the total. Despite getting swept at Boston, the offense is still leading the American League in runs scored, batting average and second in on base percentage.

This offense is loaded and has been scoring plenty of runs, even in the cooler April weather. But the pitching has been weak because of so many injuries. 3 starters have been on the DL in Wang, Mussina and Pavano. They’ve been forced to go with several rookies, one of whom gave up an AL record 4 straight home runs to 4 batters against the Red Sox. All three of those games at Fenway sailed over the total. If the NY pitching doesn’t get healthy, get ready for a lot of 10-7 Yankee games as the weather gets warmer!

Another team that’s been an over machine is Tampa Bay. The Devils Rays have one of the most unusual statistical combinations you’ll ever find. Tampa Bay is second in the AL in slugging, tops in steals and second in runs scored behind only the Yankees! Yes, you read that right. However, the pitching has been abysmal, dead last in team ERA. That’s a powerful combination is you’re a totals player, and Tampa Bay started 12-3 over the total.

By contrast, the last two seasons the Red Sox have put a greater emphasis on pitching and defense than their all-or-nothing slugging team of 2005. They were tops in defense in 2006 and this offseason broke the bank to acquire the best starter on the market in Japanese ace Daisuke Matsuzaka. Boston leads the AL in team ERA, which explains the 10-6 start under the total (8-1 under on the road). A year ago at this time, the Red Sox team defense was so improved they started 7-4-1 under the total.

Speaking of pitching, the Tigers have been good in the pitching department even with the loss of Kenny Rogers. But the offense has struggled, particularly the big bat they brought in with Gary Sheffield struggling with a poor .119 batting average. Detroit started 10-6 under the total, and 8-2 under on the road.

One surprising stat has been the Florida Marlins offense, which has been terrific, in the top 3 in the National League in batting, runs and slugging. Yet, the pitching ranks second to last in the NL. Most of us expected pitching to be the strength of the Marlins, but they’ve flip-flopped so far. All of which explains a 13-5 start over the total. It's important to sift through the facts between trends and statistical anomalies. If there are solid reasons behind trends, they can continue to be betting angles to keep a close eye on.

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