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Baseball Parks and Totals

   by Al McMordie - 06/01/2007

Offense is down a bit this season in major league baseball. There are many theories about this, from teams shoring up the relief staff as many games are decided in the 6th, 7th and 8th innings, to the decrease in steroids. Another factor that's always worth considering is the ballpark. It's no secret that the dimensions of parks play a role not only in how a team plays but in how a team is constructed.

When Whitey Herzog managed the Royals in the 1970s and the Cardinals in the 1980s, he recognized that both teams played in huge, pitcher-friendly parks on Astroturf. They were not easy to hit home runs in, so Herzog constructed his teams around speed and defense, particularly in the outfield. One time a player on his team stole a base even though they were leading 10-2. The opposing manager yelled across the field at him for stealing with such a big lead and then complained about it to the newspapers after the game saying, "Whitey is showing us up and that's baloney." Herzog retorted, "Stealing bases is how we score runs. We'll agree to stop stealing if he agrees not to hit any more home runs."

When wagering on baseball totals, it's important to look at the park, the defense and the pitching staffs, both starting and relief pitching. Current teams with large, pitcher-friendly parks are Safeco in Seattle, Dodger Stadium in LA, Comerica in Detroit, Shea Stadium in New York (Mets), Petco in San Diego and the Oakland Coliseum. The Mariners have constructed their offense around speed while the A's preach drawing walks and on-base percentage. They don't look to sit back and hit home runs. Notice that the Padres are 15-8 under the total at home this season.

Sports bettors carefully look at parks and numbers like these, in addition to offensive production. For instance, the Phillies play in a small park conducive to hitting, and they’ve had pitching problems. Philadelphia averages 5.2 runs per game at home, but 4.9 runs on the road. That explains why this team is competitive at home with a winning record, but a losing mark away from home. Philadelphia is 20-13 over the total thus far as a favorite. Stats like these have reasons behind them.

Which brings me to the cost-cutting Washington Nationals and their park. This is a pitcher-friendly park and Washington averages just 3.8 runs per game on the road, but a ridiculously low 3.3 per game at home. Washington is 13-8 under the total at home.

Another team that has a huge home field edge this season is the surprising Milwaukee Brewers. Milwaukee is a .500 road team, but at home their offense strikes for 5.2 runs per game, which is why they are 16-8 over the total at home.

Of course, things can change during the course of a season, too, and it’s important for handicappers to evaluate changes to see if it will influence sides and totals. The White Sox, for instance, got off to a poor start offensively, largely because slugger Jim Thome and leadoff hitter Scott Podsednik were on the DL. Designated hitter Jim Thome missed nearly three weeks with a strained rib cage muscle. However, he is back and everyone is beginning to hit.

With Thome batting in the third spot, more scoring opportunities are provided for Jermaine Dye and the rest of the order. Thome's return and subsequent contribution virtually has coincided with the resurrection of the Sox offense. The Sox pounded Oakland's American League-leading pitching staff for the second consecutive game with a 13-hit attack, marking their fourth consecutive game with 10 hits or more. "It looks like when Jim Thome is in the starting lineup, everyone is relaxed," manager Ozzie Guillen said. Notice the White Sox are on a 6-1 over the total run. Betting totals can be just as profitable as sides in baseball, and knowing the parks and daily lineup changes can help a good bettor turn a profit.

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