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MLB Post-All Star Break Strategies
by Scott Spreitzer - 07/08/2007
When we were last together, I outlined some handicapping strategies you could use for major league baseball games leading up to the All-Star break. Today, I want to focus on the days immediately following the break.
This is a very unique time in a baseball season for a number of reasons. The key differences:
*Most starting pitchers have been knocked off the five-day rotation. A few will stay in synch, but the vast majority will have extra days of rest (and everyone pitching over the weekend will be in that situation). Some pitchers respond well to this. Many don't.
*Hitters have had three days off, which can mess up their timing just a bit. Even those that played in the All-Star game had a couple of days off. We've also seen recently that hitters participating in the Home Run Derby mess up their swing and struggle when they go back to the regular schedule.
You might be thinking that this all cancels out. If the pitchers are worse off than normal, and the hitters are worse off than normal, then everything comes out the same in the wash, doesn't it?
What this means is that quality fades back to mediocrity for about a week. Teams with strong pitching staffs suddenly aren't as strong as they had been. Vegas oddsmakers price them like everything's normal, but it's not. Ace caliber pitchers often struggle for a start or two when knocked off their regular rotation. This brings strong pitching-based teams back to the pack.
On the other hand, teams with strong offenses also fall back to earth! The hitters have lost their timing, and the star hitters are still feeling a bit of a hangover from the all-star festivities. Vegas oddsmakers are still expecting fireworks from the top offenses. Over the course of a large sampling of games, the offensive teams underachieve expectations.
You see, the time off is a great equalizer in a sport that already has a lot of parity. The teams that have separated themselves from the pack by purchasing, acquiring, or developing star talent lose that edge for a few days after the break. Everybody's shaky after the layoff! All 30 teams are closer to even now than they will be at any other point this season. Obviously, that means that you should be focusing on underdogs.
*Teams with the best won-lost records aren't going to play as well as expected. One or two might hit the ground running. But the six division leaders and the dozen or so legitimate playoff contenders won't have the edges that you've gotten used to them having.
*Teams with the worst won-lost records are going to play better than expected. Or, better put, they'll be as mediocre as always but they won't be as far behind everyone else as they normally are.
Good teams will be a bit over .500 as a composite, against lines that will be asking them to win 60% of the time or more to break even. History says they'll burn money for backers until the top pitchers get back on rotation and the top hitters get their timing back. Bad teams will be a bit under .500 as a composite, but that will be enough to make good money with the high underdog returns.
Should you just take all underdogs and forget about the handicapping? That wouldn't be a horrible strategy because it's likely to grind out a profit for a few days. But it's important to remember that some pitchers will still be on rotation. Different managers handle things differently. Some will make sure that the guys who pitched the prior Saturday and Sunday will stay on rotation, reducing the possible impact to just three starters. Other managers just start over again, putting the best possible starter on the mound as long as he's not on short rest.
You don't want to go against a top-notch starting pitcher who's on rotation. He's likely to throw a gem against rusty bats! But some of the best values you'll find on those first two days involve getting average pitchers who are on rotation at great underdog prices against star pitchers who aren't on their regular rotations any more. These games will be virtual pick-ems on the field, but the oddsmakers will have the star pitcher as a big favorite.
Your strategy after the break should be very simple. Shade your action toward underdogs, and look for spots to exploit where you've got a pitcher that's in synch matched up against a pitcher that's out of synch. There's really nothing the oddsmakers can do to properly adjust for these influences. It's your job to take advantage!
What about totals? These can be dicey because there's so much sluggishness on both sides of the ball. I've found over the years that the ballpark influences tend to rule the day. In pitcher's parks, the fact that the hitters had a few days off reduces their chances of stringing together big hits in poor visibility, so the games stay Under more often than not. In hitter's parks, particularly in hot weather, the fact that starting pitchers aren't as sharp as normal leads to Overs. To me, your focus should be on finding team side advantages based on the rotation factors involving the starting pitchers. If you MUST play totals, let the ballpark tendencies be your guide.
If you've been playing intelligently thus far, you've got a nice profit to show for it after the first half of the season. Don't commit any errors now that would make it all for naught. These first few days after the break will offer great opportunities for you to pyramid those profits!