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What is the True Value of Starting Pitching
by Bryan Leonard - 03/21/2008
With hardball beginning this week, thereâ€™s an old baseball adage that pitching is 90% of the game. Thatâ€™s arguable, but it comes from a time when teams would have 4 starting pitchers who would go 8 innings each game and each would throw 250-300 innings per season.
Times have changed. A lot. Teams go with 5 to 6 man rotations, starters are pampered, teams put a lot of money into deep bullpens, and expansion has diluted talent so itâ€™s more difficult to find starters to provide quality innings. Starting pitching isnâ€™t 90% of the game anymore. Two years ago the Houston Astros had the second best team ERA in the National League and fifth-best overall, yet they didnâ€™t make the postseason with a mediocre 82-80 season.
This brings up the question about how to make a line in baseball. How much do the starters for the game go into the betting line? Iâ€™d place it closer to 50%. This may seem low to some, but remember you can count on most starters to go about 6 innings these days. Thatâ€™s roughly 66% of the game, with the other 33% put in the hands of the relief staff.
In addition, other factors come into play, such as home/road play and stadiums. Some teams are terrific at home but awful on the road.
Take a look at the American League East in 2007 and you find the Toronto Blue Jays were sensational at home (49-32). Yet, on the road Toronto was 34-47. Tampa Bay was 37-44 at home (often as a home dog), yet on the road they were 29-52. Thatâ€™s nothing new: In 2006 the
Blue Jays sensational at home (50-31), but 37-44 away. That same season Tampa was 41-40 at home, but a putrid 20-61 on the road!
Oddsmakers will examine how the team and the individual starting pitchers perform both home and away. The Cardinals won the World Series just two years ago. St. Louis was 49-31 at home, but 34-47 on the road. Even an ace like Chris Carpenter had significant differences that season that need to be examined. Carpenter had a sizzling 1.82 ERA at home last season, but 4.70 on the road.
In addition, lefty/righty dynamics can factor in. Some teams are awful against lefty pitchers, so an oddsmaker might shave a few points against that team if they are facing a southpaw, regardless of who their own starting pitcher was. Injuries and weather conditions should also be taken into account.
If a pair of ace pitchers are going in Wrigley Field, like Carlos Zambrano and Carpenter, for instance, you might expect a total of around 7 or 8. Yet, if the wind is blowing out to center at Wrigley that day, the oddsmaker would have to pump it up. Iâ€™ve seen Wrigley totals fluctuate anywhere from 7 to 15 depending on weather conditions and starters.
Even the stadiums factor into what a baseball line will be. You might expect quality pitchers to go 7-8 innings in pitcher-friendly parks like Oakland, Florida, Shea Stadium and Detroit, but parks in Cincinnati and Philadelphia are very hitter-friendly. All of a sudden, in those parks, you might have to anticipate a starter going 5 innings because he will get hit, give up the long ball, throw a lot of pitches and be gone sooner than normal. In an example like that, you have to give less consideration to who the starters might be when making a number.
Notice that a bad team like Washington has played very differently home and away. The last two years the Nationals are 41-40 at home each season, but 30-51 and 33-48 away. So, yes, you make a baseball line based on starting pitchers, but adjustments need to be made on many other variables.