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Dissecting the MLB Boxscore

   by Ben Burns - 04/08/2008

What’s your view this week: Did Kansas win the national title? Or did Memphis lose it? Regardless, the Jayhawks are champs, while the Tigers are chumps after an epic collapse, blowing a 9-point lead with 2:00 to go, clanking 4 of 5 free throws at the end of regulation.

Everyone knew Memphis was in trouble in overtime, out of gas and without big man Joey Dorsey, who had foolishly fouled out with 1:23 left in regulation. I was thrilled with the final score, as Kansas took the college basketball title, 75-68. I gave out the game 'under' the total, and it stayed below the number, despite the teams playing an extra five minutes in overtime. Believe me, at the time, I was none to pleased when the game reached OT, as it looked like a potentially brutal beat.

In my pregame analysis I wrote, "Everyone knows that both these teams can score. However, they often forget that both teams are also capable of playing great defense. UCLA entered Saturday's Final Four contest having scored 88 and 76 points in its previous two games, while shooting 47.9% for the season. However, the Tigers held the Bruins to just 37.5% shooting and 63 points. Kansas was arguably even more impressive on the defensive side of the ball, holding North Carolina to just 66 points. That's extremely impressive considering that the Tar Heels were averaging 91.6 points their previous five games and 89.2 on the season. Not surprisingly, that game stayed below the number, bringing the UNDER to 20-10-2 the ast 32 times that the Jayhawks were listed as underdogs. Prior to North Carolina's 66 points, the Jayhawks had held their four previous opponents to 57, 57, 56 and 61. The number has risen by a few points, giving us excellent line value. I look for more strong defensive play resulting in the final combined score being much lower than most are expecting.â€쳌

The Tigers let it slip away and it will likely haunt them for a long time. The miscues were mind-numbing: A lazy pass, four missed free throws in the final 1:15, and a tactical mistake at crunch time. Of course, some (mostly Memphis backers!) will contend that "luck" played a part, too, as all those mistakes still wouldn’t have mattered if it weren’t for Mario’s Miracle three-pointer to force overtime.

You’ll see it on Classic Sports again – probably soon!

With college hoops in the rear view mirror, the focus will be on the NBA playoffs the NHL playoffs and of course the baseball regular season. When wagering on baseball in the spring, naturally its always important to look deeper than the win/loss record to accurately a pitcher’s performance. Many times a pitcher will pick up a loss, yet throw a great game. It’s much more important to focus on the "great game" – few hits and walks allowed – than it is the final score.

For instance, Philadelphia starter Cole Hamels got tagged with a loss in his first start. However, Hamels was actually very sharp, allowing just one run through eight complete innings. That’s a brilliant performance. Yet, his team couldn't deliver him any run support. That'll happen from time to time. However, it’s not likely to happen often to Hamels with a normally potent Philadelphia offense behind him.

I took a shot with Hamels after that game, when he faced the Reds. Hamels is likely to be quite expensive throughout the season but I felt the price was reasonable, particularly given that the last time Hamels played at Cincinnati, he tossed a complete game, while striking out 15 Cincinnati hitters. The Phillies won 4-1. Throw in a miniscule 0.64 ERA in two starts in Cincy with 22 Ks (only two walks) in 14 innings, and Hamels has dominated the 'Queen City."

He was matched up against Bronson Arroyo. By contrast, Arroyo didn’t pitch particularly well in his first start, giving up four runs (two earned) in just five innings. So what happened? Philly jumped out to a 5-2 lead in the third as Arroyo lasted 5+ innings, giving up 9 hits and 5 runs. Hamels was terrific, going 7 innings allowing 5 hits and only one earned run as the Phillies got the money.

Earned run average (ERA) can also sometimes be a deceiving stat, particularly early in the season, when one sub-par inning can inflate a pitcher's ERA for the next month. Mark Buerhle offers a perfect example. While he isn't flashy and doesn't get much recognition, Buehrle has been a model of consistency for the entire millennium. In fact, he's delivered seven consecutive seasons of 200+ innings and 30+ starts, recording an ERA of 3.89 or better in five of those seven years. His career ERA is a highly respectable 3.82. However, he got rocked in his first start, allowing seven runs in just two innings vs. Cleveland. That gave him an awful 37.72 ERA after one start. He was a +155 underdog for his next start and bounced back with a strong performance, allowing two runs (one earned) through seven complete innings, en route to a 13-2 victory over Detroit.

As the Tigers found out, sometimes a pitcher's early season stats can be deceiving. When handicapping, make sure to "dig deep" when dissecting the boxscores. As always, good luck...Ben Burns

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