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Edges Are In The Details

   by Bryan Leonard - 07/04/2008

When analyzing baseball battles, patterns can emerge. A pitcher may have success against one team over a span of a few years; a team may be great at home, terrible on the road; or a lineup may struggle consistently against lefty starters. All these details provide clues as to which team might have an edge on the diamond.

This is what successful handicapping over the long haul is all about: Finding those details and pulling the pieces together. I had a play on the Blue Jays over the weekend when they were a home dog against the Braves and Tim Hudson. I had to factor in the Atlanta terrible road record, along with some insight on the little known Blue Jays hurler that I dug up.

In the analysis of the contest I found, “The American League continued their dominance of Interleague play with Atlanta being one of the few senior circuit winners. But we feel the price is right to jump on the Blue Jays this game at the Rogers Center. Toronto will be sending John Parrish to the hill after posting a 10-1 mark with a 2.74 ERA in Triple A. He hasn't been a regular starter in the majors since coming up in 2000. The lefty has been used primarily out of the bullpen in his big league career but the Blue Jays feel he is better suited in the starting rotation.

“Atlanta has struggled with lefties all season especially on the road where they have scored just 2.36 runs per game versus southpaws. With Chipper Jones remaining out of the everyday lineup we expect success today from this Toronto pitching staff. The Blue Jays hit right-handed starters pretty well and today they will be facing a good one in Tim Hudson. But despite pitching pretty well away from home (3.74 ERA) the Braves are just 2-7 in his road starts. Atlanta has scored just 12 total runs in the last four games as they have been scuffling at the plate as of late. With a 12-27 road record this has not been a good situation for the Braves. With the American League dominating play and the Brave's poor road mark the line on today's game isn't justified. We have a big named pitcher getting too much credit and we step in with a nice home underdog situation.â€쳌 Toronto had little trouble winning again at home, 9-5, jumping out to a 6-1 lead as a dog. Parrish allowed one run and four hits in six innings to win for the first time since May 19, 2007. Parrish set down the first nine batters he faced. Just because a guy comes up from AAA doesn’t mean he’s not ready to pitch well.

The next day I had another underdog, the Giants against the light-hitting A’s. This was the case of a starting pitcher being favored despite pitching lousy over several starts with the opposing pitching throwing well. I noted, “Oakland’s Joe Blanton right now is pitching without a clue. Despite coming off his best performance in two months there are many signs pointing towards an injured pitcher, or more likely a starter who has lost his release point. First off he only has three quality starts in his last seven games, despite pitching five of those games in pitcher friendly Oakland. Another sign of problems has been his strikeout to walk ratio. Over his last five starts his ratio is 11 to 12.

“Thirdly and most important is his fly ball to groundball ratio. Normally over the course of a season a pitcher tends to be one or the other. If he is able to keep pitches low in the strike zone he would likely become a groundball pitcher, high in the zone a fly ball pitcher. Depending on the park the starter is playing in tells you all you need to know about what he is trying to accomplish. Let's take a look at Blanton's last four starts. In order his groundball to fly ball ratios have been 8.00, 1.57, 0.33 and 4.33. He has been at his best when keeping the ball down but when he struggles with his control he is being pounded. The problem has been his inability to pitch to his strengths on a consistent basis. Until he figures that out he is not worthy of backing in the role of a favorite.

“San Fran’s Jonathan Sanchez takes the mound for the Giants. He has pitched seven quality starts in his last eight appearances. His lone weakness has been finding the strike zone but he hasn't allowed more than three free passes in his last eight outings. The Giants have won six of his last seven starts despite being installed as underdogs in every single game. Oakland is just 3-9 when Blanton takes the mound at McAfee Coliseum. There is no way that the A's should be a sizable favorite here. Once again the linesmaker has shortchanged Sanchez and the Giants, and we once again take advantage.â€쳌 The Giants led 9-1 in the fifth on the way to an 11-1 win as a dog. Think oddsmakers made a bad number? Sanchez won his fifth straight road start, while Blanton was erratic, as usual.

Blanton set down the first 10 hitters he faced and then allowed nine of the final 11 batters to reach base. Either he’s injured or his confidence is gone. The bottom line is to get as many details as you can about a game, then piece them together to see if there is wagering value. Many times your facts will conflict with who oddsmakers think should be favored. That’s because they make lines based on public perception. The Blue Jays in the above example had a no-name pitcher going against a big-name. But so what? The numbers painted a picture revealing excellent value with the home dog. In the other example, oddsmakers were looking at Oakland’s home record and making them chalk despite a pitcher who has lost it (or is hurting). Winning edges are in the details.

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