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Lessons From Early Baseball

   by Scott Spreitzer - 04/29/2009

I have to say this has to be one of the most interesting Aprils we’ve had in Major League Baseball in quite some time.

*Many of the projected superpowers have had trouble getting things going.

*Many projected patsies have been contending, or even leading their divisions.

*We have two new stadiums in the sport’s biggest city, and one of them may turn baseball into a circus. Like the New York Yankees franchise wasn’t already a circus!

*We have many teams scrambling to hold their own while their pitching ace recovers on the Disabled List. We have others scrambling to hold their own because their ace is struggling and they can’t figure out what’s wrong!

*The lack of elite pitching has led to many dramatic come-from-behind victories. No lead is safe! (So, be sure you know which teams have superior bullpens!)

All of this bedlam has led to a lot of confusion here in Las Vegas. Sports bettors who used to win in April are having troubles because pitchers they relied on in the past are letting them down (or sitting in street clothes). Oddsmakers have misread so many teams from top to bottom that you can’t even believe they make lines for a living. But\ sportsbooks are still making money because the public misread things even worse!

There are lessons to be learned from baseball as we see it “now.â€쳌 And those lessons should influence our thinking from this point forward in the season.

*There’s more parity than people realize in baseball. There’s an assumption from the media and the public that the rich will crush the poor given time. It’s true that the rich have some edges. But those edges come from stockpiling expensive talent. If the expensive talent is on the Disabled List, or is otherwise struggling, then there’s really no difference between rich and poor. Run through the standings in your morning newspaper. That’s what you see. In April of 2009, there’s no difference between rich and poor in Major League Baseball.

*The level of parity is such that suffering more than one key injury is like having a flat tire in a car race. Everybody passes you! Getting “a little bitâ€쳌 worse can mean falling from being one of the best teams to being one of the worst. Look at the record of the Los Angeles Angels right after Vladimir Guerrero got hurt. They had suffered other injuries (and a tragedy) before that. In a finger snap, they had one of the least productive rosters in the American League. Oddsmakers and the public barely adjusted at first even though this was obvious. I do expect the team to make some adjustments and become more competitive. That first week without Vlad was brutal. If you’ve ever had a flat tire on a freeway you know what I’m talking about!

*Young and hungry players are often better than you realize. The public in particular will assume that a collection of guys they never heard of must be terrible. Sometimes that’s true. Sometimes it isn’t. If you can recognize when it isn’t before the betting markets adjust, you can make a lot of money. April of 2009 proves that dramatically.

*Teams who compete in the “shadowsâ€쳌 of the high profile franchises have a tendency to be better than expected against outside competition. You saw that last year with the Tampa Bay Rays, who grasped the American League pennant from the desperate claws of Boston and New York. You’re seeing it so far in April 2009 with Toronto from the same division. They’ve only played teams from outside the A.L. East so far. Have you checked their record lately?

*In normal times, having great starting pitchers is what separates the best from the pack. When those pitchers aren’t in the mix because of injuries, pitching DEPTH becomes the tie-breaker. That’s true in the rotation, and late in close games. If some teams have some “Aâ€쳌 guys and some “Câ€쳌 guys, and others have mostly “Bâ€쳌 guys, who’s going to win when the “Aâ€쳌 guys are on the Disabled List?

*Probably the biggest lesson is that the baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint! I wouldn’t be surprised if many of the power franchises do get their acts together and work their way toward the top of the standings by September. A lot of big name players are due to get healthy. And, veteran teams in particular have learned to pace themselves for a long season. There’s no prize for being the best team in April. What’s important for handicappers to realize is that oddsmakers price the games as if it’s the end of the marathon rather than the beginning. The superpowers are being priced RIGHT NOW like champions even though they’re just playing generic baseball. That creates a window of opportunity that sharp handicappers can drive a truck through.

If you’ve been winning so far in the bases, congratulations! If you’ve been struggling so far, I hope the lessons you learned today will turn things around. Baseball is a sport that’s easy to beat if you’re willing to do your homework!

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