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Baseball Totals: Parks and Lineup Changes

   by Al McMordie - 06/14/2009

When studying totals in baseball, it is important to examine two often overlooked areas: lineup changes and the parks. Many people look simply at offensive and pitching stats and fail to take into consideration changes that managers are constantly making (or forced to make, because of injuries), as well as the parks that teams play in. It's no secret that the dimensions of parks play a role not only in how a team plays but in how a team is constructed.

When Whitey Herzog managed the Royals in the 1970s and the Cardinals in the 1980s, he recognized that both teams played in huge, pitcher-friendly parks on Astroturf. They were not easy to hit home runs in, so Herzog constructed his teams around speed and defense, particularly in the outfield. One time a player on his team stole a base even though they were leading 10-2. The opposing manager yelled across the field at him for stealing with such a big lead and then complained about it to the newspapers after the game saying, "Whitey is showing us up and that's baloney." Herzog retorted, "Stealing bases is how we score runs. We'll agree to stop stealing if he agrees not to hit any more home runs."

When wagering on baseball totals, it's important to look at the park, the defense and the pitching staffs, both starting and relief pitching. Current teams with large, pitcher-friendly parks are Safeco in Seattle, Dodger Stadium in LA, Comerica in Detroit, Petco in San Diego and the Oakland Coliseum. The Tigers have constructed their offense around speed with Curtis Granderson atop the order, while the A's preach drawing walks and on-base percentage. Notice that the Padres started 13-7-2 under the total at home. Two years ago they started 15-8 under at home.

Sports bettors carefully look at parks and numbers like these, in addition to offensive production. For instance, the defending champion Phillies play in a small park conducive to hitting, as do the Rangers, Cubs and Brewers.

The Yankees opened a new stadium this season and home runs have been flying out of the park. After claims that the dimensions of the new Yankee Stadium were identical to the old, AccuWeather.com reported that differences in the new park are mainly responsible for the record number of home runs. They wrote, "Taking into account the dimensions of the field and wall height, AccuWeather.com has calculated that 19 percent (20 out of 105) home runs would not have flown out of the old stadium."

Counting switch-hitters, the Yankees have 7 left-handed batters in the lineup with only Derek Jeter and A-Rod batting only from the right side. So their offense presents major problems for teams visiting the new park. However, there is a cost to that: Pitching, especially in the bullpen where the Yankees are 24th with a 4.75 mark.

Which brings me to the Washington Nationals and their park. This is a pitcher-friendly park and Washington just finished a six-game home stand against the Mets and Reds where all 6 games went under the total.

The Red Sox made some significant adjustments to the lineup the last few weeks, which has paid big dividends. They moved struggling DH David Ortiz from the No. 3 hole to No. 6. He is hitting better now, but more important, he’s not handicapping the lineup by leaving guys on base in the all-important No. 3 slot. In addition, J.D. Drew got on base 7 times in the series with the Yankees and has a .526 OBP in 10 games as the new No. 2 hitter. He's been a big plus on the Red Sox offense as they won 10 of 12 games.

Things change during the course of a season and it’s important for handicappers to evaluate changes to see if it will influence sides and totals. I recall two years ago the White Sox, for instance, got off to a poor start offensively, largely because slugger Jim Thome and leadoff hitter Scott Podsednik were on the DL. Designated hitter Jim Thome missed nearly three weeks with a strained rib cage muscle. However, when he came back the offense improved.

With Thome batting in the third spot, more scoring opportunities were provided for Jermaine Dye and the rest of the order. Thome's return and subsequent contribution coincided with the resurrection of the Sox offense. The Sox pounded Oakland's American League-leading pitching staff with a 13-hit attack, marking their fourth consecutive game with 10 hits or more. "It looks like when Jim Thome is in the starting lineup, everyone is relaxed," manager Ozzie Guillen said at the time. The White Sox were also on a 6-1 over the total run.

The Yankee offense certainly got better last month when Alex Rodriguez returned, which coincided with their hot streak. One reason for the struggles of the Cleveland Indians has been an extreme in two statistical areas: Indians hitters led the league in strikeouts (440) and their pitchers lead the league in walks (231), a terrible mix. Betting totals can be just as profitable as sides in baseball, and knowing the parks and daily lineup changes can help a good bettor turn a profit.

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