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2nd Half Handicapping

   by Scott Spreitzer - 07/15/2009

So many teams change form in the second half of a baseball season, that I often think its best for handicappers to just start from scratch after the All-Star break.

*Mediocre teams who had been hanging around .500 start to fall off the pace because they lose their spirit, or because key guys who had been playing over their heads fall back to earth. If you think of them as a 50/50 team as they’re turning into a 40/60 team (or worse) percentage-wise, you’re going to lose money.

*Horrible teams who are so far off the radar nobody’s thinking about them start to play better. They make personnel changes that improve production. They run into opponents who don’t get fired up for them. Maybe they make a managerial change that brings new direction. If you think of them as a 35/65 team as they’re turning into a 50/50 team, you’re going to lose money.

*Some pennant contenders close the campaign on fire. Experienced veterans know that races are won in the second half of the season, and they go about trying to win a race. We’ve seen this time and time again over the years. The Oakland A’s were known for this back when the had “Moneyballâ€쳌 talent. A few contenders surged home strong last season. If you think of these contenders as a 55/45 teams as they’re turning into a 65/35 team, you’re going to lose money.

*Other pennant contenders choke under the pressure. They’re not ready for the big time yet. The hitters start to press too hard and lose their rhythm. Pitchers try to make every throw perfect and wear down from the strain. This is more likely to happen to young teams than veteran teams. We have some young contenders this year. If you think of these squads as a 55/45 team as they’re turning into a 45/55 team, you’re going to lose money.

I don’t want you to lose money!

I want you to stay ahead of the curve. One way to do that is start your record keeping (particularly the way you monitor the standings) all over again. Keep separate notes where everybody begins play on July 16th at 0-0. And, do so with an eye on the developments that are about to take place.

*Pay special attention to all the mediocrities who are just going through the motions within striking distance of the .500 mark. See if you can anticipate which ones are about to fall off the map. Quick hint: franchises who start trading star players to “build for the futureâ€쳌 are great nominees for poor second halves. Players know a fire a sale when they see one. It kills their spirit.

*Pay special attention to all the last place teams to see if you can find one that will be a money maker in the coming months. Will the Washington Nationals stay this horrible all season? Or, will gather up some pride and string some wins together. Maybe it won’t be the Nats. But somebody from off the radar is going to be a good moneymaker in the coming months.

*Evaluate the veteran make-up of the divisional contenders. Which teams have been through a pennant race before, and are likely to close well as they try to reach the postseason? Which teams mostly have newcomers who may develop a "deer in the headlights" look about them? Figure out how to bet on the headlights!

You should also do this with pitchers. Throw out the stats from the first half! If a star develops a tired arm, you’ll be betting on him because of his great stats, when you should be betting against him because he’s not in form right now. This year there are several decent arms who had bad early stretches that ruined their stats. They’re going to pitch well in the second half of the season, but you’ll be betting against them because their stats are so ugly.

If you start all pitchers over at 0-0, and calculate their ERA’s based ONLY on what’s happening in the second half, you’ll be in synch with reality rather than at the mercy of old news.

Your mind has a tendency to turn a long season into a slow and steady race where teams are all traveling at pre-determined speeds. That’s an illusion. The first half was its own race. A new one is about to start. Some cars you thought were slow are about to get faster. Some cars you thought were fast are about to slow down. Some cars you weren’t really paying attention to are about to become the biggest stars in the story (either through crashes or sprints).

Don’t let what happened in the first half loom too large in your imagination as you handicap the games. Let the mainstream media and other bettors stay behind the curve. We need to get out in front winning money!

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