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Finding Value During the Stretch Run
by Scott Spreitzer - 08/01/2010
This week, I want to outline strategies for finding teams who will offer value from now through the end of September. What are the main characteristics of the "super surgers" who close the season very strong?
You just can't string together victories unless you have quality deep in your starting rotation. Some teams are top heavy, with one or two great starters followed by mediocrity or worse. A team that "surges" will win two-thirds or three-fourths of its games over a sustained period. That doesn't happen by going win-win...cross your fingers...loss-loss. Too many fans and wagerers look for teams to get hot who just don't have the right kind of talent distribution. Believe it or not, a team that's pretty good in all five spots (or at least four of the five) is better positioned for a long winning surge.
I should also mention that bullpen quality is crucial too. Surging teams typically have a set-up man and ace reliever they can rely on down the stretch. The New York Yankees and Mariano Rivera have had some great second halves for example.
To me, this is the number one qualifier. Remember, I'm not talking about high-end pitching. Depth is what matters here.
It's easy to fall in love with slugging offenses that occasionally post huge numbers. They look like superstars in those games where they happen to run into a struggling pitcher, or weather conditions that favor home runs. This type of team isn't consistent though. They alternate poor games with huge games. This creates a great average, but a won-loss record that treads water.
You want teams who get people on base and bring them around to score. That's why on-base percentage is my favorite offensive stat. There's a strong correlation to winning. Look for offenses that are going to post 4-5 runs most every time they take the field. Combine that with pitching depth, and the pieces are in place for a winning surge.
You often hear announcers talk about teams suffering bad luck with injuries. I've found that many ideal super-surge teams are those who were injured earlier in the year, but are now healthy. The players have a sense of urgency because they're making up for lost time. The betting markets are still pricing the team based on those earlier performances. This is a great combination for the sharp wagerer. Look for teams who used to be shorthanded but aren't any more.
This is one of the hardest things in sports to quantify. You know it when you see it with your own eyes. It can be hard to find in the raw numbers. Well, you probably watch a lot of games. Look for chemistry with your own eyes! Look for enthusiastic teams who are playing like every game matters. Look for teamwork in the field, particularly in the area of turning double plays. Look for offenses that work together rather than sitting around waiting for home runs (this typically goes hand in hand with the consistency issue I mentioned earlier). Surging teams always have a great spirit about them. That spirit is evident very early in the surge.
*AN "US AGAINST THE WORLD" MENTALITY
I've found that many surging teams are held together by a sense that they're not getting enough respect. I think this is part of what slows down some first place teams. They do get respect because they're in first place, so they lose a step while stopping to smell the roses. Read postgame quotes from newspaper accounts, and watch interviews on TV. If you hear the players talking about wanting to prove a point, or being tired of hearing how great another team is, you may be onto something very good. This is a great edge to look for in all sports, particularly with underdogs.
I've got a few teams under the microscope for the rest of the 2010 season. I'm confident that serious bettors/handicappers will be able to use the guidelines I posted today to make a quality list of their own. Some handicapping approaches help you find a winner that day. Others help you find weeks of winners. You owe it to yourself to be on the lookout for second half explosions in both the American and National Leagues. The reward can be substantial!