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September Baseball

   by Al McMordie - 08/29/2005

The end of this week marks a new baseball season. No, not the playoffs, but the time of the year when major league baseball rosters expand. This is very important to understand. With football season kicking off this week, a lot of attention is going to be focused there, but don’t overlook the world of baseball wagering. Pennant races are about to come down the home stretch, with many teams motivated to win, and other teams (Royals, Devil Rays, Reds, Dodgers, Mariners) essentially packing it in.

What’s important about the first week of September is the roster changes. Teams that are out of it are going to bench some veteran players who don’t figure to be in the team’s plan for next season, and bring up potentially good prospects from the minor leagues. Teams thin at catcher, for example, might bring up one or two young catching prospects to give them a taste of the big leagues. Part of this is a reward, part of it is to get them some baptism under fire, and part is to get them a look at major league pitching. I recall minor league players saying that the biggest adjustment to the big leagues was pitching. In the minor leagues pitchers throw hard most of the time. Yet, at the big league level, pitchers use far more different pitches, and change speeds to try to fool hitters. September offers young players an important taste of this.

In addition, teams that are in pennant races get a chance to bring a hot prospect up not for a look at next season, but someone who might be able to help them this year. In 1996 the Braves brought up a talented center fielder named Andruw Jones, and he was starting in the World Series a few months later. In 1988, the first-place Mets brought up prospect Gregg Jeffries, who tore the cover off the ball in September and wound up playing in the NLCS starting at third base.

From a betting point of view, there will be a lot of lineup changes taking place over the next few weeks. It’s essential that you look extra carefully at these changes, scan box scores and make notes on the new kids in the lineup. Bad teams may bring in a whole crop of kids and try them out, as they are clearly focused on 2006. This can create excellent go-against opportunities. I recall in September of 1996, the Detroit Tigers brought up a bunch of no-names from Triple A that dotted their lineup card. It was against this young roster that veteran Roger Clemens shut them out with 20 strikeouts.

Good teams are less inclined to go with kids, as they are still in the playoff hunt. Even more important are young pitchers making the jump to big league rosters. Carefully look if some teams suddenly have a bullpen full of inexperienced arms, or one or two 20-year old starters from the minor leagues. Also, look at how those kids did in the minors. Did they have control trouble? Are they hittable? Young pitchers on good teams may struggle as they can be thrown into the pressure of a pennant race.

There are a lot of different dynamics coming into play later this week in baseball. So, it's essential for a good handicapper to change the way he analyzes baseball stats and players this time of year and to digest all these changes. After all, football is going to be getting much of the ink over the next month, but don’t forget there’s still plenty of money to be won in baseball -- if you know how to interpret the right data. Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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