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Under the Radar

   by Scott Spreitzer - 04/30/2006

Ask the Minnesota Twins whether or not the Detroit Tigers are for real!

The Tigers managed to offer great value for Las Vegas wagerers and handicappers in the first few weeks of the season because many of their successes were coming below the radar.

*They were playing mostly on the road, where it's harder to post an eye-popping record.

*They were playing often on the West Coast, when the mainstream media still devotes all of its attention to New York and Boston.

*They were winning with pitching, at a time when everyone was trying to figure out whether or not the balls were juiced because scoring was so high.

*They were doing it in the same division as the Chicago White Sox, who managed to stay ahead of the Tigers in the standings because they were playing more home games.

Add it all up and you've got a team that's now playing better than .600 ball against incredibly inexpensive money lines. The oddsmakers were slow to react; the "Wise Guys" did little to move the lines with big money; and those with a sharp eye were able to take advantage time and time again.

The weekend series was a great example. Detroit was a relatively small $1.50 favorite at home against struggling Minnesota Friday and Saturday, but won absolute slaughters. Would Boston or the Yankees, or even the White Sox have been only $1.50 favorites at home against a slumping team with shaky pitching?

After their Sunday win, Detroit stood at 16-9 for the season. And they managed that despite playing 15 games on the road. If they keep posting great results on their home field, their record is really going to be something when the schedule evens out.

I mentioned earlier that they've been doing it with pitching. Check out these numbers from the starting rotation:

*Verlander: .205 opposition batting average
*Bonderman: .216 opposition batting average
*Rogers: .228 opposition batting average
*Robertson: .255 opposition batting average
*Maroth: .264 opposition batting average

Maroth ranks worst on that chart, but he's got the best ERA at 1.85!

For a staff to post those numbers in a high scoring month is incredible. Scoreboards were lighting up like pinball machines all across baseball in April, yet the Tigers pitching staff was getting people out.

And even better, they play at home in a good pitcher's park. These guys were doing that with a road-heavy schedule. The pitching numbers could get better when the schedule gets back to even.

I'm not ready to say that we're talking about a 95-win team. The unbalanced divisional schedule will have the Tigers playing a lot of games against Chicago and Cleveland. All three of those teams probably can't make runs at 90+ wins at the same time. What's important for us to realize is that these guys are offering great value RIGHT NOW. They're much better than the general public realizes which means they'll be a great team to take in value spots.

None of the starting pitchers is seen as a superstar. That means they'll never be monster favorites the way the Yankees are with Randy Johnson or the Reds Sox are with Curt Schilling. Based on early results the Tigers have five guys who would rate as number-two or number-three starters on a good team, but they're being priced like number-three or number-four starters on a .500 team or worse.

The key is to know how to take advantage of that!

Keep an eye out all over baseball for teams like this who are playing better than the oddsmakers realize. Check out those home/road splits when reading your morning newspaper. Look for guys at the back end of rotations who are holding opponents to a low batting average. And don't fall into the trap of thinking the baseball world revolves around New York and Boston.

The men of Motor City are proving how profitable a sharp handicapping eye can be.

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