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Baseball Totals: Inside the Numbers

   by Bryan Leonard - 06/20/2006

Examining baseball totals means looking at the starting pitchers, the team defense, the ballpark and the recent history of the clubs and the starting pitchers. For instance, some pitchers have an enormous amount of run support, while others get little support. This can change from year to year, too. Take a guy like knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, a very underrated and underappreciated hurler.

Wakefield is having a terrific season, with a 3.97 ERA as opponents are hitting just .235 off him. He's allowed 3 runs or less in 8 of his last 10 starts. Yet, he's 4-8 on the season! The Red Sox just haven't hit or scored runs for him. Other times pitchers can have poor or mediocre seasons, yet rack up a lot of wins because they happen to get a lot of run support.

On Sunday there were two games with totals of 7½, the Red Sox/Braves and the Blue Jays/Marlins. Three ace starting pitchers were featured, Curt Schilling, John Smoltz and Roy Halladay. Let's look closely at the Schilling/Smoltz matchup in Atlanta. At first glance, we might think of this game as being a pitcher's duel in a National League park with two aces going.

However, a closer look finds Schilling with an ERA over 4 on the road and Smoltz with an ERA close to 4 for the season. In addition, both teams have had struggling middle relief. Another factor that I mentioned earlier is run support: Schilling happens to get a lot of runs this season, unlike his team member Wakefield. Boston is 5-2 over the total the last 7 games Schilling has started, scoring over 6 or more runs five times and over 6 runs three times! If you saw the Sunday night game, both pitchers gave up a few runs, then the bullpen completely imploded in a 10-7 Red Sox win.

Contrast that matchup with the Blue Jays/Marlins game, which I gave out as a play under the total. I noted in the analysis of the game, “Can't see much offense in this one as we have two superior pitchers facing the opposition for the first time, advantage pitching! Roy Halladay has been one of the best starters the American League has to offer and he has never faced the Florida Marlins. The host sends to the mound terrific righty Josh Johnson who has an ERA of 1.63 in his 8 starts this season. Johnson's last 5 starts have stayed under the posted total while Halladay has held 7 of his last 11 opponents to 2 total runs or less. Florida is getting great overall pitching as they have held the opposition to 3 runs or less in 9 of their last 10 games. Look for a great pitching match-up here as both starters dominate and play under the total.â€쳌

I looked at both games as possible unders, but you can see why the Blue Jays/Marlins game stood out better. None of the batters had ever seen the starting pitchers before, both hurlers were hot, and it was an NL game in a great pitcher's park. The Marlins won the game 4-1, a far contrast from the Red Sox/Braves game with the same posted total. So when examining totals, look for pitching, defense, ballpark and how the pitchers have been doing lately. Getting inside the numbers means turning a profit at the wagering window!

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