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Big Al's Daily Angle: MLB and CFL Previews and Odds - 07/01/2022

by Big Al Staff

Friday, Jul 01, 2022

The Friday sports card features MLB and CFL action.Major League Baseball has 15 games on its schedule. The Boston Red Sox travel to Chicago to play the Cubs at 2:20 PM ET. Rich Hill takes the mound for the Red Sox against Adrian Sampson for the Cubs. The Toronto Blue Jays host the Tampa Bay Rays at 3:07 PM ET. The Blue Jays turn to Jose Berrios in their starting rotation against the Rays Corey Kluber. Toronto is a -130 money line favorite with the total set at 9 (all odds from DraftKings). Two MLB games throw out the first pitch at 6:05 PM ET. St. Louis visits Philadelphia with Miles Mikolas pitching for the Cardinals against Bailey Falter for the Phillies. The Cardinals are a -145 money line road favorite with an over/under of 9.5. Washington is at home against Miami with the Nationals sending out Josiah Gray against the Marlins Trevor Rogers. Washington is a -125 money line favorite with a total of 9. The Atlanta Braves play at Cincinnati against the Reds at 6:40 PM ET. Max Fried takes the ball for the Braves against Mike Minor for the Reds. Atlanta is a -255 money line road favorite with an over/under of 9.5. The Milwaukee Brewers travel to Pittsburgh to play the Pirates at 7:05 PM ET. The Brewers turn to Corbin Burnes to face off against the Pirates Roansy Contreras. Milwaukee is a -195 money line road favorite with a total of 7.5. Three more MLB games start at 7:10 PM ET. New York is at home against Texas with Chris Bassitt pitching for the Mets against Glenn Otto for the Rangers. The Mets are a -190 money line favorite with an over/under of 8.5. New York visits Cleveland with the Yankees pitching Gerrit Cole against the Guardians Aaron Civil. The Yankees are a -215 money line road favorite with a total of 8. Kansas City plays at Detroit with Brad Keller pitching for the Royals against a starting pitcher yet to be named for the Tigers. Three MLB games begin at 8:10 PM ET. Minnesota is at home against Baltimore with the Twins turning to Joe Ryan to battle against the Orioles Spenser Watkins. Minnesota is a -225 money line favorite with an over/under of 9. Colorado hosts Arizona with Antonio Senzatela pitching for the Rockies against Merrill Kelly of the Diamondbacks. The Rockies are a -125 money line favorite with a total of 11.5. Houston plays at home against Los Angeles with the Astros turning to Cristian Javier to pitch against the Angels Michael Lorenzen. Houston is a -155 money line favorite with an over/under of 8. Two MLB games start at 10:10 PM ET. Los Angeles is at home against San Diego with Tony Gonsolin pitching for the Dodgers against Blake Snell of the Padres. The Dodgers are a -175 money line favorite with a total of 7.5. Seattle plays at home against Oakland with the Mariners pitching Marco Gonzales against the A’s James Kaprielian. The Mariners are a -200 money line favorite with an over/under of 8. The San Francisco Giants host the Chicago White Sox at 10:15 PM ET. Alex Cobb pitches for the Giants against Lance Lynn for the White Sox. San Francisco is a -150 money line favorite with a total of 7.5. The fourth week in the Canadian Football League continues with one game in a battle of winless teams with Hamilton hosting Edmonton at 7:30 PM ET. The Tiger-Cats lost their third game in a row this season with a 26-13 loss at Winnipeg as a 5.5-point underdog on Friday. The Elks lost their third straight game on Saturday in a 30-23 loss at Calgary as a 9-point underdog. Hamilton is a 7.5-point favorite with an over/under of 46.5. 

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Golden State: A Great Dynasty and Just Good Enough in a Down 2021-22

by Hollywood Sports

Thursday, Jun 30, 2022

Congratulations to the Golden State Warriors for winning their fourth NBA title since 2015. That answered critics worried that they were a team caught between generations from their core three of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green and their new generation of young players led by James Wiseman, Jordan Poole, and Jonathan Kuminga. But in hindsight, the Warriors may be remembered as a team carried by Curry who got it done despite an inconsistent Thompson still in long-term recovery from his torn ACL and Achilles injuries and a declining Green who already appears to be in the second half of his career. I thought this would be a seven-game series that the Warriors would win (but I remained undecided on the likely point spread winner early on during the NBA Finals). I incorrectly thought Boston would play Golden State very tough on the road in the decisive fifth game. Could the Warriors get yet another superman effort from Curry who scored 43 points on 14 of 26 shooting in Game Four to even the series at 2-2? Head coach Steve Kerr had a dilemma regarding offering playing time to Kevon Looney. Golden State had a significant weakness in rebounding that comes with their reliance on outside shooting. In the Celtics’ 116-100 win in Game Three, they controlled the boards and outrebounded the Warriors by a 47-31 margin. They scored 52 points in the paint and scored 22 points off 15 offensive rebounds which allowed them to win by 16 points despite only making 12 of 35 shots (37.5%) of their shots from 3-point range. Kerr gave Looney more court time in Game Four to address the rebounding disadvantage — and he responded with 11 boards in his 28:10 minutes up action, up 11 1/2 minutes from Game Three. But the problem with Looney on the court is that he offers nothing on the offensive end. Boston head coach Ime Udoka was unable to push the buttons in Games Five or Six to expose that liability — but that may speak more to the limitations of his team playing in their first NBA Finals. Game Five was certainly pivotal — and it exposed the lack of championship experience of this Celtics group. It reminded me of how Golden State lost 2016 final to Cleveland. Boston’s Marcus Smart got too caught up in drawing fouls and flopping, a game within the game. Smart was flopping throughout the second half in a close game and then whining for calls which is just rarely going to happen for teams playing on the road (and by a player who lacks a title, despite being the reigning Defensive Player of the Year). And then the refs rewarded Jordan Poole's flop from a phantom Smart elbow (that missed by a mile) that the officials still called as a flagrant foul. That helped cement Golden State's 4th quarter momentum swing. The refs injected themselves into the game — and they got it wrong. Boston dug themselves too big a hole to win Game 5, but, wow, they still could have covered if they could have just been given the room to rebound before the refs started giving the Warriors 3-point swings (and Smart being on tilt did not help, of course). That Poole 3-pointer at the buzzer to end the third quarter certainly played a role in re-establishing the momentum for Golden State — and laid the foundation for Smart losing focus by doing his best Neymar impersonation by flopping around before Poole gets away with his flop. The Warriors went on to win by a 104-94 score despite Curry having that off-day by missing all nine shots from behind the arc.The Celtics' lack of urgency in handling and passing the basketball was been infuriating to watch at times. They had yet to learn that every playoff possession demands finer attention to detail — when Golden State turns the ball over, it is usually a function of their attempt to be aggressive (and is more forgivable). Too many of Boston’s 18 turnovers in that Game Five were a product of lackadaisicalness. It was tied for most turnovers they had committed in their last nine games and tied for the second-most in their last 62 games. Conversely, the Warriors only committed six turnovers in Game Five which was tied for the fewest turnovers they committed all season going back to Game Three of the regular when they also only had six turnovers at Sacramento on October 24th. The Celtics need to upgrade their point guard position in the offseason, but a lack of a true distributor does not explain how they followed up those 18 turnovers in Game Five with 22 turnovers in Game Six. Udoka could not fix the too many unforced errors that were giving Golden State scoring opportunities in transition. Maybe Boston will learn from the experience. But I do not think this Warriors team beats the Warriors team in 2017 that lost to the Cavaliers. And this group certainly does not beat the LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love trio. Golden State then won two titles with Kevin Durant the third wheel with Curry and Thompson. But this ’21-22 group reminded me of that ’17 squad that got caught up in talking and engaging in flopping theatrics with Cleveland that eventually led to Green missing a game due to suspension. When the Cavaliers trailed 3-2 in that series, James had his team completely dial into the task at hand. The Warriors still were engaging in the extra-curricular — and it played a role in them losing the last two games in the series. I am not sure this 2021-22 team learned much from that experience (outside of the value of adding Durant). But Golden State did benefit from playing a young and inexperienced Celtics team. They did not even have to play the young and inexperienced team from the year before the Phoenix Suns who could not get past Dallas. That Mavericks team had one great player in Luka Doncic before then banking on getting hot from behind the arc. Boston benefitted in getting to the finals by outlasting the reigning champions in the Milwaukee Bucks who were without their second-best player, the injured Khris Middleton. And do not start about the Brooklyn Nets because if you think that team had a switch somewhere to somehow start playing defense and finding an offensive flow to their game behind the big two of Durant and Kyrie Irving who are living off the reputations of postseasons past, then you were watching a different game than me. The 2021-22 NBA season was a down year in the overall quality of the elite teams in the league. Kudos to Curry for doing what James did in the season in the bubble to seize on the championship opportunity. But while the Warriors were perhaps a team caught between generations, I suspect the NBA is experiencing a similar transition. While the NBA media breathlessly wonders about the offseason fates of Durant, Irving, and James Harden, I look to the league’s young superstars like Doncic, Ja Morant, and a handful of other players with loads of potential where the likely future NBA titles — and potential dynasties — will be had. Best of luck — Frank.

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The Evolving Understanding of Baseball Sabermetrics

by Hollywood Sports

Thursday, Jun 30, 2022

While alternating between watching Game Six of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and Sunday Night Baseball between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Atlanta Braves, ESPN displayed a surprising list: Pitching Leaders in BABIP. BABIP is an acronym for “Batted Average on Balls In Play”. Removing home runs and strikeouts from a hitter's batting average is a more specific manner to detail batting average perhaps offering better insight into how hitters and pitchers are performing. It is an offshoot from some of the ideas initially espoused by early sabermetrician Voras McCracken who developed the influential metric “Defensive Independent Pitching Statistics.” I mention McCracken because his seminal paper on this subject offered a narrative of his as a child hitting balls in a cemetery where he discovered that what happens to the batted-ball put into play is purely a function of luck. What struck me at the time was how mediocre of a wiffleball hitter McCracken must have been. Any backyard wiffleball hitter developed at least some skill in being able to place a batted ball in a certain direction. But it had become a foundational established truth of sabermetrics that hitters had no control over the batted ball, despite the seeming inconsistency that hitters had plenty of control over the batted ball if it landed over the fence for a home run. The fantasy baseball “experts” at ESPN would eager to deploy BABIP to identify players who were due for improved or declining numbers based on their BABIP number. Pitchers with high BABIPs were unlucky and those pitchers with low BABIPs were too lucky and sitting ducks to get blown up in their next appearance. Using the same logic, hitters with high BABIPs were riding good fortune, and hitters with low BABIPs were likely due to see better numbers. The fact that future Hall of Famers like Ichiro Suzuki was usually at the top of the BABIP list for hitters and Clayton Kershaw was at the top of the lowest BABIP numbers for pitchers gave little direct pause to the experts (probably not enough space at the website to detail that along with the trials and tribulations of their fifth-place teams in all their “experts” league in content as compelling as food pics on Twitter). In later years, these fantasy baseball experts (a few who are still detailing their latest experts league exploits even today) reigned in their BABIP as “all luck” to then claim it was all the amateur fantasy baseball players who were misusing BABIP. The expert manner to deploy the metric was more nuanced and sophisticated, you peons, yet this must have been ESPN's proprietary information as these experts rarely communicated how to evaluate the nuances. And the assumption remained that Ted Williams simply had no power to impact where the ball went off his bat. So to now see ESPN now fully incorporate BABIP into their “endorsed” statistics for their Sunday night broadcast — but with the assumption that BABIP is a component of skill — well, I was amused. This is the same network that will have their 4th-and-1 percentages come down from the heavens in the fall to tell you how much smarter they are than the idiots coaching football teams — all setting up their 12 hours of Hot Take Debate TV programming the next day. Fielding independent statistics was always more complicated to discover hidden meaning that McCracken and ESPN fantasy baseball experts suggested. But to paraphrase Marshall McLuhan, the “medium is the message” — and in this instance, the appearance of having more sophisticated knowledge of baseball is too often the point of the message, regardless of the coherence of the argument. There is a reason why these experts get to selectively mention the current state of their dozen fantasy baseball teams. They are experts because we were just told they are experts. For handicappers and bettors, having the “expert” business card laminated for posterity does not help at all if picking loser after loser at the betting window. For me, I experimented for a few years comparing team BABIP numbers versus the starting pitcher’s BABIP to determine discrepancies: playing behind the same defense, were certain starting pitchers generating big gaps in the net BABIP differential? If so, that difference could help identify starting pitchers who were experiencing luck/unluck relative to their baseline numbers. What I am looking for is underlying numbers that offer conflicting evidence to how a starting pitcher looks when only evaluating Win/Loss record, ERA, and WHIP. Eventually, I began analyzing these discrepancies between team BABIP and starting pitcher BABIP but made it specific to ground balls and line drives. A batter probably does not want to hit a ground ball, so those numbers might illuminate luck (or unluck for the pitcher) if the BABIP for ground balls is high. On the other hand, hitters want to hit line drives — so high Line Drive BABIPs is probably a good thing for hitters (and a bad thing for pitchers).I had pretty good success with this approach, but it took a lot of work. Eventually, I concluded that the advanced ERA formulas used by SIERA and xFIP did a fine enough job of identifying starting pitchers that were due a visit from the Regression Gods, either in a good or bad way. The xFIP metric stands for Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (admittedly, from the McCracken family tree of logic). I like it because it normalizes the home runs that a pitcher allows from their fly ball rate since home runs allowed are also dependent on other factors like the ballpark). The folks at Baseball Prospectus developed SIERA (Skill Interactive Earned Run Average) in a complicated formula that attempts to project the ERA moving forward by taking into account the types of batted balls a pitcher puts into play. I like this tinker because it leaves room for the possibility that hard-hit balls (and direction) are a function of skill. It reminded me of the work I was doing with BABIP specific to Line Drives (hard-hit balls). These days, I use xFIP and SIERA as guides — but it is only one of the tools in my toolboxes. Most pitching metrics have a bias against ground ball pitchers despite the sustained success of pitching coaches like Dave Duncan of the St. Louis Cardinals who seemingly had his pitching staff overachieve for years. Fortunately for me, my reliance on team trends kept me away from betting against too many Cardinals’ starting pitchers hoping that their poor fielding independent numbers (like low strikeouts) would finally start catching up with them. Sports analytics continues to evolve, especially for those of us dependent on good results rather than self-serving propaganda. Look for basketball and soccer to improve in their evaluation of players and teams when they start detailing expected baskets/goals versus an individual’s net edge versus expected baskets and goals. Like Ichiro, Kershaw, and Ted Williams, Stephen Curry and Lionel Messi are elite players for a reason. Best of luck — Frank.

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