It’s the Year of the Pitcher. Does that Mean to Play More Unders?

by Team Del Genio

Monday, May 31, 2021
Major League Baseball has already seen six no-hitters this season, and that does not even count Madison Bumgarner’s no-hitter in a seven-inning doubleheader game which MLB did not officially count as no-no since the game did not go nine innings. The MLB record for no-hitters in a season in the modern era is seven, which has previously occurred four times.

Pitching numbers are up, and hitting numbers are down so far this season as we take a look at some data on Memorial Day. Entering the day, the across-the-league Earned Runs Average sits at 4.02. That is the league-wide ERA since 2015. Strike-out rates continue to rise as well. Pitchers are striking out 24% of the batters they face (as of 5/20). Pitchers struck out 23.1% of the batters they faced in 2019, and they struck out 23.4% of opposing hitters in 2020.

The Year of the Pitcher is demonstrated in declining hitting statistics as well. The league-wide MLB batting average after Sunday (5/30 is .236. That is the lowest number since 1968, the most recent Year of the Pitcher. MLB lowered the height of the pitching mound after the dominance pitchers enjoyed over hitters that year. 

Teams are scoring 4.33 runs per game this season. That average is a decline from the 4.65 runs per game mark in 2020. In 2019, teams averaged 4.83 runs per game, so the decline in scoring is part of some larger trends. 

What is happening? Several reasons help explain these trends. Velocity rates from pitchers continue to rise. Starting pitchers and relievers are being asked to make fewer pitchers per appearance but to throw harder when they do. Spin rates are on the rise as well as analytics departments influence their teams to rely focus on this intangible. The rise of defensive shifts has made things even more difficult for hitters to generate base hits. With pitchers throwing more heat, batters are being instructed to attempt to hit more home runs to take advantage of the acceleration produced from the batted ball. 

Yet home run rates are down this season after a steady recent rise in that number. 1.2 homers are being hit per 9 innings this season, the fifth-highest mark of all-time. But there was an average of 1.34 home runs and 1.40 home runs hit per 9 innings in the previous two seasons. 

Changes to the baseball this season have played a role. The ball is slightly lighter after new production standards. The new ball is easier to throw but does not travel as far off the bat given the lighter mass. 

Given all this, should bettors be investing in more unders? The numbers do not bear this out. The under is 382-374-25 after Sunday’s games (as measured by VSIN). The oddsmakers appear to be ahead of the game when it comes to adjusting their numbers. 

There may be value in betting the over as the season moves on. Warmer weather tends to favor the hitter with the ball carrying farther in the warmer air.

Good luck - TDG.

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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