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The Clubhouse

   by Bryan Leonard - 07/02/2012

Many of us gauge the success of sports teams based on stats. However, in the world of professional handicapping, many factors come into play when attempting to assess betting lines and profitable wagers. Statistics, to be sure, are a part of the equation, but there are many others, such as home/road play, streaks, matchups, situational handicapping and even weather conditions. Baseball or football games played in the rain or mud might be good possibilities “under” the total, for instance, while which direction the wind is blowing can influence baseball totals. When I lived in Cleveland I can remember many times going to see the Indians play and making a wager on the total based on wind conditions.
Another aspect of all this is happiness. That is, is the team in good spirits and focused on their craft? Or is there discontent, a lack of cohesion or team harmony? How much fun can it be playing for the Padres, Rockies, Cubs or Phillies now? Or the Tigers, for that matter, a team that won the division easily last year but has been a huge underachiever in 2012.
The Philadelphia Phillies have won 5 straight division titles but that run looks like it’s coming to an end during a dismal, disappointing season with injuries and a struggling offense. Check out the Philly newspapers and there is critiscism of the GM and second guessing the manager. They have already started to unload some players. This after an offseason of great promise after adding closer Jonathon Papelbon.
After a 3-2 loss to the Rays in which the bullpen blew a lead in the top of the eighth and the offense squandered a chance to tie it up in the bottom of it, reporters pressed Manuel on his decision to let Michael Martinez face lefty Jake McGee with two outs and the bases loaded.
This past offseason, the Phillies spent about $56 million on new talent. Instead of spending $21 million on Josh Willingham (15 homers) or $26 million on Carlos Beltran (20 homers), they stuck with John Mayberry, who this week struck out with one out and the tying run on third in the eighth inning, the 12th time in 15 such plate appearances that he failed to drive in a run. Instead of building depth in the bullpen, they spent $50 million to upgrade their closer.
Winning cures everything. While the Washington Nationals are enjoying a terrific season, a year ago they were a mess with the manager resigning because he demanded a contract extension. Reports are that earlier last season he chewed out pitcher Jason Marquis in the club house after a game and words were exchanged in a heated argument. All of that adds a new element to handicapping: Is the clubhouse an enjoyable place for players to come to work?
The NBA Lakers in 2004 and in 2011 were a great example of a club breaking apart internally, getting badly outplayed and outhustled in the 2004 NBA Finals to the Pistons (as a big favorite, too) and getting swept by Dallas a year ago and smoked by the Thunder last month in another early exit. In baseball, we’re approaching that time in the season where some teams are thinking about making a run in the second half or perhaps making a big trade to bolster the pitching staff, while other teams are about to throw in the towel, at least psychologically.
A few years ago I recall Tampa Bay manager Lou Piniella making headlines and there was speculation about his future with the club. The frustrated Piniella met with club officials and Piniella said he will honor the remainder of his contract, but clearly wasn’t happy. Piniella criticized the new owners of the last-place team for what he perceived as a lack of a commitment to do everything possible to win. That team was a great go-against on the road that season.
I recall one season where Randy Johnson was 5-6 at the All-Star break as he was unhappy the Mariners wouldn’t give him a contract extension. When they then traded him to Houston, he went 10-1 and was unhittable! Clubhouse chemistry and a contented team are all part of finding winners in the competitive sports betting industry.

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