Will Braves Scalp Loyal Backers?
by Robert Ferringo - 05/21/2007
In the matter of full disclosure, I have to tell you that I despise the Atlanta Braves. I loathe them. As a diehard Mets fan they are my mortal enemies; which makes it fun living in the Greater Atlanta area. I love nothing more than getting in the face of some pink polo shirt wearing redneck or a slack-jawed hillbilly in overalls at Turner Field and reminding them of who won the division last year and who has more World Series trophies. It's a riot and I'm a big hit at the park.
Well, over the past week the Braves (-$580) have been hemorrhaging money worse than the Republicans in Iraq. They returned to the South after a nightmarish 2-6 end to a road trip that saw them lose three of four to the Nationals (yeah, those Nationals) and then drop two of three at Fenway Atlanta was outscored in their two weekend losses by a combined 19-6 tally. Also, only two of the losses on the trip were as an underdog.
On a personal level, I was ecstatic. On a professional one, I was confused.
Who were these Braves? They certainly didn't look like the fourth-most profitable team in the National League ($326). Nor like the club with the third-best record in the National League and the sixth-most wins in the entire league. Because the Mets are the defending N.L. East champions and in the Big Apple they get most of the attention from bettors and the media. But that allows the Braves to hang under the radar and produce with consistency and efficiency, hallmarks of Bobby Cox teams. It also makes them a strong "bet on" team.
However, there is an elephant in the room as it pertains to this Atlanta club. The Braves are playing well, but they've become over reliant on both home runs and two-out runs batted in. They are currently the No. 1 scoring team in the league with runners in scoring position and two outs and No. 2 in batting average in those situations. Further, they are No. 3 in hitting (.290) in "close and late" at-bats and No. 6 in the league in home runs.
So they're clutch. And they dig the long ball. And while it may seem natural to assume that those stats would have a direct relationship with profitability it's simply not the case. In 2006, only four of the top 15 hitting teams with runners in scoring position and two outs turned a profit. Also, only four of the top 15 home run hitting teams from last season stayed in the black.
In fact, if you were to analyze the top half of the league in regards to both of these stats you'd find that only 21 of 60 top batting teams with two outs and RISP showed a profit while just 24 of 60 of the top home run hitting clubs earned the green. Both of those numbers are in the ballpark of the league average (38 percent of clubs showed a profit each year), which means that those stats aren't a good filter for narrowing down which teams are consistently a strong bet.
So just because a team pulls some clutch hits out of its ass or is capable of bombing a few long balls, that doesn't mean that they're going to be a winning bet. To this point in the season the Braves have been able to do both and have been a very strong wager, but I will be monitoring them closely because if the two out hits dry up or if they're playing in a spacious stadium then they'll become a "play against" team faster than you can say Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
For example, over those last eight games on the road trip the Braves managed just six home runs, a 39 percent drop from the 1.2 home runs they had averaged over the first month and a half of the season. Atlanta also mustered just 11 two-out RBI, a 40 percent drop from the 2.3 they have been getting. While there may or may not be a correlation between these two stats and winning in general, in the specific case of the Braves I think it's clear that the relationship is an important one.
Now, I'm not saying that the Braves aren't a good team. And I have nothing personal against clutch hits and home runs, even though both of them seem to disappear when I'm on my hands and knees praying for an appearance during the late innings of some wayward bet or must-win Mets game. I'm just saying that baseball is a funny game and that things like these run in streaks. Keep an eye on how they're managing in each of their money categories. If they continue to excel in these areas, ride the wave. If not, treat Atlanta like General Sherman.
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