Time to Fade Previously Solid MLB Totals Trend
by Robert Ferringo - 04/14/2009
Hangover Handicapping is for those days when you either don't have the time, inclination, or sobriety to sit down and really concentrate on breaking down matchups and fully handicapping games before you bet them. Instead, you use Hangover Handicapping, which is just a simple, general sport-specific guide that you can throw your money down on with about 10 seconds of handicapping.
In college football, take the 'over' in a Boise State home game. In the NFL, you simply bet against the Raiders. In college football and college basketball you just bet on SEC and ACC underdogs. And in Major League Baseball over the last few years the Hangover Handicapping guideline was simple: take the 'under' with either Toronto or Oakland.
Stuck in a losing streak? Take the 'under' for Toronto or Oakland. Want to press on a winning streak? Then double down on the 'under' for Toronto or Oakland. Random Sunday that you wake up with a midget stripper tied to your bedpost and you are wearing a Wolverine costume? Take the 'under' for Toronto or Oakland, and call a priest.
Yet, a confluence of factors in this early MLB season has shot a harpoon through the soft underbelly of our fallback handicapping "system". Both Toronto and Oakland have been scoring and allowing runs at a curious rate this year and the pair has combined to go 10-5 against the total thus far.
Over the past two seasons the Blue Jays have gone just 137-176-11 against the total. That's a .438 winning percentage and blindly betting the 'under' would have earned $100 bettors a cool $2,500 in profit. Oakland was just 132-176-16 over that stretch, which is just 42.8 percent on the 'over' and would have earned an 'under' bettor a solid $3,100.
That's two years of unfettered profit. And I can't think of anyone that couldn't use an extra $5,000 right now. And the best part about that type of Hangover Handicapping was that it was exceptional profit - that's an eight percent Return On Investment - that took all of about 30 seconds out of your day. It was just that easy.
But I am starting to get the impression that those days are over. Through eight games the Blue Jays have scored the most runs in the Majors and they have sailed over the total in four straight games. They also came just a half-run short of another total and in a second game they missed by two runs while stranding eight runners on base.
One of the main things that the Blue Jays have going for them at the moment is the fact that their lineup is healthy. Key bats like Scott Rolen and Vernon Wells have missed a lot of time over the past two years. But with them solid in the middle of the order and with the emergence of players like Adam Lind and Travis Snider the Jays now have seven hitters batting over .300 in their lineup, including their No. 1 through No. 6 hitters.
Oakland made some significant moves last offseason to bolster a lineup that has been among the weakest in baseball over the last three years. So far the ROI hasn't been quite what the A's brass had hoped for (Oakland is No. 23 in runs scored at 29) but that hasn't stopped this squad from flying over the total in five of their seven outings. And as the season gets going you know that veterans like Jason Giambi, Orlando Cabrera, Matt Holliday and Nomar Garciaparra are going to put up some crooked numbers and help this team pass last year's 646 runs, which were only nine more than the lowest total in the league.
However, while bolstered lineups have certainly assisted with the 'over' rush from these organizations the main reason that I believe they will continue to sail totals this year is that both the Jays and A's have significantly worse pitching than either have had in a long, long time.
In 2006 the A's won 93 games on the arms of guys like Dan Haren (14-10), Barry Zito (16-10), Joe Blanton (16-12) and Rich Harden (4-0). This year their rotation consists of totally unproven commodities like Trevor Cahill, Dallas Braden, Dana Eveland, Brett Anderson and Josh Outman. Cahill and Anderson are rookies that have been able to legally drink a beer for less than three months and the other trio has combined for less career wins (20) than Haren and Zito combined for in 2006 alone.
Only three times in the last decade has Oakland had their starters' ERA outside of the Top 10 in the league, and they have never been lower than 13th. So far this year the A's starters are No. 12 at 4.24, but I don't see how this staff could possibly be better than any of the others they've fielded since 1999.
Toronto is in a similar category. The Jays were No. 1 in the league in team ERA (and starters' ERA) in 2008 and were No. 3 in team ERA in 2007. However, three of their five starters from those rotations are gone and a fourth, Jesse Litsch, left Monday's game with an undisclosed injury. That would mean that staff ace Roy Halladay won as many games in 2003 (22) as the No. 3-4-5 starters have combined career starts.
This year looks like it could be the perfect storm for Oakland and Toronto to be decent 'over' plays. Both are facing consistently lowered totals from the oddsmakers because of their past results. Both are featuring improved lineups from the paper bat-wielding units they trotted out to the plate last year. And both are relying on young, inexperienced, and completely unproven starters to carry them through 162 games. With those things in mind I'll be looking very closely at these two clubs and their totals this year as I look to see how the oddsmakers adjust, or fail to adjust, to the "New" Jays and A's.
That is, looking more closely than I did when I would just roll out of bed with a hangover and throw my money on the 'under'.