MLB Handicapping: Boston Will Be One of Worst Bets in Majors
by Robert Ferringo - 5/5/2010
There is an oft-quoted cliché in baseball that you can’t win a pennant in April but you sure as hell can lose one. The idea is that a slow start in this sport is not nearly the harbinger of ill tidings that it appears to be in certain other sports. And that because of the sheer overwhelming volume of innings, outs and appearances that construct a Major League Baseball season that a shaky first 25 games doesn’t add up to much when you consider what lies ahead.
So while the Boston Red Sox shouldn’t be panicked at their 13-14 start, I believe that bettors should be wary of those red flags flying above Fenway because they certainly aren’t title banners.
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The Red Sox have been one of the most disappointing teams in the Majors through the first month of the season and they have been one of the worst bets on the board through that time. From suspect pitching to shaky defense to a lack of quality at-bats, this team has the look of a second-tier team as opposed to the World Series contender that they were touted as this preseason.
Despite a home victory over the Angels on Tuesday the Red Sox are still languishing below .500. Were it not for the abortion that is the Baltimore Orioles the Red Sox would be the biggest loser – in terms of money lost – in the American League. They are presently at -700 for a $100 bettor and they have been the fifth-worst wager in the game.
Incredibly, the Red Sox have been either first or second in the Majors in on-base percentage in seven straight seasons. However, this year they are mediocre at No. 11. The last four years they have been No. 6 or better in terms of errors. To this point in this season they are No. 24. They are striking out more and hitting fewer home runs, and the lineup looks disjointed and erratic. Boston has scored two or fewer runs in one-third of its games this season (10 of 27) yet they have also mustered games with 17 and 13 runs in the last week-and-a-half.
Further, Boston’s pitching has been a mess. Boston started the year with a starting staff that was the envy of the rest of the league. Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and key free agent pickup John Lackey represented the best 1-2-3 punch in the league. And with Clay Buchholz, Tim Wakefield and Daisuke Matsuzaka filling out the rotation it looked as if the Red Sox’s biggest problem would be having too many quality arms.
Not so much.
Only two of the six starters (Lester at 3.93 and Buchholz at 2.97) have ERA’s below 4.50. And three of the starters (Becket at 6.31), Wakefield at 6.59 and Matsuzaka at 11.57) have ERA’s that wouldn’t get them a start in the Pittsburgh Pirates rotation. Boston is presently No. 24 in the league in earned run average, which would be their lowest ranking in four years if the season ended today.
The bottom-line numbers in terms of their record and their earnings (or lack thereof) don’t tell the whole story. This team has been atrocious to watch and simply has not played the type of baseball that this organization has ridden to two world championships over the last six years.
So it’s clear that there is a problem with this team. But the question now is this just a good team off to a sluggish start, a la the Yankees over the last 15 years, or are their serious, fundamental problems here that will keep this team from being a consistent bet at all this season?
Unfortunately, I have to take the cop-out path and say that it’s too early to tell. But what is clear right now is that they are the No. 3 team in the best division in baseball. The Yankees look exceptional and Tampa Bay is off to the best start in the league. Only two teams are coming out of this division and Boston is already 6.5 games back. That is a hole. And as they continue to find their footing the nose of expectations and anxiety is only going to close in on this clubhouse.
Recent Sox teams have been able to handle the pressure of playing in one of the most psychotic media markets in the nation. But that brings us to the primary issue that I’ve seen with this team: they’re just not the same guys. This isn’t the Red Sox team that we’re used to seeing come through at the window for us time and time again. This really is a completely different clubhouse and that means that things are very much up in the air as to how they will respond to adversity.
Here is the lineup for the Red Sox from last year on April 20, 2009 in a 10-8 win at home against Baltimore:
Jacoby Ellsbury (CF)
Dustin Pedroia (2B)
David Ortiz (DH)
Kevin Youkilis (1B)
J.D. Drew (RF)
Jason Bay (LF)
Mike Lowell (3B)
Jason Varitek (C)
Nick Green (SS)
Now here is the lineup for the Red Sox nearly one year later in nearly the identical situation. This is from April 23, 2010 in a 4-3 win at home against Baltimore:
Marco Scutaro (SS)
J.D. Drew (RF)
Dustin Pedroia (2B)
Kevin Youkilis (1B)
Victor Martinez (C)
David Ortiz (DH)
Adrian Beltre (3B)
Jeremy Hermida (LF)
Josh Reddick (CF)
Only four of the same players are in the lineup and only one guy – Youkilis – is hitting in the same slot in the order.
Another of the holdovers, Ortiz, is a similarity, but in the worst possible way. Big Papi has been a total train wreck and I am absolutely stunned that he is still in the lineup on a consistent basis. He is batting .149 while being positioned in the middle of one of the most underachieving lineups in the game. This comes after a season in which he batted just .238 (which was inflated by a great final month-plus of the season) and is just 20 months after a year in which he mustered just a .264 mark. Ortiz is an embarrassment and is just one of several problems. But from this baseball handicapper’s perspective he needs to be the first one to go.
But the Ortiz situation kind of underscores the primary issue with this club, again, that this is a completely different team. Boston spent is the offseason turning over its roster. They brought in some nice pieces. Guys like Lackey, Beltre, Hermida, Scutaro, Mike Cameron and Bill Hall are professional players with proven track records. They are vets and they are guys that have shown flashes, despite inconsistency, throughout their careers.
However, they aren’t Red Sox. They don’t carry the confidence and the mystique of the guys that were winning world titles. And that’s because they aren’t those guys. In fact, none of those position players have been part of a championship team and only Lackey has any significant playoff experience or accomplishments.
Further, you can’t underscore enough the significance of going from Varitek, who is one of the best handlers of a pitching staff of the last quarter century, to Martinez behind the plate. Obviously V-Mart is twice the threat at the plate that Varitek ever was. But behind the dish it’s not even a comparison. Martinez has been lackluster defensively and has clearly had trouble getting on the same page with his starters. Boston’s ERA increased significantly last season after Martinez took over the every day role behind the plate. And it seems like some of that instability is creeping through this season.
Again, that’s exactly the issue here. The Red Sox are trying to transition from the Lowell-Ortiz-Varitek-Drew core that as the bedrock of their title years. It’s always a sticky situation trying to bridge the time from one dynasty to another. The Yankees went through a similar “awkward stage” in the middle of the decade as they transitioned from the Williams-Martinez-O’Neal-Brosius years to the current core. And during the period from 2003 to 2008 the Yankees were consistently one of the worst teams to try to profit on because of that toxic mix of shaky chemistry and hyper-expectations.
Right now the Red Sox appear to be headed into that same limbo. They have a lot of good pieces but they are kind of caught in the middle with the fading stars from the Glory Days and the current incantation of their squad. This isn’t the same team that we’re used to seeing. So bettors shouldn’t be betting them the same way that they have in the past. Especially considering that the oddsmakers are still shackling them with the same inflated money lines that Boston has been able to overcome in the recent past.
I do believe that they will turn their season around and be in the thick of the playoff picture. However, from a gambling perspective I feel that they will continue to be one of the worst wagers in the Majors throughout the summer and I will be surprised if they, as a team, manage to turn a profit for their backers.
Robert Ferringo is getting hot again in MLB with three straight winning nights and Ferringo has established himself as one of the best MLB handicappers in the nation and has bagged three straight winning seasons heading into 2010. Click Here for more info.
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