Baseball involves more numbers than you can shake a stick at; but some numbers are more relevant than others, when it comes to handicapping games. What numbers are the most useless?
Baseball is a game of numbers, which is part of what attracts a certain kind of bettor toward the game. Baseball also probably involves more numbers – statistics – than any other team game. Each of us, when handicapping baseball games, gives varying amounts of credence to certain statistics. Some we give the utmost respect; some we throw away as useless, and sometimes worse than useless; detrimental to our cause.
Here's our take on some of what we consider to be the most useless baseball statistics, when it comes to handicapping.
Pitchers W/L Records
Pitchers can pitch in good luck, occasionally garnering wins in mediocre outings, perhaps thanks to good run support, while occasionally suffering losses in good outings, from lack of run support, or sabotage by the bullpen. So individual win/loss records basically don't mean anything to us.
At the moment Yovani Gallardo is 7-8 for Texas, Pittsburgh's Francisco Liriano is 5-6, Shelby Miller of Atlanta is 5-5, as is Oakland's Scott Kazmir, and Cincy's Johnny Cueto is 6-6; all those guys own ERA's of less than three, and none have been getting much help in the form of run support, either.
Meanwhile, the Yanks' Nathan Eovaldi is 9-2 with a 1.52 WHIP, Colby Lewis of Texas is 8-4 with an ERA of nearly five and Toronto's Drew Hutchison is 8-2 with an ERA of 5.33.
We're probably not breaking any news right here; baseball bettors know straight-up W/L records can be deceiving. We're just saying we have much more regard for a pitcher's ratio of quality starts (Liriano is 14-for-18, Hutchison five-for-18), and the team's record in games started.
Team Batting Average
It's not just about hitting 'em where they ain't; it's more about getting on base, any way possible.
Heading into the second half of this season Detroit leads the Majors in team batting average at .281, followed by Kansas City, Colorado, San Francisco, Toronto, Arizona, St. Louis, Boston, Atlanta and Arizona. Just three of those teams, the Royals, Giants and Cardinals, own winning records at the moment.
Meanwhile, of the top ten teams ranked in on-base percentage, five of those own winning records, including four division leaders.
Joe Torre's Yankees of the 1990s used to work the hell out of pitchers, and draw a ton of walks. They had a pretty good run.
Batting Average with RISP
This stat would seem to indicate a team's ability to hit in the clutch, and to a degree we suppose that might be true. But our guess is good teams – lineups - hit well in any situation, and bad lineups perform poorly in most situations.
Of more usefulness to bettors might be the scenario in which a team goes two-three-four games either coming up with clutch hit after clutch hit, or coming up empty at-bat after at-bat. For instance, if we see a team go five-for-10 one night with RISP, our guess is the law of averages might come into play next time out; and conversely, if a team takes an 0-fer with RISP one night, we might count on them coming up with at least a couple of clutch hits next time out. No team is going to hit .500 with RISP for very long, and no team is going to 0-fer too long, either.
Day/Night, Grass/Turf, Divisional Records
Again, good teams are going to perform well whenever and wherever games are played, and bad teams won't.
Browsing the All-Star break standings we found that most teams owned perfectly reasonable records on these splits, considering who they are. St. Louis, with the best record in the Majors, was 10 games over .500 in day games, 13 games over .500 at night, while Philadelphia, the worst teams in the Majors, was 10 games under .500 during the day, 23 games under at night.
The New York Mets and Detroit Tigers own the two biggest day/night splits in the Majors; New York is 22-8 during the day, 25-34 at night, while Detroit is 23-15 during the day, 21-29 at night. But are those trends we'd base a bet on? No. If anything, we'd think about betting those trends to reverse themselves back toward normalcy.
Finally, Boston is 13-10 against the AL West this season, while Anaheim is 10-12 against the AL East. Is that any reason to back the Red Sox against the Angels? We wouldn't think so. Of more importance might be the fact that Anaheim has won six of the last nine meetings with the Sox, or that the Angels won seven of their last nine games heading into the break. Head-to-head records and recent runs carry much more weight on our handicapping scales.