MLB Picks: Low Totals and Profiting on the 'Under' at Safeco Field

Jay Pryce

Tuesday, May 5, 2015 8:00 PM UTC

Tuesday, May. 5, 2015 8:00 PM UTC

When handicapping MLB games, sports bettors should always consider that each ballpark has unique characteristics and factors that influence game totals. We walk you through these extreme trends to help you make your MLB picks.

Sports bettors should never underestimate the indeterminable conditions associated with extreme MLB ballparks. Anyone who places MLB picks knows each stadium embodies its own set of unique characteristics and park factors that influence the amount of runs scored in a game. Depending on the data, and when properly regressed, we can see upwards of a one run difference using just a single variable between say Coors Field and Citi Park. We can assume the different algorithms, game simulations, computer equations, psychics, and crystal ball readers filter in some sort of park effect data to set betting lines. We can also surmise that extreme pitcher or hitter friendly stadiums sit as outliers in certain data sets, and may mislead or construe confidence in certain prediction models. By way of this premise, throughout the course of the 2015 MLB season, we will explore some extreme ballpark trends, and offer relevant analysis to aid in your sports investments. Up first: Safeco Field

MLB odds makers have seen that the total runs scored per game in MLB have plummeted over the last five years. Since 2010, the average score tallies 8.5 runs versus 9.4 in the preceding five years. The end of the steroid era, a greater emphasis on speed and defense, more ground ball pitchers, increasing strikeouts, and a host of other forces are responsible for this decline. Accompanying this is the closing game total line for overs and unders. Since 2010, the average game total is 8.1 versus 9.0 during the five years before. As a result, linemakers have taken to setting more and more MLB games at a paltry 6.5 runs or less. In the chart below, one can see the dramatic shifts since 2010:

The majority of these contests were played at Safeco Field, Petco Park, and AT&T Park. Since 2004, out of nearly 800 games closing at 6.5 runs or less, slightly over 400 took place at these pitcher paradises. Winning at a 56% rate, one would have returned a 7% profit if backing the under in every game. Safeco Field shows the most bias. Since 2009, the under is 65-40-3. What makes this park so pitcher friendly?

Safeco has a history of swallowing up extra-base hits, and is a fly-ball graveyard. For one, the park's asymmetrical design and vast left-center field is a bane to right-handed power hitters who often see towering would-be home-run shots fizzle back down to earth for outs. Mariners' blogger and Wall Street Journal contributor,  Dave Cameron, has also pointed out the local weather's effect on slugging. For anyone who has read Robert Adair's classic The Physics of Baseball, you will know the ball carries best in hot and humid conditions. But Seattle's summers come in two flavors: hot and dry, or cool and humid. In addition, Safeco is home to some of the highest strikeout rates season after season, especially for visiting teams. Although I'm not aware of any formal study, shadows in between the pitcher's mound and the catcher, as well as the centerfield back drop in Seattle may affect the batter's eye.

In 2013, the Mariners brass moved nearly three-quarters of the wall in by four feet, and lowered the fences by nine in an effort to generate more offense. Yet, even after the alterations, it remains perhaps the most pitcher friendly park in the majors. Former Mariners front-office stats guru, Tony Blengino, has shown that although the changes have increased offense by nearly 12%, and 17% in the full seasons following, it has done little to slow down ace pitchers who elicit 6.5 run totals or less. Since 2013, for example, the under is 25-11-1 in these contests.

How can we better predict when 6.5 runs or less contests are gonna strike under? For one, let's play when the Mariners are favorites. They are not winning many games by slugging in seven runs or more a night, as they are built to take advantage of the park's peculiarities with solid pitching. Typically, to see a game total so low, the Mariners have one of their top two starters on the mound, riding a hot-streak and pitching at the top of their game. In fact, we might as well call this the Felix Hernandez effect. Since 2009, the Mariners have been favorites in 70 games at 6.5 runs or less at home, and the flame-throwing righty started 50 of them! In these contests, the under is 30-18-2 versus 14-6 for Seattle's other starters. (since 2013 Hisashi Iwakuma is the only other starting pitcher given this honor).

Two angles can help us narrow down some winning bets in these predicted low-scoring affairs. Back the under in 6.5 runs or less totals when the Mariners are favorites, and their opponent's bullpen gave up two runs or less in their last game. We do not want Seattle's bats to feed off of a reeling pen late in a game and run up the score. Since 2009, in this situation, the under is 41-18-2. We see an  identical unders record of 41-18-2 if we consider the number left on base by both teams in their previous game(s). If together, they stranded 10 or more base runners, than it's a good sign. This figure is slightly below average for games played at Safeco, where we see on average a total of 13.1 runners left on base since 2009. The idea here is that these teams are coming off games where hits may have been at a premium, or they were not efficient at slugging in runs. Cold hitting and an inability to knock guys in can be contagious, and they are ailments we welcome with open arms in predicted low scoring affairs in Safeco Field.

As always, use this information to support your leans, and best of luck!

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