MLB Playoff Time: Is it Time to Sell on Sale

David Malinsky

Wednesday, October 4, 2017 2:17 PM UTC

Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017 2:17 PM UTC

Has Chris Sale already reached his 2017 sell-by date…On the pressures of October, especially for those throwing their first pitch…It won’t take nerves of Steel(ers) for this week’s plunge into the Survivor Pool…

Point Blank – October 4, 2017

It is time to get a little MLB into the discussion again, and I will start with a lament that many long-time readers will share – this will be the first playoff cycle in memory without good pal Eric Strasser, better known as Palmtree around the PB community, and it just won’t be the same. Those October conversations were outrageous fun, win or lose, baseball under the microscope offering so many nuances to sort through.

The opening of the 2017 playoffs are no different, with a lot of intriguing storylines in play. I am going to bet one of them, so let’s get right to it, and then back into the waters of the NFL Survivor Pool.

Item: Has Chris Sale already passed his 2017 sell-by date

Chris Sale is a tremendous talent and one hell of a competitor. If he were to go out and pitch brilliantly on Thursday it would not be a shock; hreat talents can do that. But in the daily processes that we sort through so many of the edges are found from finding weaknesses among good performers, or strengths among bad ones, that don’t show up in the betting lines. I think Sale may be a little vulnerable right now, and it isn’t in the price of Thursday’s Red Sox/Astros Game #1.

I’ll start with a reasonable theory – a guy that weights 180 pounds, yet throws about as hard as anyone, and as many innings as anyone, is subject to wearing down. Since Sale become a full-time starter in 2012 he is #3 in MLB in innings pitched, and #2 in K/9, a sign of just how much he was worked, and how hard he has thrown. That logically leads us to ponder what happens to a guy with that physical frame over the course of the long MLB summer:

Months     W/L     ERA
Mar/April  17-6   2.91
May    19-3   2.57
June    16-10   2.66
July    14-10   2.66
August   14-13   3.22
Sept/Oct   11-16   3.78

There is some logic to that. The 2017 campaign was no different in terms of flow, and if anything saw those gaps grow wider. Sale opened with a 14-4/2.51 through his first 24 starts, and in a near dead-heat with Corey Kluber for the A.L. Cy Young. But over his last eight starts it was a 3-4/4.30, and a particularly bothersome 2.2 HR/9, after that count had only been .7 prior to the closing furlong of the regular season.

Hence the notion of whether: A. Sale is tired; and B. Has the pressure of pennant race made him even more tired than usual?

How much does the battle for a playoff spot matter? Only once in Sale’s five seasons as a starter for the White Sox were they within 16.5 games of first place in the A.L. Central when the season ended, and that was his first full-time campaign as a starter in 2012. This season hasn’t just brought the usual workload of innings, Sale going over 200 once again, but also added pressure for those late-season affairs.

So let’s build a handicap. First, I believe the market pricing for Red Sox/Astros Game #1 is based on Sale at full ability, and even if that were to be the case there is a matchup issue that may be worth a few pennies. Part of what makes the Boston left-hander so good is that a combination of his natural stuff, and also an unorthodox delivery, gets hitters to swing at pitches out of the strike zone. Sale’s O-Swing% checked in at 36.2% this season, only Masahiro Tanaka rating better.

Can a case be made that the Astros can deal with that particular issue as well as any other team? They only struck out 17.3 percent of the time, by far the best in MLB. Their O-Swing% was not as dramatic, sitting a tick above average at #14, but it does show that they will bring patience to the plate.

And then there is the story of Justin Verlander, who earned the Game #1 nod over Dallas Keuchel based on current form, a sizzling 1.95 ERA since the All Star break (contrast that with 3.12 for Sale), which includes 1.06 over his five starts in a Houston uniform, and also plenty of experience for the setting, a 3.39 allowance over 16 career playoff spots.

It all adds up to #936 Houston (4:05 Eastern) going in to pocket for Thursday, with as low as -115 available, and I will also take a bite of the Astros to win the series if I can find lower than -160. The Red Sox get a bullpen edge in this matchup but that is all – the Astros have more depth in their starting rotation; an offense that scored 111 more runs; and PADE calls the Houston defense #15, vs. #27 for the BoSox (other defensive metrics view this differently, but PADE takes judgment out of play).

Now for a worthwhile field trip into the mind of a pitcher that you can also use to put Jon Gray into perspective this evening as well.

About that playoff pressure…

Luis Severino and Jose Berrios are a couple of prime young pitching talents that were each making their first playoff appearance last night, and they weren’t very good, Severino’s outing being among the shortest ever for a starter in a playoff game.

Since the psychology of baseball brings so much into play, you can add to your handicapping insight by taking a few moments to read this, from Tim Britton of the Providence Journal.

Let me borrow a couple of key quotes from that, some guys who know what they are talking about when it comes to the pressure of October pitching.

Ron Darling: “It’s a feeling that’s hard to describe. It’s complete and utter joy and ecstasy on one part — and just cold-hearted fear on the other. It’s weird. Each pitch is almost like two pitches. Your awareness of what to throw and when to throw it has to be twice as good as in the regular season.”

John Smoltz: “The postseason is such a different monster. The regular season doesn’t prepare you anywhere close to what the postseason is like. Everything in the postseason is a rally. A walk’s a rally. First and second in the regular season is no big deal. Man on first in the postseason, you’d swear the bases were loaded.”

And Corey Kluber, who we will see in a couple of days: “It’s different from any other experience I have had in a game. It’s inevitable that there’s going to be excitement and anxiety. It’s just managing your emotions. Just because it feels different, it’s not something you run away from.”

Which helps take us back to Gray for this evening. As I will write here often, when can we be confident that there is a psychological issue in play? When the players themselves are talking about it. It was part of why there was a focus on Amari Cooper dropping passes in the Tuesday NFL Review, and Gray is well aware of this setting:

“I have a lot of positive emotions coming in here, and it leads me to think it’s going to be a lot of fun. I don’t think it’s going to be a tight game for me. I don’t think I’m going to be feeling that nervous. I’m just going to go out there and control what I can. The results are the results. But the effort is going to be 100 percent for me.”

The very fact that a player has to address such things publicly tells us much about the bright lights of this particular stage.

Survivor 2017, Week 5 – It doesn’t take nerves of Steel(ers) this week

Week #4 turned out to be a productive one, with losses by the Patriots and Falcons helping to thin the ranks, and the positioning is about as good as could have been hoped for this early in the campaign.

This is another week in which I don’t have to go deep into detail – we can play a -420 favorite on a board that likely won’t have any other team going off higher than -275 (Philadelphia), and this is the week to get the STEELERS in play anyway. Their optimal setting from the start might have looked like a home game vs. Cleveland, but that one comes on the final day of the regular season, when there may be no need in the playoff hunt, and perhaps even a reason to hold key players out. This week the safest play is also the smartest play.

  1. Carolina
  2. Oakland
  3. New England
  4. Seattle

And now an extra bonus

Long-time PB forum contributor Hector Mendez brings a lot of insight, and his NFL power ratings offer valuable food for thought. You can find those already in the Tuesday thread (you can link from the archive below), clicking the grey box in the upper left to go to the discussions.

Hector is also generous enough to share the weekly ratings from his math model across the key categories as well, and because that does not show well in the posting section, I will place it here. If you have questions feel free to ask him, the better the discussions get the better the edges are for everyone that comes here each day.

You can find the Point Blank archive here.

And if you want to know when PB is ready to go each day, as well as following along for some of the most important Sports Betting news as in unfolds, make @Vegaspointblank a part of your routine.

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