Point Blank: On Easing off the “Break”

Point Blank With Dave Malisnky

Dave Malinsky

Friday, July 14, 2017 3:03 PM GMT

Friday, Jul. 14, 2017 3:03 PM GMT

On Easing off the “Break” (and it is a little different than you might think)…There may be no shielding of Shields the rest of the way…

Welcome to a new platform for an old concept, and if brevity indeed be the soul of wit, it should be the aspiration for introductions as well. So let’s get to it and get the forward out of the way because there is a full MLB board on tap; much NFL and NCAA pre-season work to be done; and the screen set to flash the necessary trigger colors should Mayweather drop below -575 vs. McGregor.

Point Blank will be familiar to some of you already, so feel free to skip ahead; for first-time visitors welcome to a place of sports betting discussion that will be a daily journey to find the kind of edges that lead to building a clear path to the cashier’s windows. It will not be a place for the mundane - the Who, What, When and Where of this endeavor are rather easy to find, but when laying 11-10 not enough to build a bankroll (and in the modern marketplace a mastery of those four W’s may not even enable one to break even). It is the last part of the equation, the Why, that will be the major part of the search.

It is in going behind both the numbers, and the vagaries of human behavior (the sporting fields bring out all of the best, and worst, of those) that we will find deeper truths. Those truths will often run contrary to popular notions across the betting landscape, but that is indeed what our challenge is all about – the games on the field, and the scores and statistics that measure them, are available to all. The money ends up in the hands of those that interpret the outcomes best, and over time you will find that it is as much art as science (on balance, Shakespeare’s understanding of human nature might have given him a slightly better opportunity to win than Euclid’s mastery of numbers).

One of the strengths of Point Blank in the past has been what the readers bring, and the expectation is that component will get even better as we build out a larger stadium. In the very near future the comments section will be up and running, so that there can be a shared dialogue of the key issues on those betting boards, a journey to

Canterbury in which everyone gets to tell their tale (and a particular welcome, or welcome back, to those that don’t have to Google the reference). That is on the way, while there is some formatting to tinker with (suggestions are most welcome, and yes, the jukebox will be there), and there are also a variety of other projects that will be attached; working again with former colleagues Teddy Sevransky and Pauly Howard brings the opportunity to build out some dynamic product across various media platforms. There will be much more to come on that front, but for now let’s get to something you can put to use immediately, as play on the MLB diamonds returns after the annual All Star break.

 

You can ease off the brake for the break, but be ready to put your foot down again

The post-break cycle brings some conventional wisdom into play that I believe is wrong. You will often read that it is best to go slow, and allow the players to get back into rhythm, which means caution the first day back, the foot still on the brake, and then a shifting to the accelerator as the games unfold. Except it doesn’t actually work that way most seasons; the first two days back should call for more involvement than those that immediately follow.

Here is the gist – the first notion is MLB players need less time to get back into the swing, literally, than players in other sports. In football and basketball teammates are needed to practice most of the necessary skills, often a multitude of them to get it done right, outside of perhaps a hoopster standing at the free throw line in a gym. But baseball is about a lot of one-on-one matchups, and hitters can get to the batting cage, and pitchers can throw on the side, without having many others around. It is part of their routine.

As such the first game back is not a shock to those involved, and in particular the starting pitchers. Managers go out of their way to best time the top of their rotations for the immediate period coming out of the break, so many of the guys on the mound tonight will be as close to their usual cycle as it could be set up. You have the most consistent performers not too far out of rhythm, which enhances predictability. And naturally all key arms in the bullpen will be rested and ready.

The problems begin on Sunday, and on Monday/Tuesday there will be some games that have randomness levels so high attached that they end up in The Drawer, without me even taking the time to establish a serious power rating (I will explain The Drawer in time, but the usage here should already go a long way towards that). What do those games bring? Not only the weakest, and correspondingly most inconsistent, of the starting pitchers, but those performers also returning after the longest layoffs. Then add that it is not unusual for some relief pitchers to get out to 10 days or more without throwing in a live game, and often these are the bottom-feeders from those pitching staffs as well.

Yet note that I tend to pass on those games rather than to play against the pitchers with long layoffs, because sometimes an extended rest is just what a struggling performer needs. It is part of what has been learned through experience, no greater lesson than the benefits of knowing when not to be involved (the “Plus Zero” take will be on the way soon, but I will save that till a little closer to football season).

Now let’s get to some handicapping specifics involving one of the guys taking the mound tonight.

 The O-Swing% of James Shields may be even worse than it appears (and that is not easy)

In going from his disastrous 6-19/5.85 of 2016, one of the worst seasons ever for a pitcher that worked 180 innings or more, to the current 2-1/4.95, Shields might look like a candidate for Comeback Player of the Year. He isn’t, and the pricing of his starts across the betting markets show that there is an awareness of his remaining abilities, through higher standards of pitching measure -

FIP xFIP

2015 6.01 5.21

2017 6.89 6.11

He hasn’t improved in 2017. The issues are easy to see. Shields is a little more than halfway between birthdays #35 and #36, which is well past-prime for any MLB starter, but in particular for someone that compiled over 2,000 innings in the 10 seasons leading up to this one (and only his ineffectiveness prevented it from being 10 straight, 2016 being curtailed to 181.2 frames).

 

 

One can easily use some of the base numbers to see key parts to the decline, his average fastball velocity, walk rate, and HR/9 –

MPH BB/9 HR/9

2014 93.6 1.7 .9

2015 92.2 3.6 1.5

2016 91.1 4.1 2.0

2017 90.5 4.7 2.5

Let’s go to another category that is not viewed as often, but is on point with those declines, O-Swing%. If you haven’t tracked that, it is how often a pitcher gets opposing hitters to swing at pitches outside of the strike zone. Naturally that is a positive for pitchers, since swings at balls outside of the zone will often lead to misses, or weak contact. Here is the Shields decline in that category (for reference, the MLB average this season is 29.7) -

O-Swing%

2014 33.2

2015 31.7

2016 28.5

2017 21.7

One can make the connection that this correlates to his increasing walk rate – as Shields throws the ball more slowly, hitters get more time to read whether a pitch is in the zone or not. How bad has he been in this category? To properly measure for his innings load we have to look at all pitchers that have worked 30 innings or more, of which there are 328. Shields just happens to be #326.

That looks awful, and it is. But might it be even worse than that? The eye test says yes. In 2016 Shields was at 28.5, with a SWS% (the rate of pitches that led to swings and misses) of 9.2. Yet with that drop to 21.7 this season, SWS% has only fallen the slightest of ticks, to 9.0. What am I taking from that? That for as bad as the Shields walk rate and O-Swing% are, they could be even worse because hitters don’t want to walk against him. When you are in the box against a fastball that might not get a speeding ticket in Utah (mostly 80 mph zones on I-15 these days), and a pitcher that has allowed the highest HR rate in MLB over the last three seasons, you want to get swings. As bad as the Shields O-Swing% is I believe the real count is worse; batters really want to get their cuts at him rather than trotting down to first after four balls.

How will the rest of 2017 play out for Shields? I do not believe it is going to go well.

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