For the Rebuilding 49ers, 2017 Just Doesn't Matter

David Malinsky

Tuesday, August 1, 2017 1:40 PM UTC

Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017 1:40 PM UTC

The San Francisco 49ers aren't going to win much -- if at all -- in 2017. And that simply doesn't matter for the franchise in the present ... Michael Pelfrey could play the lead in “Nobody up There Likes Me”… It is time for your voice(s) to be heard.

Point Blank – Aug. 1, 2017

It is time for Part II of our tour across the NFL 2017 training camps, but in heading to the Bay area perhaps the designated year on the calendar does not matter – what GM John Lynch, Coach Kyle Shanahan and others are working on may require even more tearing down before there can be some kind of build-up. There is plenty to sort through there, and one of our keys today is that you can begin bringing your voice into the process.

One of the driving forces in the original development of Point Blank was to make this not a daily moment, but instead an active place where sports bettors could bring their ideas into discussion throughout each day, and I believe we have been successful with it through the years. It hasn’t just been about high level sports discussion, but also to showcase that even as the rules of conduct have become lax in the social media age, no license required before someone starts driving the car, it is possible to maintain polite and dignified levels across discourses.

In the sports betting arena we need to be able to do that -- time and information are precious, and we all have work to do if we are going to win. The previous standards were high, now we all have the opportunity to take them to an even higher level.

This is going to be a work in progress, so your feedback will be a crucial part of the proceedings. You will see a comments window in gray in the upper left of each day’s edition; that is the trigger. Click on that and it will open a window to the right of the screen where the flow will take place, but note that it will not take you off of the main column, so that you can scroll through both at the same time. Then we can all put our heads together to create the best flow.

Let’s get the ball rolling, and as has been the case in the past, questions on topics across the entire sports handicapping spectrum are welcome. But let’s also set the golden rule up front -- “Who do you like in XXX vs. ???” -- is not a discussion, and will not receive a written response. Questions about the 49ers will be addressed, of course, and there may be some fascinating ones through the season ahead.


How much do the 2017 scoreboards matter for 49ers?

There may not be a team more difficult team to assign both a power rating and the style components behind that rating heading into the 2017 schedule than San Francisco. And you know what? There is the real prospect that despite that there could be a fair amount of activity from my end on their games, because of the general confusion that may be caused across the marketplace. So much like yesterday’s opening to our NFL tour with the Seahawks, when notions of being careful with their 2016 defensive statistics came front and center, once again there is adjusting to be done.

It is different this time, and calls for far less finesse and time allotment. Take your 2016 San Francisco file, move it to your trash folder, and before you have even the slightest inclination to change your mind, empty the trash.

With the 49ers we move forward without benefit of the past because there isn’t one. As for almost all that happened before this…

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Before we even begin to break to build a foundation through which to gauge the San Francisco season, it is a prime moment to grasp the particulars here, because even if you correctly begin charting as though this was Year Zero for the franchise, others won’t. So as the comments thread gets ready to launch, let’s please all be responsible enough to avoid the clutter of “Hey, the 49ers are 12-4 to the Under in their last 16 division games” type of references over the course of the season. That stuff just doesn’t matter with this team.

What does matter? Measuring the intent of Lynch and Shanahan, because there is going to be a whole lot of head-scratching going on.

Shanahan was about as honest as a coach of a professional franchise could be before training camp began: “We did take over a 2-14 team. We don’t feel all the answers are here right now. We’ve got a lot of work to do.” And I will be reading his words and studying the body language closely this autumn, because they may be a better indicator of relative ATS value than the statistics are going to show. The latter cannot help but be ugly, and if the 49ers fail to manage a home victory vs. the Rams on a Thursday night in Week 3, the first win may prove to be elusive (though the past doesn’t matter here is some perspective for a power ratings baseline – over their last 20 games the 49ers are 3-0 SU and ATS vs. the Rams, and 0-17 SU and 2-14-1 ATS in all other games).

Where protocols change is that it will not be about winning. There is little to no pressure on Shanahan to immediately elevate the team in the standings, and it isn’t as though there is a clear path to take anyway. Brian Hoyer is the likely starter at QB, having worked with Shanahan in Cleveland in 2014, but this is six franchises in seven seasons for Hoyer, who is not going to be a long-term solution. That puts limitations on a coach’s playbook – you only tailor so much towards the personnel on hand if you believe it is not the core group into the future. That is significant here because Shanahan has not been a “system” guy, trying to meld his offenses to a particular playbook, but instead someone that has meshed around the talents on hand (as one of the all-time examples, study the development in Atlanta between his first season and second). Just how deeply will he develop for this offensive huddle, which may not be much of a prelude to 2018? Hence combing the fine print to gauge intent from week to week.

None of this is lost on the guys behind the counter, of course. The oddsmakers could not catch down to the 2016 SF edition, which managed a 4-11-1 ATS, so they know the task at hand. The betting markets are ruthlessly efficient overall but often struggle on the extreme edges (Mike Pelfrey and the White Sox are coming up in a bit). But also keep in mind that a lot of the 2016 malaise was the lack of a buy-in to Chip Kelly, which meant few positive tactical adjustments and not a whole lot of effort. Should the markets get near the water level, a team facing little pressure could be loose and have a little fun down the stretch.

Why spend so much time searching through the fine print of what may be a difficult team to diagnose? One of the mistakes many bettors make is in not evaluating teams like this with quite enough vigor, which means that there can be a treacherous gap not just in rating them, but also in evaluating their opponents. Understand the discipline here – it isn’t just about properly assessing how much effort the 49ers will bring for any given game for their side of the ledger, but also the fact that our takeaways from the other side of the field also depend on that SF intensity level.

We don’t get rides like this often in professional sports, so this will be a learning experience in many ways. Now speaking of performers and teams that the oddsmakers are struggling to come to grips with …


Michael Pelfrey could play the lead in “Nobody up There Likes Me"

What has set PB discussion threads apart in the past is that the word “value” will come up more than “winning” or “losing”, because it really is a market that we are playing through. They know good teams are good and bad teams are bad, it is in gauging precise degrees that there is opportunity to make money.

There is an interesting case study with the Chicago White Sox right now, a bad team that has gone through a sell-off, and also the particular example of Pelfrey, who may well be among the unluckiest performers in the annals of sport. Let’s delve in today because it is a market exercise that we may see repeated with the 49ers in two months.

In terms of finding the proper water level for the White Sox, the oddsmakers of course begin each day grasping their futility. But outside of some line-up driven money against Cleveland on Sunday, regardless of where the sports books opened, anti-ChiSox money has been showing up regularly:

July 24: Cubs -230 to -270

July 25: Cubs -200 to -215

July 26: Cubs -210 to -270

July 27: Cubs -230 to -260

July 28: Indians -215 to -255

July 29: Indians -240 to -280

July 30: Indians -170 to -145

July 31: Blue Jays -150 to -180

And the early Tuesday trading is more of the same, Toronto already from -195 to as high as -230. When was the last time a team sitting in last place in their division, and 49-57 overall, was laying more than two dollars on the road in August? This is how market efficiency works – there comes a point at which even a team as bad as the White Sox can make the value bells chime.

And then there is Pelfrey, and this is where the pendulums of sport can bring such fascination. Many times we are looking to play against seemingly hot teams and performers, and to play on seemingly cold ones, because there is a foundation that indicates the patterns of momentum are not entirely real, and have been overly influenced by the bounces of the ball. It is a prime notion in searching for value. Pelfrey’s long-term arc may be one of the classic outliers across the annals of sports.

Since the start of the 2011 season the veteran right-hander has been tagged with a 25-58 W/L record. That is a long and frustrating cycle that has no close comparison for such a sample size. But now the handicapping conundrum – across those 757 innings he sported a 4.82 ERA and 4.53 FIP. That was indeed bad pitching, but it wasn’t terrible.

To set perspective let’s build a couple of comparisons, looking at all starters that worked at least 700 innings over the past decade, and were within .10 of Pelfrey’s ERA in either direction, and FIP in either direction. The ERA group brings us Nick Blackburn, Joe Blanton, Kevin Correia, Livan Hernandez, Kyle Kendrick and Jason Marquis; for FIP it is Kevin Correia, Jon Garland, Miguel Gonzalez, Luke Hochevar, Derek Holland, Tom Koehler, John Lannan, Clayton Richard, Chris Tillman, Josh Tomlin and Barry Zito.

How did those groups fare in terms of Wins and Losses, compared to Pelfrey?

Pelfrey  25-58   30.1%

ERA  313-368   45.9%

FIP  574-689   45.4%

That is a rather stunning comparison. Pelfrey has certainly not been good, but the attachment of game outcomes to his resume creates an impression that he has been much worse than the reality of the pitches that he has thrown. By looking at the others pitching at his level his outcomes would have been expected to be 37-46 over 83 decisions, a full 12 games above what has actually happened. Baseball simply has not been kind to him.

If the Tuesday markets keep running in the current direction I may have a piece of a bad team with a bad pitcher in pocket (enticement begins at +210 or better), but that is what value is about – there is nothing all that special about the Blue Jays, with six teams ahead of them in the Wild Card standings, and last night’s deflating loss weighing on their psyche.

Your daily dose of SportsBIT

One of the items that I do want to get flowing in the comments threads is also another work in progress, SportsBIT. It gives me the opportunity to work with long-time colleagues Ted Sevransky and Pauly Howard. There are a lot of directions that we can take the product in so your feedback will be most appreciated. You can view the Tuesday edition right here - 

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