2009 Looking Back, Looking Forward

First-Half MLB Analysis and a Call for Ideas
by Wesley Griffin, www.sportsinsights.com

Well friends, we’re over the hump in the 2009 Major League Baseball season.  Around this time every year, casual sports fans start to ponder which teams might still be around in October, and we scrounge up all the baseless musings and predictions we made at the beginning of the season and subject them to a period of unsurpassed scrutiny.  At least… that’s what we do when our predictions were spot on!

After our friend and colleague, Chris Arena, left us for the greener pastures of academia as the NBA gave way to baseball, the Sports Insights Teams of Interest (TOI) articles which had been his baby ran somewhat aground.  Looking back, that may have been an unfortunate development.  The final NBA Teams of Interest article was chock full of profitable advice.  Despite being down on Orlando’s chances to run through the East like they eventually did, TOI correctly predicted the following: the Rockets’ success against the spread and the Under against the Lakers, the Nuggets’ domination of the Mavericks, the Cavaliers’ dismantling of the Hawks and the corresponding Under, and the consistent Under in the Magic’s series against the Celtics.  While TOI did use situational statistics and match-up outlooks to make its suggestions, nearly all of these picks could be justified with Sports Insights contrarian investing strategy.  We believe there is value to be found in Betting Against the Public, which tends to wager heavily on Overs and favorites, especially big-market franchises in cities like Los Angeles and Boston.  As we move on to put our baseball advice under the microscope, you’ll find that the public’s opinion continues to play heavily into our betting philosophy.

We began the new baseball season by investigating some futures in the most high-profile division in the majors, the American League East.  Tampa Bay’s new additions haven’t been significant contributors thus far, with Matt Joyce staying in the minors for everyday at-bats and Pat Burrell missing around a month with a neck injury.  The Rays also seemed to have a little World Series hangover, going 9-14 in the month of April.  Still, with a lineup and rotation full of young, improving talent comprising a roster that suffered no significant departures in the off-season, setting the over/under for season wins at 88.5 seemed a bit surprising to us.  At 48-41, they seem to have righted the ship, now only one game off the pace to hit the over.  BJ Upton and David Price continue to round into form, and the Tampa infield has become a juggernaut, boasting RBI machine Evan Longoria and AL home run leader Carlos Pena at the corners.  Even upstart shortstop Jason Bartlett is hitting a cool .347.  The Rays are 23-13 since the beginning of June, 6.5 games back of first-place Boston, and only 3 games out of the Wild Card.  We still think they get to 89 wins without too much problem and maybe even make a run at another division crown.

Many have made the argument, even while doubting Tampa’s chances for this season, that their franchise is being built to succeed in the long-term.  So if consistent improvement is expected, why should their season wins total be set 8.5 wins below their win total from the previous season?  The answer, in this case, is simple.  The Red Sox entered their first Manny-less April in a long time, but with capable replacement Jason Bay and what seemed like dozens of above average starting pitcher candidates on their 40-man roster, everyone knew they would be a contender.  The Yankees went on an old-school spending spree this winter, signing two elite players to $100+ million contracts – and that didn’t even include the money they paid 2008’s AL strikeout leader AJ Burnett!  Both of these northeast beasts were set at 6:5 to win the AL East, with the Yankees a remarkable 4:1 to win the World Series.  The over/under on season wins for the Yankees was set at a whopping 95.5.  With projections like these, there simply weren’t enough divisional wins to go around to respect the Rays.

We believe that because the public has been so historically bullish on teams like the Yankees and Red Sox, sportsbooks shade their opening lines slightly in order to try and balance their bets received.  This sort of shading can have a multivalent effect.  Since most casual bettors focus solely on which team they believe will win a given game and not where they can find value in the marketplace, lines that are already shaded toward the Yankees can become very large indeed.  The boys in pinstripes have so many fans that it’s easy to believe an infusion of talent should result in a 96-win season and a World Series ring.  And it’s true… the New York Yankees win a lot of games.  Betting on them consistently may win you a lot of bets.  Betting against them, however, is what will win you money.

We recognized this heading into the 2009 season and decided to reiterate our position a few weeks later.  With the All-Star Break in our rearview mirror, we can now look at the standings and find New York sporting a solid 51-37 record.  If that looks like enough to prove us wrong, look again.  Their pace is more than 2 games behind what they’ll need to hit their season over, and being 14 games over .500 has still resulted in a net loss against the spread, totaling -3.28 Units Won.  We’d rather win a lot of money than a lot of wagers, so we’re going to continue to fade the powerhouse Yankees.

It’s always nice to have some long-term results reaffirm your underlying principles, but we’ve had other successes as well.  Our NL Central outlook was a mixed bag, with season totals picks doubtful for the Cubs and Cardinals and probable for the Reds, Brewers and Pirates.  We delved into a few of the season’s opening series, and three out of four came back profitable.  We even went out on a limb for a team that’s never really held the public’s confidence, the Florida Marlins, and they enter the second half ahead of the Braves and Mets and in striking distance of the NL East leading Phillies.  More importantly, they’ve made you some money, up almost 3 units as of the break.

Well now, we hope you’ve enjoyed the extensive pat on the back we’ve just given ourselves, but even more than that, we hope your bankroll is bulging.  Our MLB Marketwatch has also had stellar results this year, but it just isn’t enough for us.  We want to hear from you, our members.  What sorts of specific insights do you feel would increase your edge?  What types of articles would you like delivered to your inbox every week or two?  Talk to us.  Challenge us.  The Team at SportsInsights.com is here to help you get a handle on what we’re all looking for in this world we call the sports marketplace: The Edge. 

If you do have ideas or requests, feel free to send them to help@sportsinsights.com.  Or, better yet, post them up on our forum and discuss amongst yourselves what’s working, what isn’t, and what else you’d like to see on the site.