LAS VEGAS — Here’s one baseball fans might not have bet on: At least one prominent oddsmaker believes starting pitchers will get deeper into games this season.
Eric Biggio, baseball lead trader at Caesars Sportsbook, believes Major League Baseball’s new rules — including a pitch clock and limits on infield shifts — could hedge the trend of managers going into their bullpens early and often. This goes against the conventional thinking that a clock designed to speed up pitchers would likely help hitters.
Starters’ innings have been drastically reduced in recent years in favor of a parade of hard-throwing helpers. The strategy has contributed to a drop in scoring and a lack of action in games, prompting MLB to make the changes.
There was some evidence in spring training that pitchers might try to arm the clock, giving players 30 seconds to resume play between at-bats, 15 seconds between pitches with nobody, and 20 seconds with runners on base. Batters must be alert 8 seconds before the pitcher.
Some, including Mets ace Max Scherzer, attempted to turn the clock into a game of cat-and-mouse during spring shows. Biggio is betting that pitchers can get the upper hand there.
Starters will “dictate the pace of the game and they’ll be able to frustrate the hitters,” Biggio said. “So I think especially early in the year you can see the starters stall a little longer. The pitch will be lower. You will put more balls in play.
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“On the other hand, unloading that traditionally took a little more time might take them a little to adjust.”
Biggio reckons the effect will be minimal, but still enough that those expecting more goals may have to adjust their thinking this season, which started on Thursday.
Even with infield shift limits that could increase batting averages, Hal Egeland, senior sports trader at BetMGM, is also skeptical about a score increase.
He noted that teams are still allowed to make an outfield shift, e.g. B. moving a left fielder to middle or even right field.
“There are people who believe that the outfield shift is more important than the infield shift,” Egeland said. “The shift in data in the outfield shows a greater difference between the batting average of the balls in play.”
Running out of infield shifts could impact player bid bets, both operators said, and both pointed to Minnesota Twins hitter Joey Gallo as a test case. The left-hander is likely to go up against right-handers, and he was hitting lower and lower in the order before signing with the Minnesota Twins in December.
Gallo is the poster child of the modern analytics player, finishing most of his plate appearances with either a home run, strikeout, or walk. He’s a .199 career hitter but has a .325 on-base percentage and has hit 41 home runs in a season. Gallo faced the outfield shift that cleared left field in spring training, but it’s unclear how it will play out if the defense creatively positions itself against him for a full season.
Another area to watch is stolen bases, especially as baserunners will be able to better time pitchers who are limited to two pickoff attempts per batter. Larger bases have also slightly shortened the distance between pockets. Baserunners were 21 of 23 in stolen base attempts in the 15 games on Thursday’s opening day, compared to 5 to 9 in seven games on the first day of last season.
Analytics could still prevail where the number of stolen bases is not increasing as much as expected.
“That’s the one market that I think we’re going to have the most difficulty in initially determining the magnitude of the increase,” Egeland said. “We don’t want to over-adjust where we’re pushing those overs out so far. That will be the most difficult thing for us at the beginning and I think for the teams too. I think teams are still trying to make sure it’s worth stealing because some analysis suggests stealing a base isn’t really worth it.”
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