MLB Divisional Strengths Becoming Clear

HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

EASTERN DIVISIONS OFF TO STRONG STARTS
IN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL ACTION

by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

As we've shown you often over the years, it pays to pay attention to divisional and league strengths!

The best example of this comes from looking at the league level. We were the first place in the cyberworld (or anywhere!) to note when the American League had made a big jump forward past the National League in terms of overall talent and quality. We saw it literally YEARS before the mainstream media and betting markets did.

Now, it's relatively common knowledge...though the markets have a teensy bit more catching up to do. You made a lot of money betting interleague play knowing that an 81-81 team in the AL was MUCH better than an 81-81 team in the NL. Or, knowing that the 70-92 type teams in the AL were going to have great records vs. the NL!

What's less well understood is that these types of edges can pop up WITHIN the leagues on a division-by-division basis from year to year. There's an ebb and flow as various franchises develop young talent or make smart free agent acquisitions. A few years ago we were BEGGING you to focus on the NL Central because they were dominating the other two divisions. This year, it looks like we'll be begging you to bet against them!

Roughly six weeks into the season, there's now enough water under the bridge for sample sizes to have some meaning. You can simply add up the games over or under .500 in each divisional hunk in your morning newspaper to get a sense of where things stand. We did that in our Friday morning newspapers to get the latest data.

Let's start in the American League, where the best division in baseball is...unsurprisingly...the AL EAST!

AL EAST: +16 games
AL CENTRAL: -8 games
AL WEST: -8 games

Since all games within a division count for both a win and a loss, the differential above or below .500 has to come from non-divisional games. The AL East is beating up in the other two divisions.

You might think that's only because of the Yankees and Rays. Think again!

 

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AL EAST VS. OUTSIDERS
Tampa Bay 12-6
Toronto 15-9
Boston 9-4
NY Yankees 11-8
Baltimore 5-9

The Yankees have actually stumbled, relatively speaking, outside the division. Toronto's been much better than people realize. Boston has obviously been overmatched by Tampa Bay and New York...but they're doing fine vs. other divisions. Even Baltimore has a better winning percentage outside than inside the division thanks to a couple of wins over Seattle this week.

Is there any value to knowing this? Well...is Tampa Bay -200 every time they take the field? At home maybe, but not on the road. Is Toronto being priced like a 15-9 team when they play outside the division? Of course there's value! You'll notice this with some of our service picks...some of the very best value spots out there are taking non-media teams like Toronto who aren't getting the line respect they deserve.

The snapshot we took Friday morning shows both the AL Central and AL West at eight games under .500. Are they truly equal? Too early to say. The West actually has a 21-19 record vs. the Central so far head to head. For the most part, the breakdown is following the AL Central split. Minnesota and Detroit are succeeding, the rest are struggling...and divisional strength doesn't really matter. We'll keep an eye on this as the season progresses.

Over in the National League...

NL EAST +10
NL WEST +4
NL CENTRAL -14

There were warnings before the season started that the NL Central was going to be horrible. Those turned out to be true. Heading into the weekend, four of the five worst won-lost records in the NL belonged to teams from the Central division. And, that's with a schedule that has them playing each other a lot!

The NL East isn't exactly the AL East. But, you're seeing a higher level of play than many expected. Last place through Thursday Night was a respectable 16-18 record for Atlanta. Here's how the group is doing outside the division.

NL EAST VS. OUTSIDERS
Washington 9-5
Atlanta 13-9
Philadelphia 9-6
NY Mets 11-8
Florida 9-13

Now, Philadelphia is a high priced team that's hard to make money with. Washington? A steal! Atlanta? Struggling inside the NL East but doing well vs. outsiders. Even the Mets are cashing tickets. TALK ABOUT A VALUE DIVISION!

Now, there's no guarantee that the full season is going to follow the pathway charted by the first six weeks. We want you to know though that this generally IS what happens in baseball. Underrated teams keep producing. Teams who made mistakes in their off-season roster preparation are stuck with their investments. In fact, not only do the early tendencies generally hold up...they often get magnified in pennant races.

*Any divisional race involving a few teams is going to see those teams playing hard all season long. That often means GREAT performances against other divisions who lack the same intensity.

*This often pays off very well in ROAD games, where the lines are more affordable. Note that Tampa Bay entered the weekend 15-4 on the road, Toronto 13-6, and even Washington sat at 9-7.

*When Interleague play starts, you REALLY want to take the best division in the AL, and you want to go against the worst division in the NL.

We'll talk more about this in the coming days and weeks as we transition from mostly pro basketball to mostly baseball (we've got a big week of basketball again starting TOMORROW with a preview of Game One in Boston/Orlando). Be sure you're paying attention to it every day. It's just not that hard to make notes in your morning newspaper when you're glancing at the standings.

In fact, the information we've presented today is likely to loom large over a major release or two this weekend. There are four inter-divisional series going on right now in the National League, and five in the American League. And, baseball is just part of a MONSTER WEEKEND!

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This article is part of the VSM MASTERS SERIES presented by VegasSportsMasters.com and JimHurley.com. For more information on JIM HURLEY'S handicapping packages, call 1-800-323-4453.

23
Nov

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