Sabathia reaches the -400 Zone

JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

HOW DO YOU HANDICAP A GAME WITH A LINE OF -400?!

You don't often see Major League Baseball games with Las Vegas moneylines that high. Something like -200 is high, and often draws "percentage" action on underdogs from professional wagerers who don't believe there are many situations that justify the number.

300? Maybe if you're making a movie about Spartans. You rarely see numbers this high in baseball. It has to be a great team with a great pitcher at home against a bad team with a bad pitcher.

400? Is that even possible? We saw it Thursday afternoon, as THE BEST team in baseball (the NY Yankees) throwing their most expensive if not their most consistent pitcher (Andy Pettitte is having a better year than C.C. Sabathia to this point), hosting a bad team (Seattle) throwing THE WORST rotation pitcher in the majors once you adjust the stats for home field context (Ryan Rowland-Smith).

The Yankees did ultimately win the game 4-2. But, you can't judge whether or not a line was right by the final score. Every game represents a set of possibilities. You have to look over the full range of possibilities to determine if the price is right. If Seattle had won the game, it doesn't mean the Mariners should have been the favorite. If the Yankees won the game 14-2 instead of 4-2, it doesn't mean the line should have been -900 or something crazy like that.

As a general rule, we'll ask our clients to leave games like this alone unless we have something we like about the underdog. If you lay -400, and Sabathia takes a line drive off the shin in the second inning you're out of luck. Sabathia has been known to show up without his stuff every so often. You sure don't want that to happen when you're on the hook for -400. And, we've all seen lousy pitchers throw the occasional gem. Rowland Smith had his best game of the year Thursday afternoon (yet Seattle still lost!). You have to win 80% of the time just to break even with a bet that high (4-1 breaks even, which is 80% success). That means you need to win 85-90% of the time to win money. Tough hurdle to clear.

Be prepared to see more of this. We're not even to the halfway point of the season, and it's not like the Yankees are going to get any worse!

  • The Yankees will be pricey at home as a general rule because they're the best team in baseball.
  • Elite pitchers are always expensive. Sabathia and Pettitte are having elite seasons. Phil Hughes was for awhile there, but has fallen back to earth. That's 40%, and possibly 60% of the rotation that's going to see VERY high prices at home.
  • The American League has a few bad teams (Baltimore, Kansas City, Cleveland, Seattle), who will be outmatched dramatically talent-wise when they go to New York. Maybe they'll catch the Yanks napping once or twice (as the Mariners did when the Yanks were flat off the big Dodgers series). Often, they'll just take their spanking and move on to the next city.
  • As more teams fall out of the pennant race, they'll find themselves in the doldrums as they visit a Yankees team that needs to keep winning in the tight AL East. So, possibly teams like Toronto, Oakland, and whoever falls off the pace in the AL Central will also become very big road dogs in the Bronx.

What are the keys to finding quality dogs at these high prices against the Yankees?

  • Look for pitchers in the middle or the top of the rotation, rather than hoping the worst pitchers on bad teams can steal a win for you. Note that Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez were the guys catching the Yankees napping.
  • Look for offenses who can score early. Often the key to beating the Yankees is knocking the starter out and facing their mediocre middle relievers. Try to steal a slugfest with a good offense rather than hoping a bad pitcher throws well.
  • Look for flat spots from the Yankees. If they just had a huge series with the Red Sox, they may be flat as a pancake. If it's their first game back from a long trip, or their last home game on a getaway day, the Yanks may play below peak levels.
  • Go against A.J. Burnett! Well, he may get is act together soon. Look for any Yankees pitcher who's out of form in their recent numbers. That guy will be overpriced, as Burnett and Hughes have been of late.

That -400 you saw on the board may have seen like a rare one-time occurrence. We actually expect it's just a sign of things to come if the Yankees keep winning.

Here are the key stats from that 4-2 victory, and other day action from Thursday afternoon...

NY YANKEES 4, SEATTLE 2
Total Bases + Walks: Seattle 8, Yankees 18
Starting Pitchers: Rowland-Smith 6 IP, 2 ER, Sabathia, 8 IP, 1 ER
Vegas Odds: Yankees -400, total of 8.5
NOTEBOOK: The Yankees jumped to an early 2-0 lead, then both teams kind of went through the motions on a getaway day. We've been alerting you to this for YEARS! Be very careful asking for big scoring games on weekday afternoons. Seattle tied it in the 8th with the help of an unearned run. This gave a temporary thrill to Mariners backers, and a heart attack to Yankees fans and backers. AROD hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the 8th inning to save the day from the Bronx perspective. Yankees avoid what would have been a humiliating sweep at the hands of a bad team. Seattle can be proud they took two of three. New York hosts Toronto for a weekend set. Seattle is off to Detroit, where they'll be facing an angry Tigers team that just lost two big ones in Minnesota.

Earlier in the AL...

CLEVELAND 6, TORONTO 1
Total Bases + Walks: Toronto 11, Cleveland 19
Starting Pitchers: Marcum 4 IP, 5 ER, Masterson, 8.1 IP, 1 ER
Vegas Odds: Toronto -125, total of 8
NOTEBOOK: Cleveland put up a six-spot in the fourth inning, and the game died after that. This is so common in afternoon day games that we can't believe we're still talking about it. Wouldn't it be great if ESPN or the MLB Network mentioned how teams just go through the motions for several innings at a time on weekday afternoons? Toronto's hit a wall lately, dropping all four games in the series to a team that had been struggling for weeks. Maybe losing that home series geographically to Philadelphia wore them down. Or, seeing Roy Halladay on the Phils reminded them of how tough the second half of  the season is going to be. The Jays are now well off the pace in the competitive AL East. Cleveland's blown its season already, but has time to climb back to respectability. We mentioned to you in a past "Wins Minus Home Games Played" article that an unbalanced schedule had made them seem worse than they were.

Thursday afternoon in the National League...

CINCINNATI 3, CHICAGO CUBS 2
Total Bases + Walks: Cincinnati 22, Cubs 9
Starting Pitchers: Wood 7 IP, 2 ER, Silva, 7.2 IP, 2 ER
Vegas Odds: Chicago -135, total of 8
NOTEBOOK: The Reds were in command 2-0 in the eighth inning, with a big edge in offensive bases. They got greedy with young Travis Wood after seven scoreless innings. He put a couple of guys on in the 8th, the bullpen let him down, and suddenly Cincinnati was in extra innings. A run in the 10th won it, continuing the knack the Reds have this year for winning close games...and the knack the Cubs have for looking like they'd rather be anywhere else than at a baseball stadium. Remember, the Cubs lost to Pittsburgh 2-0 on Wednesday afternoon, then were trailing Cincy 2-0 in the 8th Thursday afternoon. No energy, no life, no chance of having a big inning except in very rare cases.

That wraps up today's report. Back tomorrow to showcase one of the big TV games for Saturday. Be sure you're with us EVERY DAY so you know what's really happening in the world of sports.

If you'd like to add to your bottom line, sign up with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK by calling 1-800-323-4453. You can also purchase game day releases and club packages here at the website with your credit card. Be sure to ask about our early bird BLUE RIBBON package for football. Gridiron greatness will be here before you know it. Early sign ups enjoy big discounts on full season rates.

A big weekend of baseball starts TONIGHT. Don't you dare make a move until you hear what JIM HURLEY has to say!

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