Baseball is back! It feels so good to say that!
Game 7 of the 2019 World Series was held on October 30th, 2019. The first pitch of the 2020 MLB season was thrown July 23rd, 2020. That’s 267 days!
267 days … that’s over 6,400 hours. 267 days … that’s over 23 million seconds! This is how long we had to wait between MLB games.
The Yankees-Nationals season opener on ESPN drew over 4 million viewers. This is the most viewers ever for an Opening Day game on ESPN and the most viewers for an MLB regular-season game since 2011.
Sure, there are no fans in the stands. Sure, a few players have opted out of this season. Sure, there are tons of new rule changes which have baseball purists up in arms. But guys … baseball is back!
The 60-game schedule places added importance on each game. One game in a 60-game season is the equivalent of 2.7 games in a 162-game season.
Sweeping your opening series and beginning the 60-game schedule with a 3-0 record is like beginning a normal year 8-0.
The 2020 season is like a hyper turbo online poker tournament – the game is the same but everything happens faster.
All 30 teams are totally in the playoff hunt to begin the year – especially after the MLB announced expansion of this seasons’s playoffs to 16 teams.
Imagine a season where it is late July and all 30 teams are tied in the standings. We get to watch this crazy scenario unfold before us in unprecedented fashion.
There are so many things I am looking forward to which I’ve missed over the past 267 days: home runs, painted corners, double plays, diving catches, stolen bases, division races, sleeper teams, batting title races … I could go on.
I spent a great deal of my Thursday and Friday watching MLB baseball. Here are the moments which excited me the most from MLB Opening Day 2020 and what they mean for MLB bettors.
Verlander Cruises to Victory, But Don’t Get Used to It
Justin Verlander and the Houston Astros defeated the Seattle Mariners 8-2 on Friday night. At (-300) the Astros were the 2nd-largest favorite on Friday’s Opening Day slate.
This win marks the 8th-straight season the Astros have won on Opening Day – the longest such streak in the Major Leagues. Justin Verlander has started the last 3 openers for Houston and is a perfect 3-0. Dallas Keuchel – now with the White Sox – started the 3 Opening Days prior, never dropping a decision.
The Astros have been favored in each of their past 5 Opening Day games and have won each game handily – even cashing in on the run line all 5 times – winning by an average of 3.6 runs.
Verlander’s Astros History with Short Lines
Verlander is no stranger to pitching as a heavy favorite. The Astros have been heavily favored each time Verlander takes the mound since he arrived in Houston at the end of the 2017 season.
In Verlander’s 11 starts in 2017 the Astros were (-145.9) favorites, on average. The lines shortened to (-220.5) in Verlander’s 37 starts in 2018. Verlander tipped the scales even further in 2019, causing the Astros to be (-251.7) favorites in his 39 starts.
Just because Verlander wins more often than he loses does not mean that he is a good pitcher to trust with a bet. Check out the numbers.
The shorter the line, the higher percentage of games you need to win just to break even, right? The Astros won 90.9% of Verlander’s 11 starts in 2017. $100 per game bettors would have profited just over $850 by backing the Astros each time Verlander took the hill.
2017 was the last season in which Justin Verlander was profitable, however, as the Astros only won 62.2% of his starts in 2018 and 64.1% of his starts in 2019 – both far below the needed break even point.
Those same bettors would have lost nearly $800 in 2018 and over $1,000 in 2019 by blindly backing the Astros when Verlander starts.
All together, Astros’ bettors have lost over $900 backing J.V. in the 2 and a half seasons that Verlander has pitched for Houston.
Marlins and Blue Jays Pull Only 2 Upsets of Opening Day
There were only 2 upsets in Friday’s Opening Day – the Marlins over the Phillies and the Blue Jays over the Rays.
The Marlins were the largest upset of the season so far as Sandy Alcantara beat Aaron Nola and the Phillies offense to overcome the odds as (+170) dogs.
Hyun-jin Ryu was solid in his Blue Jays debut as Toronto stuck it to Charlie Morton and the Rays 6-4 as (+135) dogs.
Three teams entered action on Friday as (+200) dogs or greater – the Orioles (+200), the Mariners (+260), and the Giants (+275).
All 3 teams fell by large margins. Favorites dominated baseball’s Opening Day – 12-2 with average odds of (-180). A bettor putting down $100 per game on each favorite would have profited $865 on Friday.
Recent MLB History of +200 Underdogs
Historically, MLB dogs with lines of (+200) or longer have been terrible bets. (+200) underdogs have not been profitable over an entire season since 2004!
Last season – 2019 – was a new low for these huge underdogs. Dogs of (+200) or more won just 19.9% of their games – that’s not even 1 out of 5.
Even a juicy average line of (+240) was not enough to pull bettors anywhere near even. They lost over $11,300 in 343 opportunities last season.
I doubt very many bettors were willing to back huge underdogs last year, however, because huge dogs fared equally as poorly in 2018. Huge underdogs won just 20.8% of their games in 2018 but only lost betters $7,860 because of fewer opportunities to bet (259).
Huge underdogs are 0-4 through Opening Friday this year. This is not a trend I would try to defy. Definitely side with the data here and bet big favorites. Fade the big underdogs. A (+300) payday might sound nice, but we have 15 years worth of data telling screaming that you will not get your money back on this investment.
Matt Chapman’s Rollercoaster Night in A’s Win Over Angels
Matt Chapman – the 27-year-old Platinum Glove third baseman for the A’s – had a rollercoaster Friday night in Oakland against the Angels.
Oakland’s Frankie Montas was matching Angels’ starter Andrew Heaney pitch for pitch as the game entered the 7th inning in a 1-1 tie.
Chapman had been stymied to this point – going 0-3 and looking completely lost at times, chasing curve balls which bounced in front of the plate.
Chapman’s night got worse in the top of the seventh inning when an errant throw turned a routine out into a two-base error. The hitter – Andrelton Simmons – was safe on second base with no one out to begin the inning. 2 fly balls later … he scores.
The Angels scored the go-ahead run in the seventh inning on an error and 2 fly balls. Combined with the fact that he was 0-3 to that point – Chapman must have felt horrible. He had to feel like it was his fault the A’s were trailing.
Jump forward to the bottom of the 8th and Oakland still trails 2-1. Marcus Simeon draws a walk and Ramon Laureano cranks a double off the right-field wall, scoring Simeon to tie the game.
The next hitter is Matt Chapman. It’s a 2-2 game with one out and a runner on second – bottom of the 8th. Chapman could avenge his 0-fer and throwing error and be the night’s hero if he could manage to drive in Laureano here. Matt Chapman delivered, crushing a three-bagger which scored Laureano to put his A’s up by one while getting himself to third base with just one out.
The A’s were now back in the lead and Khris Davis just needed to lift a fly ball to get Chapman in to put them up 2. Then Chapman got caught in a bad spot …
Angels pitcher Ty Buttrey uncorked a wild one to the backstop. Chapman begins to run home, thinking he’ll score easily. Screwed by the design of his own stadium, the ball ricochets right back to catcher Jason Castro and Chapman is caught in no-man’s land – tagged for the 2nd out of the inning. Later in the inning, Oakland got a hit – meaning Chapman would have scored had he not gotten picked off.
Oh well, no big deal, say A’s fans. We still have the lead. It would have been nice to go up 2, but 1 will do it. We have Liam Hendriks for the 9th. This game is as good as won.
Not so fast, says Jason Castro …
You know who felt the worst about that homerun? Matt Chapman. He was fully aware that better baserunning would have given the A’s a 2-run lead entering the 9th. Hendriks settled down and preserved the tie. The A’s have a chance to win it in the bottom of the 9th.
First 2020 Extra Innings Game with Second-Base Runner
The bottom of the 9th comes and goes in Oakland – the A’s don’t score. Lucky us! It’s the first extra-inning game of 2020. We get to see the new second-base runner rule in action. This will become a baseball trivia question: Who was the first ever second-base runner in the new extra-inning rule in the MLB? It was Shohei Ohtani of the Angels.
With Ohtani on second and no one out, some thought that a bunt should be in order. Instead, the hitter – Jared Walsh – smacked a hard ground ball right at A’s first baseman Matt Olson. As you are taught, Ohtani headed to third on the ground ball to the right side. The A’s are no ordinary team defensively, however. Olson is a Gold Glover at first base and his buddy across the diamond – Chapman – is a Platinum Glover at third.
It was a gutsy move for Olson to attempt to throw across the diamond to get Ohtani. Most first basemen do not attempt this play. If Olson throws the ball into left field, Ohtani scores, the Angels take the lead in extras, and are primed for a huge inning.
Bob Melvin’s heart must have lept in his chest along with the rest of the A’s fans as they watched Olson misfire to third base and spike it into the dirt, giving Chapman a wicked in-between hop. Chapman’s ability to corral this ball will not show up in the box score, but he truly saved the game as he effortlessly picked the ball out of the dirt while simultaneously getting his momentum going towards 2nd to get Ohtani in the rundown.
This is truly an amazing, game-saving defensive effort by Chapman! Many third basemen would have gone down to a knee and attempted to block this ball like a catcher to save it from going into left field. This would have allowed Ohtani to get back into second base safely – giving the Angels two runners on with nobody out.
Blocking the ball like a catcher would have been the safe option. Chapman didn’t play it safe. He went for glory – attempting to pick the ball like a first baseman and throw Ohtani out at second.
Chapman was somehow able to pick the ball cleanly and transfer it to his bare hand instantly to make the throw to second to get Ohtani dead in no man’s land. Chapman was also the one to finally slap the tag on Ohtani during the rundown. This play likely went unnoticed by many, but this was the greatest defensive play of MLB Opening Day 2020.
The Rollercoaster Continues for Matt Chapman
The Athletics managed to get through the top of the tenth without allowing any runs – preserving the tie into the bottom half. Chapman was once again a hero after bailing out Matt Olson and saving the day on defense.
So now we’re in the bottom of the 10th, Marcus Simeon is the runner at second base to begin the inning and the leadoff hitter Ramon Laureano gets plunked between the shoulder blades. This puts runners on first and second with nobody out for – guess who – Matt Chapman.
Chapman has been both hero and goat tonight, but he can solidify his fate as the hero with a game-winning knock here … he didn’t. Chapman struck out on some high cheese.
Sabermetrician Greg Stoll put together an amazing project on his website that uses historical MLB data since 1957 to determine how likely a team is to score runs in any given runner-outs scenario. The A’s needed just one run to win. When Chapman was up there were zero outs and runners on first and second. Teams score at least one run in that situation 61.9% of the time.
After Chapman struck out there was first and second with 1 out – which reduce the A’s chances of scoring to 41.1%.
Chapman’s strikeout reduced the A’s chances of winning that inning by 20%. He was back to being a goat. Fortunately for Chapman, the other Oakland Matt bailed him out – as Matt Olson cranked a walk-off grand slam later in the inning to give the A’s the 7-3 win in the first extra innings game of the coronavirus era.
Chapman goes home happy.
Best Pitching Performances from Opening Day 2020
We witnessed a bevy of strong pitching performances on Opening Day. There were two 1-0 shutouts on Friday. This was the first year since 2014 in which we had two 1-0 games on Opening Day.
On March 31, 2014, Francisco Liriano of the Pirates and Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals each helped lead their team to 1-0 shutout victories. Jacob deGrom of the Mets and Lance Lynn of the Rangers were the two starters on the good side of the 1-0 victories this season. Lynn and deGrom each lasted just 6 innings before being relegated to bench duties – praying the bullpen doesn’t blow it.
You know it’s a good day for pitchers when two guys that win 1-0 games didn’t even have the best performances of the day.
Shane Bieber of the Indians and Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs each accomplished a separate feat that we have not seen repeated in decades of Opening Day baseball.
Shane Bieber struck out 14 batters in just 6 innings of work on Friday. He only faced 20 batters the entire day. He struck out 14 of them.
This was the most strikeouts any pitchers had had on Opening Day since The Big Unit Randy Johnson also struck out 14 in 1996.
This 14K performance puts Bieber in a tie with Johnson and Don Drysdale for second-most strikeouts all-time on Opening Day. Washington Senators star pitcher Camilo Pascual struck out a record 15 Red Sox on Opening Day in 1960 while allowing just 1 run – a homer. Guess who hit the homer … Ted Williams.
The award for best start of the day has to go to Kyle Hendricks of the Chicago Cubs. Hendricks went the full 9, allowing just 3 hits (all by the same guy) and 0 runs. That’s right! It’s the elusive complete game shutout.
Forget the fact that Hendricks did it on Opening Day, pitchers just don’t throw complete games anymore – let alone complete game shutouts. In all of last season there were only 19 complete game shutouts (the MLB leader had 2).
Hendrix became the first Opening Day starter to throw a complete game since Clayton Kershaw accomplished the feat in 2013. Hendricks’ shutout becomes even more magical when we apply a few extra filters to the history. Hendricks struck out 9 Brewers hitters while walking 0. This makes Kyle Hendricks just the third pitcher in history to throw a complete game shutout on Opening Day with at least 9 strikeouts and 0 walks – joining Bob Gibson in 1967 and Chris Short in 1968.
There was only one man in all of Milwaukee who could crack Hendricks’ code on Friday – Orlando Arcia. The former Twin accounted for all 3 hits against Hendricks.
Rizzo Has the Sanitizer on Deck
This last bit has absolutely zero betting implications but was very funny and needs to be shared.
Brewers hitter Orlando Arcia reaches first base and Rizzo puts his hand into his back pocket and pulls out hand sanitizer – offering to give some to Arcia (maybe as a reward for being the only Brewer to get a hit off Hendricks). Hilariously, Arcia instantly accepts a squirt of sanitizer from Rizzo and then takes his lead with the confidence that only clean hands can give.
I wonder if Rizzo was planning to offer hand sanitizer to each Brewer who got a hit …
Who would have ever thought that we would see a player giving an opposing player hand sanitizer on the field during an MLB game. This is not the last time I’ll say I’ve never seen that before while watching baseball during the coronavirus era.