I’ve never shared my basic football "wager-to-win" philosophy with you, but I will now. The past NFL weekend is the catalyst to this take. There are a couple of scenarios when this system can be counted upon to make you money, so listen-up:
College Football. Take the 10 top-ranked teams in the country in their very first game of the year, no matter who they play and no matter what the line, and bet them. You’ll have to lay long lines, but it’s OK because those top 10 teams want to keep or improve their ridiculous BCS rankings, and they’ll try to run up the score to do it. Also, the teams they’re playing are not ready for them. You’ll cover at least 70% of your bets with this system on opening day. (If you want to carry the same system into the second weekend, fine, but the results may not be as prolific as the opening game for the top 10 teams, so it might be wise to reduce the per-game bet.)
Pro Football. Ala the weekend that just concluded, the NFL Divisional Playoffs. Too much attention is paid the four wild-card game winners the week before, and how good they looked doing it. Forget it! Bet all four host teams in the Division Playoffs, and lay the lines. All four of those host teams will have had a bye the week before, so they’re rested. And keep in mind that they became the host teams by playing superior football during the regular season. Also, obviously, they’re at home, and that counts. As an example of this system, all four host teams (Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Philadelphia and New England) won their games last weekend, and only one of them, Pittsburgh, failed to cover the spread. That’s a 75% cover.
If you follow my advice and make a mess o’ money, feel free to send me at least 10% of your winnings; I will have earned it. And if you lose money with my system, be advised that I am absolutely not responsible for you being dumb enough to follow my advice.
Story of the Week
ERA VERSUS W-L PITCHING STATS
My sports-savvy pal, Jonathan Krost, and I are in total agreement when it comes to the W-L records registered by big league pitchers. That stat is so very misleading, and not nearly as important as ERA. Jonathan sent me the main content of this article; I changed some things and added some things. The following are but a few obvious examples of how ERA frequently gets overlooked in favor of W-L records, and wrongfully so. If you’re a numbers person, read on.
In 1968, Bob Gibson went 22-9 with an ERA of 1.12. He also had 13 shutouts, 28 complete games, averaged 8.96 innings pitched per game, a WHIP (walks plus hits allowed per each inning pitched) average 0.85, and 7.92 K’s per every nine innings pitched. He also won the Cy Young for that amazing season. It was an incredible record, highlighted, of course, by his 1.12 ERA, a feat that will never ever be matched again.
There were pitchers who won more games than Gibson that same year. Denny McLain became the last pitcher to be credited with 30+ victories in a season, going 31-6. His ERA was 1.96. Juan Marichal went 26-9. His ERA was 2.43. Both McLain and Marichal had superlative seasons in 1968, and each won more games than did Gibson. But Gibson’s astounding 1.12 ERA is what got him the Cy Young, and deservedly so. Justice was served in 1968.
In 1971, Steve Carlton was credited with a W-L record of 20-9, his best in his five years as a Cardinals starter. But a closer examination reveals that he actually had a better year in 1969 with three fewer wins at a 17-11 mark. In 1969, his ERA was 2.18 with a WHIP of 1.18 and 210 K’s, an average of 8 K’s per nine innings worked. In 1971, his ERA was 3.56 with a WHIP of 1.36 and 172 K’s, an average of 5.66 K’s per nine innings pitched. After 1971, "Lefty" wanted a raise in pay, so beer baron Busch, in his infinite stupidity, traded the great pitcher to Philadelphia for Rick Wise.
In 1987, Nolan Ryan led the NL in ERA with 2.76. Yet his W-L record was 8-16. Not only did he lead the NL in K’s that year, but he also averaged 11.48 K’s per nine innings pitched, best in the NL. He also had a WHIP of just 1.09, third best in the league. Ryan finished fifth in the Cy Young voting that year, tied with Dwight Gooden, and behind Rick Sutcliffe, Rick Reuschel, Orel Hershiser, and the Cy Young winner, Steve Bedrosian, who pitched a total of 89 innings but had 40 saves as a reliever. Ryan’s Houston teammate, Mike Scott, was 16-13 with an ERA of 3.23; he obviously got better run support from the Astros than did Ryan. No justice in 1987; Ryan’s poor W-L got in the way of logic.
In 1990, Bob Welch went 27-6 and won the Cy Young. But when compared to Oakland teammate Dave Stewart and Boston’s Roger Clemens, it’s obvious he didn’t deserve it. Welch had an ERA of 2.95. sixth best that year, a WHIP of 1.22, ninth best, two shutouts, 6.80 IP per game, and 4.80 K’s per 9 IP. Stewart went 22-11, had an ERA of 2.56, third best in the league, a WHIP of 1.16, fifth best, four shutouts, 7.42 IP per game, and 5.60 K’s per nine IP. Clemens went 21-6 in 1990, and recorded an ERA of 1.93, a league-best, a WHIP of 1.08, second best, four shutouts, 7.36 IP per game, and 8.24 K’s per nine IP. Clemens deserved the Cy Young in 1990, not Welch; just look at the stats and that absolutely glaring ERA difference.
During the past 2004 season, four of the Cardinals’ starters had better W-L records than either Ben Sheets or Randy Johnson. Without rattling off more and more stats, as if I haven’t already, the St. Louis starters were in no way their equals. The Redbird pitchers won those games because of the bats in that lineup; it’s conceivable I could have won 15 games for St. Louis last year. (TILT!) Only one Cardinals pitcher, Chris Carpenter, was even remotely close to the performance level of Sheets and Johnson in 2004. Those Cards pitchers sported misleading W-L records in 2004.
The above are but a few examples of the theme of this article. The pitcher (along with the official scorer, whose job it is to determine whether a questionable batted ball was a hit or an error, and all too often, his judgment is questionable as well) is totally responsible for his ERA. W-L records have too many third-party ingredients, and don’t tell the true story as they relate to the value of pitchers’ performances.
Last Week’s Trivia
Don Larsen, the "perfect-gamer" while a Yankee (see my feature story dated 12-30-04), defeated his former team as a San Francisco Giant in the 1962 World Series.
Trivia Question of the Week
Who was the first black to play in the NBA? See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.