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Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Monday, May 21, 2018 at 4:00 PM

You’ve probably heard that the Tampa Bay Rays did something bizarre this past weekend in Anaheim. They started relief pitcher Sergio Romo both Saturday and Sunday. Even with all the cutting-edge stuff going on in baseball right now involving pitch counts, bullpen usage, defensive shifts, and adjusted swing planes, THAT seemed borderline crazy.

Maybe crazy like a fox.

You see, what Tampa Bay was doing just might be the next big thing in major league baseball strategy. At least for mid-level teams who can’t afford to stockpile ace-caliber starting pitchers. It’s the new money-ball. Maybe you can call it “lineup ball.”

What Tampa Bay’s actually doing is as follows:

*Asking a reliever to come in and throw as hard as he can against the top of the opposing order. The first inning is the only chance managers get to “stack” their offense for maximum efficiency. It all randomizes after that…a manager can’t choose what part of his lineup will bat in the fourth inning, or eighth inning. He ONLY gets to do that in the first inning. This strategy allows a tough arm to face that part of the lineup right out of the gate, rather than a starter who’s thinking about pacing himself.

*Delaying the “third time through the lineup” until much later in the game for the “real” starter. Analytics has shown that starting pitchers start to have trouble their third time through a lineup in any given game. Many managers have decided that means they should pull their starter just before that happens (often in the fifth inning, sometimes earlier). Tampa Bay, instead, has decided that a guy like Ryan Yarbrough (the “real” starter this past Saturday) can delay that much longer by just NOT facing the toughest guys right away. He’ll see them for the first time in the third or fourth inning…then again a couple of innings later…with the third time not scheduled until the time your best relievers are ready to take over. BRILLIANT!

Yes, it’s weird. And, ballplayers have a history of hating anything that seems weird. Remember all the starting pitchers that hated having those shifted defensive lineups behind them? They wouldn’t shut up about it. Then, after a few weeks, they all shut up about it because it was working so well! We’ll have to see if this catches on. It’s most likely to with smaller market teams who have nothing to lose with the gamble…and who have younger players who aren’t really in position to question authority.

You have to like what’s been happening in Tampa Bay in recent weeks. Even though the Rays lost Sunday in Anaheim, they had won six straight prior to that. They enter the new week with a 22-23 record, which is amazing after starts of 1-8 and 3-12. That means 19-11 the last 30 games, which includes taking two of three on the road at Boston, and three of four on the road against the LA Angels.

I have to admit that I can be pretty set in my ways when it comes to living my life. But I’ve always understood that flexibility is the key to winning in Las Vegas. That’s an important lesson for you students here in my College of Advanced Sports Betting and Handicapping. It’s probably more important now than ever in baseball, where new analytics-based strategies are being developed on a weekly basis. What worked for handicappers in 2017 may not work in 2018. What worked in 2014 is old news. There are only a few similarities between how I handicapped baseball in the 1980’s compared to right now. Some fundamentals hold true. Teams keep changing what dances around the fundamentals.

Your homework this week (and possibly for many weeks) is to chart the daily pitching performances for Tampa Bay. Get a sense of how manager Kevin Cash is trying to get the most out of his staff from innings 1-9. You can’t just monitor a “rotation” the way you used to with this team. Remember that this team has been trying new things in recent weeks, AND THEY’VE BEEN WORKING! The market has been slow to catch on. This creates a window of opportunity for quick wins before it catches up.

Actually, let me add to that. No reason to start today. Go back over those last 30 games (where the Rays went 19-11) and log what happened to the pitchers in THOSE games. This will get you up to speed quickly. And, every new entry from this point forward will provide additional important context. Maybe this is just a short-term fluke, and it’s all about to blow up in the franchise’s face. For now, the reasoning is sound, and this is the right roster to experiment with. You need to stay on top of this developing situation.

If you’d like some help finding high percentage investments, KELSO STURGEON’S BEST BETS can be purchased right here at the website with your credit card. Questions about extended service and combination packages can be answered in the Vegas Sports Masters office by calling office at 1-888-777-4155 during normal business hours. I do have great rates for extended packages that go through the NBA Playoffs, the MLB all-star break, or the full baseball season.

Thanks for your attendance. Our next class get together will be Friday. We’re currently scheduled to discuss the NBA Playoffs at that time. The Dean of Sports Handicapping wants to keep our coursework fresh and relevant…so that could change at a moment’s notice. Best of luck to you this week. See you on Friday.

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