Fool's errand: Betting MLB without considering these factors

March 31, 2019 04:46 PM

Fitting that, on April Fool’s Day, VSiN is going to talk about the challenges of handicapping Major League Baseball. Today’s managers won’t stop fooling around with their starting rotations!

The essence of picking baseball winners used to be very simple. How is each starting pitcher likely to perform against the opposing offense? If one had a clear edge over the other, bet him at affordable (or underdog) prices. If both were in great shape, bet the Under. If both were likely to get hit, bet the Over. 

Now, the starting pitcher may get yanked just as he starts to get in trouble, even if it’s only the third of fourth inning. Sometimes, the starting pitcher isn’t even a starting pitcher! Tampa Bay, in particular, had great success last season with “openers” who would throw a couple of innings before handing off to the next guy.

Success gets copied. Because this successful strategy was cheap, effective, and helpful in keeping the entire bullpen active and sharp, more and more teams will at least experiment with the approach. 

How should sports bettors deal with this developing situation? 

Some ideas…

  • Monitor each manager’s rotation preferences through April until you get a full sense of how long starters are likely to last, and how effective mid-game relievers will be.
  • Remember that differences in offenses are often what separate the best teams from the worst. Maybe you were spending too much time studying starting pitchers in the past anyway. Be sure you know normal run-scoring expectations for each MLB offense.
  • Zoom in your focus on home run dynamics. Which starters and mid-game relievers are most likely to allow dingers? Which offenses are most consistent about going deep? Because pitching is becoming “throw as hard as you can, as long as you can,” run production is trending toward “how far can you hit high heat?” Maybe you’ll find a team or pitcher strength or weakness before the rest of the market.
  • VSiN always encourages bettors to be aware of ballpark effects. It’s not hard to do a web search for details on stadium tendencies. ESPN’s website has data from the past several seasons. While the market is aware of park effects, it can underestimate the impact of “cocktails” containing ingredients that mix together well (a consistent home run offense facing a home-run prone pitcher in a great home run park, or a fly ball pitcher facing a weaker offense in a spacious stadium).

Don’t let baseball make you feel foolish. Work smart so you can bet smart!

 

 

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