MLB Owners Approve "Back to Work" July Proposal: Will Universal DH lead to more Overs?

Major League Baseball owners on Monday approved a "back to work" proposal that, if approved by the players, would have MLB return in early July. Today the two sides will meet and begin negotiating the details. One big sticking point remains the revenue sharing. The owners have agreed to a 50/50 split but the players want a higher percentage of revenue since they are the ones putting themselves at risk by returning to the field.

According to ESPN's Jeff Passan, the owners' proposal includes an opening day of July 4th, a shortened 82-game season, a 30-man roster instead of a 25-man roster, 14 playoffs teams instead of 10, a schedule based on geographic location and, last but not least, a universal designated hitter for all teams. 

One of the most interesting proposals that bettors should keep in mind is the universal designated hitter. If approved, it could have huge betting implications. 

For nearly 100 years, baseball was played with the pitcher hitting for himself. Then the game was changed forever in 1973 when the American League adopted the DH. From then on out, the two leagues operated by a different set of rules and style of play. The American League became a slower-paced league built around offense while the National League was quicker and centered more on pitching and strategy. 

While baseball purists might prefer the old school NL style, many fans have clamored for the NL to adopt the DH in recent years. Why? Because pitchers are considered an automatic out at the plate. And with MLB struggling in terms of popularity and an aging fan demographic, the DH would add more offense and scoring, thereby spicing up the game and making it more exciting and entertaining. 

Interleague play first began in 1997 and has expanded through the years. Last season, each team played 20 interleague games. From 2005 to 2017, it was death, taxes and the American League dominating interleague play (1,930-1,586, 54.9% according to Bet Labs Sports). However, we've seen a shift over the past two seasons with National League teams going 323-276 (53.9%) against American League teams. 

With NL teams adopting the DH and the new geographic-based divisions (in which the AL East and NL East will be one big division), it will be interesting to see if the NL teams will be strengthened and continue to be a smart bet against AL opponents in this shortened season. 

The universal DH could also lead to an increase in scoring because instead of a light hitting pitching hitting for half of the teams in the league, it will instead be a stronger position player taking up the at bats. It's also important to note that the new 3-batter rule will take affect this year. This means relief pitchers must face at least 3-hitters. The managers can't just pull them after one hitter and play specialized lefty vs lefty matchups. This is another advantage for hitters, which could lead to more scoring. 

Since 2005, unders have been a slightly smarter bet than overs in MLB. They've cashed 50.8% of the time compared to overs hitting 49.2%. This is due in large part to the fact that public bettors love betting overs (because they want to root for a high scoring, entertaining game). Sportsbooks know this and will shade numbers higher toward the over, causing recreational bettors to take bad numbers and creating more value for savvy contrarian wiseguys to sweat inflated unders.

However, we saw an uptick in overs last season due to the juiced ball, with overs cashing at a 49.9% clip, up 0.07% from their historical average. The key last year was focusing on totals of 8 or less. In those games, the over cashed at a 54.9% rate. If the total was 8.5 or higher, the over only hit at a 48.4% clip. 

With the universal DH and the 3-batter rule, it will be interesting to see if the "low total overs" of 8 or less will continue to cash consistently like they did last year. No matter what happens, we know the books will end up adjusting to the new landscape. 

With the season possibly starting on the 4th of July, we also get to avoid the cold, rainy early months of the season typically reserved for April and May. As a result, we'll start the season smack dab in the middle of the hot, humid summer months. When it's hotter the pitchers bake in the sun and are more prone to mistakes. The humidity also makes the air less dense, which makes baseballs travel further. The cherry on top would be wind blowing out, which pushes warning track outs into first row home runs. 

Another betting angle to consider is the fact that road teams could provide a more heightened edge than usual this season because there won't be any fans in the stands, which theoretically eliminates home-field advantage and levels the playing field, particular for road dogs.

These are all elements to consider and begin preparing for once baseball returns. 

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