Stick to the basics when betting baseball

July 27, 2019 12:15 AM

Though there are 30 MLB teams, it seems more like 150 because every starting rotation has at least five spots—and no two starters are exactly alike. 

If you were trying to build a Power Ratings scale (as VSiN does in football and basketball), you can’t just stick the Yankees up at the top. The Yankees with Masahiro Tanaka aren’t quite the same team as with C.C. Sabathia. There’s a big difference between Domingo German and an occasional starter like Chad Green. Stephen Tarpley started a game this season. Would “the Yankees with Tanaka” be pick-em against “the Yankees with Tarpley?”

In terms of game-to-game baseball betting, there are multiple versions of the Yankees, Mets, and everyone else. One reason Tampa Bay took the market by surprise last season was that “Rays with an opener” was a version that turned out to be much better than most expected. 

This dynamic is important for those of you who like using situational trends or angles. Let’s say you’ve spotted a team that has a great record in the first game of a series, or immediately after an off day, or on Wednesdays. Which “version” of the team was playing in those spots?

If the best pitchers were throwing early in a series, after an off day, or on Wednesdays, the result isn’t about “the situation,” it’s just a natural consequence of top pitchers winning. Should that team have to use a minor league call-up on a Wednesday, you shouldn’t be thinking “that’s okay, these guys are great on Wednesdays!” (We hope not, anyway.)

Baseball, in particular, is vulnerable to bad analysis. There are so many teams playing zillions of games that some “coincidences” are certain to pop up. It’s not hard to find temporary, random clusters involving days of the week, series openers or finales, and so on.

Bad bettors (or attention seekers) will bend over backward to find angles that sound like they might mean something. Unfortunately, this is a growing trend as sports betting media expands. You’ll find it much more productive to focus on the fundamentals. 

Evaluate player and team skill sets. Adjust for game conditions (weather, fatigue disadvantages, and the like). Use that to create our own money line or point spread. Compare your number to the market price. Bet on significant differences.

The reason so many of the angles you hear aren’t being reflected in the line is because the market knows they’re nonsense. “How can this team be laying -150 when they’re 3-9 on Thursdays?!” Market prices aren’t influenced by irrelevant trivia. 

Think about the talent that shapes those 150 team versions rather than trivia if you want to bet smart in daily baseball. 

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