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Wednesday tutorial: How to make your own MLB money lines

Jeff Fogle  
VSiN City newsletter

Vegas abuzz as the Stanley Cup Finals resume Wednesday night. A market update for both NHL and NBA championship action, and a tutorial on how to make your own MLB money lines right now in VSiN City.

NHL Stanley Cup Finals: Can Washington bounce back and break serve in Vegas?

While Game 1 was a non-stop thrill ride, it may soon get lost in the shuffle depending on how the rest of the 2018 NHL Finals play out. Who remembers Game 1 from 2015, or 2009, or 2002? 

Washington recently lost series openers to both Columbus and Pittsburgh (both at home!) before advancing. The Caps have plenty of time to make Monday’s loss irrelevant. Vegas has been playing so well thus far that all the wins run together. Three more and there’s going to be a heckuva parade.

Who’s going to win Game 2 Wednesday night? The market has tweaked the total, but not the team side price from the opener.

Washington at Vegas (8:05 p.m. ET on NBC Sports, Vegas leads 1-0)

Game One: Vegas (-155) 6, Washington 4 (Shots: Vegas 34-28)

Game Two: Vegas -155, total of 5.5 (Over -130)

Series Price: Vegas -250, Washington plus 210

It’s common to see an underdog draw significant money in championship round bounce backs. While sharps and many Caps fans are betting Washington, there’s still so much local action coming in on Vegas that there’s no reason for sports books to drop the number. The Vegas Golden Knights are still -155. Vigorish on the total has flipped from the Under being the favorite in the -125 range at 5.5 goals to the Over being favored after Monday’s 10-goal outburst.

Can both teams maintain the frantic pace of Game 1? Generally, the schedule will prevent sustained fatigue from being too big a factor. As we mentioned the other day, there are two days off with every change in sites. The only two games with one day off in advance are Wednesday’s Game 2 in Vegas, and Monday’s Game 4 in Washington. Wouldn’t be a stunner if we start to see some tired legs past the midway point Wednesday evening. 

Be sure you watch VSiN programming all day for the latest from the betting markets. The nation’s eyes will be on Vegas for what’s shaping up as the most exciting postseason series of any kind this spring. 

NBA Finals: Golden State a prohibitive favorite over Cleveland

The championship round of the NBA Playoffs won’t begin until Thursday. We’ll run a stat preview for you tomorrow. For now, a quick look at the early prices…

Game 1 Point Spread: Golden State -12.5, total of 214

Game 1 Money Line: Golden State -1000, Cleveland plus 700

Series Price: Golden State -1000, Cleveland plus 700

The win percentages are so extreme at prices near -1000 (around 90% to win on a no-vig line), that the fractions start to become meaningless. You can make the case that a team registering around 90% to win its home games…and 65% to 70% to win three road games if needed…should even be higher than -1000 to win the series. At least one bettor believes that, taking advantage of a -900 series prices at the South Point to lay $90K to win $10K on the Warriors to lift the trophy again. 

Were the two teams locked into definitely playing all seven games, Golden State would project to win 5.5 times, compared to just 1.5 for Cleveland based on those early price estimates. Of course, if Cleveland outperforms early expectations, later prices will change. 

For now, our estimated “market” Power Ratings would have Golden State at 91, Cleveland at 82 from the scale we’ve been using all season. 

Jeff Sherman of the Westgate tweeted out odds to win the MVP…

Kevin Durant 5/7 (58% win likelihood)

Steph Curry 9/5 (36% win likelihood)

LeBron James 7/1 (13% win likelihood)

Klay Thompson 20/1 (5% win likelihood)

Those odds add up to 112%. Sportsbooks create a universe larger than 100% to represent the house edge. Other names are on the board…but at longshot prices. 

WNBA: Our first crack at estimating “market” Power Ratings for 2018

We told you these would be coming. Now that all teams have played at least a few games, we have a good approximation. Minnesota is being priced like a juggernaut even though the Lynx aren’t yet getting results. Still loaded. Let’s run our current estimates through the point spreads of Tuesday night. Note that we’re going to leave out Washington because the Mystics have some injuries, including one to star Elena Delle Donne. They should register in the low-to-mid 80s when healthy.

90: Minnesota

87: Connecticut

85: Los Angeles

82: New York, Phoenix

81: Atlanta

80: Dallas, Seattle

74: Indiana

73: Chicago

70: Las Vegas

Here’s a look at Minnesota’s results so far:

Minnesota (-7) lost at home to Los Angeles 77-76

Minnesota (-13) only beat Dallas at home 76-68

Minnesota (-6.5) won at New York 78-72

Minnesota (-5.5) lost at Washington 90-78

Minnesota (-5.5) lost at Atlanta 76-74

Priced like the New England Patriots, but just 2-3 straight up and 0-5 against early market expectations. We’ll update these periodically through the season…with an eye on hoped-for improvement for the Las Vegas Aces.

Tuesday MLB: Astros bullpen implodes again on the road

It’s a bit tougher to shut down opponents when you’re not playing in a pitchers’ paradise! The Houston Astros bullpen has discovered that the past few days. After blowing a huge lead Sunday in Cleveland, Houston blew a 5-3 ninth inning lead Tuesday in the Bronx. 

NY Yankees (plus 110) 6, Houston 5 (in 10 innings)

Total Bases Plus Walks: Houston 20, New York 29

Starting Pitchers: Morton 6 IP, 3 ER, Sabathia 5 IP, 3 ER

Bullpen: Houston 3.2 IP, 3 ER, New York 5 IP, 0 ER

Brett Gardner hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth to extend the game. Gleyber Torres won it with an RBI single in the tenth. Minute Maid Park is back down in the bottom five in the Majors in terms of increasing offense, consistent with what we’ve seen in recent years. That might open the door for playoff opponents to break through against the Astros come October, at least on their home fields. Cleveland and New York looked like they were taking batting practice in recent ninth innings. Houston falls to 35-21 in its surprising battle with Seattle in the AL West. The Yankees are 34-17 as they try to chase down Boston. 

Let’s check out the important head-to-head series in the NL Central as well…

Chicago Cubs (-135) 8, Pittsburgh 6

Total Bases Plus Walks: Chicago 32, Pittsburgh 23

Starting Pitchers: Lester 6 IP, 4 ER, Kingham 5.2 IP, 3 ER

Bullpen: Chicago 3 IP, 2 ER, Pittsburgh 3.1 IP, 5 ER

Chicago has impressed so far in this series. Big offensive numbers Tuesday, particularly against the Pittsburgh bullpen. Cubs pull within 3.5 games of Milwaukee at 29-22. Pittsburgh falls to 28-26, struggling right at the time the Bucs needed to impress. 

St. Louis (even) 6, Milwaukee 1

Total Bases Plus Walks: St. Louis 22, Milwaukee 8

Starting Pitchers: Wacha 6.2 IP, 1 ER, Davies 5 IP, 5 ER

Bullpen: St. Louis 2.1 IP, 0 ER, Milwaukee 4 IP, 0 ER

Starting pitching the story here. Wacha’s ERA dropped to 2.71 with this impressive outing. Davies is up to 5.23 after another struggle. St. Louis gets some distance from Pittsburgh in third place in the NL Central at 29-23. Milwaukee still leads the division at 35-21. 

Wednesday Tutorial: How to make your own money lines in Major League Baseball

Per a special request from VSiN City reader Steve D., we’re going to talk today about how you can make your own money lines for handicapping Major League Baseball games.

There are a variety of ways to make a run at this. Quants have complicated calculations that determine the “worth” of every player in the lineup and build a projection out of that. Though, there are still some old school sharps who are so familiar with the teams and market tendencies that they trust their gut to make a number, then compare that to the board.

The first obvious hurdle to clear is accepting that this isn’t football or basketball where everything is expressed in points. In those sports, teams are scoring points on the field or on the court to determine who wins. Sports books post a point differential for bettors to take shots at. Everybody speaks the same language. Are the Cowboys three points better than the Giants? You make your bet. The teams will play a game that ends with a point differential.

In baseball, the Yankees aren’t trying to drive dollars and cents across the plate to beat the Rays. What does it mean to lay a buck fifty that New York will beat Tampa Bay?

Luckily, there’s a relative shortcut. Even though runs and dollars don’t speak the same language, both communicate very well with win percentages. 

A -200 favorite has to win 67% of the time to break even

A -175 favorite has to win 64% of the time to break even

A -150 favorite has to win 60% of the time to break even

A -125 favorite has to win 56% of the time to break even

(Here’s a chart we found via google search that shows you the win percentages for more prices.)

If you want to figure out the win percentage for any given line, simply divide the money line you’re seeing by the sum of that number plus 100. Easy once you get the hang of it. Grab a calculator. What’s the break-even win percentage for -132? Divide 132 by 232 and you get .569, or 57%. What’s the break even win percentage for -164? Divide 164 by 264 and you get .621, or 62%. Just mentally add 100 to the number you’re seeing after you hit the divide sign. Wait, Kershaw is laying -360 against a minor league call-up for the Padres. What’s the break even for -360? Divide 360 by 460 and you get .782, which is 78%. Don’t lay those odds with Kershaw unless you’re confident the Dodgers win that game 80% of the time. 

Okay, we know how to turn a money line into a win percentage. How do we turn runs into a win percentage? There are a variety of complicated ways to do this. A relatively simple method that will get you very close is to use the classic Pythagorean projection created by the inspiration for sports analytics, Bill James. That formula turns runs into a win percentage, which works great for our purposes.

The Pythagorean formula is runs squared…divided by the sum of runs squared plus opposition runs squared. Easier to visualize if I give you an example. 

Let’s say you project the favorite to win a game 5-4. However you get there with your mathematical assessments for each team, you’re arriving at a 5-4 victory for the favorite. Plug that into the formula, and you get 25 over the sum of 25 plus 16. That represents five squared divided by the sum of five squared and four squared. Ultimately, 25 divided by 41. 

Your projected 5-4 win now projects to a no-vigorish win percentage of .610, as 25 divided by 41 is .609756. From the little chart above, you know that means over -150 on the money line (about -156 to be more accurate).

Even though teams don’t score “dollars and cents,” you’ve now turned a 5-4 score projection into -156 on the money line because both runs and betting odds can be expressed as win percentages

Let’s do another one. The imaginary game’s in Arlington, so you’re getting a higher final score. Your projection is 6-4 for the favorite. That’s 36 divided by the sum of 36 and 16, which is 36 divided by 52, which is .69230. That’s in the area of -225 on the money line. 

Obviously, having a spread sheet is very helpful as a time saver. And, any serious effort at projecting scores isn’t going to land on many whole numbers. You’re going to get projections of 4.7 to 4.3, or 4.1 to 3.6, or maybe 6.5 to 5.5 if you’ve adjusted properly for the altitude in Colorado. Familiarity with a spreadsheet will help you make accurate run predictions AND turn those into accurate projections of win percentages that you can compare to the money line. 

I know…I said “a relatively simple” method and it sounds like the drudgery of homework seven days a week. Or, like juggling bowling balls while riding a unicycle if you hate doing math. Well, cutting edge baseball math is significantly more complicated, involving algorithms, models, tweaks for weather conditions, and even a variety of different exponents within updated versions of the Pythagorean formula. When you’re betting into the baseball market, you’re joining some esteemed company. But knowing how to create your own money line will help you make smart choices in that market. Most importantly, if you’re doing it right, it well help you cull mistakes you had been making in the past. Seeing the relationship between runs and wins will open your eyes and sharpen your skills.

If you have any questions or comments about today’s tutorial…or anything you read in VSiN City…please drop us a note by clicking here. We got a great response to our on-and-off series of Wednesday tutorials last summer. More are coming soon!

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