Baseball Betting Strategies

America’s favourite past-time is also a popular one for punters on the Exchange so we’ve reached out to a pro MLB punter to get his view on Baseball betting strategies.

The following articles will help your punting go from the Minor Leagues to the World Series.

With the MLB season less than a week away, it gives a good chance to look at what goes into handicapping baseball games, what bet types are most common and what to look for when trying to find an edge.

There are three major bet types in baseball.

Head to Head, Line and Totals betting.Throughout this series and the rest of the season, we will concentrate on H2H (head to head) and O/U (total runs over or under).


HEAD TO HEAD

Quite simply it is the easiest to model as it is reliant on teams WINNING the game at all costs which they will be doing all the time, irrelevant of margins or how many runs have been scored. There is no other sport in the world that is so statistically driven as baseball. On any given day, you can find hundreds if not thousands of different statistics that you can use as variables in pricing a game. Obviously pitching is a key factor, but if you are serious about handicapping a baseball game, you must go much deeper than that.


LINE BETTING

Is different in baseball and not as popular as it is always set at -1.5 runs for the favoured team. Unlike what we are familiar with here in Australia with our football codes, the line does not change in baseball in accordance with the weight of favouritism towards a team. For example. A team that is $1.50 in a H2H market may be somewhere in the region of $2.10 at the -1.5 run line. The closer the teams are in the betting to win the match outright, the bigger price you will get for the favourite at the -1.5 run line. Unlike in other sports where the line will move to give a bigger handicap to the less favoured team, the line stays the same and the prices are changed to replicate that.

The reason that I find this a poor betting proposition is because of the many variables in a baseball game, mainly to do with the longevity of the season. Blowouts, huge comebacks, shutouts, pitch counts, tactical changes, protecting a lead all come into account when playing a run line.

For example, a team has a 4-run lead coming into the last inning. Now, traditionally the manager will not use their ACE closer (A closer is a term used for a pitcher which has the role of finishing off matches, used only at the end of the game and only usually for one inning or less, maybe only for one batter at times) in situations like this, as it is not a SAVE opportunity.

Do we want to be in a situation up by two in the bottom of the ninth, one out and a runner at third and the fielding team is “happy” to give that run away, infield playing back, to get the hitter at the plate and preserve the overall lead? Do we want to be in a situation where we have the line covered comfortably only to know that the team is not playing with the best possible personnel in that situation?


TOTALS BETTING AND O/U TOTAL RUN LINES

This is where I believe you can get you greatest edge in MLB betting, especially early in the year. There are again so many factors that come into it, and each will be reflected in the prices but it all depends on how much weight you put into each variable. Things like home field advantage (remember the home team always bats last), pitching match-ups (some teams hit much better against right or left handed pitching), where the game is being played (no one ball park has the same dimensions), what time of the year the game is being played (players not as in tune early in the year and conversely can get tired towards the end of the year) and what the weather is like (an outside game in Boston at the start of April has very different conditions to one played in a Dome in Florida on the same day). As always, it is up to you to find what you think works and quite often just zoning in on one of these variables you will be able to find an edge.


SPECIALISATION

The most important thing in making a profit, not just in MLB, but also in any sport or racing code that you want to be constantly on the right side of the ledger, is specialisation. With a total of more than 2400 games played in the regular season alone (each team plays 162 games!!), 30 teams, rosters of 25 active players at a time (more towards the end of the year and many more injured or spending time in the minors). It is impossible to know your information thoroughly enough to win trying to bet on every game!

A profitable way to bet MLB is to follow and get to know one team, or in my case follow one league. Personally, I follow the NL West for two reasons. One is that I prefer the National League with no designated hitter, there can be so much gained with a pitcher that can handle a bat, and secondly purely on the time frame. Most games are played in the afternoon Australian time on the east coast. Which makes following it a lot easier.

On the Exchange, there are other bet types that can be traded, but the H2H market and the total run line O/U will be the two most commonly traded with the most liquidity.

In-play is another option available, especially if you are looking to trade out of situations to make that “green book” a reality.

These three factors can frequently all pop-up in the same game, which would really increase your betting confidence. Looking for one or all three can more often than not get you an edge in this early part of the season.

Remember, as the long season progresses, you must re-assess what is working and what isn’t. What factors play a part through the middle part of the season and towards the end when teams are either bringing players up for experience or adjusting the rosters in preparation for baseball in October. Like betting in any code, recording your bets is crucial to your long-term success….


KEY FACTORS

1. STARTING PITCHERS

Find starting pitchers (and back them) that are not so reliant on the fastball to get hitters out. MLB standard hitters can all hit a fastball, even if it is 100+ MPH. Obviously, they are a little harder to catch up with, but in the early part of the year, hitters struggle to make adjustments to pitchers that predominantly use off-speed pitches as there out pitch. Starting position players in MLB will have somewhere in the region of 50-80 at bats in spring training, and they will be hitting “the heater” from day 1, but that nasty curveball or change-up will take some months to consistently get the better of.


2. BACK ‘OVERS’

Going against what most MLB handicappers will tell you, the “OVERS” is particularly attractive early in the year. Obviously, you still have to handicap a match and you need to be able to get a line better than yours to bet, but all the key fundamentals will still be rusty in the first month. Pitching accuracy (leading to walks) especially in the bullpen, hitters being more patient at the plate and position players fielding not as brilliantly as they would be at the end of the year, will all lead to more runs being scored. Look for fields in cities that are still playing in wintery conditions early in the year and Vegas will be handicapping these a lot lower than they would later in the year in the summer months.


3. POWER BATS

Look for teams with “power” bats. Early in the year, the big inning is never far away. Players that have hit 25+ home runs in previous years did not do that by accident, and as previously stated many pitchers are reliant on the fastball early in the year, something that these sluggers thrive on. Look for teams that have hit 200+ HR in the previous year (obviously can be adjusted with acquisitions in the off-season that would change that stat) playing against teams that did not.

Stats: MLB Stats

Without question, baseball is the one sport in the world where stats are talked about more than anything else regarding player and team performance. Rarely do you hear a conversation about baseball where a statistic or group of statistics is not involved. There are hundreds of stats available for each individual player or team regarding hitting, fielding and pitching. We will discuss some of the more common ones here.


1. BATTING AVERAGE

Obviously one of the more basic statistics, a players’ batting average will tell you how many times he reaches base safely by way of a safe hit divided by total number of At-Bats. This is the most basic form of determining how a hitter is doing, but can often be unreliable as to how valuable that hitter is. Take for example 2 players have a similar BA (batting average) of .250 and .255 (this number shows how many times a player will reach base by way of a safe hit, i.e. .250 means that 250 times out of 1000 they will hit safely, 1 out of every 4). Now although at first look they hit for a similar average, one player may have many more home runs, RBI’s or stolen bases. All these things would make that hitter much more valuable than the other, even though their batting averages are all but the same.


2. RBI’S

An RBI (Run Batted In) is a stat that shows how many times a player scores a run during there at bat. This can come via a base hit when there are runners on base and those runners score because of that hit, via a Home run in which case the hitter and all on base are counted as RBI’s, a sacrifice fly ball or bunt in which case the hitter gives himself up to score a run for the team or even a fielder’s choice where the hitter is safe but another runner gets out but a run scores in the process. This stat is particularly useful for showing which players are producing the runs when the pressure is on, not just hitting safely to get the average up for example. Obviously, those in the heart of the batting order are usually going to be the ones with the highest RBI numbers, as they will have the most opportunities with runners in scoring position in front of them.



3. ERA

The classic stat for a knowing a pitchers’ worth is an ERA (Earned Run Average). This is measured by calculating the amount of earned runs a pitcher gives up per nine innings. It gives us an indication if this pitcher were to pitch a complete 9 inning game, how many runs on average they would leak. Pitchers are quite often judged on their win/loss record but an ERA gives a more accurate picture of how dominant a pitcher is. For example. A pitcher can have a 20-win season which is outstanding, but they may also play for the best offensive team creating many runs for him each game he pitches. On the flip side a pitcher may have a 10-win season but have the lowest ERA in the league, no offense to go with his pitching means it is harder for him to win. A pitcher can give up 8 runs and still get a win, and similarly they give up only 1 run and get a loss. The ERA gives us a better take on which pitcher is more dominant.

These would be three of the most common stats when discussing yesterday’s ball game around the water cooler. There are plenty of other basic stats to consider such as HR (Home Runs), SO (Strike Outs) BB (walks), SB (stolen bases) and the list goes on.

Now we will look at three more in depth stats that are important when modelling and what bet types they can be used in.


4. GO/AO

(this is how it is allotted on the official MLB website).

This is a very useful stat I find when assessing total run markets. What it measures is a team’s pitching and how they match up regarding getting outs on the ground (GO) as opposed to outs in the air (AO). Teams in ballparks such as Colorado where the ball flies out of the park regularly because of the altitude, will not be suited if their air outs are larger than there ground outs. Keeping the ball low and getting ground balls is paramount in situations like this. Try and find match-ups with teams that have a high ratio of outs in the air playing out grounds that are hitter friendly. Quite often these grounds are smaller or the ball carries further and are more conducive to home runs and higher score lines.


5. OPS

This stat has become more popular over the last decade, it records the On-Base Percentage+Slugging Percentage of a player or team. Players and teams that have a high OPS are usually going to get involved in higher scoring games. Find teams with a high OPS, matched up against starting pitchers that give up a lot of walks and/or home runs.


6. IS% – INHERITED SCORE PERCENTAGE.

One of the most overlooked things when people are assessing baseball games is the Bullpens and relief pitching. We can easily find out how many runs the relief pitching gives up pre-game, but this is a stat that doesn’t show up in those numbers. When a reliever comes into a game for a starting pitcher, and there are runners on base, if any of those runners score they are credited to the previous pitcher’s statistics. Example. A starting pitcher is pulled out of the game with 2 out in the 7th inning with runners on 2nd and 3rd base. The reliever comes in, gives up a base hit and 2 runs score. He gets the next hitter out and the side is away. Now although this will show up as the reliever coming in and giving up no runs in the stats column, those two runs will be credited to the starting pitcher. So, the reliever has actually done a poor job, but his stat sheet will read okay!

Teams that have a low IS% can be sure that the middle relief pitching is reliable and can get through to the star relievers at the back-end of the game. This stat can be quite useful when betting live as these sticky situations come up where the relievers come into the game in a pressure situation. Quite often you can find a team go from 1 behind to in front with one crack of the bat (outsiders to clear favourites), all because of how unreliable a relief pitching staff is when coming into the game with runners in scoring position.

Obviously these three stats are for the advanced models only, but can be very useful in betting totals, head to head and live betting. There is a myriad of stats available online these days that you can search and sort for what you think works for your model. The key sites to use are for the beginner www.mlb.com which has a good number of stats available or for the more advanced handicapper, www.baseball-reference.com breaks down all the individual and team stats into far greater detail.

The beauty of baseball is that although every pitchers plate must be 60 feet 6 inches from home plate and the bases must be 90 feet apart, this is where the regulations finish. This article will look at the different variables that play a role in handicapping an MLB match.


STADIUM DIMENSION

As stated above the only thing that is identical between the 32 major league baseball stadiums is the distances between bases and the pitcher’s mound. Grounds can vary from 100-150 feet in distance from the home plate at similar points depending on where you are playing. Grounds can have huge walls such as Fenway Park in Boston, measuring 37 feet 2 inches in height, because of how close the left field fence is to the hitters to make it harder for them to hit it out of the ballpark.

Some ball-parks have their bull-pen in the foul territory, not under the grandstand or outfield bleachers, resulting in a lot more fly outs in that area that would normally be ten or fifteen rows back in other fields. Once again, pitchers with greater fly ball outs, i.e. pitchers that keep the ball up in the zone, will get more outs in these ball parks.

Some fields have huge foul territories, parts of the field that are not within the chalked foul lines but are still “in-play” once the ball comes off the hitters bat, whilst others are very close resulting in the fans being closer to the action. Teams that play in smaller parks are obviously going to be prone to hitting more home runs, scoring more runs in total and pitchers having higher ERA’s. This can be helpful in handicapping totals for over/under runs in a game. Obviously, a team that is playing at home is used to such conditions, but an away team that has a powerful line-up that cannot necessarily show that at home because of a bigger field, will relish the chance to get to the smaller parks.


PLAYING SURFACE

It may not seem like a real game changer, but the differences in playing surfaces can mean a great deal. To put it simply, some parks have artificial grass, some have real grass. The speed of the artificial grass is much faster resulting in a lot more ground balls getting through the infield. Look for pitchers that have a high ground-ball out ratio to struggle a little harder than normal in these situations. Likewise, if the game is playing on real grass, after a rain delay or in wet conditions, these ground ball pitchers are worth their weight in gold.


WIND

Wind can play a major role in the result of a MLB game. Some games are played indoors where wind has no effect, some are played at grounds with roofs that can be opened or closed, some are played in stadiums with high walls where the wind is protected at one side of the ground and some are played at games where the outfield seating (bleachers) is not as built up. These factors will all determine how the wind will affect a game. Wind blowing predominantly in from the outfield towards the hitters will result in lower scoring games and vice versa for wind blowing out towards the outfield fence.

Vegas and other bookmakers know this obviously, the way to get an edge is in the pitching. Look for pitchers that get a lot of ground ball outs to be dominant when the wind is blowing in, and on the contrary look for pitchers that get a lot of fly-ball outs to struggle when the wind is blowing out. There are plenty of resources to check the wind direction and speed in the area where each game is being played. Some grounds are notorious for having a prevailing wind, look for opportunities when that is not blowing and handicap accordingly.


TEMPERATURE

When assessing a game and the likelihood of total scores, temperature plays a vital role. Games can be played in the same day in Boston in the snow whilst down south in Florida they are inside a heated dome! The warmer the weather, the easier it is to score runs right? Well, most handicappers would say yes. And they would be right. The stats do not lie.

Pitchers in cold weather cannot get a “feel” on the ball as good on colder weather. A look at a random year from the past decade, 2011, according to www.stats.com, shows that games played in temperatures less than 21 degrees Celsius, averaged 7.9 runs pregame whereas games played in temperatures higher than 21 degrees, produced 8.95 runs per game. More than one run per game on average simply on what temperature it is, this is a factor that must be considered.


These are just a few of the basic variables when handicapping a game of baseball. Obviously, how serious a handicapper you are determines how in depth you are. Other factors that can effect outcomes in an MLB match include humidity, elevation above sea level of the ground, umpiring assignments, injuries and depth of rosters and how many innings were played the previous day, just to name a few.

The beauty of MLB is that there are so many variables to find an edge.


related articles

Betfair Betting Data

Want data? We several packages including historical stream API data, racing and sports data.

Customer Insights

NBA Predictions: Your Daily Model

Your daily resource for NBA predictions. Betfair has commissioned a data science team to model every game of the ...