The 2017 MLB Betting Guide

First things first, I apologize for the delay.

No, I’m not behind (per se), I just like to wait a strong month before diving headfirst into baseball. For one, the season is crazy long. And two, I don’t follow it as deeply as the other sports, so there’s a bit more fluidity from year to year.

I like to take some time to know what I’m dealing with.

But, with the Warriors currently boasting a commanding 2-0 lead in the NBA Finals (and no, I don’t think they’ll blow it this time around), one thing is evident *queue the dramatic music* the dog days of summer are almost upon us!

So, here’s what we have to look forward to (besides sun dresses, and romphims):

  1. A Cavs comeback, and weeks of LeBron is the GOAT, and is better than anyone who has ever touched (or ever will touch) a basketball. YAY!
  2. A quick series, and weeks of LeBron isn’t the GOAT, or even the best player in the league anymore. Along with equally pointless debates on whether the Warriors are the greatest team ever assembled. YAY!
  3. Impatiently counting down the days until kickoff, endless fantasy football mock drafts, reading up on JUCO transfers, and following OTAs/training camps like we’re on the beat or TMZ Sports reporters… *Less sarcastic, but still depressing* yay.

Treacherous times are ahead.

But, wait! There’s more!

A 4th, exponentially less unpleasant option: kick back, enjoy our National Pastime, and keep building that bankroll.

Yeah, yeah.  I know. Baseball is no longer our National Pastime. And even if it was, baseball betting is HARD! There are too many factors! Too many games! I hear it all the time, and valid arguments can be made on all fronts.

But, I’m here to play devil’s advocate.

I struggle most to refute the National Pastime part (it’s pretty damn clear baseball is struggling to remain relevant amongst the masses), but the rest? Completely off base.

Especially, when it comes to the baseball betting is “hard” part. I mean it is, but it’s not, and can be highly rewarding when compared to the NBA or NFL because whether you’re jumping into baseball betting for the 1st time, or a seasoned vet, the 1st thing you’ll notice is that the traditional spread we see with the NBA, & NFL is missing…

Baseball is a moneyline sport.

Which means, all you have to do is pick the team that wins the game, and you win. Whether they win by 1 or 20, it makes no difference. All you have to do is pick the winner (There is a run-line, typically +/- 1.5, but no need to get into all that).

Now, if you’re accustomed to spread betting, think of it as the spread being built into the moneyline odds, with +/-100 representing a tie, or a “pick ‘em”.

For those with a little more moisture behind the ears, +/- 100 is the baseline. Zero. Two teams, both at +100 odds, it’s a toss-up. No clear favorite to win the game. If the number begins with – that means the team is likely to win, and if a + precedes, the oddsmakers think that team’s chances of winning aren’t as good. The higher the number in either case, the more likely the team wins, or loses.

Clear as mud.

Example: The Twins are set to take on the Mariners later this evening. In looking at the odds, the Mariners are the favorite at -215, and the Twins are the underdog at +192. I won’t get into the implied probabilities, but chances are, Seattle wins the game.

Have I lost you? No? Well, remember that part about baseball being a moneyline sport?  Good. That’s the reason why baseball betting can be highly profitable, and here’s why…

Besides -215/+192 indicating that there’s a very good chance Seattle wins the game, it also means that if you bet on Seattle, you make less money.

A $100 bet on the Mariners would pay you $46, while that same $100 on the Twins would pay $192. Here’s how it works:

  • 100/ (-x) times bet amount = payout

Mariners: 100/215 x $100 = $46.51

  • (+x)/100 times bet amount = payout

Twins: 192/100 x $100 = $192

Again, the spread is essentially built into the odds. But as we know, the favorites don’t always win, so taking a chance on the Twins tonight would lead to a pretty nice payout! We don’t see these with the other major sports, the money line exists, yes, but the lines are typically so ridiculous that it makes more sense to play the spread.

The trick then becomes to identify the smart bets, and the risk vs. reward conundrum. But, the good thing is, if you’ve made it this far (and still follow), then you’ve already mastered the “hard” part. The rest is just work, and a bit of luck. But, with the right combination, you can quickly increase your bankroll, and lucky for you, I have a few tips to help with the “work” part.

Know the Bullpens

Great pitching is one of the largest contributors to winning teams. Problem is, people simply compare the starting pitchers, and assume that if one team has the edge in this category, it’s a smart bet.

Yes, I recommend taking a look at the starters, but managers have placed more and more emphasis on their bullpens in recent years. Don’t believe me? In the ‘90s, 8% of the games resulted in the starting pitcher lasting all 9 innings; that percentage is down to 2.6 this decade. And last season, we saw only 83 complete games; an all-time low.

Just like there are good and bad starters, there are good and bad relievers. While a manager’s bullpen usage can be tough to project, you can find a team’s bullpen stats by sorting by reliever on most sites, and sites like baseballpress.com provide a complete list of a team’s relief pitchers, and their recent usage, which can help to identify their individual availability on a given day.

So, again, look at the starters, but it’d be wise to take spend some time analyzing the bullpens.

Study the Trends

In the most oversimplified manner possible, are the teams hot or cold? From my experience, streaks and slumps tend to last longer in baseball than other sports, and riding a hot/cold team can reap huge payouts. Start there, and if you catch the wave, ride it until it crashes.

But, it’s deeper than that.

Now, you don’t have to nerd out on stats, and develop intricate Excel spreadsheets to keep up (leave that to guys like me), but take a look at a team’s win/loss record when a certain pitcher starts, or vs. left/right handed pitching, performance in day/night games, etc. All of this information is readily available, and tends to play a significant role in the outcome.

Check the Weather

One could argue that the weather plays more of a factor in the total runs scored, and as a result, matters more when betting the over/under.

Wrong.

I mean, it’s true, but only to an extent. Let’s take this year’s Boston Red Sox for example.

Per fangraphs.com (prior to tonight’s games), the Sox sit 11th in runs scored with 271, but rank 29th in home runs with 53. Meaning (loosely) that they don’t depend on the long ball, and do a great job of manufacturing runs. Which suggests that they’d be less likely to be hindered by a strong wind blowing in. The same can be said for teams who rely on the home run to generate offense, and have the wind at their backs, and everything in between.

Find opposing styles, and conditions which could benefit one team over another, and you have a gem. It’s a small detail, but a quick Google search can lead to big rewards.

Know the Dimensions

Speaking of generating runs, baseball is the only major sport where the field dimensions vary by stadium. Some parks favor pitchers, others are “hitter’s parks”, and this often goes overlooked.

Take Yankee Stadium (because I can’t mention the Sox and not the Yanks), which is notorious for its short porch in right field; measuring 314 feet down the line. A team loaded with left-handed power hitters is more likely to put up runs there than say Busch Stadium – home of the Cardinals, which measures 335 feet down the same right field line.

It may not seem like much of a difference, but a routine fly ball at Busch, could be a grand slam in Yankee Stadium, and teams like the aforementioned Red Sox are less likely to be affected by a pitcher’s park, than say the Astros – who’ve scored 29% of their runs via the long ball.

ESPN tracks a park’s run factor, which compares the rate of stats (most importantly, runs) at home vs. the rate of stats on the road. A rate higher than 1.000 favors the hitter, and below 1.000 favors the pitcher. This can be very useful for both picking winners, and projecting the over/under.

And there you have it… That wasn’t too “hard”, was it? If so, stick to the sundresses and romphims. If not, you’ve scratched the surface for a profitable summer, and be sure to subscribe/check back as my first MLB Gambler’s Power Rankings of 2017 will be dropping soon!

 

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