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Baseball Betting Philosophies and Strategies 2018

GameHunter

Well-Known Member
Each year I receive several emails and inquiries about a piece I wrote several years ago on betting baseball. For those who have read it previously, I am sorry for the redundancy. I revised some sections from the original post back in 2008. Best of luck to everyone this baseball season.

WHY BETTING UNDERDOGS IN BASEBALL IS DIFFERENT FROM ANY OTHER SPORT.

There are several different approaches and strategies to handicapping baseball, but the most fundamental and obvious starting point is one that is taken completely for granted. Baseball is quite unique when it comes to betting because the gaps between the best and worst teams are far closer than in any other sport. Let's look at the other major betting sports.

In the NFL, New England, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Minnesota were 13-3 winning 81.25% of their games. The worst team in the NFL this past season was Cleveland at 0-16 winning 0% of their games.

In the NBA this season, Houston is currently 61-14, winning 81.3% of their games. The worst team in the NBA is the Phoenix Suns at 19-57, winning just 25% of their games.

In NCAA Basketball this season, Virginia was 31-3 this season, winning at a rate of 91.2%. The worst team in the country was Chicago State at 3-29 (9.4%).

In NCAA Football, Central Florida compiled a record of 13-0 winning 100% while UTEP went 0-12 (0.00%).

Meanwhile, the 2017 baseball season was not that much different than any other baseball season. The Dodgers had the best record in the majors at 104-58 (64.2%). The two worst team in the majors were the SF Giants and Detroit Tigers at 64-98 (39.5%). These records are nowhere close to the best and worst records of any other major betting sport.

While it seems like an obvious point, it is often overlooked that the worst team in baseball still wins at a percentage well in excess of the worst team in any sport. Taking it a step further, based on last season's numbers, the worst team in baseball won almost 2 out of every 5 games, while the best team in baseball won slightly more than 3 out of every 5 games. Let's face it, in NCAAB, if you put Virginia up against Chicago State 100 times this season, Virginia would easily win 90% of the time and probably close to 100%. If the New England Patriots played the Browns 10 times, they'd easily win 9 on average. It's nothing like that in baseball.

In 2017, the White Sox (67-95) beat the Astros (101-61) 4 out of 6 times (66.7%). Detroit (64-98) beat Boston (93-69) 4 out of 7. Oakland (75-87) beat Boston (93-69) 4 out of 7, beat Cleveland (102-60) 5 out of 7 and beat the Yankees (91-71) 4 out of 7 but lost 5 out of 7 to Toronto (76-86) and 5 out of 7 to Tampa (80-82). Tough to explain how the Dodgers (104-58) were 17-21 against the Diamondbacks and Colorado, yet 87-36 against the rest of the majors. Typically, any MLB team can beat any other MLB on any given day. It is unlike that in any other sport.

The point can also be highlighted by looking at pitchers. If I asked you to ride one of these pitchers last season by betting on them in every start, who would you pick: Madison Bumgarner, Yu Darvish or Parker Bidwell? Hardly anyone would take Parker Bidwell. Meanwhile Bidwell was a major league best +18.0 units, while Bumgarner was a major league worst -14.6 units and Darvish was -13.0 units. The average bettor certainly feels more secure backing Bumgarner or Darvish but if you bet $100 on every Parker Bidwell start you would have won $1,800 last year and if you bet $100 on every Bumgarner start last season you would have lost $1,460; and on every Darvish start, you would have lost $1,300.

If before last season I had given you two groups to choose from to invest in from a betting perspective, whom would you have chosen?

Group 1: Madison Bumgarner, Yu Darvish, Matt Moore, Sonny Gray, JA Happ, Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta and Rick Porcello

Group 2: Parker Bidwell, CC Sabathia, Jason Vargas, Jhouls Chacin, Jose Urena, Adam Wainwright, German Marquez and Kyle Gibson

I am sure at least 9 out of 10 people would have chosen Group 1.

Let’s look at the results:

Name/Team Rec/Profit (unit)
Bumgarner/4-13/-14.6
Darvish/16-19/-13.0
Moore/10-21/-11.9
Gray/13-16/-7.2
Happ/11-14/-5.6
Hendricks/14-13/-4.8
Arrieta/17-15/-4.5
Porcello/16-18/-8.2
Total/101-119/-69.8

Bidwell/17-3/+18.0
Sabathia/21-10/+12.4
Vargas/20-12/+11.0
Chacin/18-14/+10.0
Urena/17-11/+7.0
Wainwright/15-8/+6.5
Marquez/17-12/+8.8
Gibson/18-11/+8.9
Total/143-81/+82.6

The difference between Group 1 and Group 2 in 2017 was 152.4 units. A $100 bettor would have been $15,240 better off choosing Group 2 over Group 1!!!!!!

To put things into perspective, try and think about the biggest one game baseball mismatch of the season. My guess is last season it was close to -360 maybe in a game like Clayton Kershaw at home against the Giants. How big of a mismatch is it really? We see some really big mismatches in other sports. In the first round of the NCAA tournament two weeks ago, Villanova was a 22.5 point favorite over Radford. Now that's a mismatch. It's such a huge mismatch, you probably couldn’t even find a moneyline anywhere on the game. Maybe it was in the range of -8000 to -12000. So is the biggest mismatch of the season in baseball really that much of a mismatch when you compare it to other sports? To put things even more into perspective, the biggest baseball mismatch of the season is the equivalent of the NCAA tournament game in Round 2 where Texas A&M upset North Carolina as a 7 point underdog. Think about it. That win by Texas A&M was a bigger upset than any baseball upset you will see all season.

To sum it up, too many baseball bettors shy away from dogs like they can't win when it is clear that any given underdog can beat any favorite on any given day at a rate unlike every other sport. Until people get comfortable in baseball playing underdogs on a regular basis and seeking out value, there is no chance to win betting baseball in the long run.
 
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GameHunter

Well-Known Member
WINNING PERCENTAGE IS NOT SO IMPORTANT IN BASEBALL HANDICAPPING.

Too many people get caught up in what a handicapper's winning percentage is in baseball and to me that just further explains to me that people do not understand betting baseball, as successful baseball handicapping is not a function of winning percentage. I would go so far as to say that if any average baseball handicapper had a gun to his head and was asked to hit 60% over the course of the season, he probably could. Simply, if a baseball bettor took every favorite of 200 or greater, he would probably hit 60%. The problem is even you played all favorites with the average bet being a favorite of -200, at 60%, over 100 plays at $100 each, you would lose $2000. At an average of -200, a handicapper would need to hit 67% to even show a negligible profit. Don't forget, the best team in baseball last season only hit at a 61.7% clip.

Taken a step further, a handicapper playing an average of -150 could hit 60%, but at 60% (a better % than the best MLB team last season) he would only breakeven.

Conversely, a handicapper playing an average of +110 would only need to hit at a rate of 47.7% to breakeven. So I ask you, who is the better baseball handicapper, the 60% capper playing an average of -150 or the 48% capper playing at an average of +110? The answer is the 48% capper as he shows a profit while the 60% capper above breakeven. The point I am driving home is winning percentage in baseball is less significant than other factors.

For those of you who follow me, you are aware I play more games than almost any other handicapper. Lord knows there were countless haters who would state that I played too many games and couldn't be successful. I respect they are entitled to their opinion, but based upon my baseball model, I won +0.12 units per game played, so my overall profit increased by an average of 0.12 units with each game I played. That is not to say I should bet every game, but based upon my handicapping techniques, the more games that fit my personal criteria, the more profitable I was.

Several years ago, I played 1,172 games one season and finished with a record of 626-546 (53.4%) and made a profit of +140.86 units. Let's say this season I play 1000 games at an average of +110 (slightly higher than last year). Here is what I can expect if you assume that I flat bet every game at the same amount:

Win % Unit Profit
47.7 Even
48% +8 units
49% +29 units
50% +50 units
51% +71 units
52% +92 units
53% +113 units
54% +134 units

I won't use anything above 54% because it just won't happen. That season I hit over 53.4% and as such, had an outstanding season. Even if I don't reach that standard, at 50%, I will still make a handsome profit.

REDUCED JUICE BOOKS ARE IMPORTANT TO USE.

It is scary to think that some baseball bettors actually play through books that offer 20 cent lines. Simply put, that is suicide. Here is a comparison of what I would expect if I averaged +110 for the season at a reduced shop like Matchbook (which is now somewhat limited to US players), compared to a 10 cent line which would cost me five cents per play overall (meaning I would average +105, thus the +105 column below), compared to a 20 cent line which would cost me 10 cents per play on average (meaning I would average +100, thus the +100 column below):

Win % +110 +105 +100
47.7 Even -22.15u -46u
48% +8 units -16u -40u
49% +29 units +4.5u -20u
50% +50 units +25u EVEN
51% +71 units +45.5u +20u
52% +92 units +66u +40u
53% +113 units +86.5u +60u
54% +134 units +107u +80u

By using a reduced juice shop compared to 20 cent shops, if I hit 50%, I earn 50 units on the season in my example, but at the 10 cent store, I would earn 25 units and at the 20 cent store, I would breakeven. These are HUGE differences. I reviewed my numbers from 2007 and had I used a reduced juice book like Matchbook and averaged a savings of 5 cents per game (that is conservative as it is closer to 8% if you are a good shopper) then I would've earned an additional 39 units that season. Unfortunately, Matchbook is no longer available and finding anything better than a dime line is near impossible, but if you are playing a twenty-cent line, you have no shot to win!

The key to handicapping baseball is searching for value in relation to the line. It’s very similar to a horse race. Let say I give you a racing form for a 10 horse race today at Belmont Park and the only thing I delete from the racing form is the odds of each horse. After evaluating all ten horses, you will have a perception in your mind of which horse you think has the best chance to win and you will probably be able to rate the horses in your mind from most likely to least likely to win the race. Let’s say you like the #1 horse the best, the #2 horse second best and the #3 horse third best. Does this mean you should bet the #1 horse? ABSOLUTELY NOT! You need to evaluate your perceptions in relation to the betting line. Now let’s fill in the final factor in my fictitious horse race. The odds on the #1 horse is even money, the odds on the #2 horse is 2-1 and the odds on the #3 horse is 20-1. Now there’s no doubt that the #1 horse is the most likely to win the race, however in this analysis, you would be a fool to not bet the #3 horse. Based upon these odds, the #1 horse would have to win this race one out of every two times for you to breakeven. The #2 horse would have to win the race one out of every three times for you to breakeven while the #3 horse would only need to win the race one out of 21 times for you to breakeven. In my example, if you believe the #3 horse is the 3rd best horse in the race, then the horse you should bet on in this example is the #3 at 20-1 odds even though you feel the #1 is the most likely to win the race.

Similarly, a bet in baseball should not necessarily be a bet on who you think will win, but rather who you think will outperform the odds and provides the best value. The most common error I see in many baseball bettors is they first choose who they think will win rather than evaluating the line. How often have we all heard someone say something along the lines of, “I love the Nationals tomorrow with Scherzer and I am going to make a huge bet on them” before a line is even posted? What I am trying to state here is that there is no way to love any team until you know what the line is.

Take for example the Opening Day game with the SF at the Dodgers. It is Clayton Kershaw against Blach. There is no way to say which team I liked before the line came out. Depending on the line, I could invest in the Dodgers in certain circumstances or the Giants in others so it is clear my wager is not based upon who I think will necessarily win the game, but rather who based upon my handicapping, provides the best value. Said in a different way, I am shooting to determine which team I think linemakers and the general public are undervaluing based upon my techniques of handicapping. If the Dodgers open up at -200 in that game, I very well could have played the Dodgers. If the Dodgers opened up at -400, I could very well have invested in the Giants. At -270, it was pretty much correct in my opinion and was a no play. The line should determine who you bet and not your opinion on a team with no consideration of the line.

I like to think of each game I handicap as based upon my research and understanding of a particular line, if the two teams in question played 100 times under the same fact pattern, how many time (what %) do I think in my mind each team would win, particularly, how many time will the underdog win. Here are the win percentages that an underdog would need to win in order to breakeven at a particular underdog line:

%Win Breakeven Line
50% Even
48% +109
46% +118
44% +127
42% +138
40% +150
38% +163

36% +178
34% +194
32% +212
 
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GameHunter

Well-Known Member
I highlighted the 40% and 38% marks, because that is the line where a team in this situation would have to perform at the level of the worst team in major leagues over the course of the season. When I break down each game, if I feel a team will perform better than the line, then it is worth an investment. For example, if on opening day, I believe the White Sox have a 40%+ chance of winning in my mind, if I can get reasonable value better than +150 (say, maybe +155 or higher) then I am buying. Set in non-arithmetic terms, if I think there are factors that linemakers and typical gamblers are not factoring into the line of a particular game that I think are relevant to one side, it will often mean I believe that team will outperform the line and I will invest in them.

I have read a lot of gibberish that write-ups are tripe and just ways a poster tries to convince a reader on why to play a certain side. I view it differently. When I write games up, the write-ups were basically the relevant statistics, which I saw as reasons, why the side I was supporting was undervalued with respect to the line. It's not necessarily the reasons why one team will win the game, but analytical reasons why I believed the team I was betting provided better value than was seen by linemakers and the general public.

Here is a random write-up I pulled from September 10, 2008:

OAKLAND +106 (L) (1.75 UNITS) - Bazooka Joe Blanton has gone from my fade list to buy list in less than 3 weeks. He has really turned things around and in his last 5 starts tossing 34 innings and allowing 29 hits, 9 runs, 1 home run and a 25:3 K:BB ratio. Last outing against the Angels on the road was a gem as after allowing 2 first inning runs he followed with 7 scoreless innings. He had a lot of movement on his pitches and was hitting his spots. Meanwhile, Horacio Ramirez might be 8-5 this season but the numbers are not impressive. In his last 9 starts he has thrown 49 innings and allowed 69 hits, 42 runs, 8 home runs and had a 24:21 K:BB ratio. The Mariners have really begun to free fall and even after yesterday's football like 14-7 win, they are 2-13 in their last 15 games. Their bullpen, which has been their strong point most of the season, has abandoned them and we should see the pen early today.

Simply stated, in this game, the things I wrote about were reasons why at +106, the A's were a solid investment in my opinion. The information included factors which I thought were relevant but not the typical information which may have been factored into the line by linemakers or the betting public and why that day the A's provided value in comparison to the line.

I am not going to get deep into my baseball handicapping techniques because it really isn't an exact science for which there is a recipe. I rely heavily on SABERMETRICS, lefty-righty matchups, ballpark trends and configurations as they relate to individual pitching styles, current form of pitchers, base running and fielding attributes, bullpen use, pitcher-hitter matchups, weather, umpires, home/road trends, managing styles, ground ball, fly ball pitching and hitting trends, injury reports, hot and cold streaks and anything else I can get my hands on.

My philosophy is similar to counting cards in blackjack. All you are looking to do is swing the percentages in your favor. A good card counter swings the advantage towards himself and instead of the house having a 51/49 or 52/48 advantage, the professional card counter swings the odds to somewhere around 52/48 in his favor. By doing so, the card counter wins thousands of dollars over time, however over the course of any one hand or group of hands, he can easily lose. That is exactly what I am trying to do in baseball. With that being said, I am not the guy to follow over a short period of time as that would be no different than following me over a few random hands of blackjack.

I have no set formula for my handicapping and each day I am not sure where my research and thoughts will lead me. I like looking deep into the numbers and for angles that I think give me a better advantage than the current line. Take for example my write-up a few season ago on the Cubs starting pitching. I have certain mental notes that I want to look closely at as the season progresses. This is just one example of the kind of things I look at:

Ted Lilly - A noted fly-ball pitcher. Vulnerable to the long ball. Look to fade against power hitting teams and especially when the wind blows out at Wrigley. Remember not to give him an edge against teams with strong left handed hitters, but an edge against predominantly right handed hitting lineups as ironically he is tougher against righties.

Carlos Zambrano - Tougher on lefties. Look to fade in day games as the last three seasons he has allowed more than 1.5 earned runs per start during the day. Streaky and has faded in August the past two years. Don't fade him when he is hot and fade him when he begins to show two consecutive bad outings.

Rich Harden - With injury concerns, Piniella will baby him. Look to fade Harden, at high prices in situations where the Cubs' bullpen is coming off of heavy recent use, as Harden will typically go 5-6 innings at best and will need to rely on the bullpen for 3-4 innings to close things out.

Aaron Heilman - Struggles with lefties. Look to fade him against teams stacked with strong lefties like the Phillies but play him against teams with heavy right handed lineups.

Sean Marshall - Road ERA is 1.25 runs better on than at home. He actually struggles against left handed hitters so look closely at opposing teams lineups.

Another thing I look to do is analyze the home plate umpires after the first game of a series (in the first game of the series they aren't announced until about 30 minutes before the game but after the first game, just look who the first base umpire was the day before, as he will be behind the plate the next day) and figure out their style and trends in relation to the starting pitchers trends. There are all kinds of umpire statistics readily available and many umpires will show generous strike zones or stingy strike zones. A stingy umpire matched with a pitcher with control issues or a pitcher that likes to nibble the corners can be a recipe for disaster while a generous umpire can be a recipe for success.

I incorporate countless other factors into my handicapping which would take hours and hours to try and explain and it might not even make total sense. Regardless of the factors you utilize as a handicapper, look for factors that are relevant to you which make you feel a team is being undervalued by the general public and linemakers. In your mind, never say, I love the Tigers tomorrow without knowing the line. If you love the Tigers that day, love them because you feel there are factors important to you that provide value in your investment in relation to the line and not just because you think the Tigers will win because if you are handicapping correctly, there is a price at which you could bet the other team When you look for value instead of just who will win, you will become a much better baseball handicapper.

The fact that I have won 8 of the last 9 seasons (+48.77 last season) does not necessarily mean I will win every year or in particular, this year. Just like many of the most successful teams in professional sports, a good handicapper can have a down year. I am confident coming into the season, but I also need to learn from my mistakes. Four years ago I was up over +80 units (averaging 1.5 units per game) at the All-Star break and ended up giving almost ¾’s of it back the second half the season. In previous years, I have struggled the first month or two and then came on strong as the season progressed. Two years ago, I had the greatest run of my career the last 6 weeks of the season and ended up with a great record. Baseball betting requires extreme discipline, expert money management and constant analysis and research. I learned the hard way four years ago that getting lazy and cutting corners does not work. I am not asking anyone to tail me but am just sharing my advice. I have no interest in hearing someone whine if they follow me and lose. I owe you nothing and I do this for fun. When it isn’t fun anymore, I will stop posting. There are better handicappers out there but I have had quite a nice run myself over the past 9 years on the internet. I wish everyone the best of luck this upcoming season.
 

2daBank

VC's Valentine
Can we maybe pin this in baseball @B.A.R. where more baseball guys will see it?

everyone interested in betting baseball should read this and take it seriously! When I first read it I was like “wow, this what everyone needs to understand bout betting baseball!”. Far too often I see guys making mistakes that they wouldn’t if they took this thread to heart!!
 

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