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, the New England Patriots were 16-0 winning 100% of their games. The worst 3 teams in the NFL this past season were 3-13 winning just 18.8% of their games.
In the NBA this season, Boston is currently 54-13 winning 80.6% of their games and Detroit is 49-19 winning 72.1% of their games. The worst teams in the NBA are Miami winning 17.9%, and Seattle at 23.5%.
In NCAA Basketball this season, Memphis compiled a 33-1 record winning at an amazing 97.1% while North Carolina is 32-2 winning at 94.1%. The worst teams in the country were Rice at 3-27 winning 10% of their games, Sacramento State at 4-24 (14.3%) and Oregon State at 6-25 (19.4%).
In NCAA Football, Kansas and Hawaii both compiled records of 12-1 winning 92.3% while five Division 1 teams ended their seasons at 1-11 (8.3%).
Meanwhile, the 2007 baseball season was not that much different than any other baseball season.
The Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians tied for the best record in the majors at 96-66 (59.3%). The two worst teams in the majors were the Tampa Bay Rays at 66-96 (40.7%) and the Pittsburgh Pirates at 68-94 (42%). These records are nowhere close to the best and worst records of any other major betting sport.
So there you have it:
Sport Best Worst
NFL 100% 18.8%
NBA 80% 16.9%
NCAAB 97% 10%
NCAAF 95% 8.3%
MLB 59.3% 40.7%
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 at least double the worst team in any sport. Taking it a step further, based on last season’s numbers, the worst team in baseball won slightly more than 2 out of every 5 games, while the best team in baseball won slightly less than 3 out of every 5 games. Let’s face it, in NCAAB, if you put Memphis up against Rice 100 times this season, Memphis would easily win 90% of the time and probably more. If the Patriots played the Dolphins 10 times, they’d easily win 9 on average. It’s nothing like that in baseball.
In 2007, the Pittsburgh Pirates (the team with the worst record in the NL at 42%) beat the Arizona Diamondbacks (the best record in the NL) 4 out of 9 times (44.4%). Tampa Bay with the worst record in the AL was 8-10 (44.4%) against the New York Yankees who had the 3rd best record in baseball. In both of these situations, as long as the Pirates and Rays were an average of +125 in those winning games (which I assure you they were) they showed a profit against their mightier foe.
If you want a more compelling argument, the Florida Marlins with the 2nd worst record in the NL swept the Cubs who won the Central Division 6 games to zero.
The point can also be highlighted by looking at pitchers. Hardly anyone could tell me who the most profitable pitcher in baseball was last season. It was Aaron Harang at +13 units. Compare that to probably the best pitcher in the MLB, Johan Santana who was -11.1 units. The average bettor certainly feels more secure backing Johan Santana but if you bet $100 on every Aaron Harang start you would have won $1,300 last year and if you bet $100 on every Johan Santana start last season you would have lost $1,110; a $2,410 difference.
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 -400 maybe in a game like Johan Santana at home against Edwin Jackson. 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 this week, UCLA is a 32-33 point favorite over Mississippi Valley State. Now that’s a mismatch. It’s such a huge mismatch, you probably can’t even find a moneyline anywhere on the game. The highest moneyline I see posted is Kansas versus Texas Arlington where Kansas is -7000. 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 into perspective, the biggest baseball mismatch of the season is the equivalent of the NCAA tournament game in Round 1 of Xavier-Georgia where Xavier is an 8-8.5 point favorite. Georgia’s victory Sunday over Arkansas in the SEC Championship game as a 9.5 point dog was far greater than any upset we will see in baseball this 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.
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 59.3% 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 followed me last season, 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.
I played 1,172 games last year 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
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. Last year 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. In fact, I am guilty too, as last season I played at 10 cent shops and did not use Matchbook or Pinnacle, which are two of the major reduced juice shops. For those of you not familiar with places like Matchbook, you can basically play with 1% juice. When a game is -120, take back +110 at dime shops, at Matchbook, it is probably -115/+115 and there is 1% juice charged to the winner. Here is a comparison of what I would expect if I averaged +110 for the season at a reduced shop like matchbook, 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 shop like Matchbook compared to 10 cent and 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 last year 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 last season. YOU MUST USE A REDUCED JUICE BOOK.
The key to handicapping baseball is searching for value in relation to the line. A bet in baseball should not necessarily be a bet on who you think will win, but rather who you think will outperform the line and odds and provides the best value. Take for example opening day with the Yankees hosting the Bluejays. Depending on the line, I could invest in the Yankees in certain circumstances or the Bluejays 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 Yankees open up at EVEN in that game, I very well could play the Yankees. If the Yankees open up at -130, I could very well invest in the Bluejays.
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 breakeven points for the percentage times a team must win if they win a game a certain % of times:
%Win Breakeven Line
I highlighted the 40%/+150 line, because that is the line where a team in this situation would have to perform at the level of the worst team in baseball’s performance over the course of the season (40%). 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 Bluejays have a 46% chance of winning in my mind, if I can get reasonable value better than +118 (say, maybe 123 to 125+), then I am buying. Set in non-arithmatic 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 writeups 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 wrote games up last season, the writeups 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 writeup I pulled from last season on September 10th:
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 tuns, 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. 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 related 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.
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 that provide value in your investment and not just because you think they will win.