March Madness is done for another year and the NBA playoffs are still a few days away, so baseball is the hot topic unless you live in places like Montreal, where hockey dominates the scene, or Milwaukee, where everyone is trying to figure out what has happened to the Bucks. At least Detroit has the Red Wings to make them forget about the Tigers. It can’t be very often that a city’s hockey team gets more wins than the baseball team, but the Red Wings have 51 and are poised for 16 more, and that might be too much for the Tigers to hope for this season.
Last week I talked a little about the basics of baseball. This article was to be about winning systems for baseball but while asking around, I received some surprising answers. It seems that either nobody has a simple system that works, or they are guarding it like it was gold in Fort Knox. Betting baseball is more of a black art, where coming up with the winning pick means understanding what determines a line and finding opportunities to take advantage of it. So, the first question that begs to be asked is “What determines a baseball line?”
Lets start with the book manager’s opinion. Bodog’s top guy, Kent, states that it starts with pitching. “The pitchers are the only individuals involved in every play, so you have to make them the biggest factor in determining a game’s line. Barry Bonds might be involved in just four at-bats and a couple of plays in the field but Randy Johnson pitches to as many as 40 guys in a single game. It’s easy to see where to start the research.” This opinion seems to be backed by every handicapper and player I talked to, but it was the difference in how to use this information that is most interesting.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to analyzing a baseball line. One says that pitching is so important in determining the line, that to win bets, one must also analyze the pitching. Cincinnati Kid and Tom Freese (from www.playbook.com) are both great baseball handicappers and both rely heavily on pitching analysis. They analyze the starters numbers for recent starts and then look to the bullpens before even looking at offensive numbers. John Ambrosio (of www.sportsrumble.com) is another talent at picking winners, and he was kind enough to talk to me at length about baseball today. John agrees baseball outcomes rely 80% on pitching and 20% on batting, and that is how he approaches the games. He looks at the starters’ last 10 starts, and then the offense’s last 5 games. Greg P. of Tucson, AZ is Bodog’s winningest baseball bettor this month and he also subscribes to the pitching analysis theory. “When doing your homework the night before, the only thing you can count on is the starting pitcher. Big hitters often get days off with no notice, and if you put too much stock into hitting while doing research, you may be disappointed frequently. By using listed pitchers to my advantage, I am rarely surprised in a bad way.”
The other school of thought states that because pitching is so analyzed by book managers in determining the line, that there is not much you can do to improve upon it. Where you can improve upon the line is in the analysis of the offence. Bryan Leonard (who runs www.footballwinners.com) told me: “The linesmaker has already taken into account the starting pitchers. Most value is obtained by looking at offensive statistics. I use an LSLR model (least squares linear regression) to break down a team’s offensive stats. That in turn shows me how an overall offense is performing.” Bryan is currently ranked #2 by www.thesportsmonitor.com, and may be making a few readers wish they had stayed awake during their university Statistics courses. Big Al McMordie (www.bigal.com) was ranked #1 by The Sports Monitor for baseball in 2001, and agrees with Bryan that pitching analysis is built into the line. Big Al looks more for emotional factors that will influence performance, and has proven to be very effective at doing so.
Both schools of thought make sense, both require discipline and both require good analysis skills. The answer to the question of which is more important ultimately rests in which analysis you are most comfortable with. I recommend doing both with pencil and paper, and seeing what works best for you. Sparky Anderson once said, “good pitching beats good hitting’ and it is up to you to figure out where the “good pitching’ and “good hitting” is.
Next up, I’ll talk about betting favorites vs. betting underdogs, and the math involved in each. I will also talk more with Kent about how the baseball season is going for the house and take a peek at the NHL/NBA playoffs.
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Rob Gillespie is President of Bodog Sportsbook & Casino