Baseball is Back

All right, enough about hoops – lets talk baseball. Hard to believe we are already three weeks into another season. I am a big baseball fan so I will be writing about it a fair amount this summer so here is a primer to get us started.

As a bettor, why is baseball so good? First off, it’s on every day. Not just nights like basketball and hockey, but they play games in the middle of the day. I always loved getting calls from guys with office jobs that were betting on daytime games. I can imagine them sitting in their cubicle watching an online web-cast or listening to the radio through their headphones. There is nothing better than a Wednesday afternoon baseball game to take the edge off a stressful week.

Secondly, where else can you bet with such a low vig? The dime line in baseball has to be the best deal in all of sports wagering. With the house take in the 1-2% range, rather than the 4-5% range of other sports, baseball moneylines offer a lot of value.

Third, not only do you get the best value when betting, but you also get to impose conditions on your wagers. When you bet on football, your bet goes even if the starting QB for your team breaks an ankle in practice and when betting basketball, you can’t get your money back if the starting point guard gets food poisoning an hour before tip-off. Look at tonight’s NBA game where Shaq is questionable because he is away for a funeral and may or may not play. Wouldn’t it be great if you could place a Lakers bet that is conditional on him starting? Or a Minnesota bet that is conditional on him not entering the game? Of course it would, but that is not an option for basketball!yet.

So why do you get lower juice for baseball and the opportunity to specify which pitchers must start for your moneyline bet to have action? Simple, summer is traditionally a quiet time in this industry and sportsbooks want your business so they make baseball as attractive as possible. I think competition in the sportsbook business will eventually make these conditions show very soon in other sports. We tried Listed Goalies on NHL totals in the playoffs last season and even though it met with little success we showed it could be done. If demand for such a product grows we may bring it back in the future.

Okay. I’ve layed out a few reasons why I think baseball is a great sport for bettors. I didn’t even mention the sheer number of games. The baseball regular season has nearly 10 times as many games as the NFL (2430 to 256) and is roughly double the number for the NHL or the NBA. All those extra games are extra betting opportunities. Now, let’s discuss how to start looking for good betting opportunities.

I happened to be in Las Vegas at the end of the 2001 baseball regular season and was talking to Big Al McMordie about baseball. He had just finished #1 for the season at a major monitoring site and was kind enough to indulge a little bit. I believe baseball is no different than basketball or football. Each sport offers the opportunity to make money if 1) you have a methodology that wins; and 2) you have the discipline to follow that methodology.

Now, lets get a 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. Some handicappers/bettors analyze the starters’ statistics for recent starts and then look to the bullpens before even looking at offensive numbers. One of Bodog’s winningest baseball bettors last year 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. Another handicapper, Bryan Leonard, 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. Perhaps staying awake during that first year stats course would have helped me now.

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 what you are more comfortable with the analysis of. 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.

Speaking of ‘good’ pitching, did you see the box scores last week for 3 of the game’s best?

  • Maddux – April 9th @ Phi: 5.2 IP, 12 H, 10 R, 7 ER, 3 BB, 2 HR
  • Big Unit – April 11th vs. Mil: 4.2 IP, 10 H, 10 R, 10 ER, 2 BB
  • Pedro – April 12th vs. Bal: 4.1 IP, 9 H, 10 R, 10 ER, 4 BB

Imagine 3 Cy Young Award winners serving up 10-spots in the same week. According to ESPN, it had only happened twice total in the previous six seasons! Maybe good pitching just doesn’t always beat bad hitting. However, both Pedro and Maddux came back with strong 2-hit performances in their next start. There is some food for thought anyways.

Before I sign off, I’ll give you a quick recap of the baseball season so far from the House’s point of view. We got off to a great start, as the first two weeks were very profitable. Who would have expected the Royals to have started 11-1 or the Red Sox to have lost Pedro’s first three starts? However, players had their revenge this past weekend, especially on Friday when all 12 favorites of -120 or greater cashed in. As a result we are just up a little for the baseball season so far.

I’ll be back in a couple of weeks with a look at the mathematics of the moneyline. It is mostly applicable to baseball (and hockey and soccer) but will also be a help to football and basketball bettors.

The enjoyment of your wagering experience with us is my number one priority. Should you have any questions, concerns, or comments, I will personally ensure you are satisfied with your Bodog experience.

Good luck with your wagers!

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Rob Gillespie is President of Bodog Sportsbook & Casino