Key Factors when Handicapping

The opening price in Baseball is determined by the starting pitchers and overall strengths/weaknesses of the teams. Other factors will come into play, but generally 90% of the opening price are produced as a direct result of the listed starting pitchers. Bullpens, prior match-ups, injuries, team skills, and travel will account for the remaining 10%. Baseball is filled with stats, both useful and meaningless when it comes to handicapping baseball games. In this article, I will show you what to look for, and more importantly which stats are meaningless when it comes to handicapping MLB games.

Starting Pitchers

Pitcher stats may be fun to look at, but can be very misleading. Wins are hard to predict in baseball and not a good stat to look for when trying to gain an edge. A starter can pitch 7 shutout innings with 10 strikeouts only to have his bullpen blow up and cost him and the team a victory. If you see a starter and he’s 8-1 facing a pitcher who is 1-8, there is no guarantee your pitcher will win that game. Research the team records of the starting pitchers, this will give you a much better indication of future results.

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A pitcher’s ERA (Earned run average), is probably the most overused stat and can be a losing proposition on its own. Is that pitcher stacking up wins despite allowing an inordinate amount of runs? Another very important stat is the WHIP. This stands for walks & hits per innings pitched. Some pitchers win games but give up numerous hits and walks along the way. Some pitchers are dominating and putting up a bunch of zeros on the scoreboard. Coupling a pitcher’s current ERA and WHIP is an excellent way of demonstrating his current form and outlook for his next start.

Lets say your starting pitcher has pitched well recently while posting solid ERA and WHIP stats, but how does he perform against lefties/righties and vice versa? That’s a key angle that a lot of wise guys use. Knowing which teams hit lefties/righties better will go a long way to helping you turn a profit. When judging how well a team performs against different handed pitchers don’t go by their won/loss records, go by team batting average.

Over the last the five seasons combined, here are the top 5 hitting teams (highest average) when facing a left-handed starter.

  • NY Yankees (.301)
  • Boston Red Sox (.298)
  • Detroit Tigers (.290)
  • LA Dodgers (.280)
  • Colorado Rockies (.273)

Notice how the top 3 teams are all from the American League. The bottom five includes, Cleveland, NY Mets, Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres, and the Kansas City Royals.

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Bullpens

Choose teams that have a solid bullpen to help influence your decision over two evenly matched pitchers/teams. The top 5 bullpens over the last five seasons are:

  • LA Dodgers
  • San Diego Padres
  • Oakland A’s
  • San Francisco
  • Atlanta Braves

The bottom five includes Colorado, Philadelphia, Houston, Chicago Cubs, and Cleveland Indians.

Interleague Play

I love handicapping Interleague games because it’s quite simple. Focus on the home teams, especially in game one of a series. When the American League visits a National League stadium, more often than not the American League starter has no clue how to handle his business at the plate. Easy out.

Most teams Designated Hitters (DH) will now have to play the field (most likely first base) and that weakens their defense tremulously. The visiting team has a 39% winning percentage in the very first game over the last five seasons.

Batter vs. Pitcher

If you see a starting pitcher that has struggled with four or more players on a particular team, more often than not he will continue to struggle and would be wise to fade him. Make sure it’s enough of sample size, say around 30 at-bats or more. Use a combination of stats, angles, trends, to come up with your prediction along with observation from previous matches.

Travel & Weather

With more indoor stadiums than ever before, rain outs are on the decline. The weather has minimal impact except in April and October when the weather is on the cooler side, especially at night when the lows are in the 40’s. Some pitchers are not able to grip certain pitches (curve balls) in cold weather.

MLB teams traveling on long road trips during winning streaks tend to keep winning. Teams returning home from long road trips (9 games or more), in three different cities, tend to be sluggish in their first game back home. The theory being that players have a lot of responsibilities at home (Wife, kids, etc), and just don’t bring the focus needed to hit a baseball. This angle has worked a lot better in the 90’s and early 2000’s, but is still solid today.

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Injuries

For the most part, injuries are not really considered when handicapping baseball. Unless the team is just across its roster. The majority of teams have depth and most likely the replacement will perform better than the injured player. However, some pitchers are more comfortable with certain Catchers. Keep an eye on winning teams that have an injury to its top catcher and how their top pitchers have been performing. Don’t forget, the odds-makers account for injuries and are always adjusted in the price.

Underdogs

Since 2015, the majority of MLB underdogs have cashed on Thursday’s and Sunday’s. Look for live underdogs on these two days. Even the best teams in baseball lose at least 60 games. That’s why underdogs have a lot of value in baseball. The baseball schedule is a good starting point to find out where those live underdogs are hiding. Well-rested underdogs playing weary favorites are one of the best bets in baseball, and it’s even better if these underdogs are playing at home. These bets are hard to find. But if you’re going to find underdogs that are good bets, you will need to look at home many games a team has played in the last few days, how much traveling the team has gone through, and weather their opponent is worse for wear than they are. The key to playing underdogs in baseball is being selective and having discipline.

I hope this article makes your baseball investing gain bigger profits. Good Luck this baseball season.

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