Identifying Value in MLB Betting
The NHL and NBA champions were recently crowned and summer is in full swing. So is baseball betting for avid fans. But as the temperatures rise (and it's over 110 here in Las Vegas), so do the betting lines on the top teams.
The Chicago Cubs continue to win at a torrid pace (47-23), but close behind are the San Francisco Giants (45-27) and Washington Nationals (43-29). In the American League, only the surprising Texas Rangers (47-26) are playing above .600 baseball, with the next closest teams five games behind, with the Cleveland Indians (41-30) and Baltimore Orioles (41-30) narrowly leading their divisions.
Yet to show you some of the perception versus reality in baseball betting and lines, consider that the Rangers were an underdog in 12 straight games from June 8 through June 20, and they won 10 of those ballgames. Then on June 21, the Rangers were a $2 favorite (-200) over the Cincinnati Reds in Interleague action.
I sent out a social media message that day that big 'Dogs would strike in a number of games June 21. Along with betting the Reds in their 8-2 win, I cashed in on two more big 'Dogs of +160 or more with Arizona's 4-2 win at Toronto and San Diego's rally and slugfest win at Baltimore, 10-7.
Overall, 10 of the 15 games on June 21 featured a favorite of -150 or higher. Six of the underdogs won those games providing profits on big barking 'Dogs as we move into the dog days of summer. However, those big 'Dog winners came on the heels of a Father's Day weekend in which big favorites went 12-5.
Now, some of my run line wagers have not been cashing as often following a strong start, and I'll update some of those numbers again as I wrote an article here about run line betting a month ago.
Historically over the past seven seasons, teams win MLB games by 2 or more runs close to 70% of the time. That includes 74% on the road and 66% at home. But through the first third of this season, 70% of home wins were decided by two or more runs into early June. Since June 12, less than 60% of home wins were by 2 or more runs, so run line home favorites and winners have fallen off. However, road teams have kicked in over that same stretch winning by 2 or more runs better than 77% of the time. Run line wagers have been a more popular and profitable wager for many noting too that the average batting OPS has been closer to .730 through the first third of the season. In recent seasons, that OPS average is near.710. With little to no adjustment by the linemaker, there has been value turning MLB favorites into run line underdogs.
But back to identifying value on teams and underdogs when not playing the run line.
The Rangers have been somewhat undervalued in the market based on their recent winning run and 'Dog role. But the linemaker and astute bettor knows this team is not as strong as they have performed, while also being fortunate in one run games going 17-4. Texas has clearly overachieved. So too has pitcher Colby Lewis, who took the mound June 21 with a 6-0 record and 2.81 ERA. That's all history following 5-innings allowing 6 runs in the 8-2 loss. If you study pitching, metrics and under the surface stats, you're well aware Lewis has modest numbers including strikeouts, swing and miss rates, and a high-80's fastball at best. Along with a poor ground ball profile and pitching at an extreme hitter's park, regression is inevitable for the 36-year old. Thus, with Texas on a hot streak and the Reds losing four of five on the road and sitting just 27-43 overall, you can see why the Rangers were an inflated favorite. Add in Reds right-hander Anthony DeSciafani making just his third start this season since returning from an oblique injury and the linemaker knows the bettors are going to line up on red hot Texas, who also leads the majors in profit produced. That creates value, and in this particular game, the big 'Dog delivered.
A similar study could be used for San Diego, who is also buried in the basement of their division in the NL West. Entering the June 21 game at Baltimore, the Padres were 30-42. Baltimore led the AL East at 40-29. Starting from that premise alone, you know the Orioles will be a strong favorite and an inflated one when you factor in their AL best home record of 26-12. But the Orioles were just 4-6 in their last ten games, and this team is also over-achieving, as manager Buck Showalter gets the best out of his free-swinging boys. Despite well below average starting pitching, the Orioles have been the third-most profitable team in the betting market this season!
Baltimore started Tyler Wilson, who has average numbers at best across the board, but he was coming off the best start of his career pitching 8-innings of 3-hit shutout ball at Boston. A buy sign? Not enough to warrant the -180 price tag against the Padres. Again, the situation should scream inflated favorite. Strong pitchers and teams get priced in this range, not one like Tyler with his over-achieving team behind him.
So do the Padres offer up value with an unknown raw and reckless rookie on the mound in Luis Perdomo? He's been hit hard and had a WHIP above 2.00 and ERA approaching 9.0 with most his appearances in relief. It was difficult to pull the trigger on San Diego with Perdomo pitching, but I took the added value and also made a bigger bet on the first 5 innings and game to go 'over' the total. That's another case study in evaluating totals and value. We enjoyed the 10-7 Padres win, but Perdomo was hit hard again and left after 5-innning with the Padres trailing 6-3. But evaluating pitching is just part of the puzzle, as we noted that the Padres are hitting better than .280 over their last 20 games to rank top-4 in baseball, despite playing 15 of those games at their premier pitchers park of Petco.
The Cubs, Giants and Nationals all have a number of top-tier starters and aces on their staff. As long as they stay healthy, they won't go through extended slumps thanks to strong starting pitching. The Cubs are also a remarkable +169 in run differential this season with the next closest team Boston +79 and then Washington +73. The Giants are +63 to rank top-6, so while these teams will likely be strong favorites more often moving forward, they have the pitching and overall team profile and stats to suggest more winning than losing.
While the lines may be inflated on these teams and their solid starters, they are showing that they will win more often, and the value is often to play more run line wagers on those teams to reduce risk. After all, the Cubs have won 38 of 47 games (81%) by 2 or more runs making them a more profitable play on the run line.
The beauty of betting baseball is there are many games each day. And plenty of value to be found. Thus, every day in MLB handicapping, as well in other sports, the handicapper is faced with the conundrum of determining whether teams will continue their positive or negative momentum. Situational handicapping continues in evaluating whether teams will suffer a letdown off a key series or game, or bounce back off a losing or poor performance. Then add in all the stats to pour over, including hitting and pitching in baseball, and you have quite an amount of information to interpret.
Through it all, the goal when wagering is to win money. But there is an evaluation process, and you won't win and profit consistently betting on inflated favorites.
Start by identifying more hittable and beatable starting pitchers and play against them as modest and bigger favorites. Those are the type of wagers a value bettor seeks out when playing both the 5-inning line and game. While baseball may seem unpredictable, finding value is not. If the better starting pitcher won every game, we would all be rich. Do your research and apply information with insight and you'll identify more value plays to turn into bigger profits.
FairwayJay is a leading national sports handicapper and is recognized as one of the sports industries most insightful analysts. Follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay