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Changes in the Sport and How it Affects Big Favorites

MLB Betting: Changes in the Sport and How it Affects Big Favorites

By Loot, MLB Handicapper, Lootmeister.com

In recent baseball history, there has been a shift, particularly in the area of starting pitching and how starters are utilized. In short, starting pitchers are not counted on to finish games like they used to. The statistic of complete games has done a 180--going from a time when starters were expected to finish games to the point where now they are rarely expected to do so.

Look at the complete game leaders over the years. Obviously, in the early years of baseball, the stats were unfathomable, where the idea of relief pitchers was barely developed. Then, bullpens became more of a factor midway through the century, but league leaders were still registering complete games in the 30's.

Even as relief pitching became more of a factor in the 70's and 80's, starters were still registering big numbers in the complete game category. Standout starters like Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver, Fergie Jenkins, Catfish Hunter, and Phil Niekro were still putting up 20-30 complete games a season. Then, relief pitching became more specialized, with guys out of the bullpen ready to come in for any situation.

By the time the 90's rolled around, it started getting to the point where the complete game was becoming a thing of the past. But guys were still regularly putting up 10-15 CGs per season. Now look at the complete game leaders in the past decade. You have guys leading their league with 4 complete games for goodness sake. Since 2000, only one pitcher has registered double-digit complete games. In a category where the league leader was often in the high-20's or 30's, only one guy has hit double-digits since 2000. Stunning.

The shift in this dynamic affects the betting of baseball when evaluating starting pitchers. In the past, you would see an ace is starting. You could have a reasonable expectation of that guy going the full route. You would bet on a guy like Steve Carlton, knowing he would be expecting to go 8-9 innings. When the 7th rolled around, these guys would buckle down and get a second wind, knowing it was all riding on their shoulders.

Now, we bet an ace starter at -300 and it just isn't as strong a bet as it was when complete games were the norm. When we see a team with long odds, fringing or even surpassing the -300 watermark, the main reason the odds are so big is because of the identity of the starter. Only aces get odds like that. But when we bet on them, we know they're not going to go the full route. It'd be like betting on a heavily-favored football team, knowing the starting pitcher is going to get the hook midway through the 3rd quarter. That wouldn't make us feel very comfortable and we shouldn't feel terribly confident laying big odds on a starting pitcher, knowing he might only be in there for two-thirds of a game.

Laying odds like -300 was even a dicey proposition in the past when you could actually expect the pitcher you bet on to be in the game for the long-haul. Now, however, we are in a spot of laying huge numbers while pretty much knowing that the guy we're banking on will only be in the game for part of it. And we don't really know who will be coming in. It can be a real sting to have a game in the area of -300, only to see an iffy reliever take over.

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Sure, there will be some aces who you can figure if they're pitching well, can get it to the closer and you won't have to deal with a bunch of mediocre relief pitchers. When rolling, those guys can just hand it off to the closer. At least you know who the closer is and you can just handicap the one reliever. But a lot of pitchers that receive long odds can only really be expected to go 6-7 innings. Then, we're in a spot where we have to leave it in the hands of fate.

There are a lot of reasons why in a sport like baseball, where the best teams' winning percentage is only in the sixties, that we should avoid huge favorites. But when we look at what is expected from starting pitchers in today's age, it really makes it a problematic bet. So don't be so quick to bank on an ace when we know at some point, a lesser pitcher might be taking over.

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