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Considering the Small Things

MLB Betting: Considering the "Small" Things

By Loot, MLB Handicapper,

In Major League Baseball, some things always get the most attention. When we watch Sportscenter, they show a pitcher striking out someone with a 100 mph fastball, not a guy alertly taking third from first on a single. They show home runs, not how a runner was advanced into scoring position on a ground ball. They show diving stops at third base, not how the cut-off man recognized the lost cause of trying to throw out a runner at home, instead getting the man going to second base.

In other words, there are a ton of little things that fall outside the range of everyday considerations in the minds of the average baseball fan. But when you watch a baseball game with a bet riding on it, you will begin to notice how often games are decided by the little things and not always the slam-bang plays we see on the highlight reels.

Fielding: A lot of betting men will blow this off for the most part. They assume it is a random component of the game. All teams will have roughly the same amount of miscues and they will occur randomly throughout the season. Fair enough. There is something to be said for that. Fielding miscues can be quite random. And even when we identify a team has a fielding problem, what should we do, never bet on that team?

There are times, however, where your handicapping should make allowances for this part of the game. Obviously, you want to have your money behind a solid-fielding team. If it's not, identify where the problems are and if they are more or less of a factor in the game you are wagering. If the guy you have starting is a ground-ball pitcher, you naturally would be troubled by porous fielding in the middle-infield. If a catcher is racking up a bunch of passed balls while working with a certain pitcher who throws some wicked junk, that would be a big red flag.

The issue of fielding needs to be able to be applied meaningfully to the game you are betting for it to really count. If you noticed a center-fielder struggles mightily at a certain part of the day with the sun shining brightly and the opposing pitcher tends to get a lot of balls hit in the air, maybe that would make you reconsider making that bet on a day game. Fielding doesn't really guide our betting, but it should make us reconsider a bet here and there.

Small Ball: This refers to the "little things" an offense does. It's called "small ball" in part because it's not as visible as the big plays that everyone loves to see. Small ball includes stuff like taking an extra base when you can, sacrificing to advance a runner, and a general knack for moving base-runners in order to put up runs. It's also called "manufacturing" runs.

Players and teams that excel in this area can carry great value. A home run hitter might hit one or two dingers a week. The ace of a staff might shine every week or ten days. A team that is adept at "small ball" brings that to the table almost every game. Even on a good team that relies on power and lights-out pitching, it's good to see they have the "small ball" element in their corner in the event that the other stuff isn't working.

Middle Relief: The closer is the guy who gets all the attention. Every highlight you see on TV shows the closer notching that last out to win the game. There is an award for the best closer every season. The best end up in the Hall of Fame. All this contributes to an overall neglect of the rest of the pitchers in the bullpen--namely the middle relief.


In a lot of ways, the middle relievers are more important by virtue of pitching more innings. In addition, starting pitchers are on a shorter leash than years and eras past. It puts more importance on the uncelebrated middle-relievers. You never hear about these guys. Middle relievers don't make all-star teams.

It should still be a big part of your handicapping. In the event of a starting pitcher struggling or reaching the max in his pitch-count, it's good to know the ball isn't being put in the hands of an inferior talent. There can be quite a wide variance in the quality of a team's bullpen. Do your homework on the pitching and don't limit it to just the starters and the closers. The quality of a team's middle-relief affects a lot of results over the course of a season.

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