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Evaluating Matchups

Handicapping Major League Baseball: Evaluating Matchups

By Loot, MLB Handicapper,

When betting Major League Baseball, the games can tend to string along without much to distinguish one from the next. As bettors, we need to be aware of this dynamic and create better handicapping approaches. Sometimes, we get too hung up on the mere identity of the starting pitchers. We look at the teams, the pitchers, and then the odds. From there, we sometimes form an opinion.

That could be a mistake. There are a ton of other factors to consider. Sure, we like to see a team is a winner or that a starting pitcher is getting it done. That’s pretty basic, though, and obsessing on that data is not likely to get us anywhere in the world of MLB wagering. We need to look between the lines and avoid getting hung up on the information that the bookie will actually give you to review. He wants you to be hung up on the won-loss record of teams or who the starting pitcher is. And naturally, we don’t want to do what the bookie hopes we’re doing.

We want to know we’re betting on something reliable. A pitcher with awesome stats could have achieved that in any number of ways. You see a winning pitcher with a 2.50 ERA and just expect him to not give up many runs. But look at how he got to that number. Just because he has a 2.50 ERA doesn’t mean you can reasonably expect him to give up 2-3 runs for every 9 innings he throws on your particular wagers.


A lot of top pitchers are consistent, but not all of them are the same. When betting on a top hurler, you would like him to not have so many spikes in his flatline. In other words, are there games where he gives up nothing mixed in with ones where hitters are getting to him? Are most of his performances very solid? Or does he move between being awesome with being mediocre? And the times when he’s mediocre, against which types of teams does he generally encounter trouble?

Look for a hot lineup, but counterbalance it with looking for a consistent one. Looking at a team’s cumulative hitting stats over the course of the whole season doesn’t really paint a clear picture. Some teams are more streaky--with long dry spells mixed in with explosive offensive output. The same applies to individual hitters. You see a 40-home run hitter and you can’t automatically think he’s good for a homer every four games. He could be a guy who puts homers together in bunches--in between long droughts.

Of utmost importance is to see how hitters do against the starter who is on the mound. There are mid-level pitchers that just might happen to have a dominant track record against the best hitters on the other side. Conversely, an all-star pitcher might inordinately struggle against a few average hitters on the opposing team. Just ask Tom Glavine, who was absolutely OWNED by backup C Mike Redmond over his career. Maybe a player is 7 for 10 lifetime with 3 homers against the opposing team’s closer. Steer away from cumulative stats and try to apply the numbers to the specific scenarios that are on the table.

There are a lot of pitchers who are either consistently good or bad in certain stadiums and at different times of day. With some pitchers, there might not be much variance when they throw at day or night, or if they’re at home or on the road. But there often is. Think about when you played ball. You owned certain teams and other teams owned you. You had a favorite field and others where you couldn't buy a hit. Maybe you did real well in day games but couldn't hit a lick under the lights. MLB players are no different. They're human and have performance biases. It can really sting to bet on a day game with a pitcher with a 3.49 ERA, only to tune in and hear the announcer say his daytime ERA is 6.78. With the plethora of statistics accessible with a few mouse-clicks, there is no longer an excuse for us to not be on top of the numbers we need to better form wagers.

No one who really knows how to win at baseball wagering will ever tell you it is easy. We get nowhere sitting there with a betting sheet, armed with only the team’s record, the identity of the starters, and the odds. Those items are important--make no mistake. But to really break through towards the upper echelon of bettors, we need to dig a lot deeper than that.

We need to apply statistics more specifically. We need to be able to sense the vibe of a team and develop a feel for when a team will play better or when they might not be at their full powers. Refining our approach to numbers and the information that lies between the lines will give us a fighting chance.

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