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The Extra Challenges of the Modern MLB Bettor

MLB Betting: The Extra Challenges of the Modern MLB Bettor

By Loot, MLB Handicapper,

Major League Baseball was never an easy thing to bet. But over time, it's become even more difficult. The way the game is structured now--there are more things to consider. In addition, changes to the game have made it so we are forced to deal more with the element of the unknown when betting on baseball games.

When betting on sports like football or basketball, there is a certain expectation about who you will be depending on to win you the game. Late in a basketball or football game, you have a reasonable expectation that the top players will be in there gunning for a win. In baseball, that used to be the case, but not anymore.

This is especially true in the area of pitching. The identity of the starting pitchers in baseball is a key driving force in setting the odds. Sure, the overall quality, form, and won-loss record of a team plays a role in establishing the line, but who the starting pitcher is going to be is still the number-one consideration when setting odds. But unlike other sports, that guy you bet on will probably not be in the game late.

You'll bet on a baseball game and the starter you bet on will hopefully do his thing and keep damage to a minimum. If he does, you did pretty good. You put your money behind a solid pitcher and he delivered. In the old days, that would really mean something because that pitcher would likely be going the full route. Nowadays, you can almost bank on the fact that he won't complete the game. And that means the ball will be turned over to another guy--someone who might be good, but might also be mediocre or straight up from the minors.

Over time, this dynamic has changed. Thirty years ago, a quality starter on a good day would either finish the game or at least go deep enough to where he can just hand the ball off to the closer--the best relief pitcher on the team. In today's day and age, where starting pitchers have actually managed lead the league with a scant 4 complete games, there is a lot more to take under consideration. And the level of uncertainty has gone through the roof.

It would be one thing if you only had the closer to worry about. Knowing that in the case of a winning performance that only the top guy out of the bullpen will be used removes a lot of uncertainty. What's the percentage of that happening, though? In more cases than not, the ball will be handed off to a guy--a set-up man or a middle-reliever whose identity will remain shrouded in mystery until it happens.

Compare that to bygone eras. In the old days, you bet on a guy like Fernando Valenzuela and you can figure he's either going to finish the game or at the very least, hand it over to Steve Howe or whoever the closer was at the time--hopefully not Tom Niedenfuer, who broke more hearts than a young Sophia Loren. At any rate, there was more of prescribed course of action you could depend on when betting on a certain guy.

Now, regardless of who the starter is, there is likely to be a point in the game where a pitching change ensues that was impossible for you to either forecast or handicap. You can try to handicap a team's entire bullpen, but it's going to be an inexact calculation, being that you don't really know who they are going to bring onto the mound.

How good would you feel about that in other sports? Imagine a football game where they yank the starting QB midway through the 3rd quarter and there are 5 back-ups who could take over the role of field general. Or a basketball game where a key starter is pulled in the second half and replaced with a mystery bench player.


In baseball, the less-defined role of the starting pitcher lends a ton of uncertainty to our handicapping. When focused on who the starters are, we're in effect only really handicapping about two-thirds of the game--and that's on a good day. Not that having a top starter doesn't mean anything anymore. It does. It's just that we can't hang our hats on the identity of the starter, knowing it's highly unlikely that he will be the only guy who determines if our bet is going to be a winner or not.

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