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How to Handicap Baseball

How to Handicap Baseball Games, Part I of III

By Loot, MLB Handicapper,

When handicapping baseball games, there are literally hundreds of possible considerations. Just from a statistical standpoint, the numbers can be mind-boggling. Baseball is a sport steeped in stats. Anything that happens on the field of play has a statistic to represent it. It can be a challenge for the unseasoned bettor to sift through the morass of stats. A more pointed statistical approach is what’s called for in baseball wagering.

Of pinnacle concern is the starting pitcher. When looking at the list of games to bet on, that’s the only detail you will see included. You will see the team and who the starting pitcher is. While different factors contribute to the odds, none affect it as much as the identity of the starting pitchers. It’s the only sport where a guy comes in once every 5 games. The ball is in his hands.

Look at the starting pitcher’s stats. Naturally, it’s comforting to see a nice won-loss record or a low walk total. Take a hard look at a pitcher’s WHIP--walks and hits per inning. A guy with a lot of run support can have a good won-loss record. Not walking a lot of guys is good, but not a surefire way to gauge a pitcher’s effectiveness. Look at the WHIP!

When betting on baseball, you’ll develop a new appreciation for the power of getting men on base. Simply put, a pitcher with a low WHIP allows very few base-runners, while a guy with a high WHIP is always trying to put out fires. While you might see some rare cases when a pitcher has a WHIP under 1.00, we are basically looking at a spread between 1 and 2. The closer to 1.00 the better. In conjunction with a pitcher’s ERA, these stats can give you a pretty reliable view of a pitcher’s overall effectiveness. With ERA, around 2 is great. 3 is good. 4 is OK, then beyond that it gets a little sketchy.

But that could be too general. We want to know about how a pitcher generally does in a certain situation. A lot of ordinary pitchers thrive at certain times, like at home in day games, for example. When betting on a team with a left-handed starter, you’d like for there to be more batters in the opposing lineup who are left-handed.

Beyond that, you can quite easily research how certain pitchers fare against specific hitters he will face in an upcoming game. Don’t just assume a pitcher with good stats will do as well against a specific lineup. A lot of hitters who you never heard of do very well against certain pitchers.

Rely on a healthy sampling of match-ups, however. If a pitcher has allowed zero hits in 4 at-bats against a hitter, that isn’t really telling us anything. But if one guy in the opposing lineup is 16-35 against the starting pitcher and another guy is 12-19 lifetime, it could be that this is a bad spot for that pitcher.

Don’t forget to look a bit more closely at a pitcher’s more recent performances. In a mid-September game, what he did in April and May may no longer hold much significance. Some pitchers start rising to the occasion in late-summer baseball, while other arms grow weary over the course of the long season.

Then again, don’t become too hypnotized by a pitcher’s recent performances. A pitcher on a bad run might have just ran into a rough patch and is due to get his form back. And just because a pitcher has been stinking it up in his last several starts doesn’t mean he will do it again when you have money riding against him. Recent form matters, but also balance it out with a situational analysis.

A streaking pitcher may be coming off a run of appearances against teams he typically dominates or even just bad teams. He may have been pitching in desirable weather conditions or during a time of the day at home where he is at his best. Conversely, a struggling pitcher might have had the misfortune of running into hot teams in away games. Behind every good or bad performance, there is a story. Understanding that story will give you better insight to gauge the possibilities of the game you are betting.

Be sure to check out How to Handicap Baseball: Part II of this III part article.

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