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The Problem in Identifying Patterns in MLB

MLB Betting: The Problem in Identifying Patterns in Baseball

By Loot, MLB Handicapper,

When watching Major League Baseball over the course of a super-long season, we will see almost all players and teams have different peaks and valleys. When we try to get an edge on our betting, we will try to hone on in some of these patterns. Makes sense, right? Our ears generally perk up when we see a pitcher that is either shutting down the other team or getting shelled in recent outings. The same applies to hitters. Heck, it even applies to teams, as clubs that are spiraling are just easier to bet against, while we like to know the team we bet is in winning form.

The only problem is that baseball is often at the mercy of the smile today/cry tomorrow principle. If we operate off the premise that everyone at the big league level is a good player, which certainly makes sense, it stands to reason that a slump can be reversed. You don't get to the Bigs without making adjustments. In other words, there are reasons why just as you notice a pattern, it's due to end. Pitchers figure things out or are just "due" to perform better. Hitters work out the kinks. Even bad teams get on a little roll. And if you were late in identifying a pattern, there's a good chance that you're going to end up on the wrong side of the equation.

Smile Today, Cry Tomorrow: We said this already but it bears repeating. No player's effectiveness reads like a flatline. A pitcher goes through ups and downs. Same with hitters. There are reasons these players in the Majors and it's not because they're not good. So when you see a pitcher who was good enough to crack a team's starting rotation, chances are he has some game and is going to show it at some point. A group of hitters in a slump is likely to reverse at some point. It's a fickle game and things can turn on a dime.

Acting on Patterns: Again, if something is happening enough for it to be called a pattern, it might be due to end by the time you act on it. You see a hitter, pitcher, or team doing either really well or poorly and it is human to expect that to continue. It very well might. But the script might be flipped, as well. Maybe when you were younger, you brought a girl home and expected the coast to be clear since your dad was at work and your mom was always gone from 1-4 on weekdays. And what happens? Sure enough, your mom comes back unexpectedly at the most inopportune time. Baseball can be a lot worse than that.

Not that Easy: Just operating from a common sense perspective, we have to reason that winning at Major League Baseball betting is very difficult. There are a lot of smart baseball minds who couldn't win at it. Some successful sports bettors in other sports hit a wall betting on baseball. Once we internalize how difficult it truly is, we would be inclined to reject the notion that something as simple as acknowledging obvious patterns would be a successful wagering tactic.

That's not to impugn some of the patterns that lie under the surface—little nuggets of info that required you to delve pretty seep. We're talking about the obvious patters—a team that is in a losing streak, a lineup that hasn't been hitting, or a starting pitcher who has been getting cracked for the past month-plus. In other words, if winning at baseball betting was as simple as comparing opposing pitchers' ERAs over their past 5 starts, everyone would quit their jobs and hop aboard the bandwagon. We know it can't be that easy.

Pitchers: Sure, there are going to be guys who come up from the minors, get shelled, and head back to the minors. Rinse and repeat. We're talking about Major Leaguers who are a bit more cemented in the game. Rough patches that make your ears perk up, like a hurler who has an ERA of 8 in his last five starts, are worth noting. They certainly pain a dire picture of a pitcher who is struggling to make much good happen. Let's look at it another way.


A pitcher who is nose-diving will likely reverse that form. It's unlikely you're watching the end of that pitcher's career, something that would surely come about if he continued throwing in that form. Also, how sure can you be that there weren't extenuating circumstances. Maybe everyone around him was messing up, he was throwing in the few ballparks where he struggles, or facing lineups that are just not up his alley for whatever reason. Whatever the case, it's odd how often a pitcher will reverse form when you bet against him.

Hitters: Some teams have lineups that struggle more than others. That much is obvious enough. But that holds up over the course of a 162-game season. In a one-game window, it's highly common for an offensively-lacking team to throw up a bunch of runs. In addition, the same thing that applies to pitchers also applies to hitters. You might see a team struggling to put up runs. Maybe they just have a few runs over the course of several games. They just might be due to reverse that. After all, they wouldn't be in a starting lineup if they did that for too long. There is a reason they are in there and at some point it will manifest.

Teams: It can be tricky betting against losing teams. First of all, the value is likely not going to be there, as bookies need to go out of their way to induce bettors to take the struggling team. And in baseball, we can't help but notice how even the worse teams win 60 or more games a season. Those wins have to come from somewhere and when we bet against them, it's as good a time as any. Let's say you see a team really struggling. They are either in the midst of a losing streak or have just put up very few wins recently. You recognize the pattern. But the pattern is due to end because, after all, no team is going to lose 130 games. The bottom line is that any pattern of especially good or bad play is not indicative of a long-range reality and treating it as such could be costly.

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