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Baseball Handicapping: When Stats Lead Us Astray

By Loot, MLB Handicapper,

When we bet on baseball, we will be faced with literally mountains of statistical information. Sifting through that to find the few nuggets of worthwhile data can be a challenge for even seasoned bettors. It’s just a sport that fits very well into the world of stats and figures. There are some we should pay more attention to more than others.

The stats that really matter are usually things you have to dig a bit deeper in order to find. We’re not really going to get anywhere by just looking at the back of a player’s baseball card. Another good rule of thumb is if the bookie is giving you stats to look at, they’re not worth much. Why would the house give you the tools that could potentially help you beat them?

So when you look at the sports page or the back of a betting sheet at the book--don’t expect there to be any data there that will make put you in a better position to win a bet. Even if we don’t know exactly how the best in this business go about it, we know they don’t rely on basic stats to guide their wagers. They’re not obsessing about meaningless information, like won-loss records or how many saves the closer may have.

Most of that type of information is too general. It’s nice to know there are guys on the team you bet who have high batting averages. Or that the team is 7-3 in its last 10 games. Or that the starting pitcher is listed among the league leaders in ERA. It’s just that the playing field changes so often in baseball, that a more specific approach is required. We can’t rely on how a team or player is doing in an overall sense. We need to account for the different situations that change daily in this sport.


So rather than judging a team or player statistically in an overall sense, look more at the actual situation you are betting. A pitcher might be 17-9 with a 3.14 ERA. You think “oh, that’s good.” Then you look deeper and the picture may become less rosy. It’s a day game and you see he’s 2-5 at that time of day. You may see that the opposing team has been getting the better of him, despite his excellence in an overall sense.

You look at a hitter and get blinded by his .335 average. Then you tune in to watch the game and the announcer drops the bomb. He’s only 4 for 27 lifetime against the opposing starter. As bettors, we need to refine our statistical approach and suit it to fit our precise purposes. We want to use stats, but we need to be careful to use them the right way.

There are some stats that have almost no bearing on the results of games, yet receive a lot of attention. With pitchers, these stats can include their won-loss record or for the bullpen guys--their save totals. One could perhaps argue that a pitcher’s won-loss record is a pertinent stat. This is a bottom-line business. A guy either wins or he doesn’t. As we know, there are many layers to consider. A guy can be better or worse than his record indicates. If getting no run support, even a good pitcher will struggle to compile a good record. Other pitchers might get robust run support, which could contribute to a record that makes him look better than he really is.

It’s hard to not be sucked in by big save numbers. You see a guy with 44 saves and the tendency is to immediately sign off on the notion that he is great. He might be. Then again, you see a lot of closers with huge numbers nowadays. Not all of them are shutdown closers. If a guy saves 42 games in 55 chances, we shouldn’t be getting too impressed with that. You’d rather bet on a team with a closer who is 22 for 23 in save chances.

Some stats are more rich in pertinent information than others. Our job as sports handicappers is to refine our approach and use only the most vital stats that actually stand a chance of having an influence on games and therefore--our wagers. In baseball, more than any other sport, we are forced to pan for gold. There is a lot to sift through before we can hone in on what we can really use to enhance our bottom line.

Note: Properly handicapping MLB games is a very time consuming proposition. Check out the MLB section at where they tell you which pitchers/hitters are in advantageous matchups for the day. Like our site, they're 100% free!

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