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Using the Right Stats to Handicap Baseball Games

Betting Baseball: Betting on Totals (Part 2)

Using the Right Stats to Handicap Baseball Games

by Badger of

Since weíve covered the weather and its affects in part one, now letís take a look at the never-ending and highly debatable discussion about which stats you should use to handicap baseball games when youíre betting totals.

Whether you are a sabermatrician or just some guy watching baseball and drinking beer, everyone uses some form of statistical data to enhance their handicapping of baseball. Thatís what baseball is all about Ö stats.

From the archaic (ERA) to the most hard-core advanced stuff (O-swing %-percentage of pitches outside the strike zone a player swings at), there are over 100 different statistical categories to use to handicap a baseball player/pitcher if you would so choose. And thatís just the quantifiable stuff, never mind the contract year, nagging wife at home because of the drinking issue after games side distractions that are impossible to turn into a math equation.

How you decide to tap dance through that statistical mine field is up to you and your personal preference, but here are a few of the ones I like to use when Iím looking specifically at betting a total for the game. For ease Iíll break them into four broad categories: pitching, hitting, ballpark and umpire statistics. Ranking them from what I consider most important to least.


Baseball is about history, and itís because of the history that a majority of the mainstream media still use the earned run average (ERA) as a relevant stat anymore. If you still use a pitcherís ERA when deciding whether or not to bet on a total, donít. There are so many better stats at your disposal.

If you still want to keep it somewhat simple (using an ERA is insane as well as simple), look at a pitcherís WHIP and HR/9 instead.

Their WHIP, or walks plus hits divided by innings pitched, will let you know if they are throwing strikes (as close to 1.0 as possible) or if he is putting runners on base and flirting with disaster (1.5 is about as bad as it gets). While their HR/9 is exactly what it looks like, the number of homeruns per 9 innings pitched they give up. Obviously, the lower the number (last year Chris Carpenter led MLB at 0.3) the less likely that pitcher gives up gopher balls (like Braden Looper at 1.8 in 2009).

If you invest more time looking at the pitcherís splits, looking in specific areas for glaring differences in things like: home vs. away, day/night, run support and groundball/flyball ratios (GB/FB) relative to the park theyíre pitching in that night. You can find guys that have huge run support, or that are absolutely terrible during the day, or that just seem to dominate certain teams (i.e. Astros Roy Oswalt vs. the Reds) if you look in the right places to find those kinds of nuggets. If you can find a fly ball pitcher in a small ballpark, or a groundball guy in a spacious one, itís another way to gain perspective on a wager.


Beyond the obvious runs per game and team batting average, the amount of hitting statistics you could use to handicap a game in regards to runs and totals borders on minutia. You could easily go insane and get paralysis by analysis.

Itís also hardly a secret these days which teams in baseball have the high-scoring lineups. You see all of the homeruns and highlights on SportsCenter each night, so just having a solid knowledge base of each teamís lineup and itís realistic potential is often enough to go by for me.

I used to dig for more, looking at things like batting average with runners in scoring position, on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) and other more advanced stats, but I stopped putting forth as much effort for one reason.

Major league ball players are some of the streakiest athletes around.

Think about it, how often has your favorite teamís entire lineup gone cold for more than a game or two? Or how many times has that same team won a series on getaway day midweek, only to catch a huge break by not having to face the next opponentís ace in the next series because heís already pitched?

Those types of scenarios are more important in many cases, and knowing which teams are hot and cold is part of following the sport and your daily perusing through the box scores.


The third category of statistics Iíll look at when handicapping a baseball game for a total is the ballpark itself. With another new ballpark opening up again this season (2010) (Minnesota Twins Target Field), this is one of the few areas where oddsmakers in Las Vegas are still learning as they go along with you, offering you a great chance to find an overlooked angle every now and then.

Last year everyone who paid attention noticed quickly that new Yankee Stadium was a bandbox, yielding the most homeruns (237) of any park in the league. Bet the over every time, right?

But if youíre a fan of some Park Factors stats, you would also know that new Yankee Stadium gave up nearly the same rate of homeruns as Angel Stadium of Anaheim (1.26 to 1.22) and actually finished 20th in run/rate (.965) ranking it in the lower half of the league and almost making it a pitcherís park. (Park Factors tries to compare the rate of stats at home vs. the rate of stats on the road.)

Knowing that some parks consistently have higher runs per game (Baltimore, Colorado, Texas, Boston) is not so much a secret anymore. But finding the right combination of flyball pitcher, in a small ballpark like Fenway, with a predominantly left-field pull lineup of right-handed hitters on a windless night in the high 70s is where you should be trying to take advantage of the oddsmakerís error.


If some handicappers didnít base a large portion of their advanced analysis on who is calling the balls and strikes, then they wouldnít keep umpire stats now would they? I personally put about as much weight on the umpire as I do they weather Ö I like to know who is behind the plate but itís not necessarily going to make or break my wager on a total.

Guys like Jeff Nelson, Jim Reynolds, Tim Tschida and Tim McClelland are known for having tight strike zones, and are therefore likely to go over (Reynolds 18-11 O/U in í09; Reynolds 18-11; Tschida 18-11; McClelland 20-13) and have higher runs per game averages (all four guys 10 runs or higher) than guys with wider pitcher-friendly zones (like John Hirschbeck, Jeff Kellogg, Phil Cuzzi and Brian Runge).

You can find an advantage every now and then, but youíll go hungry waiting around to find a pitcherís ump with two aces on the bump that the boys in Vegas havenít already found before they set the line.

The bottom line is that there is so much data for you to use, how you choose to use it is up to you. Just keep in mind that if stats told the whole truth, every statistician would be rich from breaking the bank at Vegas. The game is still played by humans, which means that you still have to bet like a human and go with your gut more often than not.

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How to Bet Baseball

Moneylines - The most common of baseball bets. Beautiful too, as they create a situation where you can win less than 50% of your bets and profit by betting underdogs!

Totals - The easiest wager to beat in all of sports betting. There's a reason why sportsbooks have lower limits on over/under bets!

Runlines - A wager that creates a point spread where a team is either -1.5 runs or +1.5 runs. Underdog run lines are a great bet for game in which you predict a slim margin. Favorite moneylines pay well and are great bets for potential blowouts.

Alternative Runlines - Turn a favorite into a +2.5 underdog! Turn an underdog into a -2.5 run favorite. You better know what you're doing before betting these lines or your bankroll will resemble the action of a craps table.

Parlays - This type of bet is the reason many bookies drive cadillacs. Big risk; big payouts!

Prop Bets - Similar to totals, these are easy to beat if you do your homework. Avoid the ones that look easy though as they're surely sucker bets.

Futures - A great bet for recreational bettors who only want to spend a few bucks and have something to root for all season. There's a big payout if you're right!

Season Wins - Bet on teams to go over or under the posted total. Fading public opinion can make you money with this type of wager. Especially with public teams.


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