How to Handicap a Baseball Game
Handicapping baseball is a bit different than handicapping other sports. The reason for this is that stats are more are involved in helping decide if a play has value or not (compared to other sports where you may handicap more on emotion/motivation etc.)
While one could make a case for any one of a zillion stats to be factored into capping MLB games, there are some more important than others. These include but are not limited to:
- Hitter vs. Pitcher Stats
- Pitcher vs. Team
- Grass vs. Turf
- Night vs. Day
- Outdoors vs. Indoors
- Team Batting Average over last 5 games
- Hot or Cold Team
- Home vs. Road
We also like the fact that baseball offers a unique opportunity; The ability to hit less than 50% of your games and still turn a profit. We’ll get into that later in this article.
We’ll kick off our baseball capping tutorial with W.H.I.P. (For more info see: WHIP) Fantasy baseball players rejoice! All those years of being a stat rat will pay off handsomely as WHIP is a huge handicapping tool. For those of you not familiar with the term, it stands for walks + hits divided by innings pitched. By doing this, you will come out with a number that usually ranges in between 1.00 and 2.00.
With that being said, what is a good whip and what is a bad whip? The lower the better. Every blue moon or so you may see a pitcher (usually a closer) with a whip of less than 1.00. On the flip side, you won’t see too many whip’s close to 2.00 or above because these players don’t last long in the big leagues.
A whip of 1.00 to 1.20 is very good. This would indicate the pitcher gives up around 1 hit/walk combined per inning pitched. These pitchers are likely to have a fair amount of wins, holds or saves as putting a lesser amount of men on base usually means lower ERA as well.
A whip of 1.25 to 1.35 is a bit more common and would denote a decent to middle of the road pitcher. These guys aren’t bad, but their not the top of the line either.
A whip of 1.40 and above tells us we’re looking at a pitcher that is either a gas can in that he lacks movement on his ball and is getting hit hard or lacks control and puts a bunch of guys on base via the walk. They can be great “go againsts” assuming the opposing pitcher is decent and your not paying too high of a price to bet against the high whip pitcher. It should also be noted that a game offering a match-up between 2 high whip pitchers can be a great shot at hitting an easy OVER bet.
Next we move on to discuss ERA which stands for Earned Run Average. An ERA is nothing more than an average of how how many earned runs (runs scored against the pitcher not including runs scored involving errors) a pitcher gives up based on every 9 innings he pitches.
A good era is 3.00 or below. An average ERA may range from the mid 3’s to low 4’s. An E.R.A. of 5 or above usually means a guy gets hit hard and/or has control issues. Your almost sure to find a high WHIP with a pitcher with a high ERA as well UNLESS the pitcher is giving up a ton of gopher balls.
Before we end our banter about ERA, we’d like to note that it is often portrayed as an overrated stat. Some pitchers with high ERA’s still have a good amount of wins because their teams give them good run support or they pitch in a park where there tends to be more runs scored such as Coors Field where the ball carries better than say the Padres home field where the fences are pushed way back.
Hitter vs. Pitcher
Next and one of our favorites is hitter vs. pitcher. This is a rock solid stat that to our disbelief, very few handicappers use..In order to utilize this stat, you will need to find a website that offers this information. Yahoo.com offers these stats and their FREE! Once you’ve found this info, look at how the whole team’s individual players have faired vs. the pitcher over the course of their respective careers. You will be very surprised to see that some hitters absolutely wear a pitcher out. Finding that type of info is GREAT supporting info. to help you make or decide not to make a play. Furthermore, it’s even better when you can find a whole lineup of players that hit a pitcher well with both high average and power. When you find this it’s hard not to think that you have panned for gold and found a very nice nugget.
Conversely, you will need to see how a pitcher does vs. the whole team. Some pitchers absolutely dominate certain opposing teams for whatever reason. Who knows what the root of their success is, just go with it. Some players do well vs. their favorite teams they had as a kid, some like the mound, some have confidence for whatever reason and so on. At time of print, one of our favorite pitcher vs. hitter scenarios is Roy Oswalt vs. the Reds. Dude absolutely kills them with a 16-0 record and very respectable ERA. Why? Who knows! Who cares! Just hit it! (assuming he’s not in a funk at the current time, then it’d become a questionable move)
Grass vs. Turf
Next, we move on to talk about grass vs. turf. There is indeed a difference and with some pitchers this makes a difference in their performance. Almost all pitchers will have a difference in stats when pitching on both surfaces with the turf of course yielding a bit more as the ball skips a little faster and bounces a little higher with regards to base hits. It also creates base hits that wouldn’t be otherwise had it not happened on turf. One may think that a grass field may balance this out as laying down bunts is dandy when it comes to grass, but unfortunately the bunt has become such a small part of today’s MLB game that it’s not worth factoring in unless your talking about the early 80’s cardinals teams who could run like the wind. This isn’t a huge stat but is surely worth being familiar with to help support your play.
Another thing similar to grass vs. turf is night games vs. day games. Some pitchers balls are harder to pick up at night under the lights so this can make a difference. Highly recommended that you view night/day pitching stats and make notes of any differences a pitcher may be consistently showing year after year. This is another stat that Yahoo.com offers for free. It could also be said that some hitters may do better/worse during one or the other as well. I know back when I played I was a much better hitter in the day time as the ball was much easier to pick up out of the pitchers hand.
For the serious stat rat, you can also dig up stats such as playing in outdoor stadiums vs. playing in domes. There’s aren’t many domes left in MLB, but it’s worth checking into. As with all the other comparisons above, disparities can be found and turned into big loot if your willing to take the time to check them out.
As we go down our own personal list of what to look for when handicapping baseball games, we’d like to note that these aren’t necessarily listed in order of importance. We note that because our next topic is VERY important.
Don’t Jump in Front of a Streak
One of the most important factors in handicapping any sport but especially baseball is checking out how hot/cold a team is over the last 5 games or so. Be sure to check team batting average, bullpen ERA and the starting pitchers last few starts. These are all equally important. Does a low team batting average mean that the team in question is going to crap out today and throw up another dud of a game? NO, but it is surely a good indicator of something to stay away from as you should never bet on a game unless there is an offering of clear cut value on YOUR side and not the bookies. Teams go on streaks, both good and bad. Utilize this info to the best of your ability but always keep in mind that old streaks end and new streaks start. Trying to time them can surely be a bit tough, but there are indicators that a team is or isn’t ready to pull out of a funk. A few notable’s being when a team is on the tail end of a road trip, being in turmoil with the media and/or experiencing a high level of injuries to key players.
Another underrated baseball handicapping tool is checking out the recent performance of a teams bullpen. How well has middle relief and the closer been lately? If a good middle reliever went 4 innings last night, there’s a good chance he’s not going to be available for action tonight. If tonight’s starting pitcher is a questionable player and it’s likely your team is going to go to the pen, you may want to pass. Has the closer finished out 2 or 3 straight? If your game comes to a situation where a closer is needed will he be available to pitch? Hopefully you get our gist!
Home vs. Away
Another biggie is home vs. road. There’s a ton of things that can cause a home record to be better than a road record. We’ve seen it happen but its not as likely that a teams road record will be as good as their home record. The idea here is that a player likely has an apartment or house in the city in which he plays. This means he most likely gets to be with his family, eat home cooed meals and live within the norm of his every day life. The traveling player is eating out at restaurants, sleeping in unfamiliar beds, checking in, checking out, traveling on buses, planes or trains. This type of activity especially towards the tail end of a road trip can take a real toll on a players psyche and wear them down. Make note that these are GREAT spots to check out playing vs. the road team. The last thing we’ll say about this although its a bit overrated is that players get fired up to play well for the 10th man, their fans.
Errors & Weather
As we wind down this article we’ll finish her out with errors and weather. Errors are tough to handicap because it’s virtually impossible to predict them. Your only weapon here is that certain teams have certain players who aren’t real stable with the glove. These stats can be found in any team stat website. Try to look for”middlemen” (2nd basemen/shortstops) that boot a lot of balls. If you can pinpoint a team that makes a lot of errors you’re really on to something because not only does it allow a runner that shouldn’t be on base to get on base, but it riles the pitcher up and anger can lead to control problems or lack of concentration that may lead to a meat ball right over the plate. How many times have you seen a team just about ready to get out of an inning and then the shortstop boots a ball letting the guy get on base and prolonging the inning only to have the next batter come up and go yard over the left field fence? It happens A LOT!
Ok, we lied, we’re not done yet. Lastly, we finish off lengthy article with a tidbit about weather. Weather obviously doesn’t relate to teams playing games in domes but can be a very solid tool for outdoor games, especially in certain parks such as Wrigley Field where the wind blows like crazy. If the wind is blowing out, there are going to be a TON of dingers that day. At times, the wind howls in as well, which means a lot of balls that may have been hit hard that SHOULD have gone long or for extra base hits aren’t going to as that wind is so nasty it bats everything down. We’ve also seen it swirl which plays havoc on fielders who appear set and ready to make a catch only to have the ball land 5 feet behind them due to a fat wind gust.
Cold weather is another thing to make note of. Nobody likes cold weather. Many players bodies aren’t adjusted to it and this can cause for a lack of effort/performance. This includes rain as well despite most play being halted when it gets too ugly to play.
Well, we hope that you have enjoyed our mini version of our guide to handicapping and betting on baseball games. There’s a ton of loot to be made, you just have to take the time to look for the needles in the haystack.
The Predictem.com Staff
Related: How to Bet on Baseball
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