One challenge when it comes to handicapping baseball is dealing with the unique situations that only rarely arise. One such situation is the doubleheader. They don't happen very often, but if you treat them just like normal games you are probably sacrificing any edge you may have on those games.
There are two different types of doubleheaders. The twi-night or classic doubleheader is when the two games are played back-to-back with just a 20-or 30-minute break in between. A day-night doubleheader features, as the name suggests, one game played in the afternoon and the second at night. Since major league owners are moneygrubbers, the day-night is preferred because it means that they can sell two sets of tickets for the same day. Doubleheaders used to be regularly scheduled in the major leagues, in part because of the challenges of travel, but they are now only played in circumstances where a cancelled game needs to be made up.
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Handicapping doubleheaders is different in a few key ways than a regular game. Here are five important steps in effectively handicapping a doubleheader:
1. Hold off on playing the second game. Unless you have a very good reason to play the second game in a doubleheader early, like you are sure a price is going to get significantly worse, you should always wait until the end of the first game to bet the second game. You would almost never want to play a game two days before it is played because you would be risking an injury or other change that ruined the value in your play. The risks are the same in a doubleheader. If a player has an off day or tweaks a muscle in the first game, or if he is an older player, he may be sat in game two. The closer to the start of the second game you wait to make your play, the better chance you have of avoiding a bet that would end up being unfavorable.
2. Watch the lineup closely. This is an extension of the first point, but it's important enough to reinforce. Some managers have a tendency to play their 'A' lineup in one game, and then give their veterans a rest in the second game. Other teams will split their roster between the two games, while still others will play basically the same lineup in both games. Significant changes in the lineup are more likely if the opponents start a right-hander in one game, and a lefty in the other. In most cases, the starting lineup strongly affects the handicapping of a game, so it is important to be sure of exactly what lineup you are betting on.
3. Study the pitchers. Managers probably don't like doubleheaders that much, but pitching coaches must truly hate them. If a bullpen is struggling regularly it can be in huge trouble on a doubleheader day. If the starters struggle in both games then the bullpen can be exhausted and you will either see relievers throwing that are not at their best or who have stayed in too long, or you will see starters being called on to make unfamiliar relief appearances. Knowing which bullpens are in poor form, and which starters haven't been going deep, can give you a huge edge in doubleheaders, especially in the second game. You will also often find a starter in one of the games going on an abnormal amount of rest. Some pitchers handle changes to their schedules better than others.
4. Look at the schedule. Sometimes a doubleheader is played in the same series as the canceled game, while other times it is rescheduled later in the season. Teams react differently to the different kinds. If they know that they will be playing a doubleheader a week or two down the road then they can do their best to have their starters and bullpens, and the rest of their lineup, set up to handle the challenge. If a team has to play the two games on short notice, though, then a pitcher will be starting off an extra day of rest, and players will be facing a situation they are unfamiliar with without much preparation. That can affect some teams more than others.
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5. Just handicap the games. There are all sorts of theories about doubleheaders out there. Some people will tell you that doubleheaders always end up as splits, while others say that you should always bet on the split. As is usually the case with conventional wisdom, neither side is right. Over the last three seasons there have been 80 doubleheaders - 40 percent of which were split, 36 percent of which were swept by the home team, and the rest were won by the visitors. With a longer historical view, Elias Sports Bureau found that doubleheaders have been swept 48.9 percent of the time. In other words, there is no clear trend one way or the other. Over the long term, the better team will win more games whether they are doubleheaders or not. Believing anything else is just throwing money away.