Baseball Betting Tips
by Robert Ferringo - 03/27/2007
(Note: This article appears in the current issue of High Roller Magazine)
Back in my formative days as a desperate and depraved amateur gambler the thought of grinding my way through another baseball season was as appealing as smothering myself in honey and throwing myself into a bear bit. Baseball season was a bleak wasteland on the betting calendar, a seven-month endurance trial akin to some wild Loma ritual in Guinea. It was a daily exercise in masochism of the soul.
Other than that I loved it.
However, I now view the coming of Spring as a hopeful and energetic time of the year. It's become a gainful opportunity and the repetition and ritualized experience of daily diamond action is both peaceful and profitable. The primary reason for my seismic perceptual shift had everything to do with the fact that I was finally able to establish a strong and successful blueprint. Before that I was a Little Leaguer who couldn't hit a curve ball. But after a few years of seasoning I turned into a poor man's Wade Boggs, spraying winners all over the field.
Now, I'm not going to sit here and gush over the "purity" and "beauty" of The Game. I'll leave that to smarmy, whiny beat writers who wear women's underwear and daydream in black and white. Instead, I'm going to share with you my not-so-secret insights into baseball betting. Like the game itself, it's all pretty basic. But knowing how to play and being able to execute the subtle nuances are two completely different ball games.
It is imperative, nay, critical to stick to the fundamentals when gambling on baseball. Just like hitting the cutoff man and advancing runners are integral parts of success on the diamond, betting basics like money management, line value, book shopping and wager integrity are crucial to beat the books.
Sound money management and wager integrity mean consistently betting the same amount and playing every day. The only two acceptable reasons for not making a play are "family vacation" or "rehab". Other than that you should be out there day-after-day, working the count like some modern-day Lou Gehrig.
The next fundamental involves spreading your bankroll out over three or four online books. Because there's not a spread to bet against (run line betting is a whole other topic) the line variation that you'll find is in the moneyline odds on a certain team. The idea is to give yourself enough outs so that you can consistently find the best return on your investment for each game. It may seem like a hassle at first, but in the long run the difference between getting +125 and +135 could account for hundreds or thousands of dollars.
We've just established that you need a glove to catch and bat to hit. But now we're going to delve into my lineup of tips, suggestions, and direct orders to help you turn a buck this summer. Stick to these nine guidelines and the odds are strong that you won't wander into October feeling like you've been worked over by the Molina Clan:
1. The Cubs aren't going to win the World Series this year.
I just wanted to get that out of the way.
2. Pound the puppies.
Though I'm generally not a fan of animal cruelty I do advocate it in this instance. And by that I mean play MLB underdogs as much as possible.
"Always play underdogs, as you only have to win fifty percent of the games to make a profit," said Max Gundlach of Doc's Sports. "Anything can happen on any given day and even the worst teams win around 70 games each season."
Betting underdogs is a successful scheme in any sport, but even more so in baseball where even good teams lose 70-plus games each year. You should rarely - and by rarely I mean never - play favorites at -160 or higher. There's just not enough value because at those odds you need to win around 70 percent to turn a negligible profit.
Additionally, either avoid or fade public teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets and Cubs. These organizations are often heavy favorites and you're more likely to find Isaiah Washington at a GLAD rally than you are to make money on these clubs. Over the past four seasons this quartet has produced just four of a possible 16 profitable seasons. If you had bet just $100 on each of their games over that span you would be down an eye-popping $10,159.
Conversely, by playing their opponents, the big dogs, you would have been up even more than that. Stick to the small chalk and the dogs and you should be fine.
3. Don't forget the rubber.
In football and basketball, defense wins championships. In baseball, pitching gets you the prize. And that doesn't simply mean starting pitching. While starters are important - particularly when considering their splits against certain teams or players - understanding a team's bullpen strength is even more crucial. Considering setup men, closers, righty-left match-ups, and which arms are being rested on which days is imperative.
Bullpens may not be sexy. But they pay. In 2006 the five teams with the top bullpen earned run averages were the Twins, Mets, Padres, Tigers and Athletics. In 2006 the five most profitable moneyline teams in the majors were - you guessed it - the Twins (+2415), Mets (+1728), Padres (+849), Tigers (+1418) and Athletics (+1984). That's not a coincidence.
4. Put in the time and give yourself the tools.
Baseball betting is a phenomenal investment of your time and money. And if you want to be good you need the proper tools. If you're a lonely, hopeless, single male I would suggest getting a satellite dish, purchasing MLB Extra Innings, and watching as many games as physically possible. A well-adjusted and less sociopathic person may opt the MLB Package on XM Radio. It's portable and you'll get insights from the local play-by-play guys that you won't find on TV.
Also, familiarize yourself with as many fantasy baseball sites as possible. It may sound absurd, but who has access to more statistical information than fantasy geeks? Yahoo Sports' baseball splits are a fantastic resource, as are the ones on MLB.com. By pouring over boxscores every morning, watching teams on television, listening to them on the radio, and reading as much online content as possible you're only helping improve your odds of success.
5. Ride the hot team. Fade the cold ones.
Crash Davis said that, "a player on a streak has to respect the streak." I couldn't agree more. And the Gambling Gods will deal with any bettor that doesn't respect the streak swiftly and harshly.
Baseball is a funny game. It's organic and dynamic and teams are more up-and-down than Danny Bonaduce on acid. But a key for any gambler is to be able to identify teams primed for a streak, either positive or negative, and play them appropriately. Don't question it. Don't over think it. And never bet against it.
Take Oakland, for example. Every year they can throw together a 10-game streak faster than you can say "Hammer Time". In each of the past eight seasons the A's have put together a monster run ranging from 9-1 in August 1999 to 29-4 to close 2001 to 23-4 in late summer 2005. Why and how does this happen? Who cares? It's like Viagra or geothermal energy: you don't need to know how it works you just need to know you can count on it.
On the flip side, be able to identify slow starters. The Yankees have failed to post a profit in five of the last six Aprils. Like horses, some teams just don't jump out of the gate. Find them and play against them.
6. Know your stadiums.
Don't forget to check your weather reports. This is especially important early in the season in northern cities that are usually slow to escape winter's grasp. You need to know when the wind is blowing out at Wrigley or Shea Stadium. You need to know that Coors Field is now an 'under' park. And you need to know how teams match-up to the short-porch in Yankee Stadium or in the deep alleys of Bank One.
7. Buy a team.
In Spring Training pick a small-market team, like Kansas City, Pittsburgh or Milwaukee. Become obsessed with them. Go to their fan sites. Read their hometown beat writers online. Watch and listen to as many games as you can. Pour over their boxscores and transactions every day. Just completely absorb every ounce of information that you can about this club and you'll find that you have the inside track playing on or against them.
The key to this concept is to not get emotionally attached, at all. Never use your favorite team or a team you despise. Just pick a random club and become an objective expert on them. Think of it like having a hobby, or dating a crazy chick that's great in bed. It'll be fun for a while and you'll reap some serious benefits. Only with your pet team you don't have to worry about changing the locks or paternity tests.
8. Fundamentals are fun.
It's important to stick to the fundamentals of gambling when betting baseball. And it's important to stay away from teams that don't stick to the fundamentals on the field.
The simplest indicator of a fundamentally sound team is defensive fielding percentage. It's also been a strong predictor of profitability. Over the past four years, less than 20 percent of teams that finished in the bottom third in fielding percentage finished in the black for the season.
9. Know your umpires.
Baseball is monitored and supervised at the whim of bald, overweight, overpaid, dog-kicking, gay-bashing, white men who are afraid of dark. Too often gamblers bet games without giving a second of thought to who's going to be the home plate umpire. However, that's a vital bit of information that influences the entire outcome of the game.
It's difficult to find out who will be behind the plate in the first game of any series. But in the second game the previous night's first base ump calls balls and strikes and the rest of the crew rotates clockwise. There are several sites that keep detailed records of umpire trends. By factoring these scoundrels into the equation you're further improving your chance of success.
Carpe diem, my friend. And good luck.
Questions or comments for Robert? E-mail him at Robert@docsports.com. You can also visit his insider's page here.