Betting MLB Player Props
by Trevor Whenham - 04/20/2007
If you're looking for action to keep the long baseball season interesting, you don't have to limit yourself to just looking at the teams. In fact, betting on individual players is, in the right cases, a great way to make some money. And it's fun, too.
When it comes to player props, the first things that come to mind for most bettors are the bets you can place before the season starts on the eventual MVP, Cy Young winners and the like. Although those bets have their place, they tie up your money all year long and they don't do much to satisfy your ongoing need for action. For that you need to look at the ongoing player props that relate to just one game. Other player props occasionally emerge, by far the most common is the question of which of two players (one from each team playing in a game) will have the most combined hits, runs and RBI. The bet will always involve two players who are fairly evenly matched in both stats and playing style, and it's not always the sluggers on each team that are available.
It's easy to dismiss these bets as pure entertainment with little practical merit, and in many cases that is true. But there are a number of cases in which you can find real value in the bet. Here's a (almost certainly incomplete) list of situations where the bet can make sense:
1) Name value. In a case where the two players in a match-up have similar stats but one is a much bigger star in the public eye there will often be value in the lesser-known name. The value is usually bet out of the public teams like the Yankees or the Patriots, and that can often also be the case with Albert Pujols or Barry Bonds. Many bettors will blindly bet on players of that caliber without looking at stats or form. If you are doing your homework you can find spots where the starting price or the price movement don't reflect current form. That's a money-making situation.
2) Poor situations for good players. Some players just can't hit lefties. Others can't pull the trigger on the slider. A hard fastball is the worst nightmare of many good batters. You can sometimes find value in player props when a player is in a situation that doesn't match their strengths. Though some of the more obvious situations will have been built into the line, there are still many cases where a little bit of knowledge can uncover a bargain. This can be especially true in a case where the better-known player has a somewhat unfavorable situation and the lesser-known player is in a position where he has the potential to shine.
3) Location, location, location. It's amazing how much the venue can affect how well a player plays. For some batters it's as if their home park was built for them. Other great hitters can be virtually shutdown in a field that isn't built to their strengths, or one that they aren't used to playing in. A player may have a history of success in Coors Field, or a long trail of disaster following him into Camden Yards. The location can make an otherwise closely matched prop bet one-sided.
4) Weather. What Mother Nature has in store can greatly affect the outcome of a prop bet. If the wind is blowing hard towards home plate then players that hit low line drives are going to fare better than those that send the ball into the sky. Long ball hitters will do better when the wind is reversed. Temperature and precipitation can also favor one style of batter over the other, and can create value for your bet.
5) Historical trends. There are many situations in which a player doesn't perform well in limited time spans as it does over the longer term. A classic example is Manny Ramirez. Though he's more than a little bit nuts, Ramirez is an incredibly reliable slugger. He's also a notoriously slow starter, usually waiting at least 10 games until he warms up and hits his first home run. Ramirez is hard to pick against in most cases in July or August, but his lack of pop early in April can put the value on his opponent.
6) The pitcher. The starting pitchers are almost as important in player props as the listed players are. Some pitchers have always been able to get certain great batters out, while they are almost completely incapable of sitting others down. Some pitchers are vulnerable to high ball hitters, or to players that are willing to chase gopher balls. By looking at the match-ups between the batter and the pitcher you can sometimes find value. This can also be relevant in the bullpen - a favorable match-up between a batter and a reliever that is likely to make a significant appearance could swing a bet from questionable to profitable.
7) Form. This is relevant to both the batters and the pitchers. Though players play to a general level over the course of a season, they are subject to slumps and hot streaks at different times. No player plays at the same level all year long. The impressive hot streaks and the terrible slumps will be well publicized and likely well figured into the prop's lines. More subtle shifts in form can easily be overlooked, though. If you're paying attention to a team and you spot those shifts then the player props are an excellent way to capitalize on them.