Preseason Baseball Betting
by Trevor Whenham - 03/06/2007
Spring training is here, and that means that life is good. If you're a baseball fan then you have probably been aching all winter to hear the pop of the glove and the crack of the bat, so this is heaven. If you're a bettor then you're probably excited, too, because you know that baseball, when wagered on properly, can be enormously profitable. Those profits may make you anxious to start the betting -- so anxious that you can't wait for the regular season to start. If that's the case then maybe betting on the preseason is the thing for you. If that sounds like a good idea then there are few things you have to consider:
Lineups - It can be tremendously difficult to find out who is playing and who is sitting out in a given game. The quality and quantity of information available isn't nearly as good as it is during the regular season. Because teams are balancing the priorities of trying out their young talent and getting their veterans ready to play, the lineups can vary wildly from game to game. By knowing who is playing you can get a significant edge, and conversely, by not knowing you can find yourself making an ill-advised bet. Getting this information can take a little creativity and determination. A great place to start is on the radio broadcasts for the teams, which are all available online. The team's website may also give you a hint. Fan forums often get accurate information, too. The lineups often aren't released for preseason games much before the first pitch, so you need to be patient and not jump into a decision without knowing what that decision means.
Pitchers - Like all players, pitchers look at spring training much differently than they do the regular season. Their goal isn't necessarily to win the game, it is to make sure that they are ready to win when the games actually matter. That means a few things. First, you can't make the mistake of relying too heavily on the starters for your betting decisions. Starters aren't likely to go very deep into the game, especially early in the preseason. You need to do your research so you can make an educated guess about which relievers could see time as well, because they will have as much of a bearing on the outcome as the starters. Secondly, a starter doesn't always use his best stuff in spring training. Future Hall-of-Famer Greg Maddux, for instance, is renowned for not throwing a curveball, his bread-and-butter pitch, until well into the preseason. That makes him an entirely different pitcher, and makes betting decisions based on him very different.
Managers - To successfully bet the preseason you need to understand how different managers approach the month. For some, the outcomes of games are completely irrelevant as long as the team is getting well prepared for the season. For others, their competitive juices take over, and they attempt to win to set the tone for the season. By understanding what is important for the manager you can get a better sense of the effort you can expect, and you can make a better decision.
Injuries - The impact of injuries is greatly magnified in the preseason. No player wants to miss significant time because of something that happened in a meaningless game, so everyone is more careful. Follow news reports and local coverage of teams to get a sense of anyone that might have even a slight tweak, because it could mean that they will play less than they otherwise would. That information could give you a distinct edge.
Motivation - Different players will approach the spring with different attitudes. Generally, for young players spring is a time to try to impress and earn a job or more playing time, while for veterans who are comfortably entrenched in their position with their team it is just an annoyance. There are obviously exceptions in both cases depending on competitiveness, preparedness and a number of other factors. Getting a sense of the prevailing attitudes of a player or a team is very important to making successful picks. Scouring the media for interviews and other tidbits can give you clues on this front.
The schedule - Priorities change for teams and players as preseason continues. The closer they get to the regular season, the more serious they become. That means that they are working harder, regulars are playing more and games become more consistent. You need to understand how the preseason evolves and where in the schedule the games you are considering fall so that you can make your decisions based on sound assumptions. You also need to look at how the timing and location of a game may affect the lineup. A veteran may not make a long bus trip with a Florida-based team early in the season, for example.
Reality - You don't want to burn your bankroll before the season even gets started. Preseason baseball is, at its best, wildly unpredictable, and some would argue that it is almost impossible to successfully and rationally win at. Unquestionably, it is not nearly as good to bet as the regular season because of the incomplete information and the small sample sizes. That doesn't mean that you shouldn't play it at all, but it does mean that you should be realistic and logically consider the risk that you are willing to take. Almost certainly, you should be playing less per game than you will be once the season gets going. Think of it as a chance for you to get into betting shape and ready for the season - you're in training just like the players.