AL East Totals Going Against Public Perception
by Robert Ferringo - 06/05/2008
Totals betting in the American League East is a paradigm of how Actual vs. Expected results are as different as Democrats and Republicans. The general betting public looks at these teams and thinks they know what they're all about and how to play them. But they really have no idea.
What do you think of when you think of the teams in the American League East? I'm sure you think of runs. I'm sure the first team you think of is the Yankees: A-Rod, Jeter and the rest of the Bombers that you love or loathe. Next comes Boston: Manny, Papi, and the rest of those ass-grabbing thumpers. After that comes Toronto: from Bell to Carter to Conseco to Delgado, the Jays have a long history of sluggers. Then Baltimore: with a short fence and a nice breeze from the water there's no wonder this team gave up 30 in one game last year. Finally, Tampa Bay: well, they have always sucked so I'm sure you don't think "runs and fun" with them.
Well, how about this: the American League East has gone 'under' the posted total in exactly 60 percent of its games as of June 5. Combined, those five teams are 114-171-13 against the number. And if you eliminate the Red Sox - who are a respectable 28-29-5 - the four other clubs are staying 'under' in 62.3 percent of their outings.
Not many runs. But lots of fun for totals trackers.
This is an extreme representation of what has been a pretty stable trend over the last three years. And that's that the AL East is an 'under' division. They have gone over the total in less than 50 percent of their combined total games in each of the past three seasons, with a low of 48.2 percent of games clearing the number in 2005.
Beyond blindly playing these East teams 'under' the best situation in which they hang under the number has been, naturally, when they square off against one another. In 68 interdivisional games these clubs are 24-40-4 against the number, which is a 62.5 percent 'under' clip.
Now I'm going to try to flip it for you. What do you think of when you think about the National League West? Yes, I'm talking about those beach bumming, sandal wearing, girls softball-scoring bunch of small ballers. I'm talking San Diego. I'm talking San Fran and Arizona. I'm talking about vast, vacant ballparks, humidors, and aces up the sleeve of every sun-drenched manager on the Left Coast.
Well, as of June 4 the NL West has gone 'over' the posted total in 49.1 percent of its games. I know that still seems ridiculously low, but considering that the league, as a whole, has stayed 'under' the total in 45.8 percent of its games the NL West is looking like an old, grainy episode of Home Run Derby.
Further, in 2007 exactly half of the games played by NL West clubs went 'over' the total, which was good for the third-highest number in the six-division Major Leagues. In 2006 a whopping 51.4 percent of the games sailed the total. So in both of those years, as well as the current session, you had better odds of hitting an 'over' in the weaker sister National League West than you did in the long dong American League East.
Now, I could bore you with the statistics and full explanations as to why this is going down in the MLB this season. But I really don't feel like it. It's all pretty basic stuff anyway. First, the numbers are always higher for the AL games because of the East Coast Bias, the designated hitter, Karl Rove, and the hero-worshipping tendencies of bettors. That makes them tougher to sail, as opposed to those itty-bitty guys that the NL clubs contend with. Second, the pitching in the East this year is phenomenal. We have lots of slick young arms doing work on AL hitters. Third, although the East has four teams in the top 12 in batting they have just one team in the top 15 in runs scored.
The teams in the West have four of the eight lowest-scoring teams in the league, three of the 10 worst hitting teams in the league, and four of the top 16 starters' ERAs in the MLB. However, they have two teams clearing the 'over' at more than 50 percent and the second highest divisional 'over' percentage in the league. How? Because in the AL East bettors pay more attention to the names in the lineup while totals players give more weight to the names on the mound than at the dish.
People expect the American League East to score a lot of runs. They don't. Thus the 'under' is the sharp play. Everyone expects the National League West to hustle their way through a bunch of boring, low scoring, college softball-type games. They do, but they score just enough to cover the miniscule totals that are posted against them. In both instances the Actual Results show a significant variance form the Expected Results.
Which brings us to the point of the exercise. First, don't drink and drive unless there are a lot of other cars around to use as bumpers. Second, lean on the 'under' when betting MLB totals. But that's actually another lesson for another time. No wait, what was I saying? Oh yes, our Grand Point: when you approach any wager in any sport you have to start from the contrarian's point of view and work backwards. If you think that the American League East is a high-scoring division full of big-bopping bats then you're going to want to play their games 'under'. If you think that another team or group of clubs is full of soft, slaphappy limp wristers then you're going to want to play them 'over'. Why? It doesn't matter. What matters if that if you want to turn a trick in this gig you have to forget everything you think you know about sports, teams, God, and math and be prepared to swim upstream.