MLB Playoff Betting Tips
by Trevor Whenham - 10/01/2008
It's playoff time in baseball. The run to the World Series is one of sports' greatest months, and it can be very attractive for bettors. Even bettors who don't spend much time during the regular season wagering on baseball can find themselves throwing chinks of their payroll at it in October. If you are one of those fair weather baseball bettors, then there are a few tips you can follow to maximize your chances of making a few bucks. Here are five tips to keep your betting on track:
Pay attention to pitchers, but not in same way - More than ever, the pitchers are the key to playoff success for teams. You just can't look at pitching the same way as you would during the regular season. Teams are going to use their best pitchers, so you aren't going to see the mismatches that you see during the regular season. In June you will often find a game in which a great pitcher is up against a poor one. Those situations make it easy to pick a side, and will often make you comfortable taking a bad price on the game. In the playoffs you have to basically assume that the pitchers are all good, and that they are all going to be at their best. That's not to say that one isn't going to be better than another. It's just that the differences between pitchers are going to be much smaller. It would be dangerous, then, to assume that one team has a huge edge on the mound in a playoff game. If it appears that way, look again. The crowds, the adrenaline, and the pressure will often elevate pitchers to higher-than-expected levels. That's especially the case if they are working on short rest - a situation that would normally be a huge knock against them in the regular season, but is far less of a concern in the playoffs. It all comes down to this - in the playoffs, evaluate pitchers assuming that they are probably better than you think they are.
Home is a lot to overcome - The intensity of a playoff game can be incredible. The stadiums are sold out, the crowds are fired up, and the stakes are high. In cities like Milwaukee and Tampa Bay where the fans are out of practice in the playoffs things could be especially crazy. All of that gives the home team an edge, and a bigger one than during the regular season. That doesn't mean that the visiting team can't win, of course. It just means that you have to make sure that the road team has a fairly significant edge before you bet on them.
Experience matters - In the 2007 playoffs the raw and inexperienced Rockies cruised through the National League, but then the World Series was far too much for them and they looked totally out of place. That's just one of many cases where a team has looked good up to a point, but then what they didn't know, or hadn't experienced, caught up to them. The Marlins and others have shown that an inexperienced team can win, but it is certainly the exception rather than the rule. If you see two teams as being relatively closely matched, you are probably best to use their playoff experience as a tiebreaker.
How hard was it to get there? - The 2008 American League playoffs present an interesting contrast. On one hand you have the White Sox, a team that had to play a one-game playoff to cap of a crazy week and make the playoffs. On the other hand you have the Angels, a team that essentially clinched a playoff spot in May. Both teams have had very different experiences down the stretch, and both come into the playoffs in different stages of rest and health. I don't want to suggest that the Angels have an edge, because they don't necessarily. The point, though, is that you need to spend some time thinking about what mental and physical state teams are in coming into the playoffs, and how that might affect them. The amount of rest they have had, the injuries they are facing, and the status of their rotation are all examples of things you need to keep in mind. Handicapping the playoffs requires you to play amateur psychologist.
Streaks are real in the playoffs - During the season I am not a big believer in streaks and momentum. There are too many factors involved that make it too tricky to rely on them in your handicapping. The playoffs are a different animal, though. Streaks happen, and bettors need to pay close attention to them. Off the top of your head you can probably think of several cases where an average hitter couldn't miss the ball in the playoffs, or when a superstar suddenly became useless (yes, I am talking about you, A-Rod). Successful baseball bettors will pay attention to those streaks and consider the best way to extract value from betting on them.