MLB Handicapping: Betting on Bad Teams
by Nicholas Tolomeo - 4/13/2010
While their managers certainly have a hard time managing their respective teams, bettors also sometimes find it tough trying to manage bad baseball teams. To constantly fade the dregs of Major League Baseball is flirting with disaster. One Washington Nationals winning streak and all of a sudden an entire summer’s worth of profit could be gone. To wait for the Kansas City Royals to start paying out 3-to-1 and then take them for a series at a time, well you may be better off taking two-team parlays in another sport.
Unlike the NHL, the other major sport where most betting is done on the money line, baseball bad teams are truly bad. The same set of franchises seems to be right on the cusp of 100 losses every season.
The Washington Nationals lost 102 games in 2008 and 103 in 2009. The Pittsburgh Pirates lost 99 games last season and have endured 17 consecutive losing seasons, a North American professional sports record. The Baltimore Orioles have lost 90 or more games in seven of the last nine seasons including 98 losses last season. The Kansas City Royals have floated between 90 and 100 losses for the better part of the last decade.
In short, in baseball it is easy to find out who the cellar-dwellers will be without having to do much research or wait a few weeks into the season to see who sinks. An unlike the other major professional sports, the economics of baseball and the playoff format ensure that these teams will be fighting for draft positioning for most of the summer.
For the most part over the long run these teams cost bettors money. The Washington Nationals (-$2779) and the Pittsburgh Pirates (-$2680) were among the worst bets in baseball last season. And those figures factor the steep prices bettors have to pay to bet against those two teams. Just because a team is a losing bet over a 162-game season does not mean there are no situations where you can turn a profit on them.
Situational betting on these struggling franchises is your best bet to turn a profit on teams who many bettors might consider afterthoughts. For one, these are anything but publicly backed teams. With the exception of Zack Greinke pitching for the Royals or maybe even two years down the road Stephen Strasburg pitching for the Nationals, bettors will never lose cents on these teams because of heavy public action. If anything you may gain a nicer price on these teams, especially come August and September when their fate is finally sealed.
One situation that most of these teams have in common is in let-down situations. Other teams in the league have learned to overlook these squads -- and with good reason -- but it does bite them every once in a while. If the game is at the underdog’s park, teams used to playing in front of full houses may be subjected to an empty stadium. It is an entirely different atmosphere, something the last-place teams have grown accustomed too and if you catch the team coming off an emotional win then in terms of environment, it is a perfect situation for the underdog.
Specific teams also have found ways to excel in different games. For all the Pirates lost last season, they only lost $130 for a $100-per-game player last season when they were home. They have already started this season 2-1 at home against the defending NL West champion Dodgers and they were between +145 and +160 in all three games. A couple games going the other way and the -$130 from last season could easily turn into a profit.
Interleague play is another instance where situational betting can yield a profitable return on these last place teams. Last season the Orioles and Pirates lost 98 and 99 games, respectively, but each had a winning record in interleague play. Combined the teams went 19-14 in interleague play, resulting in enormous profits considering both were underdogs in nearly every game. Add in Kansas City and Washington and, combined, the four teams played .500 baseball during interleague games. That may not seem like much, but in when those teams are seeing prices of +250 and up, then playing .500 baseball is a big deal. Bad teams have a way of catching interleague opponents off-guard when the opponent is not familiar with them.
While fans in their own cities and ESPN and Baseball Tonight might completely ignore these teams, bettors should not. All it takes is getting near to 50-percent winners with these teams to ensure profits. Easier said than done but the reward is usually worth the risk.
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