MLB Handicapping: Betting Low Baseball Totals
by Nicholas Tolomeo - 7/22/2010
For a number of different reasons this season of baseball has been the summer of the pitcher. After years of juiced up sluggers belting 60 and 70 home runs, numerous shattered offensive records, bandbox ballparks and steroid abuse – which, in turn, led to pitcher abuse, the pitchers are once again taking over the game.
It is been evidenced this season by the two perfect games (nearly three) and the four no-hitters. There is proof in the .260 league-wide batting average and the team average of 4.4 runs per game. Those are numbers not seen since before the steroid era began around 1995. Maybe no stat is more telling than the home run leader this season through 95 games. Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays leads all players with 26 home runs. During Barry Bonds’ record-setting year, the San Francisco slugger had 44 home runs by July 26. No hitter will even be at 30 at that point this season.
Pitchers have not been this dominant since 1993. The National League’s best team, the San Diego Padres, have some of the best starting pitching in baseball and by far the best bullpen. They play in Petco Park, a hitter’s nightmare and a pitcher’s dream. In years past that combination of pitching and a cavernous ballpark would not equal best record in the league, but the Padres have ridden the pitching wave to a record of 55-39.
There are more reasons for the summer of the pitcher outside of San Diego. There are the young pitchers named Ubaldo, Josh and Stephen, who have displayed dominance on the mound beyond their years. There are the former Cy Young candidates still being their dominant selves like Roy Halladay, Adam Wainwright, Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez.
The oddsmakers have been busy all summer adjusting the totals. In the past two months there have been seven totals of six runs, a figure unheard of the last few seasons. Totals of 7.5 and below are now commonplace when looking at the day’s baseball lines.
Adjustments had to be made after the ‘under’ consistently outperformed the ‘over’ through the first two months of the season. Even after the totals continued to drop, the ‘under’ still owns a 686-665 edge this season.
Specifically, the lower the totals have been lately, the more likely the game will stay ‘under’. Since June 1, in games with a total of 7.5 or less, the ‘over’ is only 66-77-3. It seems that the oddsmakers have found that totals of 6 and 6.5 are a little too late. The ‘over’ is 19-13-1 in those situations. Totals of 6 and 6.5 are usually only seen at Petco Park or at Safeco Field where the Seattle Mariners play. A recent interleague series turned out to be a match made in pitcher’s heaven when Seattle visited San Diego. In the three-game series, two totals were six with the other total being set at 6.5. Betting the ‘under’ in those circumstances yields very little value as there is hardly no room for error.
When the total is in the 7 and 7.5 range, well that is another story. Since June 1 in games with a total of 7, the ‘over’ is 18-22-1. When the total is 7.5 the ‘over’ is 30-42-1. Combined the ‘over’ is 48-64-2 when the total is either 7 or 7.5.
Outside of San Diego and Seattle, oddsmakers have been reluctant to bring totals down to 6 and 6.5 so 7 and 7.5 seems to be the compromise that has been settled on. In that range, regardless of the ballpark or the pitchers, recent history has shown there is plenty of value. New ballparks and new steroid policies have been a boon for pitchers, if played right, those could also add up to be a nice windfall for bettors taking the ‘under’.
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