Baseball Handicapping: Spring Training Betting
by Trevor Whenham - 3/11/2010
It seems hard to believe if, like me, you live somewhere where there is still snow on the ground, but spring training is underway. For the next month teams will play every day to get ready for the season - so that they can play pretty much every day for almost six months. That relentless consistency is part of what makes betting on baseball so attractive. If you like betting on baseball then you'll want to get started as soon as you can, and that means betting on spring training.
That's not necessarily a bad idea, as long as you recognize that spring training is a very different animal than the regular season, and you therefore need to treat it very differently than you do the regular season. Here are five things to consider when betting on spring training games - especially during the first half of the spring training season:
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Don't focus too much on pitchers - The first place that MLB handicappers look in pretty much every baseball game is at the pitchers who are starting the game. That only makes sense - they have a direct impact on the outcome of the game unlike any other player. That's not the case in the early spring training season, though. Most pitchers, even the starters, don't last more than two innings for their first couple of outings, and they are usually on a strict pitch count throughout the spring. The focus for pitchers is to get their arms ready and in shape, and to make sure that their pitches are feeling comfortable and moving sharply. They don't care about wins or losses, and will often use their outings as experimentation. AL Cy Young winner Zack Greinke spent all of spring training last year working on his change up, and the results were dismal. He had that pitch in good shape by the regular season, and he was totally dominant from the start.
Who's playing? - Teams will occasionally play two games in a day, sending a split squad to each. Sometimes starting players will play with the Triple A squad to get more chances to hit. Sometimes two or three players will be scheduled to play the same position in one game. There are a lot of reasons why a regular starting roster won't play in a spring training game, or why those starters won't play a full game. It's crucial that you take the time to learn who will be playing before you bet on a game, and that you don't overreact to players that will or won't be playing.
What is the manager trying to accomplish? - Some managers will try very hard to win spring training games because they believe that it sets a tone for the coming season. Others don't care about results, but rather use the spring as a time to make sure that their teams are ready for the coming season. Managers with an established, veteran roster are going to treat the spring differently than those who are working in new players, or those that will be starting rookies. To effectively handicap spring training you need to be an amateur psychologist - to climb into the heads of the managers to determine what approach to spring they are likely to take, and what that means to the chances of their teams.
Don't pay attention to what happened last season, or what could happen this season - Last year the Yankees had the best record in the Grapefruit League, and they rode that momentum all the way to a World Series title. The year before, Philadelphia was near the cellar of the same league before they won their title. Last year Kansas City had a strong spring, and a lousy regular season. Pittsburgh was above .500 last spring, while Philadelphia was well under - despite being World Series defending champion, and being about to win the NL for the second straight year. You can't accurately predict spring training performance by the results of he previous season, or the expectations of what's to come.
Use discretion - During the regular season it's not that hard to find some value on any given day. That's not necessarily the case during spring training. There are a lot more reasons why a game could be harder to call in spring than during the season, so it only makes sense that you would be far choosier during the spring than you would be once things matter. Your goal is to make money betting on baseball, so it only makes sense to protect the bulk of your bankroll for the situations where you have the best shot at profit, and that likely isn't the spring.
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