Preseason sports suck. And spring training rules. But mostly only if you can attend a game live. There are few better things to do in March then sit in the stands in Arizona or Florida, soak up the sun, nurse a beer or three, and watch some ball. Beyond that, though, there are challenges that make the spring training less than ideal from a betting perspective. Sometimes you just have to get some action, though, and if you are a baseball fan that is feeling withdrawal after the long offseason then I get why you would want to bet on games as soon as you possibly can.
If you are going to bet on spring training games - especially during the first half of the spring - you need to keep four important questions in mind. Without these you are doomed for betting failure.
Who's playing?: During the regular season we can mostly assume that the best players will be playing most of the time. That's obviously not true in the spring. Veterans know what they need to get ready for the regular season, and that often isn't a whole lot of playing time - they will get plenty of that leading up to October in games that matter. Teams want to make sure their veterans are ready, but they also want to know what else they have to work with.
They'll test young prospects to see what they are ready for, try out players in different positions, and generally experiment to test their depth. You might not see veterans at all, and if you do it is rare that you will see them for a whole game.
You especially need to be careful when it comes to pitchers - even if big-name guys are playing, chances are very low that they will play anything close to as long as they would in the regular season. There are many pitchers who are almost worth a bet just because they are playing in the regular season, but you can't make the same assumption in March.
This year we need to be especially careful about who is going to be playing. The World Baseball Classic is going on at the same time as spring training, so many of the best players in baseball won't be playing at all. That means that it is especially possible to make bad assumptions about what teams are going to look at if you aren't paying close attention. The roster uncertainty is the biggest reason by far why betting this time of year is such a challenge.
Is the squad split?: Split squad games are a nightmare. Teams like them because it gives them a chance to get game experience for a bunch more players. For bettors, though, they just mean badly-diluted lineups.
You need to make sure you know if you are betting on a split squad game or not. If you are considering a split squad game then you absolutely need to know who will be playing in which game and what that means for the relative competitiveness of the team. You also need to keep an eye on who will be running the show for the game - there is only one manager, so at least one of the squads will be run by someone else. That could have a positive or negative impact on your view of the game depending on how you feel about the manager.
Do the managers care?: Some guys are wired to win no matter what - nothing else matters. They want to win in the spring because they think it teaches their guys how to be more like them. Other guys have the bigger picture in mind - they know that nothing matters beyond winning the World Series and that wins in March don't help you get any closer to that.
The attitude and motivation of the manager will obviously have a big impact on the team and how they will play - and how the roster is constructed. Paying attention to managers and their tendencies, then, is more important now than ever.
Is the value significant enough?: It's tough to know who is going to play on any given day or how much they will play. Many of the best players in the league aren't even with their teams this spring. Some managers care about winning and some don't. Sometimes teams are split in half. And, ultimately, none of the games count for anything at all.
Baseball is tough enough to bet on at the best of times, so betting on it during the spring can be particularly brutal. That doesn't necessarily mean that you shouldn't bet on it. It does mean, though, that before you make any bet you need to be particularly sure that there is enough value to make it worthwhile. Soon enough there is going to be plenty of meaningful baseball to bet on, and the World Baseball Classic will present some opportunities, too, so there is no point to make a bet unless it is really worth doing so.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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