MLB Umpires and Totals Betting
by Trevor Whenham - 02/16/2008
As you get tuned up for the start of the baseball season you are probably thinking a lot about playing totals. If you're not, you should be - totals are a very profitable aspect of MLB betting. Of all the factors that go into a total - starting pitchers, likely relievers, ballpark weather, bats, fielding, etc. - the most ignored is the umpire. The connection between MLB umpires and totals betting is a strong one. The umpire in baseball, more so than a referee in any sport, has direct control over how a game turns out. How he calls the strike zone, and how tolerant he is of managers and players, has a direct impact on the outcome of the game. You might think that the impact would be insignificant, but if you do then you are throwing away potential profit. Umpires vary widely in the likelihood of their games to go over or under, and being aware of that and factoring it into your decisions can result in a significant improvement in your betting performance.
Let's look at some specific examples from the 2006 season. If you are a pitcher and you see that Doug Eddings is gong to be behind the plate for your start then you are in heaven. The guy's strike zone is gigantic. It makes sense that a big strike zone would help to keep the totals down because it puts the pitchers more in control and creates more outs. The statistics show that to be true. Eddings was behind the plate for 35 games in 2006. Twenty of those games went under, and two were pushes. That means that he went under in 61 percent of his games. That's more than a coincidence. John Hirschbeck, the guy who got spit on by Roberto Alomar, is another one who goes under far more than you would expect - 16 times in 23 tries in 2006. Marvin Hudson, Chuck Meriweather, Laz Diaz, Jeff Nelson, and Ed Rapuano all went under more than 60 percent of the times while calling a significant number of games as well.
There are also a number of umpires who consistently go over. Those that have a tight strike zone will put more runners on base and ultimately allow more runs. If you have seen an umpire who gets in more arguments in a game than he should it is probably Joe Brinkman. The guy must love to fight, because he will pick a fight with anyone. That, along with a tighter than normal strike zone leads to more overs than expected as more than an anticipated amount of his games seem to get out of control. Nine of his 13 games in 2006 went over, and he was over in more than 50 percent of his games in five of the previous six seasons. C.B. Bucknor is another guy who loves to call a ball. He went over in 19 of 34 games. Gary Cederstrom is less volatile than the first two in this group, but he has a consistent but small strike zone. Sixty percent of his 30 games went over in 2006. Darryl Cousins is even more of a friend to hitters - he went over in 21 of 35 starts, and pushed three times. He went over in 59 percent or more of games four different times between 2000 and 2006. Gerry Crawford, Fieldin Culbreth, Mike Everitt, Sam Holbrooke, Ed Montegue, Brian O'Nora, and Jim Wolf all went over in 60 percent or more of their games in 2006.
The point isn't that you should bet one group of umpires under every time they call a game, and the other group under. The point is that some umpires have a tendency to go one way or the other, and it makes sense to factor that tendency in when you are handicapping a total. If a game is leaning in one direction anyway then an umpire with a tendency in line with that lean could make a decent play into a good one. On the other hand, if your edge is only slight and the umpire doesn't tend towards your preferred outcome then you can avoid the play and save some money. There are several different books available that track the performance of umpires, and you can find more timely information on the web. Spending the time to get to know the umpires and their tendencies, and to see if those historical tendencies match their performance in the current season, is a valuable and worthwhile investment of time.
There's another very solid argument for spending the time looking at the umpires - the public isn't doing it. For the most part, the umpire is just seen as the other guy with a mask behind the plate. Because of that, they aren't often factored into the betting decisions people make, and they, therefore, aren't always factored into the totals that are set. If you do your work then you can often find an edge that others don't see, and you can profit from it. That's an opportunity that is increasingly rare in the world of online sports betting.