Early Spring Training Betting Tips
by Trevor Whenham
March is probably my favorite month as a sports fan (or at least it is tied with a couple of others). College basketball is a big reason for that, but there is more. The NBA is finally getting interesting, hockey heads into the stretch drive, free agency creates a frenzy in the NFL. The most romantic and tradition filled part of March, though, is spring training. It's not necessarily the best baseball, and it tells us almost nothing about what to expect in the regular season, but it is the perfect way to start the long, glorious road to the World Series.
Spring training is also a betting opportunity. Most sports books offer lines on the games. If you are going to bet on the games, though, then you need to do it with a different approach than the regular season if you want to be successful. This is especially true for the first couple of weeks of spring training. Here are 10 tips to follow when you bet on early spring training games:
1. Be choosy - The players use spring training to get into playing shape. As a bettor you should use it to get into betting shape as well. There are a lot of games being played, but you have to use at least as much discipline now as you would in September. That means that you have to be choosy, and only play the games in which you have an edge.
2. Pay close attention to who is playing - Teams almost never play a regular season roster in spring training. They want to try out young talent, see if their bench players are ready for a more significant role, and try out players in new positions on the field or in the batting order. You need to do your best to find out who will be playing in a game before you make your decision.
3. Split squads can be your friend - When a team is playing two different games on the same day then they obviously can't be fielding their best squad in both games. When a full squad is playing a split squad there could be a mismatch. This can be particularly helpful for bettors when a public team is the split squad because bettors may be more enthusiastic in support of the public team than their divided line-up warrants.
4. Consider crowd support - In the regular season, the home crowd makes a big difference. Though the stadiums are much smaller in spring training, the crowds can be just as enthusiastic, and can have just as much of an impact on the outcome on games. Crowd support doesn't always go to the home team, though. The fans of some teams travel better than those of others. The Cubs, for example, draw a huge crowd wherever they play in Arizona. Fans who can't get tickets to their home park will flood the parks of the teams they play.
5. Downgrade the pitchers in your decision - Starting pitchers are far less relevant in the spring than they are in the season. They are not yet in mid-season form, and they will rarely go beyond two or three innings in their first several starts. The starters may be at the heart of your betting decision in the summer, but in the spring they are much, much less relevant.
6. Bet less per game - Betting on the spring games is far more certain than betting in the summer. Far less is certain, and there is less of a track record for decisions to be based upon. It only makes sense that you would bet less per game in the spring then you will once you get a good feel for the season.
7. Follow the heat - Every year there are players who have spectacular spring training performances and then disappear by the time May rolls around. That can be annoying when it comes to handicapping the regular season, but it's to your advantage when playing the spring. If a player or a team is hot during the spring then it makes sense to ride it with your bets.
8. Check out the injury reports - A team that is missing a key player or two is at a disadvantage during the season, and it can also be at a disadvantage during the spring. Being on top of the injury reports will give you and edge because you will know who definitely isn't going to be paying, and that will give you a better sense of the lineup even if you can't find the full lineup before the first pitch. The injury reports are even more helpful than the regular season because players aren't going to play in the spring if they are even a little bit injured. In the summer they might play through a small problem, but they won't risk it in the spring when nothing is on the line.
9. Local papers are helpful - Hosting spring training is a big deal for the towns and cities in Arizona and Florida that do it. The local papers, as a result, often have outstanding coverage of the games and teams filled with insights that you won't find in regional or national media. Spending the time to find these papers online can provide you a serious edge.
10. Shop around for value - This is the single most important part of any handicapping, but it is especially true in the spring. The handle for spring training games is low, so books won't always post a tight line, and lines can often be very different among different books. The difference in prices between books will be much bigger in the spring than they will be later in the season.