Impact of Injuries on Sports Betting: Handicapping and Adjusting Your Bets
Injuries are one of the great equalizers of sports betting.
We’ve all been there. Swollen with confidence, knowing that an upcoming bet was a brilliant, savvy play against a weak line. You’ve already started mentally spending the money you are certain you are going to win.
Then it happens.
Your team’s star player is hurt and not expected to play. The number on your game is now going haywire as the sportsbooks try to fend off the feeding frenzy of as bettors of all stripes try to take advantage.
And there you are sitting on a ticket with a stale line wishing it was yesterday.
Injuries are one of the most important pieces of information that a bettor or sports handicapper can use to assess the value of a given game. People often look at professional athletes as superhuman, freakish specimens impervious to the ailments that befall the rest of us.
However, athletes are still just people. And their finely tuned bodies are still ruled by the laws of physics, same as the rest of us.
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Injuries are a crucial part of sports and wagering. And there is a pretty good chance that you’ve been handicapping them the wrong way.
Understanding how to react to injuries, across all sports, requires comprehending some basic tenets of gambling and psychology in general.
First, the general public almost always overreacts to injury information, especially when it involves a high-profile or star player. Bettors are suckers that way. Everyone is in a desperate search for that silver bullet piece of information that turns a bet into a “lock”. So they treat injury reports like that; as if everyone else on the planet isn’t privy to the same details.
The sportsbooks know how the public is going to react to a big injury. They instantly beat the public’s predictable betting overreaction by jacking up the lines on that team’s opponent. That crushes any value and puts the gamblers back at a disadvantage.
Next, when it comes to injuries you have to consider the sport.
Injuries are almost worthless information when it comes to college football. Over 50 guys on any given team hit the field on Saturday. In most instances, the public doesn’t have a lot of information about a college team’s backup. And in my experience, the guys coming off the bench in college football are just as good or better than who they are replacing. There isn’t even that big of a drop-off between star quarterbacks and running backs for teams in college football.
Want an example? Cardale Jones.
He was the third-string quarterback for the 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes. After Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett both got hurt, Jones was thrust into action. Here were the results of his first three career starts:
• 2014 Big Ten Championship Game: Ohio State 59, Wisconsin 0
• 2014 National Semifinal (Sugar Bowl): Ohio State 42, Alabama 35
• 2014 National Championship Game: Ohio State 42, Oregon 20
Three big games. Three wins on the field. Three wins against the spread. For a third-string guy no one had ever heard of.
In baseball, injuries also have a negligible impact in the short term (unless it is a pitcher). The same thing goes for the NFL and soccer.
Basketball, because of the smaller number of players involved in each game, is the sport where an injury has the biggest impact. However, in my experience, the betting results aren’t what you would expect (more on that in a minute).
Further, sometimes a star player trying to play through an injury is worse than if they didn’t play at all. If a guy is playing hurt, he can actually do more damage to his team’s betting value.
It is also important to note that “cluster injuries” are more impactful than a single injury to a star player. An NFL team losing three starting offensive linemen, for example, is a lot worse than if they have to play without their star running back.
Now, let’s get back to dealing with injuries in basketball. Because this is the area where I see bettors make the biggest mistakes.
If a basketball team announces that a star player is out, be it due to injury, load management, or some altercation with local law enforcement, then the line usually spikes while the public piles on betting against that team.
However, there is a natural psychological phenomenon that takes place when a team loses its star player. In the short term, everyone else on the team picks up their game and plays harder and better.
There is a certain pack mentality that comes from being on a team. When the alpha dog goes down, the rest of the pack goes into defense mode. That actually creates value on the team that lost its top guy, because they are likely to outperform their expectations.
To a certain extent, this pattern plays out in all sports, not just basketball. (That’s just been the sport where I have seen it most prominently.) I know it is counterintuitive. Yet more often than not, the value in sports betting is to get behind the team that just lost its star player to injury.
You often hear people talk about, “betting against the public”. I assure you: there is no more daunting time to put that maxim into action than when you’re backing a team that may have just lost its best player.
But if winning at sports betting were easy then everyone would do it!
Here is how some of the other handicappers at Doc’s Sports consider the impact of injuries in sports betting:
DOUG UPSTONE INJURY HANDICAPPING TIP:
One thing that has always amazed me in my 20+ years of handicapping is how bettors overreact to a player's injury, especially in the NBA. Say a star player tweaks his back and his team was a seven-point home favorite. Almost immediately that line could drop to -4 or possibly lower depending on what oddsmakers determine his value is. However, most teams will take it upon themselves to collectively up their level of play, compensate for the missing star, and play better than anticipated. The big key is not to overreact to a player’s injury in a single contest.
In sports like football, missing quarterbacks or having key positions like offensive and defensive linemen out can have a real impact. The lines on the side or total will provide the key information in adjustments from the opening number to provide you insight. When this happens, and you begin liking one side or the other and line adjustment causes you confusion, my best advice is that it is better to pass as opposed to being unsure. There will always be another betting opportunity.
VERNON CROY INJURY HANDICAPPING TIP:
The impact of injuries in sport is actually very important when it comes to handicapping, and it can provide some great opportunities for sports betting. That stated, it really depends which player is injured whether it is a key player (star player) or a player that really has no impact or very little impact on the team. Obviously, if it is a key player that is out with an injury, the books adjust the line knowing that they will get plenty of action on the other side against the team with the injury. More times than not, the books will overadjust the line leaving an opportunity for us to come back on the other side.
However, all of this depends on what type of team it is. Is it a fairly good team that lost a key player? Or is it a bad team that lost their key player and really has no other players to step up in their absence? If it is a fairly good team, there is plenty of upside to still take that team with the loss of their key player as the rest of the team will always step up and actually play much better in the absence of that key player. I have seen this happen countless times over the past 24 years of my professional career as a handicapper. However, if it is a lower end team who lost their key player to injury, more often than not that team will not cover the spread as they do not have the other players to step up or motivation to step up in that key player’s absence. So, actually, when a key player is lost to injury, more often than not, depending on the situation and the type of team who lost that player, we will be backing that team once the books over adjust the line. Obviously, certain other variables come into play such as what teams are playing each other along with the importance of the games and certain situational trends.
SCOTT SPREITZER INJURY HANDICAPPING TIP:
I have a different answer for different sports/leagues. When it comes to college and pro football, unless there are cluster injuries to one position, I almost never make an adjustment for an injury to any position other than quarterback. After all, for example, sports books have hardly ever adjusted a line for a defensive injury outside of former Steelers safety Troy Polamalu.
As far as basketball, if a star player is injured in a game I'm looking to bet, I'll normally bet on the team with the injury the first game he misses (if I'm betting on the game at all) with the idea that other players are motivated and can pick up the slack for one game. If the star player is out multiple games, I might back-off after the first game. However, the books bake the injury into the number, so there's no steadfast rule.
And, again, if there are multiple injuries to a key position, including the star player, I normally look to avoid the game altogether. But reemphasizing, circumstances change due to the book's line adjustments, so there's no rule set in stone.
TONY GEORGE INJURY HANDICAPPING TIP:
I am sticking with pro sports here, specifically the NFL. Each player has a production value in terms of his prowess on the field that contributes to overall statistical data you use in power ratings. We are speaking of skill players here. When a key skill player is out, I plug in 80% of his numbers contributed to the overall picture and team power rating for the game matchup. In other words, I deduct 20% off production numbers. That means his backup, who is a backup for a reason, will not have the same impact on the overall picture as the starter does.
Also, in the NFL, any lineman on either side of the ball who is out, especially a center or a left tackle, is a one-point deduction off the overall team power rating, as well as a rush end on defense or a linebacker or cornerback. This correlates very closely to how I look at the NBA as well. If a starter is averaging 22 points per game on his season average, I figure a backup to have 17 PPG. Obviously, there are other factors to consider, but this is a good starting point when handicapping injuries in pro sports.
JASON SHARPE INJURY HANDICAPPING TIP:
Most sports handicappers see an injury (especially one to a star player), and they will usually stay away from betting on that game as they feel it makes things unpredictable and teams more difficult overall to analyze. When I start to handicap a daily betting card, I actually prefer to look closest at the games involving teams that have had recent injuries to key players as this is where I feel one can usually find the best opportunities to find an edge in the betting markets. For example, most NBA handicappers will rate the Miami Heat at about the same level when the Heat are fully healthy, and that's because there's tons of recent and past data on how good the Heat are overall with all of their key players on the court. Now say the Heat will be without two of their best players in Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo for their next game. Most handicappers will only analyze how good those two players are that will be out of this game, but the reality is that's only half the equation. Instead, it's even more important to figure out how big of a drop off there will be between the injured players who are out for this game and compare them to the players who will likely be replacing them in the lineup.
Most winning handicappers will be extremely close when trying to place a point value on how much a player like Butler is worth to the Heat when he is out of their lineup, and that's based on the tons of the information that we have from Butler playing. The betting edge in this example instead will likely come from being able to analyze how well his replacement will play compared to Butler, and that's because we likely have a lot less information on this player. And less information in turn means likely lots of differing opinions and an unstable betting market.
There's also another key edge that most don't focus enough on when looking at injuries, and that's analyzing how well a player and a team will play when an injured player returns to action from an extended in-season injury situation. There's no perfect way to analyze how any player will perform when he does he return from an injury. Like with all handicapping, it's always best to try and gather as much information as you can about how the injured player has been performing in practice recently, what the coach says the plan is for him when he does return, how serious the injury was, his age, etc... Add all this up, and you try to place a value on that player returning to his team. Keep in mind a good player returning to action from an injury doesn't always mean that the team will improve at first, either, as the injured player may ruin some team chemistry that the team has developed or maybe he's not 100% healthy yet, etc.. In the end, like with all sports handicapping, it comes down to knowing how to analyze all of the current information better than the betting markets for you to have a winning edge.
RAPHAEL ESPARZA INJURY HANDICAPPING TIP:
Let’s face it, injuries are part of sports, and they will happen to every athlete at some point in their career. For us as handicappers, injuries can either help our wallets or hurt our wallets, but it’s part of being a professional handicapper. Sports injuries are different for each sport, but handling injuries are pretty much the same. The NFL is the most popular sport in the U.S., and soccer is the most popular sport in the world, but if the quarterback is out in the NFL, it’s probably the biggest injury outlook on all sports betting boards. That is why timing of your bets is so important when it comes to betting any sport that can have injuries listed.
When you are handicapping games that have any kind of injuries, you need to control what you can control. Don’t go all in with your bankroll because of an injury give or take. Play it smart! If there are questionable injury concerns or questions about a star player or key starter in a game, consider all the factors that you have researched, and make a decision based on the information you have gathered. If you need to wait for more injury updates before making your decision, then wait and if it means not betting a game because of injuries then do so. Sometimes the “No” bet is the “Best” bet.
GRIFFIN MURPHY INJURY HANDICAPPING TIP:
1. Keeping an eye on injury reports: I closely monitor injury reports for all pertinent teams. Checking injury reports from sports news sources, team websites, and player and coach social media updates on a daily basis are all part of this.
2. Identifying vital players: After locating injured players, I determine how important they are to the team. For instance, an injury to a team's starting quarterback will have a bigger effect on the team's performance than an injury to a backup offensive lineman.
3. Determining the injury's severity: I also take the injury's severity into account. A player may not be greatly affected by a small injury, whereas a major injury may prevent them from participating in the game at all.
4. Examining the effect on the team: Lastly, I evaluate how the injury has affected the team's performance as a whole. This involves taking into account the depth of the squad at the position, any potential negative effects on team morale, and if the injury will necessitate a change in the club's game strategy.
This analysis may allow me to change my selections. When a key player gets hurt, for instance, I can decide to bet against that team or place a smaller wager if I think it will have a negative impact on their performance. On the other hand, I might decide to gamble on that team or increase my wager size if the injury is not serious or if I think the squad can recover.
Overall, a crucial part of my handicapping method is how I approach injury analysis. I can generate better predictions and raise my clients' chances of winning at sports betting by carefully considering how injuries will affect a team's performance.
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