Over or Under? Three-Year MLB Totals Trends
by Robert Ferringo - 07/15/2006
No one likes to bet the Under. I've discussed this in this space on several occasions. We're Americans, damn it! We want things bigger and better and bolder. Bigger houses. Bigger breasts. Bigger bombs. Bigger scores. It's what we do. We want greatness and we want excess.
That's why the general betting public is full of suckers for the over. Whether it is football, basketball or baseball, we want to believe that the players are better than they actually are. We want to think that their prowess knows no bounds. And hey, we like watching a lot of scoring, so we bet the way we want the game to be played instead of the way we think it will be played.
It's a weakness. And the books prey on weakness.
Over the past five years baseball has conducted itself under a shroud of suspicion concerning the chemical composition of its players and the legitimacy of their numbers. Scoring has been astronomical during this span, and not enough time has elapsed since they've instituted drug testing for us to know whether or not we're headed for lower-scoring games or not.
All of this can be perplexing for baseball bettors. Should we give the players the benefit of the doubt? Do we assume that they aren't all shriveled-testicle steroid freaks, that their numbers are legit, and that they will continue scoring runs at ever-increasing rates? Or do we assume that now that performance enhancing drugs have been taken out of the lineup we should try to stay ahead of the curve and bet against still-inflated run totals?
It's tricky. But regardless of whether the players Did or Didn't, you have to remember that the oddsmakers are adjusting to the same trends that you're witnessing. And whether a team was averaging 15 runs in 2003 or nine in 2006 the totals will be shifted accordingly within each season. So what exactly can we learn from the raw numbers - social context aside - over the past few years?
The three-year average for the American League is a record of 76-79-7 against the posted run total. That's a 49 percent mark, with at least half of the 14 teams in the league finishing with losing records. In the National League, the three-year average was 75-79-8 (49 percent) with an average of 10 of 16 teams finishing with a losing mark. That means that each year 17 of the 30 teams in baseball finished below .500 against the total. It also means that the lines are obviously shaded - ever so slightly - towards the Under.
Last year was the first season under MLB's new drug testing policy and, not coincidentally, it was the most severe Under year in baseball since 2000. I guess the oddsmakers weren't expecting as noticeable of a dip in scoring from the now "clean" players. That or the general public was betting the over so strongly because they expected the players to continue performing at their pre-HGH levels.
Regardless, the Under was the money play in 2005. The 14 teams in the AL had an average mark of 71-82-9 (46 percent) against the total, and nine teams finished with a losing record. In the NL, the 16 clubs averaged 73-80-9 (47 percent) and 10 of them finished under .500 against the total.
What the three-year percentages are against the total has very little impact on whether the Mets and Cubs are going Over or Under tomorrow. However, if you take the numbers that I've laid out here and look around the edges there is definitely useful information to be extrapolated.
I know that a variance of a few percentage points - 49 percent to 46 percent, for instance - doesn't seem like a big deal. But any sharp gambler can tell you that it's akin to the difference between dating Lindsay Lohan pre-boob job and post-boob job, or Britney Spears pre-Fed and post-Fed.
Remember, the lesson here is that the books know what you want to happen. They know how you want to bet. But you can't. That plays into their hand and puts you at a disadvantage. Over the long haul, it will cost you. Pay attention to the trends and mind the past percentages and you should be in a position to exploit weak or shaded numbers, regardless of what drugs the players are or aren't taking.
Questions or comments for Robert? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out his Insider Page here.