by Mike Hayes - 06/02/2006
While wagering on point totals is an accepted part of the football season for the average sports bettor playing run totals in baseball generates little interest. However, for the gambler willing to do some research and wait for the right spots, betting MLB over-unders can result in a profitable experience.
Take the recently concluded three-game series between the Padres and Rockies at Petco Park in San Diego, where a total of 12 runs were scored over the course of three games, a total managed on four separate occasions by an individual team over the same three-day period. The result for the astute total player with an eye on an otherwise mundane series was three consecutive under wins.
While this might seem odd in the era of steroids, small parks and diluted pitching, it is actually exactly what was to be expected from these two teams when you consider that the Padres and Rockies are the 23rd and 28th ranked teams offensively and were playing the series in what is one of the toughest parks to score runs in.
Through the first 50 or so games of the season the best over plays have been the Orioles with 33 overs to just 18 unders, and the Braves with a mark of 32-19. The best unders are the Tigers at 18-32 and the Rockies at 18-31.
Of course, starting pitching is the greatest factor in how many runs are likely to be scored in a given game and some pitchers have a knack for pitching in high scoring affairs regardless of their win/loss record.
Among pitchers with at least 10 starts, Baltimore's Kris Benson and Milwaukee's David Bush are the best over plays at 9-2, a rate of 82 percent. The best under pitcher with at least 10 starts is Aaron Cook from the Rockies who has been involved in just one over and seven unders, a rate of 87 percent. Kameron Loe of Texas has also been a solid under play, with a 2-9 mark (82 percent) as has been Jeff Francis of Colorado at 2-8 for an 80 percent success rate.
While ballparks certainly impact on how many runs are scored in a game, the impact for the most part is significantly less than the involved team's offensive and pitching abilities.
This season, for example, the most generous park in terms of runs scored has been Baltimore's Camden Yards where 11.7 runs are scored during the course of the average nine innings. Second is Arizona at 11.1, a shade better than Kaufman Stadium in Kansas City at 11. In each case these figures are up significantly over the previous season so they are as much a reflection of shoddy pitching and/or a good offense than any real impact the park might actually have.
What it worth noting are ballparks that have historically been among the most stingy in terms of runs allowed. Since the beginning of 2005 just one park, Petco in San Diego, has yielded, on average, less than 8 runs per game.
Other parks that have yielded the fewest runs per game over that same period are Angel Stadium of Anaheim, RFK in Washington and the A's Oakland Coliseum.
An advantage to betting MLB totals is the price, as they are generally offered considerably closer to even than the games themselves, in which you generally must risk significantly more than you will win when betting favorites. Some books, such as Pinnacle Sportsbook, will also offer individual team totals, allowing bettors to wager on whether a particular team will score over or under a fixed total. Here the bettor has the advantage of only needing one pitcher to excel or get shelled to cash.
Jeff Dye, sportsbook manager for Bodog, said baseball total wagering is not limited to any specific clientele but that those who do bet totals as a general rule do have a preference. "I don't necessarily believe that sharps are betting totals more than the recreational player as we typically see more action come in on the over for our total bets which is usually an indicator of recreational play," said Dye. "The National League games we do see more money come in on the under because of the pitcher getting up and taking his whacks every nine at bats."
Dye said total wagering represents a fraction of the handle on the game itself. "We definitely see more action from our players betting on the money line. Depending on the game we will see approximately three to 10 times the amount of action on the money line for a game than we do on the total."
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