Oakland’s “moneyball” playoff run of Hollywood lore ultimately had little to do with advanced calculus and mathematical wizardry. Billy Bean’s staff used analytics as means to an end, but the simple goal was to put more baserunners on the diamond with a maximum number of RBI opportunities.
Moneyball also had an element of psychology. Remember that a cardinal rule of battle is if something is good for you, it’s bad for your opponent, and if something is good for your opponent it’s bad for you. Opposing managers showed up in NorCal expecting that their clubs should beat the Athletics – most of their rosters were more athletic, and healthier, and at least comparatively adored by Major League Baseball scouts and talking heads.
Yet a funny thing happened – the A’s got on base. A lot. Oakland’s stout pitching and stubborn fielding tactics put-out batters at a solid rate, but Bean’s club was getting on the paths and knocking-in runs at an uncanny clip for a squad with almost no superstar assets. By the time the “real” odds – as in inning-to-inning chances to score – caught up to the sample size the A’s were ready to win 20 in a row against befuddled opponents who always seemed to be playing catch-up.
Bookmakers play catch-up on the diamond in their own ways. MLB betting sites have been upping the opening Over/Under totals slowly but surely during the Year of the Home Run. That’s understandable – an (8 ½) run “average” Vegas total can’t really apply to a 2019 season in which Major League pitchers are 99% (or 100%) convinced that the baseball is juiced.
Could moneylines and futures markets be affected by the home-run hype as well? What if contact hitting and plate discipline are quietly just as important as ever?
MLB Futures: Power a Prerequisite for a World Series Bid?
Managers are instructing batters (or allowing batters) to swing-away with power when there are players on-base. The result is that MLB pitchers are striking-out hitters at an excellent rate in 2019, but most of the worst pitch-placement mistakes are getting batted out of the park or off the outfield wall.
It’s a cat-and-mouse game, and you’ve got to have a few big cats. Clubs with pure contact-hitting lineups that don’t post an impressive team-slugging % are mostly faring poorly.
The St. Louis Cardinals are the only possible exception to the rule – the Redbirds have struggled in various areas on offense at different points in the season, but are the only contending club among the bottom-5 in slugging average. The 5 teams with the fewest batted home runs (Miami, Detroit, Kansas City, San Francisco, ChiSox) all have losing records as of mid-August and only 1 of the 5 has escaped falling into a pit in the league standings.
Contact is still important – in fact batting for contact might be more important than ever.
After all, the whale-away attitude of sluggers and batting coaches in a (presumptive) juiced-ball season comes from the logic of how the ball is behaving when in play. The baseball could be made out of unstable plutonium, and if the batter whiffs on every pitch, it would be the same as a dead ball scenario. Out, the inning’s over.
Teams must get lumber on leather to make 2019’s jumpy ball into an asset and not a liability. None of the 5 clubs with the most strikeouts on the season are swimming above .500 – even the formidable Texas Ranger pitching staff can’t overcome the lineup’s propensity for striking out often.
Meanwhile, the Houston Astros are a model offense for this season – or any likely near-future season for that matter, presuming the ‘Stros keep the pieces in place.
Space City’s Space-Age Run Scoring
It’s probably too early to tell, but the 21st century is likely to be dominated by ballclubs that are at least dynamic enough to make a modern offense work.
I’ve discussed on our NHL hockey betting blog the phenomenon of pond shinny handicappers getting tricked by the notion of “checking lines” and “scoring lines” in a given match-up. It’s 2019, and all players in the NHL are expected to be able to score and check. It’s not specialist vs specialist but athlete vs athlete (and sniper vs sniper) on the rink these days.
Baserunners will always be the crux of any ballclub’s success when at-bat. A fictional MLB team could bat .900 with 100% home runs and still lose easily (and infinitely) to a club that simply recorded all walks and singles, sashaying around the base paths to the horror of the host crowd.
Major League offenses are faced with a 3-fold task to keep up with rivals’ run-scoring in a souped-up season of baseball. Houston is an example of a club full of power and plate discipline, a lethal combination in a time when clubs can’t fall short in getting men on base, knocking them in, and not getting too many batters put-out along the way. A deficiency in any of those areas means losing a track meet in what was supposed to be a marathon.
The Astros’ batting order has almost been too effective in some series, draining energy from its lineup with long games and monumental numbers of at-bats. On Saturday, August 10th, Houston scored 23 runs and blew away the pitiful Baltimore Orioles by 21 at Camden Yards.
Even in the unpredictable world of day-to-day hardball betting, bookmakers aren’t opposed to attaching a short betting line to a true prohibitive favorite. Following the 23-2 thrashing, the Astros seemed to qualify, entering a weekend in Maryland having not lost a ballgame in August. Justin Verlander was scheduled to start in the following ballgame on 8/11, shrinking Space City’s moneyline to (-350).
That was a dangerous bet for ML gamblers. The Astros failed to produce more than a single run between the 3rd and 8th innings of the next ballgame, and fell 8-7 after a furious rally from both clubs in the 9th.
Turns out the O-Birds have as much potential as any other Major League club to put men on, drive them in, and do it with enough extra base-hits to accelerate the process. They’re just terribly thin, plagued with poor pitching, and not confident enough to prevail that way on a regular basis.
In a normal season, unorthodox tactics might be welcome. But in 2019 there’s no making-up for a lack of doubles and triples any more than you can mask an undisciplined lineup that makes opposing hurlers look like Nolan Ryan.
Not to neglect what’s happened to the Dodgers in Miami over the last 3 days, a true Dog Days story of ruined favorites’ gamblers.
Again a ballclub looked like an invincible dynamo thanks to its power (and Clayton Kershaw), but failed to come through on offense – or elsewhere – when all cylinders weren’t clicking. Game 3 of the L.A.-at-Miami series was a very different story than the 1st and 2nd outings.
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— Miami Marlins (@Marlins) August 15, 2019
What a Juiced Batting Era Means for Futures Bettors
Moneyline and Over/Under betting on baseball has become feast or famine. Like a good weatherman, I pride myself on at least getting predictions right as opposed to always getting outcomes right – the bounce of the ball of the rim can determine a won or lost wager but (with any luck) a ‘capper should be able to make actual predictions of things like “the big center will get plenty of rebounds.” But when I forecast a baseball game to finish 9-5 for the home team and it finishes 23-2, there’s little to boast of having gotten correct at all.
Futures provide a path for the MLB gambler to bypass the day-to-day drama and follow the trajectories of clubs over the long term. It’s also a throw-down gauntlet from the bookmaker to the client – successfully predict trends in the postseason or you’re finished before we get there.
Strikeouts will equal wins in the playoffs this year, because a juiced ball is an advantage for the offense whenever it’s in play. Slugging % kings will dominate the scoreboard. Yet don’t miss the deeper dynamic of how those factors combine. A poor contact-hitting team cannot blast as many shots off the wall because their % chances of doing so are slimmer than their opponents.
Especially when managers of elite stables line up an A-list pitching staff and turn it loose in October.
The New York Yankees are currently a (+425) wager to win the 2019 World Series at MyBookie, and I’m absolutely in love with that market. By contrast, the Bums are paying-off by just above 2-to-1, meaning that you’ve got to wait months to see if L.A. will remain as hot as it is now, then hope to prevail in the World Series just to make about $200 on a Benjamin.
The Bronx Bombers are so deep that they’ve won with a B-team on the diamond, and we know that finding an offense in clutch situations is a more fickle and precise task than ever because of the exaggerated up-and-down outcomes produced by a juiced ball. Why not stick with the club that has proven it will continue to click no matter what…as opposed to the regular-season phenoms.
2019 MLB Regular Season: Free Moneyline Gambling Tip
Considering that there aren’t a lot of epic 9-innings pitcher’s duels in the MLB regular season these days, it might read weird for a blogger to come out with “touchy-feely” advice on hardball betting.
Yes, it’s a brand-new “moneyball” era – moneyball squared. Skippers are often dismissing the “less outs” principle to emphasize more of the “more baserunners, more live balls” facet of scientific offense. Teams must be mentally prepared to look for long-ball and extra base-hit opportunities from the plate at all times or risk falling behind the scoring pace of their opponents.
But that’s just it – it’s still a mental game. The ebb and flow of fatigue and injury, the psychology of how series, road trips, and half-season stints begin and end – these are more crucial factors than ever in 2019. “System” gamblers who take underdogs to avoid sweeps-against in the final ballgame of a series, or those who bet against underdogs after wins? They’re having the last laugh.
Avoid “sure thing” favorites at all times unless the price is right. Gambling on clubs to produce such delicate and disciplined offense – with 3 separate cylinders clicking – on any given day is a fool’s errand, even if it’s the Dodgers and the Yanks taking turns visiting Camden Yards.
Line-movement is often indicating winners on the Over/Under and Run Line in 2019. That’s because clubs can’t do anything about their trajectories and slumps except to play through them.
Bookmakers still foolishly open streaking ballclubs at “+” moneylines against division leaders and Wild Card placeholders. That’s the time to strike and bet on the grooved-in lineup at the right price.
The baseball still doesn’t care what anyone’s salary is – it’s just not very “juiced” when resting in a catcher’s mitt.