There’s no denying that when gambling on Major League Baseball, the starting pitcher plays a significant role in dictating the betting lines. He’s the athlete with control of the ball on almost every play, while most positions are only active during at-bats and the odd fielding opportunity. But is the starting thrower a variable of the outcome that’s currently overrated by the public and most handicappers?
So much goes into the result of a Major League Baseball game. You have the weather, the ballpark, umpire assignments, team strengths and weaknesses, plus the bullpen. How much responsibility the man on the mound holds over a team’s success largely depends on the club and its overall talent levels. How many innings does he usually go? How many runs does his team score on average? How is the opponent’s hitting?
A popular baseball handicapping debate revolves around what to do concerning last-minute pitching changes just before a game one wishes to bet on. Most online sportsbooks give bettors two options when making their picks; they can bet the “action” or only the “listed” starter. We’ll break down what those two choices are in this article and explore the best ways to handle these late changes in the rotation.
Action vs. Listed
As we’ve covered in some of our other baseball guides, the starting pitcher is widely regarded as the most critical element of handicapping MLB contests. So much so that the bookies list both starters’ names next to each team’s odds. But that’s not all they list; they also provide two additional choices, one that says “action” and the other that says “listed.”
When you take the action, that means you’re wagering on that squad to win, regardless of who actually stands on the mound. Any last-minute changes won’t influence your bet in any way; you’re locked in on the action line until the game is complete.
If you choose the listed option, your bet will only count if the pitcher that’s listed along with the odds starts the game as expected. Any last-second changes will result in “no action,” which means your staking amount will be returned, and your wager is canceled. When you bet the listed pitcher, the other team’s substitutions have no bearing on your pick.
Say, for instance, that the Houston Astros are starting Justin Verlander against Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers. You take Verlander and the Astros listed. Just before the festivities begin, Los Angeles chooses to rest Kershaw and to start someone else instead. What happens next will depend on the sportsbook and the specific bet.
Some bookmakers make you choose both pitchers by selecting “listed,” meaning this bet would be canceled. However, others will allow the bettor to choose only one listed pitcher. If your bet only covers the presence of Justin Verlander starting the game, your wager will continue on as usual, regardless of Clayton’s status.
The Waning Importance of Starting Pitching
In the early days of professional baseball, starters were expected to complete their outing and finish the game. That’s why so many of the career pitching records were set by athletes from a bygone era, with values for stats like “most complete games,” “most innings pitched,” and “most strikes thrown” all utterly unobtainable in the modern game. The position has gradually changed and is treated differently by managers and handicappers alike.
In March, prior to the 2018 MLB season, Bill Simmons’ website “The Ringer” published an article highlighting the significant evolution the position has been undergoing for years now. The role has evolved from one of durability and longevity to high performance and specialization, with limits on things like the pitch count. Teams would prefer their athletes use everything in the tank for five or six innings than preserve themselves with less effective throws over eight or nine.
The article found that starting pitchers are throwing fewer innings per season than at any other time in Major League Baseball history. In 2017, a record was set when 315 different players started a game at pitcher. Teams are spreading out the pitching duties all across the league. They’re also finding it more useful to alternate different styles of thrower into the fourth and fifth spots of their rotation, rather than attempting to fill those spots with year-long above-average pitchers.
All of the data in the aforementioned article from “The Ringer” points to a lessening of the influence starters have over the outcome of the game. They’re on the mound less, throw fewer balls, and generally aren’t expected to do as much. Meanwhile, bullpens are more crucial than ever. These are extremely significant facts as they pertain to gambling on baseball.
For years, handicappers would think you were crazy for betting the action and ignoring whether the listed player eventually started or not. However, with a public that’s still years behind in their analysis of this position and betting odds still so largely dependent on this one position, are listed bets still the way to go? Some of the top MLB handicappers seem to think not; betting action is where the value can be found if you know where to look.
Bullpens and Other Vital Factors
When you’re breaking down a baseball game, there are tons of statistics and independent variables to consider. How much of an effect the starting pitcher is expected to have is dependant upon the individual game itself as well as the two clubs competing.
In some situations, the starter is priority number one, while other matchups have several other considerations that are much more critical. Here are some of the other game elements to examine before deciding on an action or listed bet.
The Skill of the “Listed” Pitcher
Perhaps the most apparent aspect of the game to consider is how dominant the starting pitcher usually is. A club’s ace is always going to matter more than the fourth and fifth members of the rotation. This importance may be increased or reduced based on run support, fielding, and relief pitching.
Strength of Relievers
In today’s MLB, the bullpen is a vital piece of the puzzle for winning organizations. As we covered previously, starters are throwing fewer innings than ever, handing off a great deal of their traditional duties to relief pitchers. Teams with deeper bullpens can often withstand last-minute roster changes or bad outings from the starter.
Length of the Wager
The overall significance of the starting pitcher is also heavily linked to the type of wager being made. For most MLB matchups, handicappers may choose the number of innings on which to bet, with options that cut off after the fifth inning. The starter is a much larger influence on these wagers and less crucial to nine-inning bets.
Pitching as a whole is only one ingredient of many that impacts how the game is played. The type of ballpark has a massive influence on both sides. In a pitcher-friendly park, offense may be hard to come by no matter the opponent. In a hitter’s park, you may rely more heavily on the listed ace starting pitcher.
Similar to the park factors, the umpire assignments also have a significant effect on the contest. If you find that the home plate ump is prone to having a small strike zone, any athlete on the mound is likely to struggle, giving up lots of hits and runs. Officials with a tendency to utilize larger zones will be more favorable for all throwers, so you may not need to lean on the player that’s listed.
How both teams match up stylistically will also play a role in your decision to bet action or listed. Against the top clubs in the league, you may feel more inclined only to trust the listed starter. When facing lesser squads, the planned starter may not be necessary, so you can get by with betting the action and still feel confident that whoever takes the mound of your team will win.
Fatigue should play a central role in your decision-making as well. If the bullpen has been in frequent use in recent games, many of the relievers may be unavailable. This makes a late substitution much more significant to the betting line. If a club has their full bullpen available, the listed pitcher loses some value, but with tired relievers, the starter becomes more instrumental in winning the wager than ever.
Prime Situations for Active and Listed Bets
Neither of these betting options is the correct choice 100% of the time. A smart handicapper picks and chooses where to play each, with maximizing value in mind. When analyzing the contest, you’ll want to decide just how vital the starting pitching role is on that day, with all other variables considered.
If you are making a pick strictly based on who’s on the mound, bet “listed”
When you’re looking to bet against a specific starter, choose the listed option against the selected team
While handicapping the game, you notice that the club you have winning has leaned heavily on relief pitching in the last several matchups. If the starting pitcher isn’t able to go, you’d rather stay away, so you choose “listed”
If the game is taking place under unfavorable circumstances, possibly due to park factors or umpire assignments, and only an ace starter can be trusted to win the contest, pick “listed”
In an underdog matchup, you believe your club’s unknown pitcher will outduel another squad’s ace. This is due to a variety of additional factors surrounding the game. This is an excellent time to take the “action”
If you believe the talent disparity is so vast that your side will win regardless of who starts, go with the “action.” If the change does occur, your bet will be locked in at the new moneyline value, which should mean a higher payout
When too many variables seem to be assisting the hitting and not the pitching, it may be an excellent spot to pick the “action”
Another desirable scene for action wagers is when a team is down to their fourth or fifth spots in the rotation, and the replacement won’t be much of a drop-off from the starter
In the world of baseball handicapping, the conventional wisdom is always to choose bets requiring the listed pitcher to start. Bettors like to plan for as many possibilities as possible, and not knowing who will be on the mound is too big of a question mark for most. However, everyone is not in agreement regarding “listed” and “action” wagers, especially now that the game is evolving so rapidly.
The starting pitcher is still the most significant player on the field in any given MLB matchup. It’s the one position on defense that touches the ball every play (other than catcher), and their performance has the strongest correlation to the final results; at least that’s historically been the case. In recent years, franchises have begun using way more starters throughout the year than any time in the past. Suddenly, total innings pitched on the season are down across the board, while teams are utilizing more pitchers than ever. The job is being spread out amongst several athletes per game, rather than relying so much on just one.
This enormous change in baseball strategy creates some interesting decisions when it comes to gambling. Do you bet the game only if the listed pitcher can go, or do you pick a club regardless of who’s on the mound? The correct answer to this question largely depends on the rest of the team and the situation as a whole. With everything else taken into account as well, how do you see the game changing with another player starting instead?
Ultimately, there will be plenty of good times to bet on either one of the options. More often than not, the name listed along with the odds will start the game regardless of your choice. However, in those rare times that he doesn’t, you’ll need to decide if the data suggests his club will prevail or falter in his absence and if you’d like to bet to continue.
Traditionally, handicappers prefer to leave nothing to chance and always suggest sticking to the listed starter. But don’t let that dissuade you from taking some risks when you’ve done your homework in breaking down a game. If a change is made, you could be in position to get improved odds if you made that action pick. It just depends on the circumstances, which is always the case with Major League Baseball betting.