For sports gamblers, life revolves around “the line.” That’s the price or the odds set by the sportsbooks for any given wager. It’s the single most crucial factor when making picks, as it determines how much value exists. If you aren’t betting based on value, then you aren’t going to be a winning handicapper; it’s as simple as that.
Novice sports bettors often believe that gambling on games is merely a matter of picking the winning team, but it’s actually a more involved process. The first thing you have to do when handicapping a game is to perform regression analysis and collect data. You want to find as many variables that correlate to winning baseball as possible; the more specific, the better.
Before a contest, you want to use all of the relevant data collected about both clubs and set your own line. So, you’ll be acting as the bookmaker. This requires you to break down how the game will most likely play out the majority of the time and assign a percentage of probability for both sides of the bet. Next, you’ll convert those percentages into moneyline odds, which we’ll go over later.
Once you’ve created your own betting line, you’re ready to decide whether or not a pick is worth a wager. You compare the odds that you set against whatever the sportsbook has as the current price. If you believe a team has a higher probability of winning than the bookmaker’s line suggests, that bet has value. For example, if after handicapping the matchup, you believe the Dodgers are only a +120 underdog to the Red Sox, but the book is paying out at +160, that bet has value.
So, successful sports gambling becomes a never-ending cycle of data collection and analysis, trying to get your predictions more and more accurate. Once that part of the work is complete, wagering on sports becomes simple side-by-side comparisons between the two numbers. However, giving quality predictions takes practice, which is why we’re discussing some of the information you should collect when creating an MLB betting line.
While these variables are all influential when it comes to the outcome of games, there’s always much more that can be found. Major League Baseball records enormous data sets, which handicappers are perpetually combing through, adding one filter after another in an attempt to isolate the stats that matter most to winning baseball games.
Once you have some valuable data, you’ll want to prioritize the statistics, weighing them all differently until you’ve perfected your model. We’ll go more into these parts of the process of creating a line in the following sections.
Regression analysis is a method of looking into past data and statistics to identify independent variables which seem to have historically had a strong impact on baseball wins. Database sites like Bet Labs allow you to access vast sets of data where you can apply various filters until you discover something useful to your handicapping. You want to get as specific as possible, breaking the stats down as narrowly as possible, with many layers to your query so that you can cut out most of the noise and junk data.
The idea is to gain an edge on the public bettors and even the sportsbook by finding trends that aren’t being accounted for in the odds. That’s called finding an “edge.” For example, when analyzing a baseball team, you may notice that their ace always loses in batters’ parks against left-hand-heavy lineups when a particular umpire is at the plate.
Then you save this betting system and stay on the lookout for the exact scenario you researched. The idea is to gather lots of these different strategies and organize them so that you only bet when the numbers are in your favor. The professional handicappers have complex analytics models that consider all of these statistical trends when simulating upcoming contests. That’s the next level when you’re really ready to get serious!
What’s great about Major League Baseball is that data is always incredibly easy to find; there’s tons of it! Every season consists of 2,430 regular-season games, plus the playoffs. Plus, baseball statistics stay relevant much longer than those in other sports, so you can dig further back through the numbers to locate essential variables. You can never have too much information; as you will find, the more knowledge at your disposal when creating your lines, the more accurate they should be.
You’ll notice when looking at the board at a sportsbook that for baseball, the starting pitcher is always included with the team name, bet number, and the odds. It makes sense, after all. The starting pitcher is the most valuable position in the entire game. Nobody touches the ball more or has as massive an impact on the outcome as the man on the mound.
For the most part, the starting pitchers are the only information casual baseball bettors even bother with. While they are the most influential athletes in the game, they are quite overvalued from a betting perspective because of the amount of gambling action brought in on names alone. Which is ridiculous, because even Hall of Fame-caliber throwers have winning percentages barely over .500 most of the time.
When creating an MLB betting line, you will want to know what kind of wager you are making. Sportsbooks allow you to either bet the full game or only five innings. The more protracted contest will see more action from the bullpen, lessening the starter’s importance, while the shorter wager will heighten the pitcher’s significance to the odds.
Keep in mind that the bookmaker’s betting odds are going to be weighted heavily by the throwers who start the game on the mound. You’ll need them to play a central role in your line as well, but probably to a lesser degree so that you may consider more factors.
It’s not very often that the starting pitcher goes for the whole game these days. Yet the odds are primarily determined by the starter alone. Make sure to put just as much time and energy into studying bullpens, because these days, they are crucial to the final score.
When you’re handicapping an upcoming game, you’ll want to look at how much use the relievers have been getting in recent contests. A fatigued bullpen can spell disaster if the starter isn’t able to manage six or seven innings. If they’ve been heavily in use in recent games, you will want to remember that late-game runs are probable and to include that in your line despite the pitcher who’s starting.
As with the previous section, how significantly you weigh the impact of this position depends on the bet you intend to make. Betting on the full game will increase the chances of the team relying on their bullpen. If it’s just a four- or five-inning bet, they’ll have much less to do with the result.
When handicapping a Major League Baseball matchup, you’ll want to be mindful of the league in which it is taking place. In the National League, pitchers take at-bats and typically occupy the last spot in the batting order. Meanwhile, in the American League, the pitcher’s spot in the lineup is replaced by a designated hitter.
If you’re considering gambling on the run totals, whether the game is being played under NL or AL rules will matter because the designated hitters are usually much better on offense than pitchers. The DH doesn’t play defense. They just hit, and they are often one of the franchise’s most potent sluggers. In the other league, very few pitchers are dangerous from the plate.
During interleague play, the home team gets to play by their league’s rules. This is true for the World Series as well. When you’re breaking down the game, you’ll want to analyze how playing under the other league’s rules will affect the road club. Many National League teams don’t have a bench player to slot into their designated hitter role that’s anywhere near as talented as the athletes hired to fill that spot in the AL.
When the game is being played in a National League park, consider what taking the DH out of the AL squad’s lineup will do. The American League teams have to decide whether to remove a fielder and make the designated hitter play defense or to merely leave them on the bench while the pitcher takes their spot in the order. These are going to be significant inclusions when you’re creating an MLB betting line.
You’ll always want to factor in where the contest is taking place when handicapping baseball. As you’ll see later on, the ballpark itself plays a massive role in how games play out. But more than just where the game is played and the dimensions it’s played in, you’ll need to understand how both competitors perform on the road and at home.
Don’t just look at their wins and losses home and away, though; you’ll be better served by breaking those numbers down further. First, just check both teams’ records in recent home stands and road trips, not necessarily the entire season. Next, look at the offensive and defensive averages separately for home and away. Then you can take your handicapping much further by analyzing whether right- or left-handed batters and pitchers performed better in the upcoming stadium and what weather conditions were present during shutouts and big offensive outbursts alike.
Some teams are built to perform well in their stadium but don’t travel well to other parks, while others can perform consistently regardless. You’ll want at least some information regarding the tendencies at home and away and some insight into why those patterns exist. Is their home stadium a pitcher’s park, or does it benefit the offense? Does their road record get worse the longer their road trips last? These are the types of variables that will help you create an accurate line.
Another meaningful subject worth studying when creating an MLB line is the stylistic matchup between the two competitors. Most clubs have an identity or a way of playing the game that best suits their roster. Some teams focus on the long ball, while others care about contact and batting men over runs. Trying to predict how a contest will play out is a puzzle, and both squads’ playing style is a substantial piece.
You’ll want to know both sides’ strengths and weaknesses. Look at the type of balls the pitcher specializes in, whether they be breaking balls or if he’s more of a power thrower. Does he give up lots of contact and hope for pop flies and grounders, or does he blow by batters for lots of strikeouts each start? You need the answers to these questions for both teams’ starters.
Then you look at the lineup and offensive numbers for both rosters. Are they hitting lots of home runs? Do they make lots of contact? Do they have lots of batters who fly out often or ground into double plays? You compile all of this information, then compare how the strengths and weaknesses mesh with their opponent. A power-hitting squad versus a pitcher that gives up lots of contact in a hitters’ park is probably going to put up lots of runs.
Ultimately, you’ll combine your analysis of their playing styles with the assigned umpire, the park factors, and everything else on this list to paint a clearer picture. That’s when you’ll have a good idea of what the proper probability of each team winning is, giving you the right betting line.
Baseball is wholly unique in the way they handle the dimensions of their ballparks. Of course, the diamond, distance from the mound to home plate, foul lines, and base running paths are all standardized, but outside of the diamond, things get interesting. Within some set parameters, franchises may build their outfield however they see fit, concerning both the distance from home plate and the height of the outfield walls.
The dimensions, combined with the city’s elevation, wind patterns, and weather, create parks that usually either favor the pitcher or the hitters. These many ingredients combine to become what we call MLB park factors. They are a vital piece of the overall contest.
Luckily for handicappers, there are plenty of websites on which to find information regarding park factors. Data is collected on everything that takes place in the park so that you can dig through offensive and defensive averages and more. Because of the way some parks are built, homers may be easier to come by in one side of the outfield than the other. You’ll want this info to compare to both lineups and where the players usually send the ball when they put it into play.
At Minute Maid Stadium in Houston, the most accessible spot to place home runs is in the left field, along the foul line, in a section called the Crawford Boxes. These stands jut in from outfield wall and make for a much shorter homerun than elsewhere in the stadium. This is an advantage for right-handed hitters that can pull pitches into the short porch.
Every park will have unique features like the Crawford Boxes. The Red Sox have the Green Monster at Fenway Park, the Rockies have their high altitude and enormous outfield with lots of space for fair balls, and the Diamondbacks have a massive wall in centerfield that’s stingy with homers but creates more base hits. When handicapping a game, know the ballpark, including its peculiar quirks.
Baseball is a summer sport, so many of the stadiums feature an open roof. This makes weather an essential ingredient in matchups played outside. This goes hand-in-hand with park factors as environmental variables that strongly influence the type of game that’s played, before even considering the athletes participating or the umpires. In fact, if you know the conditions, you can often predict the scoring output before looking at the teams.
Games will be canceled or delayed for rain and snow, but otherwise, the contest goes on. Keep an eye on the temperature, humidity, and wind in particular. When it’s colder outside, games are traditionally lower-scoring, as the ball does not travel as far in the cool air. Conversely, shots will fly further when it’s warm, especially if the humidity levels are elevated.
We’ve seen rain delays swing important matchups in the past, which can be a possibility as well. If you’re making a bet based on starting pitching, rain delays can be brutal, forcing the thrower to rest and cool off his shoulder until the conditions improve.
This happened in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, tied at 6-6 after the ninth inning. The seventeen-minute delay allowed the Cubs, who had given up a sizable lead, to regroup and slow the Indians’ momentum. Chicago went on to win the game and series that night! So check out those weather reports before setting your line, and consider the possibility of rain delays affecting starting pitching and momentum.
Wind Reports – Chicago
Speaking of Chicago, they are a bit special when it comes to weather, and more specifically, wind. The totals betting odds for Chicago Cubs home games aren’t published the night before the showdown, as is the case with other clubs. Instead, bookmakers wait until the day of the game to release the lines, and this is due to the wind reports.
The reason for this treatment is because the wind plays a massive role in how the ball travels in Wrigley Field. If the wind is blowing out to right field, it tends to carry balls over the right-field wall. On days in which the wind is blowing in from the center, you’ll see more pop flies on well-hit balls that would have been homers otherwise. If it makes a big enough difference that the bookies sit on their odds, you know it’s an essential element when handicapping.
As you can see, there are a ton of variables that significantly impact baseball games that have nothing to do with the two teams taking the field. We’ve already discussed park factors and weather; the third primary factor is the umpire. Baseball is all about balls and strikes, so it’s natural for the person calling them to be an extremely crucial piece of the equation.
Whether a matchup is an offensive run-fest or a defensive battle largely depends on the umpire’s strike zone. Umps who typically utilize a larger strike zone reside over more pitchers’ duels and low-scoring affairs. With more space to operate, pitchers can work the corners of the zone and keep batters guessing and missing all night long.
On the other hand, an official with a small strike zone is a pitcher’s nightmare. This forces them to put more balls over the plate, which dramatically increases the offense’s odds of putting runs on the board. For one, it leads to more walks. Teams that are good at taking pitches and working the count will abuse throwers in this predicament. Secondly, more contact is likely to be made, since batters will quickly realize where the pitch is probably being delivered on close counts.
The good news is, you won’t need to study and research umpires yourself. There are already many resources out there that keep track of all the relevant officiating statistics. Most of the umps follow relatively consistent patterns; if their strike zone is small, it’s almost always small, and vice versa. Make sure that the umpire’s effect on the game makes its way into your betting line.
This is also a good place to mention starting pitching once again. MLB umpire assignments are one of the reasons you can’t just look at the pitcher and their record, because with a larger strike zone, a thrower may be an absolute ace, but with a restricted zone, they get lit up. There are too many outside factors that determine how their game goes.
Travel and Fatigue
As you know, the Major League Baseball season is an abnormally long one, with 162 regular-season games per team. That means there are lots of long road trips that every club must face throughout their campaign. The extended time away from home begins to take its toll; athletes are only human, after all. However, there are some instances when performance decreases once a team returns home.
Anyone who has ever experienced jet lag knows that there’s a noticeable decline in energy and mental clarity after traveling. Well, this is especially true when going from west to east, especially after spending at least a week on the west coast. In fact, we now have scientific proof that these performance declines are real and a result of an athlete’s circadian rhythms.
Circadian rhythms are the human body’s internal body clock. It’s the natural timer that tells you when it’s time to wake and when to sleep and is fundamentally tied to your daily routines. When flying from west to east, the body is way behind the time changes, and so that 7 pm game is now occurring when the body is winding down for sleep.
At Northwest University, researchers found significant decreases in athletic performance that took twenty-four hours of recovery per time zone crossed to fully recover from. So, a team returning home to the east coast stadium could conceivably be out of sorts for an entire series. The casual bettors almost certainly will not consider this fact when betting, so factoring it into your line could give you an edge.
Teams go on both winning and losing streaks throughout the MLB season. The sport is all about statistical probabilities, and organizations experience both ends of the spectrum, as far as variance is concerned. Plus, it has such a long season which includes nagging injuries, fatigue, mental lapses, and the full gamut of performance outcomes.
Baseball is a sport that requires tons of focus, concentration, and confidence. Winning begets more winning as the players ride high on the confidence from recent victories. The longer a winning streak goes, the more excited the players and fans get, bringing the clubhouse closer and closer together as they rally around more wins.
Losing works the same way, with every subsequent defeat weighing more and more heavily over the entire roster. Players start overthinking their at-bats or pitching outings and try to force their way back to their usual level. The more they press, the worse it gets. It usually takes a great play or a huge win to stop that negative inertia.
Because streaks are so commonplace in Major League Baseball, you are better off favoring recent events over season-long records and statistics. You don’t want to be the handicapper to bet against the winning streak; it’s a losing bet most of the time. When creating an MLB betting line, you should lean towards the assumption that the last five to ten games are reflective of how a club will continue to play.
Another easy stat to look up is the head-to-head record between the two opponents. The overall record doesn’t always tell the whole story. Because MLB clubs play schedules made up of different opponents and levels of difficulty, the season-long wins and losses might not tell you who is the better team. Instead, just examine how they’ve played against each other thus far in the year. If the rosters are relatively the same, you may even look at last season’s matchups.
Is it completely one-sided or fairly even? Even if the record looks like one side dominated, were the games themselves close? If one team has clearly been superior over the other, you should factor that into your handicapping. There may be a stylistic issue at play. Sometimes a club just has your team’s number, even if your organization is ultimately the better baseball team overall.
Like we said earlier, baseball is a game that requires extraordinary mental focus. Sometimes a team’s investment in the contest is directly tied to the stakes at hand. For example, coming down the final stretch of the season, some teams will firmly have their division title and a playoff spot clinched, while others will be fighting to grab one of the last Wild Card spots, if not their own division.
If these two organizations met during the last week of the season, it wouldn’t matter that the team with a playoff spot already clinched is the better team overall. You should assume that the team with something they’re still playing for will be more engaged and inspired. Now, some clubs can be hurt by the added pressure, but that will start to show in recent games if it’s not already a full-out collapse.
Similarly, other franchises will be purposely losing late in the year to secure a higher draft pick. Typically, the teams at the very bottom of the standings are in the middle of the rebuild. These are the organizations that trade their best players at the deadline for picks and prospects. When handicapping, you’d probably already be setting a line with such a team’s opponent heavily favored, due to their record, but it’s still worth being mindful of such clubs down the stretch.
Analyze/Model the Data
Once you’ve identified the many data points you want to use in your handicapping, it’s time to analyze them all and forecast probable outcomes. Professional handicappers will use powerful analytical models to crunch all of the numbers and simulate the contest, but it can take some serious time to get to that point. Through the season, you should track which factors seem to matter most to the final score or totals line, and which aren’t as important.
Then you want to give each factor its own weight or priority. So, some variables influence the result more than others, even though all still matter on some level. Bringing in new stats while tweaking the significance of the values you’re already watching is a continuous effort. When you make a change that brings your prediction closer to the actual happenings, you keep that setting and alter other numbers. If your predictions start to slip, you reverse the recent changes.
Becoming a successful sports gambler requires time, lots of data collection, and an understanding of value. That means you have to know that the likelihood of your desired result happening is higher than the implied probability of the sportsbook’s odds. To discern the answer to that question, you need something to compare with the bookie’s line. That’s where handicapping comes into the picture.
Handicapping a game involves breaking down all of the various factors at play during a contest and calculating the probability either side has of winning. From there, you can convert the percentage you’ve established into betting odds, giving you a moneyline number. If that number is closer to zero (a lower negative number [-120 > -160] or higher positive [+300 > +200]) than the house’s betting odds, that bet has value.
Looking at baseball (and sports in general) wagers in terms of their value is the only way to win money long term. It can be difficult at first to bet a team with a 30% chance of winning because their implied probability gives them only 20%. You may just want to bet the other side since they appear favored to win. But trust us, by sticking to the value pick, over time, your bankroll will grow. You may not win as frequently, but your wins will pay enough to make all of this hard work well worth it.