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Spotting Upsets in Major League Baseball

Upset Baseball

What’s better than the “I told you so” celebration that occurs immediately after a big longshot prediction comes true? There aren’t many sports-related feelings more satisfying – unless, of course, those “I told you so’s” come with a nice fat payout as well! To experience this phenomenon through baseball betting, you’re going to need to spot and wager on the right underdogs.

Luckily for you, baseball is the ideal sport for gambling on underdogs. For one, the differences in the winning percentages between the top teams and the very worst are the narrowest margin of all the major professional sports. Underdogs win just about every day of the season. Between the 182-game season and the multitude of factors that can influence a game’s outcome, there’s a ton of variance in day-to-day performance.

All we as gamblers have to do is figure out how to identify these many upsets before they happen. In this guide, we’d like to share a variety of the most crucial variables to consider when searching for promising underdogs. While there’s no sure-fire way of spotting upsets, by knowing which data to analyze, you can significantly improve your accuracy and increase your ability to locate value in the betting lines.

Rest/Circadian Rhythms

The Major League Baseball season is 182 games long, meaning many contests will be played between fatigued or unfocused players. We research a team’s recent travel schedule to identify situations in which a typically-better squad may underperform, creating an ideal condition in which to bet the underdog. In fact, you can use specific travel patterns to predict almost certain performance drop-offs by considering something called “circadian rhythms.”

A circadian rhythm is a person’s internal body clock. These natural rhythms regulate sleep patterns, when people are hungry, and when they feel the urge to wake up. Northwestern University did a research study on the effect circadian rhythms have on athletic performance, particularly in sports in which the athletes must travel across the country, through multiple time zones. They found that teams who were returning home, flying from the west coast to the east, would experience a noticeable decline in both hitting and pitching averages.

Athletes require an additional 24 hours to recover for each time zone they pass through.

Factoring these kinds of circumstances into your handicapping is how you predict likely upsets. The talent levels of the players on each roster and which pitchers are starting are what the majority of baseball gamblers base their decisions on. You want to look at scenarios in which the more talented team plays below their usual level and opens the door for lesser teams to thrive. A top-tier club loaded with jet-lagged players facing a rested underdog is as good as it gets for spotting upsets!

Keep in mind that due to the length of time recovery from travel requires, you can focus on this variable for more than one game in a series. If the Yankees come home from California to face the Red Sox in New York, then during those first two or three games, they’ll still be feeling the effects of travel. If the Red Sox were previously playing in Boston, they’ll have a legitimate advantage, despite being the away team.

Beware of Umpire Assignments

If baseball is a game dictated by balls and strikes, it makes sense that a crucial variable to consider is the man calling the action. An umpire’s strike zone has an enormous influence over how a game will be played. If they’re utilizing a smaller zone, you can count on more hits and a higher overall run total. If they’re giving the pitcher more space within which to operate, expect more strikeouts and a lower-scoring affair.

Before we go into how you can research umpire tendencies, you should know how officiating rotations work. Each game in a series, the umpires rotate clockwise, so the home plate umpire from game one moves to third base for game two.

Knowing this, you can research the tendencies of all four umps before the series and anticipate how each game will be called before the first is played. Paired with the pitching assignments for the series, you can find favorable matchups on which to wager; for example, a pitcher known to utilize the edges being paired with a smaller strike zone in game two.

Because officiating is such an integral piece of any given baseball game’s result, many statistical websites track umpire data. Take the time to get to know the men behind the plate. It could significantly improve your gambling success rate. Combined with the tendencies of the starting pitching, the park in which the game is played, and the conditions, this data can give you a decent picture of how things will play out.

Park Factors

MLB ParksAn intriguing and fundamental factor in handicapping in baseball is how every park is unique. Unlike other sports where the entirety of the playing field is standardized, in the MLB, only the diamond, pitcher’s mound, and foul lines are set. The dimensions of the outfield, including the wall heights, are left to the discretion of the franchises, within some basic boundaries.

You’ll find that some parks are more favorable to pitchers, while others are hitters’ parks. This is information you’re absolutely going to need when searching for potential upsets. Just like the umpire variable, the idea is to find park factors that benefit the underdog team or hinder the favorite.

Hitting and pitching statistics (park factors) are tracked for all of the major-league ballparks online. Some sites even break down whether a stadium is better for left-handed or right-handed hitters and pitchers. The more useful data you can acquire, the better. Then, all you have to do is compare the results with the two rosters about to face off and determine who will fare better in that environment. Hopefully, it’s the underdog, since we’re spotting upsets!

Home/Away Records

It may seem a little too obvious that you’d examine teams’ home and away records when spotting upsets, but it’s still worth remembering. Most groups will perform slightly better in their home stadium, which makes sense considering the team was built with those park factors in mind. When looking for data that will help you predict underdog victories, though, you are looking for unusual trends or patterns that stand out.

If a team is significantly better at home, you need to know what kind of park they’re performing so well in and which locations around the league have similar dimensions.

Note:

In that situation, it also may be a good idea to see where the majority of these road losses occurred and if there are any similarities between parks in which they’ve struggled.

It’s possible that some teams just travel poorly. If that’s the case, the bookmakers are already aware and will factor that into the line, but the public may not be as wise. So, if you’re hoping to bet against a team that stinks on the road but has a decent record or a big-name pitcher coming up in the rotation, you may want to wait for the public money to come pouring in and then place your bet at the last moment to get as much value as possible out of the line movements.

Underdogs Following a Low-Scoring Win

Sometimes the best way to spot an upcoming upset is to wait for it to happen already! Now, it’s not wise to double down on the underdog every time they prevail over a favored opponent, but under the right circumstances, it actually works. However, you don’t want any old underdog win from the night before. It has to be a low-scoring game, meaning three runs or less were scored.

Furthermore, you’re looking for games that occurred in the same series. An underdog that just beat a different opponent does you no good; instead, you want a team that upset the favorite in game one or two of a series so that you can bet on the next contest. Having the ability to win low-scoring outings speaks to a strong bullpen and a reliable defense; those are the teams that win as underdogs.

Since 2004, teams that have met these criteria have won the next matchup 44% of the time. This means that any underdog line set at +130 or above has value and is worth wagering. You may not win the majority of these games, but when you do, they’ll pay enough to be profitable long-term.

Especially Versus Division Rivals

To take this tip to the next level, locate situations in which this same scenario plays out between division rivals. When this occurs, your chances of winning go up a few percentage points.

That means any upset pick at +130 odds or longer is worth taking a swing at, although games that follow this pattern usually list the dogs around +140.

At a 44% winning percentage, you’re looking at an 8% return, which you can’t pass up as a sports gambler. As long as you’re adhering to some kind of staking plan, these types of value bets should pay off nicely over time.

Weather

As you probably know, severe weather patterns result in delays or the outright cancellation of baseball games. They don’t trudge through the elements like football players. Regardless, weather forecasts that aren’t drastic enough to cancel the contest can play an essential role in both hitting and pitching, and that includes the occasional delay.

Once again, the way to use weather forecasts to your advantage is by searching out situations in which the elements will only help the underdog and/or harm the favorite.

For Example

An ace pitcher scheduled to start despite high chances of rain or lightning. If there’s a high probability of a delay lasting an hour or so, that interruption can significantly disrupt the ace’s rhythm.

Also, teams that are favored due to park factors and hitting can run into trouble in cold conditions that cause balls to stay in the park and slows offensive production in general.

In the heat, particularly in humidity, the baseball travels farther off the bat. This is another variable to consider when handicapping an upcoming game, if that fact may assist the underdog in their contest. Then there’s the wind. Depending on which way it’s blowing, it may assist shots in flying out of the park or hinder them. Is the favorite a team that relies on the long ball? If so, the right wind pattern could be the assistance the dog needs to prevail.

Relief Pitching vs. Starting Pitching

The betting public adores starting pitchers. Because that’s what determines the bulk of the casual wagers, the odds are commonly heavily biased in favor of who starts the game on the mound. This causes the lines to move to the point where the top aces in the sport are regularly favored at nearly -200 odds. That would require a 66.67% winning percentage to break even on, even though the best pitchers often have just over a 50% win rate.

For this reason, you may want to pay more attention to the bullpen than the starter, as relievers tend to stay undervalued. While they may not have the same name recognition or a spot on the board next to the betting odds, they play just as critical a role in modern baseball. Ideally, you’ll find a starting pitcher playing in unfriendly conditions matched up against a lesser starter with a strong bullpen behind them. That’s a tremendous recipe for hitting an upset pick.

Favorable Stylistic Matchups

This is a concept that we’ve touched upon in the previous sections, but it’s worth expounding upon here. All of the variables mentioned in this article will play a role in the eventual outcome of every game; the trick is making them work for you. That means you must understand the style of baseball that both teams are likely to play and how it meshes with the stadium, officiating, weather, and other team statistics and data. The goal is to find as many factors as possible going in the underdog’s favor while they still have underdog odds.

You may need to dig deeper into common statistics to find exploitable stylistic matches.

For Example

A left-handed stud pitcher facing a team full of right-handed hitters is more likely to struggle than they would during other starts. Or, for instance, a team full of long-ball hitters in a ballpark that’s stingy to hitters, and with an unfavorable wind forecast.

Effective handicapping is all about studying all of the crucial elements of the game and using them to predict an outcome accurately. The biggest upset wins will come when the favored team is starting a marquee pitcher, but all of the surrounding variables work against his strengths. What those variables will be depends on the pitcher’s individual strengths and weaknesses. The public will be betting heavily on the pitcher’s name alone, so if you’re patient, you should always be able to get a decent price when fading these lines.

A Brief Overview of Value

Before wrapping this article up, we should talk briefly about gambling value. So much of profiting from underdog betting depends on probability and its relationship to the betting odds. In most cases, you aren’t going to win a high percentage of games betting on upsets. But that’s okay because you don’t have to in order to remain profitable.

The odds always carry an implied value. This means that by converting the line into a percentage, you can observe the implied value, which is the likelihood of that bet winning according to the odds.

For Example

The implied value for +140 odds is 41.67%. That means the bet only needs a realistic likelihood of winning 42% of the time or more to hold positive value.

When betting on underdogs, you’ll commonly be selecting teams with a 40% or less chance of winning the actual game. But as long as their chances are higher than the odds suggest, you are still making the right decision. Because underdog bets pay out so well, the games you do win will quickly make up for the more frequent losses. It all becomes a simple math problem.

Take time to read more articles about betting value and implied probability on our site. With a firm understanding of these concepts and a disciplined staking plan, you can seriously increase your bankroll despite hitting well under half your bets.

Identifying the factors shared throughout this article will help you form a realistic opinion about the winning probability of the underdog. Then you just compare the chances you’re giving them with the implied probability, and if you think the odds are better than the sportsbook’s line suggests, you should pull the trigger on that wager. Over time, as your handicapping gets better and data collection becomes more refined, you’ll be that much better at spotting the right upsets.

Wrapping Things Up

If you’re looking to experience the joys of collecting some serious returns on a single bet, then underdog betting is the wagering style for you. Naturally, we all want to earn the biggest payouts possible whenever we gamble; it’s the reason we’re here! Now, honestly, consistently hitting upset picks is easier said than done. However, by paying attention to the right factors and collecting the relevant data, you can drastically improve your chances.

One of the most favorable aspects of wagering on upsets is that you don’t need to necessarily win a high percentage of bets to make money. Depending on the average odds on which you’re betting, you may only need to hit 25% – 40% of your picks!

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So, successful underdog betting ends up being a matter of researching the significant variables, identifying probable upset situations, and placing a wager anytime the likelihood of your desired outcome is higher than the odds suggest.

This is called betting for value, which you can learn more about in our dedicated articles on the subject.

For the handicapper willing to put a tad more effort into their picks than merely looking at starting lineups and run differential, betting on baseball can be a lucrative and entertaining prospect. Not only does the game present numerous opportunities in which upsets take place, but the data-driven nature of the game makes research and analysis more convenient. Prioritize the factors in this article and keep value gambling in mind, and you’ll be well on your way to yelling “I told you so” all the way to the bank!