Helpful Baseball Handicapping Stats
We have all looked at a point spread or betting odds on an event and thought why is that team favored or why is the total that high? When betting sports, it’s helpful to understand what some of the elements are that go into setting lines and prices. When betting baseball or any sport for that matter, it’s a good idea to consider as many different factors relative to the matchup as possible. However, in order to obtain a real edge, you have to find information that may not already be factored into the line/price by the oddsmakers. In baseball, simply knowing the ERA of the two starting pitchers will not give you an edge because it’s likely already factored into the betting odds. You must dig a little deeper in order to find out why odds are as they appear. This will ultimately help you find “actionable information” to gain an advantage.
With so much to consider, player stats, saber metrics, team analytics, coaching tendencies and outside influences it’s tough to know where to start and where to end. You must establish a process or checklist of sorts. Below are some important baseball stats to consider, along with other aspects that can influence the betting odds. I should note that what’s listed below is also very likely factored into the betting odds but again it’s helpful knowing what goes into pricing teams.
WHIP (Walks + Hits Per Inning)
The majority of casual fans focus on ERA too much. It’s important to keep an eye on WHIP, which is the average number of hits and walks a pitcher gives up per inning pitched. The more runners a pitcher allows on base, the more likely it is they will give up a run. Rather than looking at overall ERA, keep an eye on WHIP.
Run Support Average
It doesn’t matter how well a pitcher performs if he isn’t getting the run support required to win games. As enticing as it is to pay close attention to pitcher statistics, run support is a key stat; just as important when evaluating pitching matchups.
Strikeouts Per Nine Innings Pitched (K/9)
K/9 is an underrated statistics for pitchers because it isn’t always used correctly. Pitcher with a high K/9 will usually thrive against an opponent with poor plate discipline. A team with good plate discipline could make a pitcher that relies heavily on K/9 pay for not relying on its defense.
G/F rate is one of the most useful stats for grading pitching matchups. The G/F ratio measures the tendency of ground balls given up by a pitcher versus the number of fly balls they give up. This statistic is best used in combination with evaluating whether a pitcher is playing in a hitter-friendly park or not. In smaller ballparks that favor the hitters, fly balls can be extremely dangerous. Add in weather, etc and you’ve got something.
Another number worth paying attention to is how the pitchers performed in previous starts. This is true not just for one game prior but for portions of a season at a glance. Sometimes past performance is one of the best indicators of how future performances will be.
Right/Left Handed Pitching Splits
Some batters hit right handed pitchers better than left handed pitchers and vice versa. Adjust based on how teams have performed versus either right-handed or left-handed pitchers depending on who is on the mound.
Simple but important. Runs per nine innings is as simple as it gets. How many runs do the teams playing one another average per game? Batting average and on base percentage are important factors but at the end of the day, it’s all about production.
OBP (On Base Percentage)
It’s exactly what it sounds like. OBP is a more accurate representation of a batter’s ability to get on base than their batting avg which is what a lot of people focus on. This will give you a percentage of time a batter gets on base compared to how many plate appearances. Walks, hit by pitch, fielder’s choice are not normally factored into most hitting stats but they’re included into a batters on base percentage.
SLG% (Slugging Percentage)
Slugging percentage is a popular measure of the power of a hitter. It is calculated as total bases divided by at bats but it weighs the type of hit; singles, doubles, triples and homeruns. Unlike batting average, slugging percentage gives more weight to extra-base hits. Plate appearances ending in walks are specifically excluded from this calculation, as an appearance that ends in a walk is not counted as an at bat.
Other Helpful Handicapping Factors
As is the case in most team sports, MLB teams tend to perform better at home than on the road. There will always be a couple of teams that perform slightly better on the road and it’s good to know who they are.
This might be more important than ever before. With teams playing 9 games in 10 days, managers must get creative with resting key players and juggling their lineups. Lineups are typically listed 3-4 hours before first pitch and you’ll noticed a lot of Daily Fantasy sites are quick with listing lineups and are good to bookmark. In baseball, missing a key player is just as important as other sports.
Also it’s good to know each teams strong side of the plate and the lefty vs righty splits. Teams that have a lot of strong lefty hitters may struggle vs a lefty pitcher but thrive vs a righty and vice versa. Managers tend to play different lineups based on the pitching matching and try to get righty batter vs lefty pitchers and lefty hitters vs righty pitchers. So knowing different teams’ strong and weak side and which pitcher they’re facing is absolutely factored into betting prices.
The key with bullpens is usage. If we see a bullpen go through 8 pitchers one night, it’s likely the next game the starting pitcher will have to go further into the game than normal. This season is a little different because of the expanded rosters (think each team has 3 or 4 extra players) and will have a few extra arms in the bullpen.
Also if you notice you are losing games late and your research is largely based on starting pitching matchups, you should strongly consider betting first 5 inning bets rather than full game.
Weather / BallParks
It’s important to understand the impact that weather can have on the games. Wind direction, temperature and humidity all can play a significant factor. It’s better to combine weather with the ballpark. Wrigley field is a popular ballpark as it relates to wind direction. As much as I love that trend it’s outdated. Wrigley field put up wind screens in the outfield and now have giant scoreboards that significantly cut down on wind. The Wrigley field system was so strong years ago that it still shows it being a profitable system now even though the edge has been gone for awhile now.
It’s important to know the difference between ballparks, not all stadiums are the same. For example, we are all familiar with Coors field, the thin air at altitude increases the flight of the ball.
1,000ft of altitude = 7ft of extra ball flight
Denver elevation is 5,280ft = Roughly 35 extra feet
Interesting note about Coors field is when they designed the park they didn’t take the altitude into consideration and balls were flying out of the park, they decided to push the walls back to adjust for it, this ultimately cause the outfield to be way more spaced out and Colorado has led the league in extra base hits because of this change.
Another ballpark that is uniquely related to weather is Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and the desert heat. They do have a retractable roof so it’s important to pay attention if they’re playing with it open or closed. One of my previous jobs was to just call the ball parks and asked about the roofs and if it will be open or closed. There are 6 other retractable roof stadiums in baseball besides Chase Field. And when betting totals be aware of the roofs. The Rogers Centre(TOR) SafeCo Field(SEA), Minute Maid Park(HOU), Miller Park(MIL), Marlins Stadium(MIA) and newly added Globe Life Park(TEX)
10 degree increase in temp = 1% increase in extra distance
1mph of wind = 3ft in distance
1in decrease in air pressure = 1.5% increase in distance
When looking at stadiums, get familiar with the shapes, some are just giant blocks and the wind doesn’t touch the field. Others are more open and act like a wind tunnel. A fly ball pitcher in Cincinnati might struggle more than in San Diego, Cincinnati has an open field concept and the winds can blow through the field and San Diego is closed in and blocks the wind. Some of the California parks near the coast have a marine layer that dead’s fly balls, all these little things add up to how a team is priced. Below is a really good weather site for baseball that I like to use
Umps are supposed to call games without bias and with consistency game to game. The reality is, humans have different tendencies and over a large enough sample size it reveals itself. Some umpires may have a small strike zone, which tends to result in tougher outings for pitchers. Some umpires have a bigger strike zone, which can force hitters to protect the plate more and swing at bad pitches.
Major League umpire Manny Gonzalez umped his first game back in May of 2011. In games where he is the home plate umpire, the games have gone over the posted total 57.6% of the time (133-98-19). He is calling the game fair with unbiased judgment but his idea of what a strike might be is different in comparison to another umpire. Ron Kulpa has been a major league umpire for roughly 15 years. Kulpa has been the home plate umpire in well over 400 games. The under in his games occur 57% (246-186-25) of the time when he is behind home plate.
Batters know which umps have a small strike zone and they can be more selective with their pitches. With umpires who have larger strike zones, the batter has to be more aggressive. Same rule goes for pitchers. They know which umps will give them the call on the edge of the plate. I personally don’t believe making a wager based solely on who is behind home plate is smart but it’s not a bad idea to be aware of who is. When betting all sports, it’s important to apply as many contributing factors to your decision as possible and umpires are a good contributing factor to apply.
Eddie Griffin has been writing about and Betting on sports for over a decade. For more of his thoughts on sports and sports betting, you can follow him on Twitter.