MLB BASEBALL BETTING—HANDICAPPING THE STREAK
PART 2: UNDERSTANDING BASEBALL STREAKS
The old sports cliché is that players and teams have to ‘take it one game at a time’. Baseball is different. There’s simply too many games and too many ‘moving parts’ that comprise the sport for the ‘one game at a time’ approach to work in baseball. There may be stretches where teams can approach the sport in this manner—for example, if a team needs to win five games to make the playoffs and there are seven games left in the season. On a very micro level, it is possible to play ‘game by game’ in baseball. This is only possible on the very short term, however, and these situations don’t happen often.
BASEBALL IS A PROCESS
Success or failure in all sports is due to an aggregation of factors. If a team maintains good focus, stays in shape, and excels in all of the relevant components of a sport they’ll win more games than they lose. If they don’t, they’ll lose more games than they win. Baseball takes this to an extreme. Moreover, in the other three major North American team sports (football, basketball, hockey) a team can win games with intensity, aggression, physicality, etc. That’s not possible in baseball. Think about it, have you ever seen an exceptional performance by an ‘angry’ baseball team? Every component of baseball that could theoretically benefit from this type of ‘intensity’ is balanced out by the need for finesse. A fireballing fastball pitcher might be able to raise his velocity by channeling his anger but at the expense of his control. It doesn’t matter if you can consistently hit 110 MPH with a fastball—if you can’t control where it goes you won’t be in the Major Leagues very long.
This is the reason that I always emphasize the concept that baseball is a process. This concept circumscribes every aspect of handicapping the sport. In general, if you approach sports betting as ‘trying to pick winners’ you will lose money in the longterm. The only way to approach it is to ‘find value and bet accordingly’. If you do this consistently the wins and losses take care of themselves and you’ll make money. There is a secondary imperative in baseball—if you don’t understand that baseball is a ‘process’ and handicapping it accordingly you’ll likely lose money over the longterm.
What does it mean that baseball is a ‘process’? Simple—it means that due to the intricacy of the game and the long 162 game season that’s the way teams have to approach it. Teams that implement the ‘process’ well win six of every ten games and finish near the top of the standings. Teams that struggle to implement the ‘process’ will lose six of every ten games and will finish off the pace. Baseball is by nature a streaky game but to the extent that teams maintain a ‘six of ten’ pace the better they’ll do when the season is over.
HOW THIS APPLIES TO STREAKS
What this means when applied to streaks is that ‘executing the process’ can only take a team so far. For a team to go on an extended winning streak they have to a) execute the process well and b) catch a lot of lucky breaks. A team that goes on a long losing streak can attribute it to a) poor execution of the process and b) a lot of bad luck.
This is why a winning streak (or for that matter a losing streak) is difficult to maintain no matter how good (or bad) a team is playing. There’s no way to account for ‘luck’ (or ‘variance’ if you prefer). A team can be awful but at some point they’ll catch a break or two. An infielder will overthrow the ball trying to catch a runner at the plate. A pitcher will hang a curveball. The team may be back to their losing ways in the next game but they’ll have at least one win in the books and will have to ‘start’ a new streak with a loss in their next game. The same concept applies to winning streaks. Even if a team is dominant in every phase of the game at some point they’ll catch an unlucky break. Their infielder will be the one overthrowing the catcher trying to catch a runner at home plate or their ‘closer’ will throw a high hanging curve ball in late innings.
This is the primary reason that it’s so difficult to determine when a winning streak (or losing streak) will end—it’s impossible to ‘handicap good or bad luck’ (or variance or probability as you prefer). Every team might not get the same amount of good or bad ‘luck’ but they will get some. Even if you have a team’s mastery of the process wired you won’t be able to get a handle on the ‘luck’ factor. Sports betting experts understand that the ‘real’ game can be drastically different than the game on the field.