SLOW TEAM STARTS IN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL
Baseball has a number of unique characteristics that make it especially appealing as a betting sport. The number of games, moneyline betting and wide variety of handicapping approaches are among the reasons that ‘sharp’ sports betting enthusiasts love baseball. Of particular significance is the length of the season which ‘de-emphasizes’ any single game and makes handicapping baseball more of a long term process than any other sport.
The leisurely pace of the season means that a team or player can ‘start slow’ and round into form. To some extent, this is true in any team sport. But in baseball, football or hockey a slow start is cause for alarm bordering on panic. In baseball, it’s just a part of the game. As a handicapper, this reality presents opportunities for profit that might be lost on a casual observer of baseball. In this article we’ll take a look at ‘macro’ team concepts related to slow starts. In a subsequent article, we’ll look at slow starts by individual players—particularly starting pitchers.
SLOW STARTING TEAMS
No team wants to ‘dig a hole’ for themselves before the middle of May but at the same team you’ll seldom see a team panic if they do get off to a slow start. In fact, if you watch baseball over a number of years you’ll begin to realize that it’s a characteristic of some teams. During the Atlanta Braves run of division title dominance that started in the late 1980’s they’d invariably get off to a mediocre start only to become a freight train by the ‘dog days’ of summer. More recently, the St. Louis Cardinals of the past few seasons have been a team that doesn’t look like much before the All Star Break but closes strong enough to get into playoff contention.
There are several ways that a baseball bettor can benefit from understanding that teams that start slow don’t necessarily struggle all year. One way is that he can look to go against slow starting ‘public’ teams. The public’s understanding of this dynamic isn’t as nuanced and thus the prices on the teams they like to back will be high right out of the gate. This will present good value opportunities betting against slow starting public teams.
Sometimes the best thing that can happen is for the public to ‘give up’ on a team prematurely. This is the sports betting equivalent of ‘buying high and selling low’–the recreational players pay a premium for a team that struggles early in the year. At some point, they ‘give up’ on the team and prices drop. A clever baseball handicapper can ride the same team that he used as an automatic ‘go against’ earlier in the year during their turnaround.
When a good team starts slow it also means that there will be ‘pretenders’ that occupy the top spots in the standings in their place. This presents another good betting opportunity for the diligent handicapper—once he identifies a good team that has started slow and ripe for a turnaround he can go against the teams that benefited from their slow starts.
IDENTIFYING TEAMS RIPE FOR A TURNAROUND
This is the tricky part—how does a baseball bettor tell the difference between a good team suffering a slow start and a team that is just bad? How can you tell when it’s time to start betting on teams you’ve been betting against all year? Obviously, you can look at the standings and determine wins and losses but how can you measure ‘public opinion’ in the betting marketplace?
One method that is especially effective in baseball is measuring the ‘profit/loss’ statement for each team. This is a breakdown of a team’s performance against the moneyline overall and in specific situations. You’ll be surprised at how often you’ll find a losing team that makes money in some or all situations due to being ‘undervalued’ by the general public. On the other hand, there are plenty of winning teams that lose money for the opposite reason. Some teams play better at home, some on the road. Certain teams hit left handed pitching well while others struggle against southpaws.
A profit/loss ledger is also helpful for identifying changes in the mood of the betting public. If a ‘public’ team starts the season losing games but at some point their financial ‘losses’ start to level off it’s usually a sign that the prices on the team are catching up to their performance. The opposite is also true—a winning team might see their profits start to stagnate which is a sign that the prices could soon outstrip their performance.
Sports betting rewards those who find ways to evaluate things from a different perspective. You’re not going to find any ‘under the radar’ betting concepts on Sports Center or in the USA TODAY sports section. It’s important to understand that it’s not just a matter of which teams win and lose—the valuation of teams is what determines your profits and losses as a sports bettor.