THE BASICS OF BASEBALL POWER RATINGS
One of the first things that a beginning sports bettor learns as they start to progress toward becoming ‘sharp’ is the importance of power ratings or similar predictive tools. Without some sort of qualitative assessment of the teams involved in a particular sport you might as well be throwing darts at a board. This is especially true in college basketball—there’s simply no way to properly handicap a big Saturday college hoops card without power ratings. Some people use different tools and techniques to get there, but the all achieve the same basic purpose—to allow a handicapper to set ‘their’ line on a game to compare against the line on the betting board.
It’s easy for the beginner to understand power ratings in the pointspread sports—at least conceptually—but what about Major League Baseball? Not only is it a moneyline sport but there are so many ‘moving parts’. A team may be a sizable favorite with their ‘ace’ on the mound at home but a significant underdog with a spot starter on the road. There’s also the bullpen to account for, lefty/righty batting differentials, home road play, etc.
These points are all valid but not particularly difficult to address. The reality is that power ratings are just as important in baseball as any other sport—if not more so. There is an additional step to the process in that you need to extrapolate the qualitative assessment of the matchup to the moneyline. In other words, you figure out which team has an ‘edge’ and how significant it is and then you put a price tag on it.
In this article we’ll start with the basics. We’ll outline the areas that you need to consider when formulating baseball power ratings. In subsequent articles we’ll discuss how to come up with the right metrics and valuations in each area and finally how to put a moneyline price on the numbers you come up with.
DISSECTING BASEBALL POWER RATINGS
Baseball power ratings at their most basic need to account for several phases of the game: offense, pitching and venue. Note that the operative term here is ‘at their most basic’. Many handicappers prefer to take a more nuanced approach to power ratings factoring in other salient considerations such as fielding, bullpen quality and fatigue, form, offensive output against left/right handers, etc. We’ll revisit the topic of baseball power ratings down the road and explain the process from a more advanced perspective.
In this article, however, we’ll go with the absolute basics. This is where a recreational player that just looks at the moneyline and guesses begins to approach baseball handicapping in a more systematic manner. And here’s how he goes about it:
–OFFENSE: A team has to score runs to win games. That’s a pretty obvious and simple concept. Taking it a bit further, the more runs a team scores the more likely they are to win games. For that reason, power ratings need to take into account a team’s run production to a more significant degree than their batting average, etc. An advanced handicapper will tell you that the most important offensive metric is potential runs scored as opposed to actual runs scored. In other words, an advanced handicapper will use metrics like hits and walks per nine innings, baserunners, etc. in their offensive power ratings. At the most basic, however, statistics like average runs per game can be used.
–PITCHING: This is the most difficult and time consuming component of creating baseball power ratings. It’s also the area where an experienced handicapper can get very in depth and nuanced in their approach. The general idea here is to quantify each starting pitcher’s relative performance and impact. There are countless ways to do this and even at it’s most basic there is a degree of complexity. Pitching ratings should account for hits/walks per nine innings, earned run average (since some pitchers are better at ‘pitching out of trouble’ than others) and profit/loss figures (more about that in a moment). If you want to start your advanced training now, you can use different figures for pitching at home and on the road. For most beginners, however, I recommend a generalized venue measurement—we’ll discuss that next.
We spoke of profit/loss above—this is a crucial part of rating starting pitchers. Every game a pitcher starts has a moneyline involved. If a starting pitcher’s team wins we add our profit to his ‘total’. If he loses, we subtract the amount we wagered. Note that for this measurement it doesn’t matter if a pitcher gets a decision or not. The price on the game was determined in large part by the starting pitching matchup. More than likely, our handicapping began or at least considered to a significant degree the starting pitching as well.
It’s not as simple as pitchers that win a lot make money while losing pitchers lose money. Wins and losses help, but prices are of crucial importance. A lot of big name pitchers end up in the red at the end of the season due to inflated prices. A lot of pitchers that end up with a win record around .500 are profitable for the same reason in reverse. You can keep the profit/loss data yourself but there’s plenty of places online to find the information.
–VENUE: Basically, a ‘home field value’ to throw into the mix. For most teams I use +1. In some cases it’ll be +2 or 0 depending on a team’s relative success or lack thereof at home. Note that this is a very basic measurement and once you reach ‘intermediate’ phase you’ll probably want to use dedicated home/road performance data in your power ratings.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER:
You’ll have three numbers to add together for each team:
(Offensive Output Measurement) + (Starting Pitcher Rating) + (Venue Value) = POWER RATING