If Jonah Hill has taught us one useful thing, it’s that baseball is nothing more than a numbers game. Though it’s played by men far more athletic than Hill or I, the sheer volume of statistics we can compile over a 162-game season allows for nerds to develop a strong understanding of the current state of Major League Baseball.
Even if you’re not a fan of a good game of stickball, I’d have to imagine you’re a fan of wagering. (Why else would you be reading this site?) Baseball is the easiest sport to understand with zero prior background knowledge. So if you’ve been tuned out of the MLB for the first half of the season, you could very quickly get caught up and learn some valuable lessons heading into the second half of the season. In fact, here are a couple on the house.
One of the biggest predictors of success in baseball is run-differential. The best teams have both a capable lineup of hitters and a solid rotation of pitchers so, in the simplest of terms, they score lots and the opponents score little. That’s why you always have to be wary of teams with great records but low run-differentials, and vice versa. If you’re winning a ton of one-run games, your pace is more likely to drop off (either due to an injury or just “bad luck”) than the team crushing opponents by five.
Last season, the Toronto Blue Jays entered the All-Star break with a .500 record, but an astounding +82 run-differential. Not surprisingly, the team went on a tear in the second half and finished 93-69. It’s not the perfect predictor of success (for example, the Angels finished 85-77 last year with a -14 differential), but it’s something to keep an eye on when looking at potential division winners.
For betting purposes, examine at the AL East and West, where the leading Orioles and Rangers are greatly overachieving. There’s value in the Red Sox, Jays, Astros, and even Mariners to win their respective divisions.
Some awards races seem all but sewn up, like the NL Cy Young (Clayton Kershaw), but there’s decent value for the rest of the league’s major hardware. Currently, Mike Trout is the odds on favorite to win AL MVP, which according to the numbers, should probably not be the case.
Trout leads the league in everyone’s favorite stat, WAR. But his career numbers suggest he’s due to slow down offensively in the final months, hitting just .278 for his career in August and September. Meanwhile, both Josh Donaldson and Jose Altuve boast better career numbers over those final months, and will be playing for winning ball clubs, something MVP voters typically appreciate.
Be sure to examine a player’s splits and see if you can anticipate a rise or fall. Some contenders, like Kris Bryant, have smaller career sample sizes, so you’ll have to roll with your gut on them.
The trend that has been driving bookmakers crazy this season is the number of games that have gone OVER the total. What is typically a 50-50 proposition, the OVER went 659-609-63 in the first half of the season. Bookies have tried to adjust the game totals during the season, but interleague play continued to confound them, as the OVER went 105-66-9 before the All-Star break. That’s certainly one area bettors will want to explore in the second half.
(Photo credit: Keith Allison (Originally uploaded to Flickr. Photo has been cropped.)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0])
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