5 Strategies for Handicapping MLB Games

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Most Major League Baseball bettors take a quick look at the standings, compare the starting pitchers, and make a bet. Sometimes MLB bettors just bet on their favorite team. This is the extent of their handicapping. Of course, most MLB bettors lose, so you definitely don’t want to do what they do.

Here are five advanced MLB handicapping strategies that I use. It’s going to take some extra work to get up to speed on these strategies, but in the long run, they’re going to help you make more profitable baseball bets.

1 – Strikeout Percentages

When a batter strikes out, he doesn’t have any chance to help his team. He can’t move a runner over, hit a sacrifice fly, or create a positive situation for his team. The only upside to a batter striking out is if he didn’t hit into a double play.

Baseball Player Striking Out

On the other side of the equation, the only thing better for a pitcher to create than a strikeout is a double play. When a pitcher strikes out a batter, he gets one of the three outs he needs to get out of the inning, keeps the offense from improving their chance of scoring, and creates an advantage for his team.

These are both reasons why I track strikeout percentages for hitters and pitchers when I’m handicapping Major League Baseball games. Here’s exactly how I do it.

For batters, I divide total strikeouts by total plate appearance. Plate appearances include hits, base on balls, outs, hit by pitch, and sacrifices.

For pitchers, I divide strikeouts by total batters faced. The lazy way to do this is to track strikeouts per nine innings pitched for pitchers, but this can be misleading. I want to be able to compare overall numbers when I’m comparing pitchers. Strikeouts per nine innings pitched can be high even when a pitcher gives up a bunch of hits and walks.

When you track strikeout percentages for both batters and pitchers this way, you get a true comparison between players and teams. This is useful in any MLB handicapping situation.

2 – Ground Ball Percentages

Ground balls are usually good for the pitcher. While some ground balls go for hits, some of them also get turned into double plays. Ground ball hits and double plays come close to balancing each other out, so when you track ground ball percentages, it gives you a good metric for handicapping purposes.

You track ground ball percentages the same way you track strikeout percentages. For batters, you divide the total number of ground balls by total plate appearances. For pitchers, you divide the total number of ground balls by total batters faced.

Guy Fielding Ground Ball

A pitcher with a high ground ball percentage facing a team with several ground ball hitters in the lineup has a good chance of turning in a good performance. This is also helpful when betting the over or under line.

On the other hand, a pitcher with a low ground ball percentage facing a team filled with low ground ball percentage hitters might be in for a rough night.

You can’t look at strikeout percentages and ground ball percentages in a vacuum. The information is valuable for both of these percentages, but you have to keep it in context for it to be more valuable. Some pitchers are able to do well while getting few ground balls. They might have high strikeout totals and get a lot of pop ups.

Some hitters strike out at a high percentage of the time, but are still dangerous because a high percentage of the balls they put in play produce runs. You can’t look at any single thing when handicapping MLB games and make profitable bets. You have to use a combination of these factors to place winning baseball bets.

3 – Extra Base Hit Percentages

Extra base hits either score runs immediately or place a runner or runners in scoring position. This is why extra base hits should be valued much higher than singles and walks. And just like the last two sections, you should track extra base hit percentages for hitters and pitchers.

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For hitters, divide the sum of all doubles, triples, and home runs by total plate appearances.

For pitchers, divide the sum of all doubles, triples, and home runs by total batters faced.

The truth is that a home run is worth considerably more than a double. And it’s also valuable to track home run percentages by batters and pitchers. But I’ve found that tracking extra base hit percentages is a better way for me to use these statistics in my handicapping than tracking home runs separately.

The best pitchers limit the number of extra base hits they give up. They might give up some singles and walks, but they restrain the damage by limiting extra base hits. It’s much harder for an offense to score by stringing two or three hits together than to score as a result of an extra base hit.

4 – Manager Tendencies

Every MLB manager has certain tendencies. Some of them stick with slumping players longer than others, and some pull pitchers faster than others. When you’re handicapping games, it’s helpful to know the tendencies of each manager in the game.

The first thing I look at is how fast the manager goes to the bullpen. This is valuable because I can use information I have about how deep the starting pitcher is likely to go in the game and which bullpen pitchers are likely to see action in the game and which ones aren’t.

David Ross

A starting pitcher that usually goes seven innings with a manager that trusts him is usually going to get the game to the back end of the bullpen. On the other hand, a young pitcher with a manager who pulls pitchers quickly means that the long relievers are most likely going to be needed.

It’s also useful to know which managers like to steal bases and which ones like to use the hit and run. In the National League you see a lot of double switches, so knowing how an NL manager handles these, and who he has on his bench, helps you handicap games.

The new relief pitcher rule MLB put into place in the 2020 season to speed up games is something you need to be aware of. The new rule states that any pitcher brought into the game in relief has to face at least three batters unless he gets hurt or reaches the end of an inning.

I’m looking forward to seeing how each manager handles the new rule. One area where the new rule might be quite profitable for smart bettors is in-game betting. This rule gives the offense an advantage because the offense can pinch hit for a favorable matchup. Look for profitable in-game betting opportunities early in the season.

5 – Bullpen Usage and Availability

It’s important to understand how each team uses it’s bullpen on a game-by-game basis and over the course of the season. You also need to know which relief pitchers are available each day and which ones are being rested.

Most managers only use a relief pitcher two days in a row before giving him a day off. Some will use a key guy three days in a row, but the performance is usually lacking on the third day, so this can be useful as well.

The best way to learn which bullpen arms are available and which ones are getting rest is to read the local beat writers for the teams. Some teams have beat writers who are active on Twitter, and this can be a good source of information.

MLB Bullpen

This goes along with the manager tendencies from the last section, but you need to know how each manager deals with tired and struggling pitchers. A manager with a quick hook tends to wear down his bullpen over the course of a season, and put too many below average pitchers in the game on a regular basis.

A manager with a slow hook tends to have his best bullpen arms available when he needs them, but he also gives some games away by sticking with his starters too long. This isn’t as common as it used to be because MLB teams are using analytics more. Analytics show that a pitcher’s performance drops a great deal on the third trip through the opposing lineup, so managers are pulling starters faster.

MLB teams are also using 12 and 13-man bullpens more often, so they have more fresh arms every day. The way teams are using pitchers and their pitching staffs is changing, and if you want to be a winning MLB bettor, you need to change along with them.

Conclusion

Start using these five advanced MLB handicapping strategies when you’re evaluating games. Tracking strikeout and ground ball percentages is something that almost no one is doing, so it can give you a quick advantage.

Most baseball bettors are focused on home runs, so they miss the importance of doubles and triples. Use extra base hit percentages to factor in every hit that isn’t a single to get an advantage. Learning more about manager tendencies and how teams are using their bullpens is also important if you want to win more baseball bets.