Betting on baseball is no different than betting on football or basketball or any other sport. You look for lines that offer value based on your handicapping skills.
Over the entire history of baseball and betting on baseball, the starting pitcher for both teams has been the most important factor for handicapping.
Smart baseball bettors also consider how each team performs at home and on the road and look for players on a hot streak.
You should be using all of these things to handicap baseball already.
But if you want to be the best baseball bettor you can be, you need to dig deeper and use more information than average baseball bettors.
This is why I built the list of baseball betting tactics below. These seven things are often ignored by average baseball bettors.
Add these things to your current handicapping model and continue looking for additional things that most baseball bettors ignore.
1 – Bullpen Strength
More baseball bettors are using the strength of each team’s bullpen in their handicapping, but it’s still not used enough. The average number of innings pitched by the starting pitchers has been declining for decades, and it’s reached the point where I use the bullpen strength just as much as the starting pitchers in my handicapping.
The first time through the lineup, the starting pitcher has the best results on average. The second time through the lineup, the numbers get worse. Then a large drop-off happens on the third time through the lineup.
Baseball front offices and field personnel know this, so after the starting pitcher faces the lineup twice, the pitcher is usually on a short leash. The third time through the lineup starts in most games in the fourth or fifth inning.
While the pitchers that work the seventh through ninth inning are still important, it’s now more important than ever for teams to have pitchers who can work the fifth and sixth innings. This means that each team that hopes to compete over the course of the season needs five or six good relief pitchers instead of two or three.
On any given day during the long season, one or more relief pitchers aren’t available to pitch. This means that if a team wants to have five good pitchers available out of the bullpen, they need to have seven.
This might seem like common sense, but it’s rare for a baseball handicapper to consider the worst two or three pitchers in the bullpen. It used to be that the worst pitchers only appeared in mop-up duty, but the way baseball is played and managed today, it’s difficult to hide a bad pitcher.
Teams are using eight- and nine-man bullpens more often, and every pitcher is important. Some relief pitchers are specialists and brought in to face only a few batters. They’re just as important as the number-one set-up man and the closer.
Start using the strength of the bullpen, from top to bottom, every time you evaluate pitching staff.
2 – Park Factors
Some parks are hitter’s parks, and some are pitcher’s parks. Some parks are fairly neutral. This isn’t a big secret, yet most baseball handicappers ignore it when they evaluate games.
The team with the best pitching gets a boost in a pitcher’s park, and the team with the best hitters gets a boost in a hitter’s park. You need to use this information for every game you handicap.
But you also need to be careful not to use it as too much of a factor, especially when one team has a particularly strong offense or pitching staff. The best pitchers in the game are still going to perform well in a hitter’s park, and the best offenses are still going to perform well in a pitcher’s park.
It’s a fine line between putting too much weight on park factors and not using them enough, but ignoring them is costing you money.
3 – Defense
Every baseball bettor uses a different system and collection of data to handicap games. Some focus on offense first and pitching second, while others start with the pitching and then consider the offense. You need to always use both, but most handicappers ignore defense.
I always start with pitching when I handicap a baseball game, and defense has a great deal to do with the effectiveness of pitching.
The old-time belief is that a team that’s strong up the middle is better than one that isn’t. The middle includes the catcher, second baseman, shortstop, and center fielder. The importance of defense up the middle is still important today.
I cover the catcher in the next section, but for now, consider the best defensive middle infielders and center fielders in the game.
The same thing is true for the best middle infielders in the game. Over the course of a season, the teams with great defensive players can save a run a game or more on average in comparison with weak defensive teams.
When you’re dealing with run lines, this is an important thing to understand. Most baseball bettors are lazy, so they bet moneylines because they believe that they don’t have to do a deep dive into defense to handicap games.
But this is a mistake because defense is important in every game, and ignoring it hurts your results whether you bet run lines or moneylines.
One thing that very few baseball bettors consider is how a great defense makes an average or poor pitcher look better. A great defense inflates the pitching numbers against poor teams, so a poor or average pitcher with a great defense looks better than they really are.
This is fine when you’re handicapping a team with a great defense against an average or worse team, but when a pitcher who isn’t very good faces a great hitting team, his defense can only do so much.
When you’re handicapping games with a great defense on one side and a great offense on the other, don’t overvalue the pitcher on the great defense side.
4 – Catchers
The truth is that there aren’t many good catchers in baseball, and there are even fewer great catchers. Catchers like Ivan Rodriguez and Johnny Bench only come along once every decade or two. This means that most teams have to choose between using a catcher that can hit but has poor defense and one that is strong defensively and doesn’t hit much.
When I handicap baseball games, I like teams with strong defensive catchers. They help pitchers in many ways and have a strong overall influence on the entire team defense.
But one of the most important tricks I’ve learned over the years is to evaluate the backup catchers for each team. The difference between the starting and backup catcher is often large, so when the backup is playing, it can swing a game from not having any value to one that offers betting value.
Use a system to rate every catcher in the game and look for games where the number one catcher is not playing. This can give you an edge in these games and can be extremely beneficial to your baseball betting.
5 – WHIP
You can find all kinds of fancy new statistics and prediction models, but baseball still boils down to which teams don’t give up base runners and which teams get on base more. From a pitcher’s standpoint, base runners allowed is summed up using WHIP. WHIP is walks plus hits per innings pitched.
WHIP isn’t the end all be all statistic for pitchers, but it’s still the most important factor I look at in every game. I read all of the time how WHIP and OBP, which I cover in the next section, aren’t important, but if you want to be a winning baseball bettor, you need to start using these baseball betting tactics immediately.
6 – OBP
On the offensive side of the equation is OBP. OBP is on base percentage, and it tracks how often a hitter gets on base.
The fact is that the more runners a team puts on base, the better chance they have of scoring. The modern game seems to be focused on home runs, but the teams with the best offenses still usually have the best on base percentage.
It’s a common mistake to ignore OBP and WHIP when you handicap baseball games, no matter what the common belief is about their importance.
7 – Depth
In the section about catchers, you learned the importance of properly evaluating backup catchers. Catchers get more time off than other position players, but it’s also important to understand the drop-off between the normal starting players at other positions and their replacements.
It’s easy to understand the difference between the best players in the game and their backups, but the value is in understanding the difference between the average players and their replacements. I don’t use wins above replacement as much as some bettors, but this is one way to get an idea for most starting players and their backup.
This might seem like a small detail, but remember that you need to use every trick you can. Even a small edge can turn a loss into a win for a baseball gambler.
If you want to get an edge as a baseball bettor, you need to do things that most people don’t. This means you need to use more information than the average bettor. The seven things listed on this page are good things to start including as part of your baseball betting strategy.