I love spring, because baseball teams are in spring training and I know that there are going to be thousands of games to bet on soon. This means there’s going to be thousands of chances to find value and make winning MLB bets. But I also know I have to avoid making too many mistakes if I want to win.
Here are seven mistakes that many MLB bettors are making every day. Avoid these errors and your MLB handicapping results are going to improve.
1 – Overvaluing Home Runs
Home runs are exciting. In fact, they’re the most exciting thing that can happen in a baseball game for many people. Power hitters tend to get more press and become more popular than singles hitters. And it’s easy to remember the biggest home runs of the season. It’s even easy to remember some of the biggest home runs in history.
For example, Carlton Fisk’s home run in the 1975 World Series game six is iconic. My dad is a Reds fan and that home run crushed him. But he’s been able to live with it because the Reds won the next game to wrap up the series.
How many times have you seen the film of Hank Aaron breaking Babe Ruth’s home record? What about when Bonds, Sosa, and McGwire were battling each other for the single season home run record?
Home runs are a big part of the game of baseball. A home run can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, or defeat from the jaws of victory if your team gives the long ball up. Home runs are a big deal, so it’s easy to overvalue them as a baseball bettor.
You need to consider home runs when you’re handicapping teams and players, but you also need to understand that even the best home run hitters only hit home runs at a rate of one every three games or so.
Here’s a list of home run totals translated to the average number of games per home run over the course of a season:
|Home Runs||Average Number of Games per Home Run|
|32||1 Home Run Every 5 Games|
|40||1 Home Run Every 4 Games|
|54||1 Home Run Every 3 Games|
|65||1 Home Run Every 2.5 Games|
A player that hits 54 home runs over the course of a season is truly valuable and rare, but he still only has a chance to change the outcome of a game with a long ball 33% of the time. The other two out of three games aren’t changed by a home run.
Home runs are an important part of handicapping, but most MLB bettors overvalue them when evaluating games.
2 – Undervaluing OBP
While most bettors overvalue home runs, they undervalue on-base percentage at the same time. OBP isn’t sexy or exciting, and few can name the top OBP guy every year like they can the top home run hitter. But baseball players that get on base at a high rate can be just as important as the guys that lead the league in home runs.
Teams that put a lot of runners on base tend to score more runs. The team that scores the most runs wins. A hitter with a .400 OBP gets on base four out of every 10 plate appearances. A hitter with a .300 OBP percentage only gets on base three out of every 10 plate appearances. This works out to the better OBP guy getting on base close to one extra time every two games, or around 80 more times over the course of a season.
When teams put more runners on base they create more opportunities to score runs. They put more pressure on the opposing defense and the pitcher. Look at the teams that score the most runs every season and look at where they rank in OBP. It’s not always a perfect correlation, but there is a correlation.
3 – Undervaluing Bullpens
MLB bullpens are more important than ever, because they’re throwing more innings than ever. Starting pitchers still throw more innings than bullpens, but the gap is closing quickly. Every bullpen is filled with specialists, and some of the best pitchers on the game are working the ninth inning instead of starting.
It’s more difficult to evaluate each team’s bullpen because you never know exactly which pitchers are going to pitch in a given game. You can make an educated guess, but the things that happen in the game dictate bullpen usage.
A team with especially weak long men in the bullpen is in trouble if the starter doesn’t go six or seven innings. But if they have a strong back end of the bullpen and the starter makes it through six innings or more, the team can avoid giving up the lead with their weakest pitchers.
I spend as much time evaluating bullpens as I do starting pitchers now. When I started betting on MLB games, I spent much more time evaluating the starters than the bullpens because the starters worked much deeper in games on average than they do now.
4 – Overvaluing Starting Pitchers
This goes hand in hand with the last section, but it’s so important that it deserves its own section. Starting pitchers are one of the most important things to evaluate when you’re handicapping MLB games, but don’t make the mistake of overvaluing them.
As I mentioned in the last section, I spend as much time evaluating bullpens as starting pitchers now, and I recommend you do the same. I haven’t reduced the time I spend on the starting pitchers, I just added to the time I spend on the bullpens.
I keep a spreadsheet for every starting pitcher that tracks how many innings they pitch per game on average over the course of the season as well as what they averaged the last two seasons. I also track the difference between home and road starts. This gives me a good idea of how many innings the bullpen is going to be used when evaluating each game.
5 – Ignoring the Over/Under Lines
MLB lines include the popular moneyline bets, run lines, and over/under opportunities. Moneyline wagers are the most popular, followed by the run lines. But the over/under option can offer quite a bit of value to good MLB bettors.
I tend to focus on the games that have a good chance to go over, but this fits my handicapping style. This means your style might help you identify the games that have a good chance to go under.
MLB Over/Under Bet Example
|Chicago Cubs||Over 5.5 (-110)|
|St. Louis Cardinals||Under 5.5 (-110)|
Starting pitchers aren’t going as deep into games, so more games have long and middle relievers forced to get outs. These are usually weaker pitchers than the starters and back end relievers, so more runs are being scored. This means more games have a chance to win the over.
6 – Ignoring the Run Lines
Many MLB bettors ignore the run lines and focus on moneyline wagers. While this is acceptable if you’re making a consistent profit, the run lines often offer value. When I bet on run lines, I almost always bet on the side getting runs.
MLB Runline Bet Example
|Chicago Cubs||+1.5 (-215)|
|St. Louis Cardinals||-1.5 (+150)|
Many MLB games end with the winning team up by only one run. When you bet on the run line on the team getting runs, you get 1 ½ runs. This can be a valuable play for smart MLB bettors.
Most of the run line bets I make are on home teams that get runs. The home team always gets to bat in the bottom of the ninth unless they’re winning, so they have an extra three outs to cover the spread. This might seem like a small thing, but over the course of a season, this can turn several losing bets into winners.
7 – Ignoring WHIP
The pitching equivalent of OBP is WHIP. WHIP stands for walks plus hits divided by innings pitched, and it shows how good a pitcher does at keeping the other team off the bases. The pitchers that allow the most base runners tend to give up more runs. WHIP is the best way to get a quick idea of how many runners each pitcher allows.
Of course, there are other things you need to look at as well. I recently read an article about Nolan Ryan that reminded me how some pitchers can have a high WHIP and still be effective. For most of his career, he had a high WHIP because he walked so many hitters, but he was still a good pitcher because he struck out so many. He might walk two in an inning, but he also might strike out three and not give up a run.
Track every pitcher by WHIP, but also break it up into walks, singles, and extra base hits. Also, track each pitcher’s strikeout rate. This gives you a complete picture of the ability of each pitcher.
One of the best ways to improve your handicapping results is to learn from the mistakes that others have made. I learned about the seven mistakes that MLB bettors make listed on this page the hard way.
Learn from my mistakes, so you can win more bets by avoiding the seven mistakes MLB bettors make listed on this page.