I love watching baseball games as a fan, but when I get serious about betting on baseball games, the way I watch games changes. I was fortunate to be able to play baseball growing up and through four years of college, so I enjoy many things during a game that others might miss.
I still watch some games for fun, usually high school, college, and minor league game. But when I watch Major League Baseball games now, it’s as a sports bettor and not a fan. Here are some things to look out for as a baseball bettor the next time you watch a game.
Quality at Bats
The best hitters in the game never seem to have a bad at bat. They’re always fighting and looking for an edge, and they never give up. On the other hand, the game is still filled with guys that are consistently outmatched and seem to be lucky to put the ball in play.
Great hitters foul off pitches they can’t handle and don’t swing at many balls outside the strike zone. I remember seeing a picture of the bat Joey Votto used in batting practice during the height of his success, and it was amazing.
He hit every ball on the same spot on the bat, leaving a mark that wasn’t much bigger than a baseball on the barrel. This is the kind of precision that sets an MVP candidate apart from everyone else. Can you imagine the work and hand eye coordination required to do this? I’m not talking about a few swings in a row, but thousands of contact situations on basically the same spot on the bat.
When I’m trying to create a MLB betting strategy, I’m trying to identify these types of players. The more players a team has in the starting lineup that never have a bad at bat and never give up an out without fighting, the more they’ll win.
I know that below-average and average hitters are going to have some success over the course of a season. But when a team needs a big hit or a sacrifice fly, or when a truly special hitter is up, they have a much higher chance of success.
Pitching matchups and pitching staff usage are fascinating in a few different ways. The first way is how the two starting pitchers compare and what you can expect out of each of them during their time in the game. I discuss starting pitchers more in another section, so I’m going to talk about another way that pitching matchups are interesting here.
Major League Baseball seems to be more specialized all of the time. You have relief specialists, some teams are using openers for starting pitchers, and more positions are using platoons based on the opposing pitcher.
The top hitters in the league have success against both right and left-handed pitchers. But the statistics show that a right-handed hitter performs better against a left-handed pitcher and a left-handed hitter performs better against a right-handed pitcher.
When a team starts a left-handed starting pitcher, the opposing team usually stacks their lineup with right-handed hitters. Just like the best hitters, the best pitchers are able to do well against a right or left-handed hitter, but you have to consider these types of matchups when you handicap games.
The thing I’m most interested in as a bettor is when average, or below average, hitters face pitchers throwing from their side. In other words, it’s when a right-handed batter is facing a right-handed pitcher or a left-handed batter is against a left-handed pitcher.
Can the hitter still give a quality at bat? Is the pitcher able to get an advantage over the hitter? This is information I can use when evaluating future games so I can bet on baseball appropriately.
I mentioned that the game is becoming more specialized above, and one area where it’s highly specialized is in the bullpen. Each team has specialists to face important right-handed and left-handed batters, and these specialists have a great deal to do with the success of their team on a nightly basis.
A new rule was introduced in MLB for the 2020 season that changes how managers can use relief specialists. When a relief pitcher enters the game, he has to face a minimum of three batters before leaving the game, unless the end of an innings comes first or he gets injured.
As a handicapper, I want to know who the specialists are in each bullpen and if they’re available to pitch. When I’m watching a game, I’m evaluating how well bullpen specialists do their job. I’m also looking for how managers on each team use their specialists and how they pinch hit against specialists at different points in the game.
Many managers run their teams in a way that makes it look like the last three outs are more important than other outs. From a mathematical standpoint, every out is of equal importance. You have to get 27 outs in a regulation game, and the first one is just as important as the last one.
I need to know as a handicapper if a manager is willing to use his best lefty specialist in the fifth or sixth inning to get an out or if he always tries to save him for an out later in the game.
Starting Pitchers and Pitch Counts
Starting pitchers are throwing fewer innings than ever before, and as a baseball bettor, it’s important to understand how managers use their starting pitchers. Managers are going to their bullpens earlier and earlier in the game, because they want fresh arms to face the lineups the third and fourth time through.
When I’m watching the starting pitchers, I try to get an idea of how effective they are early and as their pitch count climbs. Some pitchers are on strict pitch counts, while others have more leeway. Many young starting pitchers pile up large pitch counts in early innings and end up getting pulled from games in the fifth and sixth inning, even if they’re pitching well.
As a fan, it drives me nuts when a young pitcher needs 25 or 30 pitches to get through an inning, even if he’s keeping his team in contention to win the game. As a handicapper, it doesn’t bother me when pitchers throw a bunch of pitches, but it is information I need to know about.
You need to know which pitchers throw too many pitches on average every inning on a regular basis, because it helps you determine how deep they can go in games you’re handicapping.
Smart Base Running
Most fans want to see home runs and exciting games. The games most fans remember are the ones won with a walk off home run or big strikeout. But many games are won and lost because smart base runners took an extra base when they could or bad base runners ran into an out or didn’t take an extra base.
With no outs or one out, a runner on third is going to score much more often than one on second. If you’re betting on baseball, you need to know which players are good base runners and give their teams a better chance to win and which players hurt their team’s chance to win because
of poor base running.
Another area of specialization in MLB is the use of defensive shifts. Many hitters have a tendency to pull the ball so defenses move toward where the hitter is likely to hit the ball. This is quite effective, and the evidence of this is that we’re seeing more shifts every season.
When you’re betting on baseball games, you need to know which hitters are hurt by a shift and which opposing teams are most likely to use a shift. You also need to take the pitcher into account, because a pitcher that always works on the outside of the plate makes it harder to pull the ball.
A great control pitcher like Greg Maddux in his prime didn’t make many mistakes, so hitters usually had to put the ball in play where the pitcher wanted it. But there aren’t many great control pitchers, and hitters are good at punishing mistakes.
If you want to watch baseball games as a fan, try to take in some minor league or amateur games. But if bet on Major League Baseball, you need to start watching MLB games like a handicapper so you can avoid making any mistakes when betting on MLB. You can use everything you’ve learned here to help you handicap games in the future, but only if you’re sure of what to look for.