One of the most challenging things I deal with as a handicapper is the balance between past results and determining what’s going to happen in the future. I’m not alone in this, because this is basically what handicapping is about.
You have to use past results to help you predict what’s going to happen in the future, but it’s far from an exact science. It’s dangerous to rely too heavily on past results.
Here are five reasons why past results are dangerous for handicappers, and how to use them in the best way.
1 – The Past Doesn’t Accurately Predict the Future
If you’re an investor, one of the things that you’ve probably heard is that past results don’t predict future results. This is true in investing, and it’s also true in sports handicapping. Past results can often give you a rough idea of what might happen in the future, but they never give you a 100% accurate prediction.
To be a profitable handicapper you have to look at a wide range of things and evaluate them in an efficient manner. Most handicappers start by looking at past results, but the best ones know they have to adjust their expectations based on many things beyond past results.
The problem is that most sports bettors want the past to accurately predict the future, so they look for trends and statistics that back up their desire.
But if you want to be a winning sports bettor you need to keep an open mind and avoid the trap of finding what you want and ignoring what actually makes you money. You should consider past results when you’re handicapping, but if you don’t learn how to adjust them based on many different factors you’re not going to be a profitable bettor.
2 – Age Issues
Age is always a factor when you’re handicapping sports. Young players are often unpredictable. They have a big game one day and the next time they play it looks like they don’t know what they’re doing. As athletes move into their 30’s they eventually reach a point where they simply aren’t producing at the same level they were able to in their late 20’s.
The sweet spot for athletes in most sports is somewhere in their late 20’s. Before this they’re often unpredictable, and after this period it’s just a matter of time before their production falls off a cliff.
This is why past results can be dangerous for handicappers. You might make the mistake of not giving a young player enough credit for improvement or you might give an aging player too much credit when they start declining.
When you’re evaluating games to bet on, take a close look at the age of the players in the game. You start by looking at the age of the most important players on each team, but you don’t start there. Are there young players ready to step up and make their mark, and are there older players that can still be important if they’re used correctly?
Learn how to make handicapping adjustments based on the age of players when you’re considering past results.
3 – Injuries
It’s easy to understand why an injury that makes a player unavailable for a game changes how past team results should be used in handicapping. But there’s more than one type of injury. Many players play through minor injuries, and these aren’t always reported. And many times the teams let their best players play through injuries because the backup isn’t as good as the starter, even when they’re playing with an injury.
The key is to learn how to find out about injuries that aren’t serious enough to make a player miss a game, but are serious enough that the injury might change the level of performance. Sadly, there isn’t a single best way to find these things out.
This is one way to learn about injuries, but it takes a great deal of work and time to track every team this way.
It also takes a great deal of time to watch games, but this is the best way to spot potential minor injuries. I always watch how athletes run in games to try to spot minor injuries. It takes a lot of time, but most good handicappers watch as many games as they can, because there are many things you can’t see in a box score.
4 – Rest and Fatigue
Another area where past results can be misleading is the level of rest and fatigue that players have. A fresh player might have had a big game, but have a hard time duplicating the results when they’re worn down.
The sports where you need to be most concerned with rest and fatigue are baseball, basketball, and hockey. Each of these sports has long seasons and many games close together. Baseball teams play three and four game series and often play series back to back.
The problem with handicapping and taking rest and fatigue into account is that it’s not always easy to see when a player is wearing down. These are professional athletes, and some of them can perform at a high level even when they deal with some fatigue.
Of course, some players clearly have a drop in performance when they get tired. The key is to learn how to track player usage and try to determine when you should factor in the lack of rest and when it’s not important.
When betting on baseball, remember that relief pitchers and catchers need more rest than other positions. You need to track the recent usage for pitchers, including pitch counts, and know when a manager likes to rest his starting catcher.
MLB has a catching problem because there aren’t enough good catchers for every team to have a good one. The drop off between the starter and the backup catcher is usually large, so you need to know when the starter is resting.
5 – Old Results Are Meaningless
I recently saw a statistic that claimed an NFL team had a specific record against the spread in their last five season opening games. While I suppose this is interesting on some level, the fact is that it doesn’t help me handicap their season opening game this year.
The only things I’m interested in are things that are going to help me win more bets right now and in the future. I do my best to ignore everything else.
It’s not even helpful to know how teams have performed against the spread up to the current point this season. Online sportsbooks set their spreads using a wide range of variables for each game, and just because a team has covered or not covered most or all of the recent spreads is no indication of what they’re going to do in the future.
I understand the reason why so many people find things like this interesting, and I even understand why some bettors try to use this type of information to handicap games. They’re looking for the magic formula that lets them handicap games with the least amount of work.
The perfect sports betting system in most bettor’s minds is one where they can plug in a bunch of stuff and have the system spit out a winning bet. But this is too easy to be realistic, and even if you can develop a system that works much this way, it’s not going to use anything from how a team performed in prior seasons and it’s not going to consider how a team did against the spread in recent games.
A big part of becoming a winning handicapper is learning what things are important and which ones to ignore. You can safely ignore anything that happened at the team level from previous seasons and anything that happened concerning the spread in recent games.
You have to use past results when you’re handicapping games, but you have to be careful which results you use and which ones you ignore. Some past results are completely worthless, so if you use them they’re going to hurt your results.
Ignore all team results from past seasons and focus on individual players. Consider age, rest, and fatigue along with injuries when you’re handicapping games. And always remember that past results are never a perfect indicator of future results, no matter how much you want them to be.