Thinking Outside the Box for MLB Betting Success

Excited Man on Left With the MLB Logo over a Baseball and a Pile of Cash on Left

The baseball betting market isn’t quite as tight as football or basketball – that’s true for traditional sports betting and daily fantasy contests. Still, getting an edge against the book or against other fantasy owners isn’t an easy task. How can you use the same dataset of numbers available to every other idiot with a laptop and increase your chances of winning your baseball bets?

One way is to avoid using the same numbers everyone else uses. I sometimes use outside-the-box strategies to improve my baseball betting. Looking at sabermetrics, payroll figures, weather forecasts, and armchair psychology means handicapping along paths where no other bettors are traveling.

Betting in weird ways on baseball not only gives me an edge against books and bettors using the same-old figures available for free to anyone with Wi-Fi, but it also keeps the game interesting and keeps my research skills sharp.

This post shares my favorite weird ways to think about MLB betting.

Using Sabermetrics for MLB Betting

I have a slate of eight sabermetrics numbers that I use to help me handicap baseball games and MLB DFS contests. Some sabermetrics stats, like WAR, are in common use, and so I shy away from those.

The numbers I look at are less common, though not unheard of in the industry or anything. I’m happy to share the four most powerful sabermetrics stats you can incorporate into your betting strategy right away to give you access to analysis that most bettors don’t consider.

wRC+ – Weighted Runs Created

I use this for an overall look at a hitter’s ability. It’s a weighted figure which makes it more accurate for use in handicapping or comparing hitters or teams as a whole. You can think of it as a stat tracking a player’s offensive efficiency – sure, a player can hit, but do those hits lead to runs?

This stat gives you a sense of a player’s overall offensive events (singles, doubles, triples, walks, etc.) weighted against the number of runs scored. wRC+ is adjusted for each player based on their position and ballpark, one of those cool sabermetrics wrinkles that makes the figure more applicable in the real world. The + sign in sabermetrics always means that a given stat is shown in a ratio to the league average, where the league average is always 100.

This stat allows you to quickly separate a guy like Michael Brantley, who hits well at .315 but doesn’t score a ton of runs, from a guy like Fernando Tatis Jr., who’s “only” hitting .284 but has added 97 runs for his team.

MLB Player Yordan Alvarez at Bat

You can also quickly identify diamonds in the rough for DFS baseball – sorting players by wRC+ reveals that the Dodgers’ Max Muncy is hitting below .250 but adding runs 43% more than other first basemen. Muncy strikes out enough that his batting average is downright low, but he drives in so many runs and knocks the ball out of the park often enough to make him one of the league’s most efficient offensive players.

BABIP – Batting Average on Balls in Play

I use this number to gauge how sustainable a particular player’s hot or cold streak is, and how likely it is to end.

A hitter’s BABIP is their total of hits minus any HRs divided by their total number of ABS minus any strikeouts, and minus their total of HRs and sac flies.

BABIP measures batting average on balls hit into the field of play, excluding HRs and strikeouts. This takes away outcomes that ignore the opposing defense, giving you a kind of batting average that’s a red flag for a fluke performance that’s not likely to continue.

How do I use it? When a hitter’s BABIP goes significantly above or below the .300 mark, I figured they’re about to regress to the mean. When a hitter’s BABIP dips to .290, I can be sure they’re going to be hitting more soon. The same for when this number gets too far above .300 – there will be an inevitable return to the average figure of .300.

FIP – Fielding-Independent Pitching

When I want to consider a pitcher independent of their surrounding defense, I look at FIP.

FIP numbers come from strikeout percentage, walk percentage, and a ratio of HRs per nine innings pitched. In other words, all of the outcomes that a pitcher has a direct impact on, with no flukes allowed for bad (or really good) fielding.

FIP helps me go deeper than comparing pitchers by ERA alone. It’s common for pitchers with ERAs that may otherwise draw my scorn to show a low FIP score, indicating a great pitcher with a less-than-stellar defense. Think Nolan Ryan on the Houston Astros – some of the best pitching in league history with almost no run support.

MLB Pitcher

This is mostly helpful in DFS situations where defense matters less, though I often use FIP to handicap baseball run lines and straight-up bets, just so that I’m analyzing matchups deeper than the average bettor.

MD/SD – Meltdown/Shutdown

My favorite two stats for relief pitcher analysis are MD and SD – Meltdown and Shutdown respectively.

If a relief pitcher increases his team’s win probability by 6% or more, he earns an SD. If he decreases the team’s win probability by the same amount, he gets an MD.

Honestly, the worst thing most MLB bettors do is undervalue middle relievers, pretending that only the first three and the last inning are important for pitching. Looking at relief pitchers by MD/SD figures gives you insight into pitcher performance during those crucially important but overlooked middle innings.

Analyzing MLB Teams by Payroll

Surprise, surprise – teams that spend a lot of money tend to win a lot of games.

Let’s look at historic performance for examples.

The fifteen teams that had the highest payroll in the 2020 season had an average win percentage of 53.2%, which would put any team in the top-12 in the league. The fifteen lowest-paid teams that year had an average win percentage of 45.8%, which would be a bottom-10 performance for any individual team.

In 2019, the numbers were similar – the league’s 15 highest-paid teams won an average of 53% of their games, good enough to finish 11th overall in the league. The 15 teams with the lowest payroll that year won 46% of their games, which would’ve been the 11th-worst finish for any individual team that year.

How do I use this information to help me handicap games? When all else fails – when I can’t find an edge, or when I’m looking for a unique take on a contest where the water’s particularly muddy – I can use an analysis of payroll to finalize my pick.

I don’t always pick the highest-paid team, as to consider the impact that a team’s payroll may have on the game’s context. Does an underpaid Mariners team with something to prove show up puffed-up for a fight and layout the overpaid Dodgers just for the playground bragging rights?

Looking at paychecks can sometimes give you an in that nobody else is considering.

The Best Tout in the MLB Betting Industry – the Local Weatherman

Only six baseball stadiums have roofs, so weather plays a huge role in baseball. You can’t go wrong considering baseball games played in the open air from a weather perspective.

During baseball season, I have a dozen or so local news social media and YouTube accounts going mostly for local weather details that can impact games.

What kind of weather affects my baseball betting strategy? That first springtime heat, in mid-May, can slow down teams from cooler climates, especially rookies. Strong winds have an obvious impact on hitting, but also tend to disrupt fielding, so sometimes that’s a wash.

Wide View of a Baseball Stadium

Temperature differentials in the late season and playoffs can wreak havoc on a player’s confidence – warm-weather teams sometimes struggle in those September and October cool spurts up north.

I’d never pick a game based entirely on the weather, though I may back or fade a team, based partially on the weather, as part of the game’s context.

Sports Betting Psychology

Players are human beings, affected by the ups and downs of everyday life, but also impacted heavily by the superstitions, trends, and streaks of pro sports.

Read enough sports betting strategy and you’ll come across things like the “active underdog over theory,” which holds that games featuring underdogs coming off an embarrassing loss tend to go over the game total. There’s also the old “back early-season road underdogs coming off a bad season” adage, also based on basic human psychology.

There’s wisdom in these chestnuts – those early-season road dogs coming off ugly seasons turn out to have beat their opponent 64% of the time in April and May. I’ve also had some success backing those so-called active underdogs.

Any tenet of psychology that helps you handicap a matchup or pick a good team for your DFS roster should be part of your regular baseball betting strategy.

Our Conclusion

You don’t have to be the smartest guy in the room to win your baseball bets. You just have to be smarter than the herd.

Don’t use the same statistics and ESPN sound bites that the betting public is using. Find your own set of unique insights into baseball and use these to inform your handicapping and bet preparation.