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Nov 14, 2017

MLB betting: Three important lessons 2017 taught us

Increasing focus on offence

The importance of starters diminishing

New managers, new tactics

MLB betting: Three important lessons 2017 taught us

Credit: Getty Images

After seven thrilling months, the MLB season concludes with the Houston Astros as world champions. Below, we take stock of some patterns that emerged from the season and how the shifting realities they represent should affect your MLB betting going forward.

Increasing focus on offence?

The number one talking point throughout the MLB season has been the increase in offence, specifically in the form of increased home runs:

SeasonRunsRuns per gameHome runs
2014 19761 8.13 4186
2015 20647 8.50 4909
2016 21744 8.95 5610
2017 22582 9.29 6105

Baseball was in the midst of an offensive drought in 2014, a result of increasing shifts and reliever use. Typically, offence and pitching ebb and flow, with pitchers finding some new way to gain the upper hand and hitters eventually adjusting to even the playing field.

While early speculation suggested that hitters - learning about the importance of exit velocity and launch angle - were making said adjustmentsto circumvent the shift, home runs kept increasing until speculation of a juiced ball began to arise. MLB has continued to deny any changes to the ball, but it’s tough to argue with a 46% increase in home run output.

For bettors looking at baseball odds, the key here is simple - calculations on run lines need to be recalibrated. A 14% rise in runs scored over the last three seasons means over/under models from 2014 and 2015 are obsolete. Traditionally, casual bettors have favoured overs and sharp bettors have ignored that position. If the markets haven’t adjusted, it’s the casuals who would have been successful in the MLB betting markets.

The importance of starters diminishing?

When Pinnacle posts money line markets for MLB games, it does so with the teams in question, the prices and the starting pitchers. If things keep going as they did in 2017, the listing of starting pitchers may eventually be reduced to inconsequence.

Starting pitchers are less relevant now than at any time in MLB history. This week’s unfortunate passing of star pitcher Roy Halladay reminded us that the starter threw 220 or more innings eight times in his career, a number reached by exactly zero starters in 2017

Before 2014, starters had never averaged fewer than six innings per start. Below shows the evident reduction in innings per start year-on-year:

SeasonInnings/Start
2014 5.97
2015 5.81
2016 5.65
2017 5.51

For four seasons in a row, MLB has established new lows in starter use, primarily because those who closely follow analytics have discovered a pattern in starting pitcher performance:

Season - times facing opponentBAOBPSLG
2015 - 1st PA .247 .304 .390
2015 - 2nd PA .263 .320 .415
2015 - 3rd PA .274 .336 .443
2016 - 1st PA .249 .314 .395
2016 - 2nd PA .261 .325 .432
2016 - 3rd PA .269 .332 .452
2017 - 1st PA .247 .314 .411
2017 - 2nd PA .265 .333 .444
2017 - 3rd PA .277 .343 .471

In layman’s terms, the more often a batter faces the same pitcher, the more opportunity that batter has to learn the pitcher’s style and adjust appropriately. With comprehension of that reality being more heightened than ever before, MLB teams are doing more to prevent those bad match-ups for their pitchers by bringing in relievers earlier, often without being prompted by starters getting in trouble in the first place.

The starter still matters, but don’t doubt for a moment that teams have a quicker trigger for getting their starters out of the game. For some teams, like the LA Dodgers, that early removal is the gameplan and their starters should be treated that way when betting on baseball odds.

New managers, new tactics.

With the World Series still fresh in the rear-view mirror, MLB has seen a rash of personnel changes in manager and coaching positions. Dusty Baker, Joe Girardi and John Farrell, the 2017 managers of Washington, the Yankees and the Red Sox respectively, have been removed from their former posts despite guiding their teams to the playoffs.

As old as baseball is, and as much as we like to think it’s a constant amidst the changing tides of history, the game really is changing. Increased reliever use and shifts are the just the start; the introduction of Statcast has given MLB organisations access to previously unthinkably deep pools of data and every organisation in the game is using that data for efficiency. The old guys listed above who lost their jobs were the victims of baseball’s modernisation.

It used to be that the Manager was a team’s main strategist. Now, the role is different. Managers are now tacticians, conduits employed by front offices to understand front office analysis and communicate to players why that information is critical to deploy. 

The manager must understand the analytics in question and simultaneously be able to speak on the players’ level. In other words, the manager’s chair is no longer the realm of the aged.

Typically, offence and pitching ebb and flow, with pitchers finding some new way to gain the upper hand and hitters eventually adjusting.

There are multiple effects in play here as a result. The relievers; the homers; the increased number of players teams will use in the course of the season and the resulting importance of depth; the relative death of the stolen base.

Baseball is shifting more and more to a three true outcome (home runs, walks, strikeouts) game and bettors should be adjusting for that in the baseball odds.

MLB betting: What’s next?

Bettors should expect a continuation of newer strategies now everpresent in MLB. If you’re not a fan of shifting, relievers and home runs, that’s bad news; if however, you’re a savvy bettor looking for an edge, capitalising on those shifting winds before the market fully catches up seems like an awfully easy way to make some money in the MLB odds. 

We’ve seen the power of analytics over the last fifteen years. Moneyball was once a revelation, then a revolution and the teams that didn’t apply its lessons suffered. Do not let the same thing happen to you.

Understand the changes we saw in 2017, the trajectory they have the game on and how that should influence your MLB betting. It’s the difference between profit and loss when in the baseball odds.

For a beginners guide on MLB betting, read our ultimate baseball betting guide.

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