For baseball bettors April is a time of getting comfortable – determining which teams are good and which aren’t, which players are poised to break out and which will struggle, and which managers are going to perform well. When May comes around bettors start to get a better sense of what is happening, and what is likely to happen. Here’s a look at five big changes that happen for baseball bettors when May comes:
Sample size is big enough to trust trends – By the time the calendar turns to May ball teams have played around 30 games – nearly 20 percent of the season. While there is still a whole lot more baseball to be played in the majors and a whole lot will change between now and September, the sample size of games, at-bats, starts for pitchers, and so on is getting to be big enough that we can cautiously trust any trends that have emerged. When the MLB season starts we have no current statistical information to trust, so we are forced to rely on other data – and that comes down to guessing most of the time. The more current data we have, the more effectively we can handicap ball games, and the easier it becomes to find value.
Statistics are more meaningful – When a guy is hitting .300 on April 10th it means almost nothing – other than that he has played well for the first week of the season. When he is hitting .300 on May 10th it means he has managed to hit well or a sustained period of time and it is likely reasonable to assume that he will be able to continue hitting well over the short term. However, this doesn’t mean that he is going to contend for the batting title, or that he will finish anywhere near those numbers at the end of the year. The same logic can be applied to starting pitchers after they have made six or seven starts, relievers after they have made several appearances, defenses that have been tested many times, and so on.
New pitchers are well scouted – When a pitcher enters the league for the first time, or when he changes leagues, he can have a big advantage early on because he can easily know more about his opponents than they know about him. That’s why new faces can so frequently make eye-opening starts in their new surroundings. It can be especially hard for teams to scout a pitcher who has previously played in the minors because the level of competition they are facing is so different. After a pitcher has made a few starts, though – which he has likely done by the start of May – opposing teams have current video of them. That video is against current major league teams, so it is easy for scouts to get a sense of what the pitching performance really means and what the pitcher was up against. Scouting doesn’t mean that the pitcher won’t be effective – if that were the case, veteran pitchers would never pitch a good game. What it does mean, though, is that pitchers can’t catch hitters off guard, and can’t get away with trickery. A talented pitcher will still be fine, but a guy who isn’t ready for primetime will be exposed.
New hitters are settled in – When a ball player is traded in the offseason, joins a new team in free agency, or is promoted to the major leagues he has to make a lot of adjustments. He has to get used to a new team and a new coaching staff. He has to get comfortable with playing half of his games in a different stadium – with all the challenges that can bring with it. The lineup around him is different, so the protection he is offered and the roles he typically fills at the plate change. All that upheaval can badly impact some very good hitters – all you need to look at as proof is the incredible struggles Albert Pujols faced when moving from the Cardinals to the Angels. After 30 games, though, the unfamiliar should become familiar, so a lot of the early excuses are gone. If the struggles continue, then, it could be time for baseball handicappers to ask more questions and look deeper.
Weather warming up – In a lot of northern baseball cities the weather can be cool in April. Even in southern cities the weather typically isn’t as warm as it will be later on. Cooler weather can have a lot of impact on games – pitchers find it harder to stay warm between innings and can struggle to grip the ball, balls fly differently, fielders aren’t as warm and loose, and so on. That starts to change in May. Teams that play outdoor ball games can see changes as the weather changes. If teams play under a retractable roof then they’ll be playing with the roof opener more in May than in April – especially in the evening – and that can have an impact on games and baseball handicappers as well.