The media loves rivalries in baseball. That means that the betting public likes them, too. the problem is, though, that both parties give a lot of rivalries far too much credit. Sure, there are some rivalries that are essentially blood feuds – hatred so intense that they have a direct and significant impact on the outcome of games. For each one like that, though, there are several that aren’t nearly as significant as they seem, and which really don’t impact the outcomes of games or series. If handicappers attach too much significance to rivalries then they can find themselves seeing value where there isn’t any, and that can become costly. Here are five factors to help baseball handicappers determine if a rivalry is really a feud that matters, or just something that sounds good in newspapers:
Do the players actually care? – The only way that a rivalry can have a significant impact on the outcome of games is if the ball players really care about it. The crowd may be more fired up and perhaps bigger, but that impact isn’t always particularly significant. Rivalries are only significant if the players feel extra motivation fueled by anger or an intense desire to beat the opponent which affects the outcome of games. That type of situation is far less common than casual fans think. The baseball season is long, and players play almost every day. It all starts to blend together, and it can be hard for players to get fired up about something if it is just a relatively mild rivalry.
Are the issues recent? – Behind every very intense feud there have to be issues that caused the teams to dislike each other so intensely – a contentious outcome in a playoff series, a brawl, negative remarks in the media by players or the coaching staff towards the other team, and so on. In most cases those situations aren’t going to last forever. They can be particularly significant in the games right after the situation occurred, but by a year or two later they can be all but forgotten. Fans and the general public will have much longer memories of what happened and what impact they perceive the situtation caused.
How often do they play? – It’s much easier for bitter MLB rivals in opposite leagues to maintain the intensity of their feud than it is for teams in the same division. Teams in opposite divisions may not even play every year, while teams in the same division can play as many as 19 times per regular season. No rivalry is intense enough to sustain itself at a high enough level to impact the outcome of games over 19 games per regular season. There are some major league divisional rivalries that are obviously more intense than others, but it is very easy for bettors to overcompensate for the impact of these rivalries.
Does the public care? – There are intense, fierce rivalries that the public just doesn’t care about – those played between non-contenders, or teams from smaller markets, for example. There are rivalries that the players couldn’t care less about that are intensely watched by the public – like historically strong teams meeting up. The more the public cares about a a rivalry the more baseball handicappers need to be aware of what impact that could have on how the lines are set and how they move.
How do the teams match up exclusive of the feud? – A bitter feud is the kind of thing that can easily distract bettors from what actually matters. It doesn’t matter how much MLB teams don’t like each other if one team has a dramatic advantage in every aspect of the game – better pitching, stronger hitting, crisper offense, and so on. Something like a feud is important to consider when baseball teams are otherwise reasonably well matched, not in every circumstance. If you don’t make this distinction as a baseball handicapper then you can find yourself betting on a totally outmatched team just because of a perceived emotional advantage that isn’t nearly strong enough to overcome all the other issues. That can be a very costly mistake.