By the middle of May in baseball we often have a division leader or two that is totally unexpected. I’m not talking about a MLB team that was a potential contender that has started strong. I mean a ball team that was expected to be plain lousy that has far exceeded expectations. They likely have a roster that doesn’t begin to stack up to the best in their division, yet they just keep winning. For bettors those teams provide a real challenge. Are they going to be able to keep it up, or are they going to fall to earth? If they are doomed then how long can the good times last before they end? There is typically a whole lot of value present in basaeball games featuring teams like these, but it can be tough to figure out on which side the value lies. Here are five factors for baseball handicappers to consider in the search for that value:
Are the players overachieving? – The starting place whenever a major league team is playing beyond expectations is a statistical look at the roster. Are the hitters and pitchers performing significantly better than expectations? The easiest way to examine this is to look at how players on the roster perform in key statistical categories compared to how they have done in the past. It’s reasonable for players – especially younger ones – to improve from year to year. That improvement should be reasonable and sustainable. If the improvement is dramatic, though, then there is a good chance that isn’t sustainable. If one player is off to an unsustainable start at the plate or on the mound then that might not be a massive problem for a team. If several players are off to similarly strong starts, though – which is common because confidence seems to be contagious in these situations – then the team could really struggle when those ball players inevitably fall back to earth.
Who have they played? – After only 30 or 40 games it is possible for a team to have played an unbalanced schedule. They have only played 10 or 12 series at that point, so they have yet to play every team in the league. They may have already played two series against some teams as well. if they have managed to avoid playing many of the best teams in the league and have played a high percentage of their games against weaker squads then their record could be misleading. Once they start to face those tougher opponents they may not be able to win at the same rate.
What’s happening in the division? – When a ball team is an unexpected early leader in a division that is usually accompanied by aweaker than expected performances by the best teams in the division. If the better teams start to play closer to expectations then it will be harder for the unexpected start to continue. Not only will the team in the lead face the challenge of strong contenders chasing them, but they will have to play several games against those strong and revitalized teams down the stretch. It’s easier for a major league team to hold on, if there isn’t a strong team in the division, or if the stronger teams have issues that are likely to cripple them going forward.
Were preseason expectations reasonable? – When a team is far exceeding expectations then it is only reasonable to question whether those expectations were reasonable. The media and the public can easily undervalue a team if they have struggled for a long time, if they lack big name players or high profile draft picks on the roster, if they are out of a major media market, or if their manager isn’t well respected. Despite all these factors, a team can be strong and dangerous if they have talented players who are well suited to play together and are well managed. It’s not uncommon for the incorrect expectations to be a big factor in a situation like this.
How are bettors responding? – As in any situation in sports betting, the impact of the betting public is very important to consider. If the public has really jumped on this team, embraced their strong start, and seem to believe in them then there is a good chance that they will be overbet and the value will be in betting against them – especially if you feel like the public is too enthusiastic. If the public doesn’t seem to be embracing the team despite their success, though, then there could be value in betting on them – even if you don’t believe over the long term that they can keep up their level of play.