I love playing baseball season win totals. The number of games teams play and the power of statistics in baseball make the win totals a better place to search for value than any other long term prop bet that is available. The win totals are popular, and that popularity is growing every year. If you aren’t careful, though, you can easily fall into traps and make mistakes that can remove all of the value from the bets and make them very unattractive. Here are seven of the biggest mistakes to avoid when making these types of bets:
Letting emotion rule – Baseball is a team that lends itself well to emotion – there are teams you like and others you hate; players you root for and those you loathe. That’s what makes baseball fun, but when it comes to betting season totals those emotions can lead to costly mistakes. What you feel and think about teams or players can’t be allowed to affect your decisions or you will be biased towards or against teams that you shouldn’t necessarily be. You really need to focus on betting on teams solely based on what they can offer, not how you feel about those offerings.
Getting sucked in by public teams – There are some teams in the major leagues that are obviously very public – the Yankees ad Red Sox always are, and the Phillies are now, for example. The sportsbooks know that the public likes these teams,and that they like the over in most cases no matter what. You can generally assume, then, that the totals for these teams – and many others that the public is like to feel some attachment to – will be higher than they might be in a vacuum. That doesn’t mean that you can’t go over on these teams in any circumstances – I have an over bet on one of the teams I listed above for 2011 – but you do need to be aware of what the lines are likely to mean, and be sure you have a lot of value in a bet before you make it in these cases.
Overreacting to high profile moves – When a team makes a big splash in the free agent market people are likely to get excited. A loss of a big free agent can cause people to panic. Baseball is the ultimate team game, though, so one player move rarely has the impact – positive or negative – that it could be perceived to have. Before you assume that one move will make a major difference you need to look closely at what it actually means to a team. Who will be replacing a departing player? Often times a team lets a free agent go because they have an alternative they are comfortable with. Who is the big free agent replacing? Will his productivity have a massive impact, or was the former player reasonably productive himself.
Ignoring pitching depth – When casual bettors or fans are looking at teams and their pitching they tend to focus on two things – the two or three pitchers at the top of the rotation and the closer if it is a high profile one. Pitchers only average six inning every five days or so, and closers only pitch 70 innings or so a year, so there are a whole lot of innings that will be eaten up by other arms on the team. Making decisions about how many games a team can win in the season without looking at these other pitchers is an obvious mistake. For example, if a team has no clear fourth or fifth starter, and no obvious prospects on the horizon then they could have questionable pitching once or twice every five games. That will make it harder for them to win games regardless of what kind of team they are.
Assuming last year’s production was sustainable – Sometimes teams win 80 games that aren’t 80 win caliber teams. Any number of circumstances can contribute – an unlikely hot streak, an uncharacteristically weak division, abnormally healthy team, and so on. On the flip side, a team that only wins 70 games can easily be much, much better than their record if they suffered through some abnormally bad luck. A lot of people will make betting decisions this year based on what a team did last year and what they have added or subtracted. Using last year as a baseline doesn’t work if last year was a fluke, though.
Not looking beyond the big names – The no-name guy who is batting seventh can get as many at-bats during a year as the high profile player who is hitting fourth. That means you have to spend just as much time evaluating the whole roster as you do evaluating the stars. In the same way, the fourth pitcher in the rotation will get as many starts as the ace if both stay healthy all year. You simply cannot evaluate a baseball team and their long term prospects by just looking at the most popular players.
Ignoring the strength of the division – Teams play the other teams in their division a ridiculous number of times – 72 total games for most teams. It only makes sense, then, that the strength of the teams in the division is going to have a massive impact on the outcome of a team’s season regardless of how good that team is. If the other teams in the division have all improved significantly then wins could be much harder to come by unless the team in question has improved dramatically. On the other hand, a team could gain 10 more wins without significant improvements if a couple of formerly powerful teams in the division are likely to have rough years.