April baseball gives edge to pitchers, under bettors

Mar 26, 2013 |
Stephen Strasburg's strong April kept the Nationals under the total.
Photo By - USA Today Sports
Stephen Strasburg's strong April kept the Nationals under the total.
Photo By - USA Today Sports
April baseball is perhaps the trickiest stretch of schedule MLB bettors face all year.

New faces. Players returning from injury. Different lineups and rotations, in hopes of hitting their stride when the weather gets warmer. And, over the past few seasons, it’s been the batters who seem to have collected the most rust over the offseason.

Last April, MLB games averaged just 8.85 runs per game – the lowest production in April over the past 10 seasons. Batters hit just .254 – another 10-year low – and pitchers posted a collective ERA of 3.85 – yet another 10-year low. Those numbers helped MLB totals bettors go 155-172-9 over/under (52.5 percent under) in the first month of the season.

“Totals wise, I tend to bet more unders than overs in April,” professional handicapper Teddy Covers says. “The first couple weeks of the schedule, pitchers do have the advantage and you see that reflected in the totals.”

Oddsmakers do a good job accounting for that pitching edge, evidenced by the incredibly even 1,719-1,718-166 over/under count in April over the past 10 seasons. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that oddsmakers don’t have much to base those April totals on except how teams and players did the previous spring.

“We take a look at how the pitchers did last year at this time and we keep it close to what it was,” Peter Korner, founder of the Nevada-based odds service The Sports Club, told Covers. “We don’t like to do a lot of line comparison but that’s the only thing you can do at this time of the season.”

While last April’s offensive numbers were the lowest in a decade, production has been trending downwards not just in April but for the entire season since 2003, when April games averaged 9.98 runs and pitchers touted a collective 4.34 ERA to open the schedule. It’s just been the past two seasons in which April scores have plummeted drastically.

Between 2003 and 2010, April games averaged 9.91 runs with hitters boasting a .265 batting average and pitchers owning an average ERA of 4.36. Over the last two Aprils, there have been just 8.97 runs scored on average with batters hitting .254 and pitchers trimming their ERA to 3.88. Four teams posted ERAs under 3.00 last April - Washington, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Texas - and combined to go 25-61-3 over/under - 70.2 percent for the under.

Improved pitching metrics and deeper bullpens, along with the drop of performance-enhancing drug use in the majors, could be the causes of this decline in early-season offense. Chilly April weather is another factor bettors point to for this change in power.

“You try hitting a nasty cutter in 38 degree weather,” laughs Teddy Covers. “The ball just doesn’t carry in April like it does come July in a place like Arlington.”
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