Major League Baseball belongs to the pitchers.
Over the past 10 seasons, there has been a gradual shift in power among big league teams. Scores are coming down along with batting averages and home runs, while the average ERA is hovering just around 4.00 – nearly half a run lower than what pitchers posted in 2003.
Those lower scores have given under bettors a slight edge when it comes to wagering on MLB totals. And if this trend continues, the under could continue to be a profitable play in 2013.
The under has hit more than the over in seven of the past 10 seasons but holds just a 50.8 percent edge (11,368-11,745-1,158 over/under) in that span. Last year, MLB finished with a 1126-1193-111 over/under count in the regular season (51.37 percent of games played below the total).
“We still go at (MLB totals) the same,” Peter Korner, founder of the Nevada-based odds service The Sports Club, told Covers. “We know seven is the key number (for totals) in the National League and nine in the American League with the DH. We stick to that and adjust accordingly. But rarely do you see those big double-digit totals anymore.”
Major League games averaged 10.1 runs between 2003 and 2007, peaking at 10.35 in 2006. In almost every year since, the average score has dropped, bottoming out at 9.09 runs per game in 2011 before climbing to 9.2 last year. Immediately, the fingers point to MLB’s steroid witch hunt and the decline in performance-enhancing drugs in baseball.
“A cleaner league means a drop off in production and we’re seeing it,” Korner says. “You don’t see those big players now. The Sosas, McGwires, and Barry Bonds. You can’t get that big and have your numbers increase that fast without throwing up some red flags.”
Between 2003 and 2006, there were 21,058 home runs hit in the majors – an average of 5264.5 HRs per season. Over the last six years, that average has dropped to 4827.8 HRs per season – hitting a 10-year low in 2011 with just 4552 total round-trippers.
Professional handicapper Teddy Covers believes the end of the steroid era plays into those numbers but isn’t the only reason for the power outage. He points to the guys on the mound and says not only are pitchers getting better but the way teams use them is improving.
“It’s a new era for pitchers and pitching,” says Teddy Covers. “Because of advanced metrics, the way managers use their starters and bullpens is better. They know the best spots to use guys and who to use against certain hitters. A lot of those late-inning rallies haven’t turned into explosions because the bullpens are much better.”
The average ERA in the majors between 2003 and 2009 was 4.40 while batters were hitting a consensus .270 BA at the plate. Over the past three seasons, pitchers have trimmed that ERA to 4.01 while hitters have cooled off to hit just .261 since 2010.
Sixteen MLB clubs have boasted a collective ERA below 4.00 in each of the past two seasons. There were only 10 teams with sub-4.00 ERAs in 2010 and just six in 2009. The 16 clubs with ERAs under 4.00 in 2012 went a combined 1154-1317-121 over/under (53.1 percent under) and only three of them actually played over the total more than under it on the year.
Here are the Top 5 MLB under bets - and their league ERA - from 2012:
Tampa Bay Rays (3.19 ERA – 1st overall): 64-91-7 over/under
Cincinnati Reds (3.34 ERA – 4th): 60-89-13 over/under
Atlanta Braves (3.42 ERA – 5th): 67-88-7 over/under
Detroit Tigers (3.75 ERA – 9th): 67-86-9 over/under
Oakland Athletics (3.48 ERA – 6th): 70-86-6 over/under