Haney's Handle: Finding the edge with season-long MLB props

Feb 21, 2012 |
Haney's Handle: Finding the edge with season-long MLB props
A player has stolen 62 or more bases 17 times in the past 16 MLB seasons.
A player has stolen 62 or more bases 17 times in the past 16 MLB seasons.
Based on available odds, I believe I have an edge wagering that at least one major leaguer will steal 62 or more bases, at least one pitcher will lose 18 or more games and at least one pitcher will record 22 or more wins during the 2012 MLB season.

In analyzing these season-long baseball propositions, I rely on the Poisson distribution from probability theory.

These props qualify for the Poisson treatment because they involve a large number of trials (think of all the pitchers and baserunners in position to win or lose games or steal bases each season) and there is a relatively small chance of a successful, or “positive” trial (few pitchers lose 18 games in a season, for example).

Let’s see how this tactic applies to baseball bets now on the board, starting with the stolen bases prop.

PinnacleSports.com has set the over/under on the number of most stolen bases by a major leaguer in 2012 at 61.5 steals (-123 Over).

Another way of phrasing this prop is to ask whether any player will steal 62 or more bases. I expect other books, in Nevada as well as offshore, to follow up with their own lines as the season opener approaches.

In my analysis, I used data from the past 16 baseball seasons - every year since the 1994-95 strike, which, for obvious reasons, skewed statistical results.

In those 16 seasons, a player stole 62 or more bases 17 times - an average of 1.06 times per season. I’m not convinced there’s anything markedly different about the 2012 baseball season or anything that suggests it will play out in some unusual fashion regarding stolen bases, so I plugged 1.06 into my Poisson spreadsheet.

It indicated a no-vigorish line on any player stealing at least 62 bases would be -189. So if I have to lay only -123 on that wager, and my analysis is accurate, I have an edge against the house of about 18 percent on the bet.

Of course, my money would be tied up for about seven months. But 18 percent over seven months equates to an annual return of about 31 percent. By comparison, the latest line at Intrade has it even money the Dow Jones industrial average will finish 2012 at 13,000 or better - less than 1 percent up from its current position. Take that for what it’s worth.

Poisson aside, I figure the usual suspects - Michael Bourn, Coco Crisp, Brett Gardner - as well as an underdog like Dee Gordon all have a reasonable shot at making a run at 62 steals.

I used the same 16 seasons in attacking the pitcher props. Pinnacle’s lines are 17.5 for the most losses by a pitcher and 21.5 for the most wins.

A pitcher has lost 18 or more games 12 times in the past 16 years and I have no reason to suspect 2012 will not play out true to form, so I think 0.75 pitchers (as goofy as that might sound) will lose at least 18 this season.

A Poisson spreadsheet tells me a fair no-vig line would be -112 on Over 17.5 losses. Yet the line at Pinnacle stands at +140 on the Over. I calculate my edge on the bet at about 26 percent.

You might counter that no pitcher has lost 18 since 2007. True, but seven times in the past four seasons and 10 times in the past five seasons, a pitcher has lost 17 or more - so they’ve come close.

It’s important to note that the moneyline attached to the 17.5 losses is crucial. Hypothetically, if it was -140 on the Over instead of +140, I would have no interest in getting involved.

Using the same tactic for pitchers’ victories, we find a pitcher has amassed 22 or more wins 13 times in the past 16 years. If 0.81 pitchers are expected to win 22 games in 2012, then a fair no-vig line on Over 21.5 would be -125. Pinnacle has the over priced at just -101, giving over bettors an edge of about 10 percent.

I should point out that I do not believe performance-enhancing drugs in baseball played any role in the analysis of these three particular betting propositions. It would be a different story if I was examining the odds of something like a player hitting 40 home runs and stealing 40 bases in the same season.

I recall the classic article in “The Onion” with the headline “Alfonso Soriano Regrets Joining 40-40 Club After Meeting Other Members” - a well-deserved shot at Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez.

Finally, here’s an idea for a creative season-long baseball prop I have not seen anywhere: an over/under on the number of times a batter will hit for the cycle in 2012.

I think the right number is 3.5 times (Over -130/Under +110). If any bookmaker wants to steal that one, go ahead. Just give me credit.

Oh, and if you happen to put it up with a line that is significantly different from mine, I don’t need any credit. Just let me bet into it.

Jeff Haney is a former columnist at the Las Vegas Sun and is based in Sin City. Connect with him online at sophisticatedmaniac.com or on twitter @yoryboy.

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