Baseball is a game of numbers and handicapping the game can make bettors feel like they’re stuck in advanced calculus all over again. Outside of the usual ERA, batting average, WHIP and RBI, there are hundreds of categories to prove or disprove just about any betting theory.
In order to separate the numerical forest from the statistical trees, Covers.com talked to some of today’s top handicappers to see what stats they bank on when making their plays.
Batting average versus left-handed pitchers
Books will always give a left-handed pitcher a couple extra cents on the moneyline, but countering the southpaw with a team that pounds lefties is a great way to build your bankroll.
“How a team hits against left-handers; that’s my go-to stat,” says Robert Ferringo of Doc’s Sports.
Clubs like the Detroit Tigers (.305 BA vs. LHP), Toronto Blue Jays (.294), Seattle Mariners (.290) and Los Angeles Dodgers (.289) are the best in the big at hitting lefties.
Detroit’s Magglio Ordonez has punished lefties this season, leading the league with a .435 average against southpaws. The Florida Marlins’ Hanley Ramirez (.426) and Miguel Cabrera (.410) as well as Seattle’s Jose Guillen are among the leaders in batting average against left-handed pitchers.
Keeping the bases empty is the main focus of any pitcher. A guy that is struggling with location is bound to walk a lot of batters or get hit, and probably get hit hard.
The top strikeout-to-walk pitchers in the majors are also among the most profitable arms in the game. Cleveland Indians pitchers C.C. Sabathia (6.38 K/BB) and Paul Byrd (5.36) top the list and have combined for 9.04 units this season (if you wagered $100 on all of Sabathia’s and Byrd’s starts you would be up $904).
All-Stars Josh Beckett (4.40) and Jeremy Bonderman (4.35) are also among the best pitchers in this category. Both hurlers have double-figure wins this season and have earned 5.89 units and 4.70 for their respective team’s backers.
“I like to look for guys who are struggling with their walks versus strikeout ratio,” says Scott Rickenbach of Covers Experts. “This can be a key red flag for some pitchers. Of course base runners and contact leads to runs so walking guys and the inability to strike guys out can both be huge factors in a pitcher's success.”
The teams giving up the most walks this season, the Texas Rangers, Baltimore Orioles, San Francisco Giants and Marlins are all at least nine games behind their division leaders. The only exception is the Arizona Diamondbacks, who have walked 72 batters this season while striking out 96.
Getting six solid innings of work out of a team’s starter should be enough for most sports bettors to make a profit – unless you’re betting on the Giants.
Looking at a pitcher’s number of quality starts can tell a bettor a lot about how they must approach the game. A guy who has lot of them will get at least six or seven innings, while a pitcher who has few quality starts will rely more on his bullpen to finish the game.
“People don't always look at quality starts but they are important in giving you an inside edge behind the ERA,” says professional handicapper David Jones. “Being aware of that is helpful because it ties in to bullpen. You can miss that if you look just at ERA, you miss some of the value in a starter.”
American League ERA leader Danny Haren leads the majors in quality starts with 19 this season. Los Angeles ace Brad Penny has 17 quality starts and sits second in the money standings with 10.91 units. San Diego Padres star pitcher Jake Peavy and Atlanta Braves hurler Tim Hudson are tied for fourth with 17 apiece.
Fellow Brave, John Smoltz, is also among the leaders in quality starts with 15 this year. Hudson’s and Smoltz’s efforts could be saving bettors from suffering at the hands of Atlanta’s bullpen which has shot down paydays in recent games.
Looking at how teams perform in nail-bitters is a tool used by many handicappers.
“With one-run games, if a team's is doing well or doing poorly in the first half of the season, it will usually balance out as the season plays out,” says Ferringo.
Clubs like the D-Backs (21-15 in one-run games), Dodgers (20-11), New York Mets (14-5) and Detroit (20-13) have steped up when the going gets tough. The New York Yankees (8-15), Orioles (9-20) and Philadelphia Phillies (6-15) crumble in crunch time.
Keeping an eye on these games is also helpful for bettors playing the runline. With a spread of 1 ½ runs you'll have to watch out for teams that tend to play in close games.
BA with RISP and two outs
When bettors have their backs to the wall, it’s nice to know you can depend on a team that comes through in a similar situation.
Detroit leads the major leagues hitting .305 with runners in scoring position with two outs. Philadelphia (.285), Minnesota (.280), Atlanta (.273) and the New York Yankees (.270) are also among the best clutch teams.
It also works both ways for bettors, who can play against teams that struggle to perform with runners on and two away. The Washington Nationals and Milwaukee Brewers both bat a measly .212 with RISP and two outs. The St. Louis Cardinals (.215) and the Marlins (.216) have also left plenty of runners stranded this season.
Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter is still “Captain Clutch” when it comes to hitting with RISP and two outs. He leads the bigs with an impressive .476 average in this situation. Chicago Cubs second baseman Mark DeRosa (.452) and Colorado Rockies infielder Kazuo Matsui (.448) join Jeter at the top of this category.