Betting Baseball Totals

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Betting Baseball Totals
By Ted Sevransky

Baseball is a completely different type of sport to handicapfrom the two most popular betting sports, football and basketball.On the gridiron and the hardwood, teams are separated by pointspreads,and wagers are placed either laying the points with the favoriteor taking the points with the underdog. But betting baseball,there is no pointspread to differentiate between the underdogand favorite. Instead, baseball side wagers use a moneyline asa basis for determining the relative value of the two teams pittedagainst each other. Wagering on a favorite in baseball oftentimesrequires the bettor to lay a substantial price for his support.It’s not uncommon for a favorite in baseball to be priced at -200,-250, or even -300 and above – the bettor must be right betterthan 75% of the time with his big three dollar favorites in orderto earn a profit, far greater than the 52.4% of the time thatis the break even point for standard 11:10 pointspread wagering.And baseball underdogs win much less than half of the time – pickingdogs that are competitive, but not winning outright, can leavea bettor with a bankroll spiraling in the wrong direction.

In addition, baseball is the only betting sport in which theline is completely and utterly affected by a single player scheduledto be in the starting lineup. In basketball, the Minnesota Timberwolvesmay be adjusted from a 7 point favorite down to a 2 point favoriteif league MVP Kevin Garnett is going to miss the game due to aninjury. A similar four or five pointspread adjustment is normalfor a key football injury as well, such as if Donovan McNabb wereto miss a game for the Philadelphia Eagles. But baseball pricesare, in most instances, very heavily weighted towards the startingpitcher. The Yankees might be -200 against the Red Sox if KevinBrown was facing Bronson Arroyo, but the same two teams on thesame field with a pitching matchup of Pedro Martinez vs. JoseContreras would see Boston as the favorite, even if every otherplayer was unchanged. These type of dramatic price adjustmentsbased on the projected starters alone are unique to bases, makingit a significant challenge for any handicapper.

Betting totals in baseball is also a completelydifferent exercise than betting totals in basketball and football.Basketball totals are set almost entirely in regard to the pacethat the two teams are projected to play at. If the Kings areplaying the Mavericks, two teams that love to run and gun, bothaveraging well over 80 shots per game, the total will be set ashigh as 220. When the Pistons play the Pacers, two teams thatrely almost exclusively on half court offense, both clubs withconsistently outstanding defensive efforts, the total will beas low as 165. Yet, when all is said and done, the game will goOver or Under the total based on two factors not related to pace- shooting percentage and free throw attempts. If two low scoringteams have good shooting days, the total is likely to go Over.When the Kings and Mavs met in the first round of the 2004 NBAplayoffs, neither team could shoot worth a lick in three of thefirst four games, each club hitting at 35% from the floor or lowerduring that span. No surprise then that those games went wellUnder the total, despite a high number of shots taken. And theway a game is officiated has a huge impact on basketball totals.On nights where the refs are willing to let the two teams playphysical basketball without blowing their whistles, shooting percentageswill be down because defenders can maintain better position, andpoints scored without any time coming off the clock (at the freethrow line) will be minimized – every point will have to be earned.On the other hand, on the nights where every touch foul gets whistledby the zebras, teams can easily score 30-40 points each at thefree throw line, with no time coming off the clock. And defendersare likely to back off a bit for fear of fouls giving their opponentseasier looks at the basket, also likely to result in more pointsbeing scored.

Football totals are tricky in their own way, for a differentgroup of reasons. Football totals are set based on the offensiveand defensive capabilities of the two teams- no surprise there.But betting football totals is a very tricky animal, because yardsdon’t always equal points. It’s not uncommon for a team to goon two long drives to start out the game, gaining 150+ yards,but ending up with only a field goal attempt or two. Similarly,a team can struggle to move the football for most of the game,then make a big play or two on offense, defense or special teams,and boom – 14 points have been scored in a matter of seconds.Red zone execution (touchdowns or field goals), turnovers (whichend zone are they near?), big plays or the lack thereof all affectfootball totals going Under or Over as much or more than the offensiveand defensive capabilities of the two teams.

I’m not a big proponent of basketball and football totals, becauseof the variables listed above. I certainly don’t exclude themfrom my handicapping arsenal – there are some situations thatstand out, simply too good opportunities to miss or ignore, butbaseball or basketball totals don’t make up more than 15-20% ofmy wagers over the course of a season, some years less than halfthat amount.

And we’ve already established some of the reasons why baseballside wagers are difficult for many bettors to beat. In order tosupport one team’s potent offense, or their vastly superior startingpitching, the bettor is forced to lay a high price that requireshim to be right as much as ¾ of the time just to break even. Likewise,bettors can be dismayed in a hurry when their high priced studstarting pitcher gets pulled for a pinch hitter in the 6th inningwith the score tied, leaving a bullpen that is far less reliablethen the starter to earn the victory.

That’s why in baseball, betting totals has been mybread and butter over the past few years. Outlined below are thesix primary reasons why betting baseball totals can be an extremelyprofitable endeavor, particularly in relation to betting baseballsides.

1) You can be only half right and still win your bet.
This is the #1 reason why I like betting baseball totals. Let’ssay Randy Johnson of Arizona and Matt Morris of St Louis are slatedto face one another, with a total of 7.5 for the game. With twoof the top pitchers in the NL on the mound, it’s easy to makea case for the Under. But even if one of the two starters getshit hard, a 6-1 final score going Under the total is still wellwithin the range of possibility. It’s a similar story with poorpitchers. If the Pirates Josh Fogg matches up against the GiantsBrett Tomko, the total would probably be around 9 or 9.5 consideringthat neither team is overly potent at the plate this season. BothOver bettors can cash their tickets even if Fogg pitches a raregem, because Tomko could still get rocked, and a 9-3 final iscertainly not out of reach.

2) You don’t have to lay big prices to bet on or against anypitcher.
The Rockies Scott Elarton has arguably been the worst startingpitcher in the major leagues in 2004. The linesmakers aren’t idiotsby any stretch of the imagination – Colorado was a substantialunderdog in seven of his first eight starts, so betting againstElarton would require the side bettor to lay a big price. Butyou didn’t have to lay more than -110 betting Elarton Over thetotal in those eight starts, and you would have cashed repeatedlyby doing so. Similarly, the linesmakers consistently install highprices on the favorite when the ‘A’ list starters take the hill.Why lay a big price to support Carlos Zambrano of the Cubs orRoger Clemens of the Astros when you can bet the Under at -110,assuming much less risk with the same potential reward?

3) The linesmakers don’t have much wiggle roomto adjust their totals.
Baseball totals at every ballpark except for Coors Field rangebetween a low of 7 and a high of 11.5, with the occasional 6.5or 12. Even when two hot hitting teams face off against two mediocrestarters, the total is not going to come 14. Similarly, when twocold hitting teams face off against two dominant starters, thetotal is not going to come 5. In other words, it’s very difficultfor the linesmakers to compensate enough within the limited confinesof the standard range of totals. The linesmakers don’t hesitateto price a dominant favorite at -300, but they don’t have thatsame ability to adjust when setting baseball totals.

4) The linesmakers are not that confident in theirnumbers.
Each sportsbook sets limits on the amount that can be bet on anyparticular wager. The casual bettor rarely runs into the sportsbooklimits, normally several thousand dollars or more on side wagersin bases, football and hoops. But the bookmakers do not set highlimits like that for baseball totals, and many sportsbooks arereluctant to take wagers above $500 or $1000. Why not? Part ofthe reason stems from the issues noted above, in #3. Part of thereason comes from the fact that the books get very little ‘square’money on MLB totals – they’re up against the wiseguy professionalbettors, and you don’t remain a professional bettor for very longunless you are beating the bookmaker with relative consistency.That means that the books don’t get balanced action on the majorityof baseball totals that they hang. But as much as anything, thelow limits on totals are for one reason alone – the linesmakersaren’t as confident that their numbers are good enough to withstandhigh stakes wagers from informed bettors.

5) Streaks don’t get noticed by the public or the linesmakers.
When any baseball team wins eight straight games, they’ll be catapultedto the lead story on ESPN, and noted by bettors and linesmakersrather quickly. The hot team might have been priced as a -140favorite in their first game of the streak, but with the sametwo pitchers on the mound following eight straight wins, the hotteam would be much closer to being a -200 favorite, because ofthe added public money backing that club. But the general publicdoesn’t notice Over/Under streaks, nor do the national media.St Louis opened the season with eight consecutive Overs; the Exposhave gone Under the total in 27 of their 38 games this season.These type of streaks tend to feed upon themselves, extendingonwards indefinitely. In 2003, the Dodgers went Under the total99 times, but Over only 53 times. The Red Sox, on the other hand,went Over the total 95 times while going Under the total only63 times. I know a handicapper who took a three week vacationlast summer, betting just the Dodgers Under and Red Sox Over everygame while he was gone. By the time he returned to his daily ‘capping,he was up more than 15 units, just riding the streaking teamsagain and again. And this makes perfect sense. Teams who are strugglingat the plate tend to press, lose confidence, and get out of theirnormal rhythm. Teams that are hitting well gain confidence, aremore selective with their swinging, and generally have betterat bats. Likewise, teams that are getting good starting pitchingdon’t overuse their bullpens, leaving the pens much fresher andbetter than the teams that are getting lousy starting pitching,who are forced to rely on overused and tired bullpens. A run ofUnders produces more Unders; a run of Overs produces more Overs,and the linesmakers simply can’t adjust.

6) Home plate umpires have Over/Under tendencies as much asteams do. In basketball and football information about the refereesis difficult to obtain. There is no one single ref who has moreinfluence that the others, and finding out which refs are slatedto officiate which games is not always easy information to obtain.In baseball, the home plate ump has a huge impact on the game,more so than any other referee in any major sport. And home plateumpires are no secret – you can easily find out which ump is slatedto be behind the plate for any given game. There’s no questionthat different umpires have different strike zones. Umps thathave a slightly wider strike zone allow the pitchers to get aheadin the count more often, while umps with a tighter strike zoneforce pitchers behind in the count on a consistent basis. Pitchersget rattled when close calls at the plate don’t go their way,while they gain confidence when they are getting those close calls.John Hirschbeck is a well known Under type umpire, with a relativelywide strike zone that frustrates batters and rewards pitchers.Hirschbeck recently had a two year run in which Unders cashedin 41 of the 63 games that he called. Mike Reilly, on the otherhand, has a smaller strike zone, resulting in a 40-24 mark tothe Over when he was behind the plate over a two year span.

It’s not that baseball sides can’t be beat, or that footballand basketball totals are unbeatable. But for the reasons outlinesabove, baseball totals can be a consistent and profitable partof any handicappers arsenal, worth examining closely on a dailybasis throughout the baseball season. In 2003, I had profitableresults with my baseball total wagers for six consecutive monthsto close out the season. And, after a slow start in 2004, Mayhas proven highly profitable with the totals as well. I expectthis type of steady success to continue, making the case thatbaseball totals are something any astute ‘capper should take advantageof.

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Jay has been watching and following sports since he could walk and turned to betting in his late teens. His favorite sport is MLB and has been producing winners on UltimateCapper for over 15 years. Follow Jay's free sports picks and enjoy the winners.