Bad Pitchers Are A Good Bet

Think about the 16-game NFL season in which you have a whole week in between games to analyze the matchups and crunch numbers. Give the geniuses in Vegas this much time and they will surely produce optimal lines more often than not. Now consider a season ten times longer in which every team plays every day.

You now have just a few hours to reassess the impact of a key injury, roster move, or lineup change. From this perspective, baseball bettors have a much higher likelihood of beating Vegas than do their football betting counterparts.

Trends occur frequently in baseball due to its lengthy schedule and everyday nature. The seven day break between football games makes momentum very hard to carry over. A baseball team, however, plays everyday.

This makes the game very conducive to streaks, both good and bad. Far too often, the betting public gets lazy and assumes that streaks will continue without seeing if numbers exist to support that claim. The good news — oddsmakers do this too. Yes, even those whose job it is to set lines can sometimes fall victim to deceptive recent history.

Due to the extremely high number of games played each year, historical baseball statistics can be very telling — if you know where to look. Many streaks and patterns have emerged under the radar, unbeknownst to the general public.

Let’s take a look at an example:

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Since 2015, road underdogs whose starting pitcher is coming off of a bad start have had remarkable success. The following table shows the winning percentages, profits, and returns on investment from these bets by year. For our purposes, a bad start is defined as lasting four or fewer innings and allowing five or more earned runs.

These ROI’s are astronomical. You will not generate returns this substantial investing in real estate, bonds, or the stock market.

Before we move too fast, let’s take a step back and examine why these bets have been so profitable. More than in any other sport, we love to label baseball players as either hot or cold. Although hot and cold streaks occur in all sports, they are not as prominent outside of baseball because the players do not play every day and we either forget how they have performed recently or we write off the possibility of any momentum due to the days off between games.

It appears from these numbers that perhaps starting pitchers do not carry as much momentum as we thought from start to start. Perhaps oddsmakers, just like the casual fan, fall prey to the emotional trap of losing faith in a pitcher after he gets rocked.

You must be able to distinguish true trends from isolated incidents if you are to have success with this type of betting. Let’s dig one layer deeper into the numbers.

From 2015–2018, 354 pitchers have fit the criteria of ‘road underdog’ off of a bad start. In that same stretch, only 21 pitchers have been road underdogs coming off of two bad starts. The numbers for these bets, albeit limited, are also promising.

At average odds of 153.4, the 9–12 record of these teams is good for an 8.6% ROI.

It is important to remember that these players are professionals. They are all talented and can be great on any given night. It appears that Vegas is prone to forgetting this fact. Keep an eye out for similar discrepancies and create your own handicapping systems to cash in over the long MLB season.

Content Authored by Kreighton Rahn

All statistics courtesy of