Early Season Baseball Betting: Rules Changes May Create a Profitable Hedging Angle

Baseball Jul 25, 2020

We're just two days into the abbreviated 2020 Major League Baseball season.

I don't think oddsmakers nor the betting public have caught on yet to the significance of rules changes which have been explicitly applied to the 60-game schedule.  

The two biggest changes are:

-- Bullpen relievers must now face a minimum of 3 batters.  So, instead of using a reliever to face one batter, and then making changes to suit every opponent, pitchers will be forced to go against multiple hitters.  This cuts down on the micromanaging.  It also forces pitchers to face batters in a less than optimal situation.  Advantage to hitters.  Advantage to OVERs in later innings, which pitching substitutions are usually made.

-- Extra innings will now begin with a runner positioned on second base.  This will push more games OVER the total.  It will also create situations where UNDERs that look good going into extra innings will fade badly and turn into OVERs because of added runs being easier to score.  Advantage to OVERs in later innings, in closely lined games which are more prone to go into extra innings.  

However, based on a cursory look at game totals, at least through the first 16 games, oddsmakers have not adjusted (yet) to these rule changes.

Normally, late innings are higher scoring than early innings, anyway -- due to pitcher fatigue, relievers not being generally as good as starters (the closer excepted), later bats also being more productive after facing a pitcher a 2nd or 3rd time.  But now, we have two more big factors that should help late inning scoring.

So, does this mean we should bet all the OVERs?  No.  Not necessarily.  Through 16 games so far, we've seen 8 OVERs and 7 UNDERs, and 1 game suspension (a rain out – so the totals wagers were refunded).

instead of betting all the OVERs, the optimal betting strategy might be to hedge:

-- Take to take the UNDER in the first 5 innings

-- Bet the OVER for the game.

So, ideally, we want a low scoring first five innings followed by a breakdown of pitching late in games and the OVER coming in for the game.

Note that 6 out of 15 games (one rain out) produced 1st-5 UNDER and GAME OVER outcomes.  8 games split, which means we lost juice.  1 game, the rain out, had a 1st 5 OVER, and was headed for a GAME OVER but was called early, so we would have lost a unit on that.  No game, so far, has produced a 1st-5 OVER and a GAME OVER.  This looks to be a sweet angle, though let's be careful.  It's very early in the season.

Though we only have limited data points, the key to baseball wagering (for me) is to jump on situations with some unproven potential early, before the betting lines adjust. And the lines will adjust.  Eventually.  

In the meantime, I'm betting on my hypothesis.  If it fails, it's (hopefully) just a small loss, mostly juice.  If it's valid and produces more winners than losers, well – this becomes a nice ride while it lasts.