15 for 15 MLB favorites not as crazy as you’d think

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I woke up on Wednesday morning to find a text from my older son that had a link to an article about how the previous night was the first time in Major League history that all 15 home teams won their game.

My first reaction was “really?” Baseball is well over 100 years old and in all that time the home team had not won every game of a scheduled day? Then I realized they were not talking about every home team winning, they were talking about all 15 home teams winning on a single day.

There have only been 15 home teams (i.e. 30 teams in the league) for a couple of decades. The article referenced that going back to 1914 something like this had not occurred. So, I took this to mean that on a night in which every team was playing all the home teams had not won their game. This still seemed surprising until I gave it a bit more thought.

Assume for a moment the probability of any team winning any game is 1/2, that is, either team is as likely to win the game as the other. The probability that all 15 home teams win their game is 0.5 raised to the 15th power. This number is not as small as you might think and works out to be 1 in 32,768.

Not so rare

That doesn’t sound absurdly rare, so how come this has never happened before? For that, we need to realize that in a 162 game season, all 30 teams probably play on about 125 of the days. Many teams have off on a Monday or a Thursday. There are rainouts.

So, this means that in any given season there are only 125 chances for this event to occur. So, over 100 seasons, there are only 12,500 chances for something that should occur 1 in 32,768. The probability it would occur exactly 1 time is 26.05% – less than half the probability that it would not occur at all over that time (68.29%).

It is more likely than not, by a better than 2 to 1 margin, this would never have happened by now.

Of course, over the past 100 years there were, for most of that time, far less than 30 teams. They also used to play less than 162 games per year and more double headers. Getting an exact probability is a bit more complex than what I presented.

I also assumed each game had an equal probability of the visitor or home team winning. Fortunately, I was able to retrieve from one source (Yahoo! Sports) the odds of each team winning before the game started.

Pitchers change odds

On this particular night, the home team was favored to win every game. Thus, it is probably not a huge surprise that all did. But, being the favorite is hardly a guarantee of winning.

As it turns out, all the home teams were favorites the next night, too. But last Wednesday, four lost.

In baseball, more than any other major sport, the odds change greatly from one night to the next because of the starting pitchers. So, just because the home teams all won on Tuesday and those same teams play again does not mean the odds of each team winning were similar.

In order to calculate the probability that all 15 home teams won last Tuesday, we need to multiply the 15 probabilities together and look at this number. We get 0.00041 or 1 in 2,441.

That is not a typo. This is more than 10 times more likely than the baseline number I showed before.

The Mets were a better than 2 to 1 favorite to beat the Rockies. The lowest it got for the home team was 53%. As I took these numbers from Yahoo! Sports, there is a possibility they represent betting lines (and not true odds) and some sort of vig is built into them.

Even if this were the case, the probability on this particular night was clearly far greater than on an average night.

Schedules in baseball are relatively random. Yes, teams play other teams in their division a set number of times, etc. But there is not a lot of rhyme or reason to when a team is home vs. away.

An oddity

The real oddity of the night might be that all of the home teams were the favorites. As in any sports, teams tend to perform better at home. But, the impact of the starting pitcher on a team’s probability to win is greater than you would find for a single player in other sports from game to game (barring injury).

Zack Greinke was pitching for the Dodgers. He happened to be pitching at home. Had he been the visiting pitcher, the Dodgers would likely still have been favored.

So, it took some random events lining up combined with some less than random eventshappening in the expected probabilities for this once in a century event to occur.

How is this relevant to casino gambling? It is all about understanding probabilities.

Players have a tendency to personalize the odds of events occurring. If you haven’t hit a Royal, you might think it is as rare as hitting a million dollar jackpot on a slot. If you’ve hit three Royals in the past month and then go three months without one, you may think you’ve gone cold. In reality, you’re probably right in the range known as “expected.”

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Elliot Frome is a second generation gaming analyst and author. His math credits include Ultimate Texas Hold’em, Mississippi Stud, House Money and many other games. His website is www.gambatria.com. Email: [email protected].

About the Author

Elliot Frome

Elliot Frome’s roots run deep into gaming theory and analysis. His father, Lenny, was a pioneer in developing video poker strategy in the 1980s and is credited with raising its popularity to dizzying heights. Elliot is a second generation gaming author and analyst with nearly 20 years of programming experience.

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