MLB betting lines still volatile after All Star Break

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Most of the news this week from the MLB Network and other sources will revolve around next Monday’s non-waiver trading deadline as rumors are separated from action.

The biggest story was the deal Monday that sent New York Yankees outstanding closer Aroldis Chapman to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for a quartet of players, none of whom is named Kyle Schwarber.

Former Yankee reliever and part time starter Adam Warren is in the group as is highly touted shortstop prospect Gleyber Torres. The Cubs’ apparent refusal to part with Schwarber is why they would be “renting” Chapman who is a free agent at the end of the season (and has expressed a desire to return to the Yankees next season) and not acquiring another highly sought after Yankees reliever, Andrew Miller, who is under a team-friendly contract for another two seasons.

Such is the state of major league baseball. With a third of all MLB teams making the Playoffs – 6 Division winners and 4 Wild Cards – more teams remain in contention for the postseason deeper into the season than ever before. Moves are often made for their short term potential at the expense of trading prospects whose development and maturity that translates potential into performance is never a certainty.

Views differ on whether the “win now” approach is preferable to building to contend for a long time approach and although there are convincing arguments on both sides, nothing is guaranteed. Other than the praise that comes if the plan works and the criticism that occurs when it doesn’t.

If you’ve been betting baseball on pretty much a daily basis this season you have likely noticed great volatility in line moves. It has not been unusual to see a game more 50 cents or more from the overnight lines or even the lines that exist early in the morning on game day.

For example, the Nationals may have opened as -140 favorites against the Braves and may have closed at -200, a move of 60 cents.

At other times we have seen games in which the line has moved greatly in one direction only to return and close near the opening number. In the above example this would occur if the Nationals were bet from -140 up to – 200, only to close back at, say, -150 as a flurry of money comes in on the Braves once the betting markets believe the peak of the move has occurred at -200.

Totals have moved as much as a run and a half from, for example, 8 to 9.5 if there is sentiment for the OVER or from 8.5 down to 7 if the UNDER bettors are being active. Again, sometimes these moves involve no buyback in the other direction and at other times the total reverses direction and closes at or within a half run of the opening number.

The betting markets have changed dramatically in just the past two or three seasons as analytics and advanced metrics are being used and employing techniques much as they have been used for years in financial and commodities markets.

There are also groups who analyzed the statistical impact of variances in a team’s lineup for a specific game. This analysis can involve not just how individual hitters fare against lefties or righties as well as against specific pitchers but also how a team’s chances of producing runs is affected by the order of specific hitters in a lineup, starting pitcher and potential bullpen use.

Multiple large groups that are well funded are competing in the sports betting marketplace and often find themselves on opposite sides of the same game, based upon their analysis. Those games are the ones that show the “yo yo motion” of lines that show significant motion in one direction before returning to where the movement began.

The books are in greater danger, with more risk, when these large groups agree and the movement is in one direction with little or no buyback.

The individual bettor still makes up the majority of the betting population in terms of percentage of participants but, collectively, represents a smaller and smaller percentage of the betting volume as the syndicates continue to grow in both number and amount of money under their control.

The individual bettor has more limited resources at his or her disposal but still can fare well in the changing betting environment.

Often the syndicates are spreading their risk over a great number of games, content to earn a modest return. A typical day may involve action on a dozen or so games, no expecting to win any specific game or group of games but expecting to show an overall profit for the day without regard to which specific games win or lose.

The individual bettor is betting fewer games, having a greater expectation of winning each individual game.

For the vast majority of us who do not have access to the sophisticated algorithms available to the syndicates there are still some tools that can be used in the development of a structured handicapping method. Nest week’s column will take a look at some of the indicators that can be used in isolating potential plays.

Here’s a look at three weekend series.

St Louis at Miami: The only prior meeting between the Cardinals and Marlins was right out of the All Star break when Miami took 2 of 3 games in St Louis despite the Cardinals outscoring the Marlins 14 to 13 with 2 of the 3 games OVER the total. The Cardinals have had only one start by a pitcher not in their five man rotation – last Sunday’s disappointing MLB debut by Mike Mayers – and that was only because of a rainout last week that resulted in a doubleheader the next day with no subsequent day off. In that sense the Cards have been very fortunate.

The Marlins have been getting better at the plate but have only one reliable starter, ace Jose Fernandez. My Ratings have Fernandez the number 5 starter in the majors but all 5 St Louis starters rate ahead of Miami’s second best starter, Adam Conley.

Plays: St Louis as an underdog not facing Fernandez if getting +120 or more. The Cardinals -130 or less in a start by Carlos Martinez not facing Fernandez. The Miami ace can be backed at -150 or less. His start can also be played UNDER 7 or higher with one exception. The weak link in the St Louis rotation has been Michael Wacha and his start can be played OVER 7.5 or less against any other Miami starter.

Baltimore at Toronto: These AL East rivals have split their 10 previous games with the Over/Under at 5-5. The Orioles and Blue Jays have averaged a combined 11.2 runs per game in those contests. The home team has won 7 of the 10 games but there is also an interesting oddity about those prior meetings. The first 5 games were each decided by a single run.

Toronto has the better starting pitching with Baltimore having the bullpen edge. This would suggest Toronto would make for a better play over the First 5 Innings than for the full game, all things being equal. Baltimore’s best starter has been Chris Tillman whose 3.18 ERA and 1.19 WHIP lead the rotation by a considerable margin. The Orioles are 18-3 in his starts. Toronto’s rotation has anchored by the trio of J.A. Happ, Aaron Sanchez and Marco Estrada. Each has an ERA of 3.26 or better and a WHIP under 1.20. Toronto is 36-20 in their combined starts.

Plays: This should be a high scoring series and OVER 9 or less can be considered for play although 8.5 or lower would be preferred in starts by Tillman, Happ, Sanchez or Estrada. Consider UNDER is a matchup of Tillman against one of the Toronto trio. Baltimore’s best situations would be as an underdog not facing Estrada, Happ or Sanchez or if favored by -120 or less in a start by Tillman against the Blue Jays’ fourth or fifth starter. Consider Toronto for the First 5 Innings and in starts by Estrada, Happ or Sanchez at -125 or less not facing Tillman.

Seattle at Chicago Cubs: The Cubs have cooled since their hot start to the season that had them on pace to win 116 games a month or so into the season. They may have bottomed out just prior to the All Star break as the Cubs have won 2 of 3 games in each of their three series since play resumed. The addition of Chapman as closer would be a huge boost to the bullpen which has been the Cubs’ major weakness all season.

The pitching is still a strength and their five man rotation has excelled at limiting baserunners. None of their starters has a WHIP of greater than 1.11. Only Jason Hammel averages less than 6.1 innings per start (5.7). The Cubs should be heavily favored throughout this series as the Mariners’ ace, Felix Hernandez, has not pitched well when healthy and has just returned from a stint on the DL of more than a month.

Plays: Only Hisashi Iwakuma has shown much consistency over the past month or so and would be the one Seattle starter to back at +140 in his start. The wind is always a factor in setting Wrigley Field totals but the UNDER is fundamentally the preferred play at “neutral” numbers of 8, 8.5 or 9. If favored by -150 or less not facing Iwakuma, the Cubs can be played especially if the Chapman trade goes through.

About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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