Interest level for pro baseball betting lowers this time of year

Jul 24, 2012 3:10 AM

NFL training camps open up around the country this coming weekend. The start of fall practice for college football isn’t far behind.

Wiseguy bettors are spending a good portion of their time focusing on football right now. We’ve got a rapidly maturing NFL season win total marketplace, both here in Vegas and offshore. Odds to win the NFL Divisions are up. Week 1 numbers are available at multiple sportsbooks.

The first preseason Week 1 point spreads are now on the radar screen, as are the opening game college football lines. The games are already loaded into the system on my SportsOptions Live Odds screen.

College football season win totals are up as are odds to win the various conferences. Best of all, just about every day from here through the real start of football season Aug. 30, we’ll see fresh numbers on a daily basis at one sports book or another.

So what happens when the betting markets shift their focus towards football? After all, we’re only 10 days out from the All Star break – there’s more than two full months of regular season baseball still to play.

There isn’t a team in either league that has completed more than 96 of their 162 game schedule starting the week. Every team in both leagues still has at least 3/8 of their schedule to complete.

Yet any sports book director in town will tell you that the interest level for betting baseball really starts to dwindle around this time of the year. Casual bettors who have struggled tend to walk away from MLB, waiting for football to start. Those earning a profit also shift their focus.

Football is king for most amateur bettors. Baseball is something to bet on when there’s no hoops or football available to wager. Wiseguy bettors are no different from the amateurs in this regard.

Sharp bettors seem to get more frustrated with baseball’s random results (blown saves, late rallies, bullpen meltdowns and seemingly improbable occurrences on a regular basis) than by turnovers, red zone failures, special teams miscues and another set of seemingly improbable circumstances that seem to occur in football on a regular basis.

In casual conversation around town with other bettors, I’ve heard more than a handful of successful, long term winning bettors eschew the second half of the MLB season. Their money is tied up in football bets, leaving their bankroll less “liquid” than it is at other times of the year.

That leaves a baseball betting marketplace that quite literally gets smaller by the day in late July and August, before the pennant races start to heat up in September. The action at this time of the year is truly dominated by computer formula driven syndicates.

Even when that September money starts to flow again, baseball must share the spotlight with football. The next time MLB will be on center stage for sports bettors won’t be until 2013.

So what happens when the betting markets for a “major” sport lose many of their casual bettors and more than a handful of wiseguys as well? The nuances of the marketplace change, often rather dramatically. We’re 10 days out of the All Star break, and already, we’ve seen all the “what to watch for in the second half” articles come and go from sports betting sites and even major media outlets.

Once the trading deadline passes on July 31, we won’t see much more mainstream MLB content that doesn’t involve potential playoff teams and division or wild card races.

So, how do the sharp bettors that are still focusing on baseball approach this stage of the season – a time of the year where computer generated numbers hold significant sway in the betting markets?

Here’s my breakdown:

These are the dogs days of summer; the time of the year where bad teams and poor pitching staffs simply aren’t capable of “stepping up” on a regular basis. The prices for favorites really start to go up in the second half. We’ll start to see – 300 or higher chalk shortly when good teams play “dead” ones.

The Houston Astros are a prime example. On May 25, the Astros were one game under .500; sitting in third place in the NL Central with a 22-23 record. In the nearly two months since, the Astros have gone 12-39 playing consistently awful baseball.

This past weekend, we saw Houston as a $2 underdog multiple times at Arizona (a team with a losing record) against the likes of Josh Collmenter and Wade Miley – solid pitchers, but not aces.

Obviously, those types of high prices to fade the very worst teams make it more expensive to lay the price with the superior club. That being said, bettors who are willing to lay the big chalk (something many sharp bettors are reluctant to do) can enjoy real success at this time of the year.

There are occasional times where I’ll pull the trigger on a +250 dog simply because the price is right. These are wagers I wouldn’t have bet at +200 in the first half of the campaign.

Sharp bettors are definitely looking for overworked pitchers (particularly those who haven’t thrown 200+ innings at the major league level before) to start wearing down in the summer heat. Matt Harrison, Ivan Nova, Tommy Milone and James McDonald stand out as potential guys who have thrown 120+ already (all ranked among the top 35 in MLB in innings pitched so far this year) without a proven history of 200+ seasons.

Bad bullpens tend to get worse in the hot summer months, before the September call-ups reinforce the corps. The Mets, Cardinals, Brewers and White Sox are all in playoff contention right now, despite continued bullpen struggles. They’re all being priced like contenders here in the second half, but without bullpen reinforcements are in danger of dropping out of the race. Over bettors love struggling bullpens and dog bettors savor false favorites that can’t hold late inning leads.

Bullpen statistics correlate very strongly with MLB profitability. Of the top eight teams in profits so far (Pirates, A’s, Orioles, Nationals, Giants, Reds, Yankees and Dodgers), six rank in bullpen ERA. And among the bottom feeders in terms of profitability, six of the worst seven performing teams have bullpens ranked among the bottom 10 in ERA (Phillies, Astros, Rockies, Brewers, Marlins and Cubs).

Bettors who do nothing but handicap bullpens can have a field day betting into lines that have starting pitching matchups as their basis for the money lines. Remember, capping bullpens requires legwork. You’ve got to watch the games, read the local papers and chart the bullpens while tracking who is fresh on a daily basis.

Computer generated algorithms don’t do this particular task very well, leaving a nice window of opportunity for bettors willing to put in the time.

Pitching Sabermetric stats are another thing that wiseguy bettors strongly consider for the second half. Pitchers likely to decline are McDonald, Jason Vargas, Ryan Vogelsong and Edwin Jackson.

On the other hand, pitchers who have been more unlucky in the first half when it comes to the batting average on balls in play are primed to show improvement. Pitchers like James Shields, Josh Johnson, Ian Kennedy, Adam Wainwright and Felix Hernandez all fit into this category as potential “bet-on” hurlers.

FIP (fielding independent pitching) stats are another strong sabermetric tool to show what pitchers have overachieved and underachieved through the first half. Zack Grienke, Josh Johnson and Felix Hernandez are poised to improve. Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and Ricky Romero not so much.

Sharp bettors attack late season baseball by looking for and expecting teams to morph down the stretch. Last season had numerous classic “September morphs” like the Red Sox 7-20 collapse, the Braves 9-18 debacle, the Rangers 19-6 surge, the Cardinals 18-8 push and the Tigers 20-6 domination. Sub-.500 teams like Baltimore and KC finished September with winning records and big profits for their supporters.

Wiseguys pay attention, because not many others are! Remember, both money lines and totals are influenced more by season long numbers than by current form and matchup or situational nuances. Follow those September morphs closely and you’ll make money every year.