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Focus on more than short-term trivia when betting ALCS


After a travel day, the New York Yankees and Houston Astros resume the American League Championship Series on Tuesday afternoon in The Bronx (4:08 p.m., FS1). Some notes for bettors:

  • A great example of how betting markets price on “skill sets” rather than “trends” is exemplified by money lines in recent weeks for Houston’s Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. Both are considered superstar talents. Both are priced as virtual equals even though betting Verlander would have cost you one unit this season (despite Houston’s 24-10 record in his games) while backing Cole would have won 11 units.

You could cherry-pick differentials even more extreme. Counting the playoffs, Verlander is down eight units his last 13 starts, while the Astros have won 15 straight games with Cole (plus 15 units because he was always favored).

But Verlander isn’t being priced as a guy who’s down that many recent units. He and Cole are given similar respect. Sharps focus on skill sets, not short-term trivia. Remember this when sports networks are running data across the bottom of your TV screen. Ask yourself, “Is that about a skill set, or just trivia?” It’s almost all trivia.

Could you imagine the Weather Channel reporting, “It’s rained four of the last five Tuesdays, so there’s an 80 percent chance of rain today?” Tie your bets to factors most directly related to probabilities.

  • Evidence is clear the past week that fly balls aren’t travelling as far as they did in the regular season. Analytics types are theorizing that MLB has switched back to the prior design from the “aerodynamically friendly” baseballs that were soaring over fences at record levels. Though, cooler temperatures at outdoor sites could also be a factor.

Does this mean bettors should be loading up on Unders? Probably not. The market noticed, too. And, it’s not as if home runs are going to disappear. We’re just less likely to see “beer league softball” scoring explosions.

Handicappers should at least be cognizant of which starting pitchers and trial relievers induce fly balls when handicapping Yankees-Astros and the NLCS featuring the Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals (data available at Fangraphs). Fly-ball pitchers should be more effective. And, if the majority of projected arms in a game are helped by a combination of ball and weather, Unders would make sense in those specific conditions.

  • Houston will be playing its first 2019 postseason outdoor games in a cooler climate at the Stadium. Late-afternoon shadows could be an issue with Tuesday’s awkward starting time. Stay on top of ballpark conditions this week.
  • Markets have continued to underprice the Yankees through the playoffs. That was true in the regular season, when New York finished +14 betting units while finishing 44 games over .500 (it’s tough for big favorites to earn big money!). Houston was only +7 units despite finishing 52 games over .500. In the postseason, pinstripe portfolios are clearly in the black, while Houston bettors are minus money.
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