Betting On MLB? Make Advanced Stats Part Of Handicapping Process

MLB bettors rejoice the start of a new season


March 30

MLB is back. Betting is legal in Massachusetts. Life is good.

But before you go to place your first bet on the Red Sox or another MLB team, there are a few things to keep in mind.

New season, new rules, new rosters. Derek Carty, creator of THE BAT X projection system, says two of the biggest mistakes that bettors make at the beginning of a season are looking at only a single year of data and assuming data will repeat itself.

“We should always assume some amount of regression for all players and all stats, especially the outliers at the extremes,” Carty said.

This reasoning applies to futures as well. Yankees slugger Aaron Judge hit 62 home runs last MLB season, yet his home run prop for 2023 is only set at 45.5. This may seem low compared to what he accomplished in 2022, but oddsmakers are accounting for the likelihood of negative regression from his extreme results last season. Keep in mind, Judge’s line was 35.5 home runs entering the 2022 season, so that has been adjusted.

Considering regression, take a look at advanced stats, or “sabermetrics,” which go beyond traditional stats to measure a player’s true value or determine the trajectory of their future performance. No statistic is truly predictive, but there are some stats that can lead you in the right direction.

The traditional measure of hitting performance has been batting average while pitching performance has been measured by ERA and wins. The problem is that batting average doesn’t take into account key factors of the game and gives each hit the same value (a single and a home run are weighed the same). The issue with ERA is that it doesn’t take into account the defense behind pitchers nor opposing lineups, while wins are heavily dependent on the bullpen and bat support. These are considered surface stats.

Instead, consider the advanced stat weighted on-base average (wOBA). wOBA is a good way to measure the overall value of both hitters and pitchers. It’s a version of on-base percentage that accounts for how a player reached base. A value is given to each method of reaching base — a double is worth more than a single, etc. For hitters, success is reflected in a higher wOBA, while a low wOBA is ideal for pitchers.

League averages vary from year to year for every stat. In 2022, the average wOBA was .310. You can refer to last year’s numbers to determine if a player was playing above average or not. A wOBA higher than .310 in a hitter’s case is considered good. For example, Judge’s historic season was reflected in his .458 wOBA while American League Cy Young award winner Justin Verlander led all starting pitchers with a .222.

Sabermetrics can be overwhelming. Check out a website like FanGraphs, which features quick explanations of each stat. Start off with one stat, like wOBA, and take the time to really understand and track it.

You can also check projection systems to see if you’re on the right track. Carty says this is one of the best ways to find an edge:

“A good projection system will account for the noise level of each stat,” Carty explained. “It will account for multiple years of data. And aging. And context. And matchups. etc. There are very few things that the human brain is better equipped to analyze than a good projection system is.”

Remember, advanced stats and projections are only tools to sharpen your handicapping process. There’s no perfect formula for betting on baseball, but using these tools can give you a better idea of a player’s true productivity at the plate or on the bump.

Thumbnail photo via Paul Rutherford/USA TODAY Sports Images

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