MLB Handicapping: Back To Basics

We are often asked what our best sport is in handicapping. At we’ve gotten to the point where we are at the top of the list in every sport, so it’s difficult to single one out. However there is no question that our mastery of baseball in the early 1990s is what vaulted me to the point where professional sports handicapping would be my lifelong profession.

Yet, to be perfectly frank, while continuing to improve upon our results in other sports, over the last year and a half, I returned to the pack in baseball.  It was time for some serious introspection. Fortuitously, going back to my handwritten spiral notebook scorephone days, I saved my picks, 
analysis, and results from decades past.

Was I doing something different all of a sudden? After a few hours of soul searching, it became obvious I slowly but surely abandoned some of the basics that got me to the pinnacle in the first place.

In some respects, I became a victim of my own success betting picks winners. In 2005, I had probably my best year winning what we call “Dandy Dogs”. Dandy Dogs are moneyline dogs of 140 or more
(includes runline plays getting back 140 or more).

The downside was it led me to develop a bias against even small favorites. I’ve known and preached for years the basics of risk/reward ratio. For example, a 150 favorite needed to have a 60 percent chance of winning to be a break even bet or based on our threshold had to have 70
percent chance of winning to be a premium play. Yet there were nights I’d go 3-4 and still win money because of betting all dogs. Bit by bit, I developed personal chalk reluctance in betting.

Too many well-handicapped favorites of more than 120 became passes for me simply because of my increasing acute prejudice against laying the juice. Since returning to my roots, the 120-160 favorites have been a major reason behind my return to MLB handicapping prominence.

But even with picking
our baseball underdogs, we became victims of the successes we had in other sports. We take great pride in being ahead of the curve with modern technology. The Internet made every team the “local team” from a handicapping standpoint because once regional information is now so easily accessible.

The World Wide Web has been a boon to us in preseason NFL with accurate key player rotation and motivation info. In college football and basketball it has revolutionized the way sharp players bet.

While super systems have been a great addition in all sports including baseball, our self scrutiny brought to light that we were allowing the Billy Beane
and Bill James inspired new fangled stats to convince us out of winning picks.

In our first two decades of handicapping, we have had significant success with big underdogs by riding either hot but non-elite pitchers and/or fading struggling star pitchers. Yet information overload had us finding a fly ball/ground ball ratio or walks/strikeout percentage that talked us out of the same kind of plays that for decades won for us.

Let there be no doubt whatsoever that ERA and WHIP are still the two most important statistics in foretelling future results of pitchers. Likewise in handicapping offense we have streamlined with great success. Just like for 20 plus years, we returned to utilizing on base percentage and slugging percentage foremost.

We never stop fine-tuning our techniques but our introspection reminds us sometimes we need to remember “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it”. Since returning to our roots in baseball handicapping, not so coincidently we have returned to the results our clients and we desire.

With all other sports, utilizing the Internet and cutting edge computer software is imperative to staying ahead of the curve, but MLB is the clear exception. Baseball handicapping is much like playing the game: master the basic fundamentals.

A Ballpark Figure Keeps Splits Into Perspective

Joe Duffy (

A few years back we wrote an article on the importance of
evaluating how teams hit left-handed and right-handed pitchers. In summary, we surmised it was important, yet
keeping in perspective, we demonstrated how the numbers can be greatly affected
by random chance. Hence we warned about
becoming too dependant on deceptive statistics that are so often fools gold.

We have very similar thoughts about comparing ballpark
statistics. There are some stadiums that could be classified as “pitchers’
ballparks” while others could reasonably be labeled more friendly to hitters.

Yet again, we have to give props to the four-letter evil
empire ESPN. In their fantasy baseball
section, they have a straight-forward “Park Factor” that compares that rate of
stats at home versus the rate of stats on the road. A rate that is higher than
1.000 favors the hitter, with lower than 1.000
favoring the pitcher.

Still, statistical reliability would assume the quality of
the opponent has been equal at home and on the road. Random chance indicates some teams will face
or use a disproportionate number of aces and No. 2 starters in one location.
This deviation is just one example.

Then there is wind direction. Perhaps several teams have had the wind blowing
in straight from center a higher percentage while other squads has an
overbalanced number blowing out to leftfield.

Why, according the ESPN Ballpark Factor, is Boston
the top hitters’ park this year, but was 13th last season?

As of this writing, Rogers Centre in Toronto is the second
best pitchers park, yet last year it was a hitters paradise ranking 7th
in hitting (24th pitching).

is a rare exception. They are currently the top pitcher’s ball
orchard after finishing first each of the previous three years and third in

So how do the elite gamblers use the stats? To measure the
reliability of pitchers’ splits is how we employ them. For example, virtually every Padre is going
to have statistically better stats at home than on the road, so there is no
angle in the fact Chris Young, Greg Maddux, and David Wells for example do.

Yet Jake Peavy is actually a
better pitcher on the road than at home.
This is an advantage for the gambler. A pitcher’s splits are most
effective when measured against the ballpark stats.

Is there an edge for the over/under better? Often
short-term, but rarely is the edge long-term as the sportsbooks adjust. As of June 19, the Padres last eight road
games and 11-of-12 has seen a posted total of 8.0 or higher.

Yet 15 of their last 18 home games have seen a total of 7.5
or lower. Thinking somehow the sportsbooks are oblivious to such angles is one
way for a gambler to subsidize bookmakers.

The Park Factor statistic is a valuable handicapping
weapon, but more for statistical validation. Those who think they’ve found the
Holy Grail with stadium comparisons are not in the same ballpark as the

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Sports Betting Watch List 6-13-07

Joe Duffy (

Sharp players examine
our daily news and notes on
Among the other crib sheets we compile in-house are our pro-active sports
gambling “Watch Lists”. These are nuggets on what to look for based on drastic
changes and recent trends by specific teams. Most importantly, we analyze how
the teams and oddsmakers will adapt accordingly.

Update: Mets top hitters are getting healthy. Shawn Green is
returning from the DL and David Wright is red hot.

Insight: The Mets June swoon has been a team effort—or lack
thereof. Their pitching and offense have both been dreadful. However, last year
the Mets offense was able to conceal their pitching deficiencies. Often having a margin of error is the
difference for borderline set-up men being effective and not being successful.

Shawn Green was one
of the Mets most productive hitters before going on the DL. He returns just as
David Wright is swinging the bat well. This will take some of the heat off of
slumping Carlos Delgado.

Their offense will
come around and with a larger margin of error their mediocre bullpen will pitch
better. It’s time to stop fading the Mets
and ride the domino effect.

Update: Houston ousted closer Brad Lidge
is back in a groove. He’s given up just three earned runs in his last 26 1/3 IP
and has tentatively regained the role as closer.

Insight: In the name of full disclosure, as we are finishing off
our article, Lidge gave up that third run to blow a
save. But blowing a one-run lead aside, he is pitching much better. Lidge can be among the game’s best. A reliable closer is important not just for
the obvious reasons, but also psychological reasons. Among them is that nothing can be as
disconcerting as consistently blowing leads.
The damaging snowball effect leads to prolonged slumps. If Lidge is back,
the Astros have their edge back. We look
for underachieving
Houston to finally get on a roll.

Update: Roger Clemens is back, but the jugs gun says his fastball
is not.

Insight: Clemens was so/so against an offensively challenged Pirate
team. Clemens has stated in the past he
is a power pitcher and will never be a finesse hurler. We doubt if he can adjust the way a more
willing Curt Schilling has. Ironically
because Clemens gives the Yankees some swagger, he may actually help them more
in games he doesn’t pitch.

For those raising
their eyebrows and saying how little sense that makes, be aware, we are huge
believers in the Yogi-ism of “90 percent of the game is half mental”. This is more so in baseball where teams play
every day. Sometimes it takes either a
wake-up call or an emotional lift to turn a season around. That’s why we know from experience that
getting arguably the greatest pitcher of all time will help the Yanks even when
he’s not in the ballpark. Getting him
past his prime though could mean good investment opportunities going against
him when he pitches.

Joe Duffy is CEO of and is
the Chief Analyst for Joe Duffy’s Since his “JD of
the ACC” scorephone days, he has been accepted as the top underdog and small
favorite handicappers in the industry.


Baseball Betting Crib Sheet

Anyone who has followed me over the years knows I preach
that small favorites and underdogs are where the best value can be found in
betting baseball odds. Who would have thought in a million years
that I’d be looking at Randy Johnson or the New York Yankees as undervalued?

But that’s where we are thanks to slow starts by both. One
of our credos in betting all sports is the Yogi Berra-ism
of “90 percent of the game is half-mental”. Getting Roger Clemens into the
starting rotation will pay wonders for them, not just in games he pitches.

He can be a true stopper, a pitcher who can end a team’s
funk with a pitching gem. Underachieving teams are so often buoyed by a manager
firing, major trade, or in this case, midseason free agent addition.

Admittedly, Johnson being undervalued will be
short-lived. Just as your sportsbook was releasing odds
reflective of the gambler’s belief that Johnson finally was showing his age,
the future first-ballot Hall-of-Fame has been untouchable in his last four

He’s given up four earned runs in his last 23 2/3 IP
allowing 16 hits and just one walk. His .675 WHIP in those four starts is

Whether it’s an overachieving or underachieving player or
team, sharp players know that over a 162-game schedule, more times than not,
they will play back to their mean. A high profile pitcher and a high profile
team top our list of current entities bettors must keep a sharp eye on.