While baseball statistics are invaluable to MLB bettors, some of the most important (and oft-overlooked) metrics to increase betting success reside outside of the actual game. Here are three such statistics to help you take your MLB handicapping to the next level.
The varying dimensions of ballparks must be considered when handicapping baseball games. The Park Factor metric, developed by ESPN, compares the rate of offensive stats for a team in games played at their home park compared to when they play on the road. While it offers data for home runs, hits, walks, and more, the key category to focus on is runs scored. A run rate greater than 1.000 signifies a hitter’s ballpark, while a rate below the 1.000 threshold denotes a pitcher’s park. By averaging the park factors from several individual seasons together, bettors can come up with a greater data pool to track which ballparks favor hitters and pitchers over time.
Of course, the sportsbooks aren’t going to be beaten easily and many have adjusted lines and totals for parks known to heavily cede an advantage to either the hitter or pitcher. But while a Coors Field or Marlins Park may have the obvious park factor baked into the line, other stadiums such as Chase Field, which has actually been one of the most hitter-friendly parks over the last several seasons, might afford bettors an edge. The Park Factor metric can also be used to disprove general claims about a ballpark. For example, Yankee Stadium is widely considered one of the most hitter-friendly parks in the majors. But in 2019, a 0.816 Park Factor rating actually classified it as the 2nd-most pitcher-friendly stadium in the league. While there is more than just the park that goes into the stat itself (consider the Yankees offensive success on the road last season), it certainly offers bettors a basis of which parks do trend one way or the other consistently and can help pick out anomalies to the norm.
Umpires typically won’t be the first thing you consider when handicapping the MLB, but the impact that they can have is quantifiable. Umpires are of particular interest when they are on assignment behind the plate calling balls and strikes due to the respective size of their individual strike zones. Those with larger, more pitcher-friendly zones will be more apt to call batters out on strikes, thus correlating with the UNDER on a totals wager. In contrast, umpires with tighter strike zones will mean more hittable pitches, walks, baserunners, and scoring chances throughout a game, translating to an increased probability of the game total going OVER.
2019 umpire data displays a range in the average totals of the games they called from behind the plate that goes from 6.20 (Shane Livensparger) all the way to 12.50 (Alfonso Marquez), spanning a full 6.3 runs. Even the most well-known umpires can reside on opposite ends of the spectrum. Tripp Gibson averaged an even 8 total runs per game last season, the 6th-fewest, while Larry Vanover checked in with the 9th-highest average runs total at 11.21. Tracking the average number of total runs, walks and strikeouts are all worthwhile when incorporating umpires into your MLB handicapping. Home and road team records are also things to consider. Home teams weren’t too thrilled when Jansen Visconti or Bill Welke were calling their games a season ago. The two saw home teams go a combined 22-44 in games for which they called balls and strikes.
Weather and Wind
The weather forecast for a particular game should be especially noted when looking to bet the total. The most important weather factor to note is the wind in terms of both the speed and the direction it is blowing. When the wind is blowing in at 5 MPH or more, the UNDER on game totals cashes roughly 56% of the time. In contrast, when the wind is blowing out at 8 MPH or more, the OVER hits about 53% of the time.
After discussing ballpark factors and their importance on MLB handicapping above, it should be noted that wind speed, direction, and other weather factors can greatly diminish park factors that favor hitters or pitchers for a given game. To ensure you have the best chance of making an educated bet, treat each game for what it is: a single unique game. Considering park factors and the forecast together when handicapping games is the best strategy for success.