Everyone talks about backing the underdog in baseball, and there's no doubt that it's a system with potential, but total runs is a mathematician's market with plenty of profit to be had.
Since the advent of the Moneyball system, where teams became much more shrewd in 'buying runs' with their player purchases and team strategies, statistics have been very much at the core of baseball. Teams have countered the buying of runs, bases and hits by looking at strikes, and other defensive stats: and a war of numbers has ensued.
The great thing for gamblers is that these numbers become our weapons in predicting their performance. And identifying teams to bet on in the runs over/under market will normally depend on a comparison of teams' batting average and earned run average (ERA), which are, respectively, the average hits divided by the number of bats and runs given up by the pitchers per nine innings.
Take the Atlanta Braves, for example - at the time of writing, they sat top of the MLB table in terms of ERA with an impressive 2.04. To put that into context, second-placed Milwaukee's ERA is 2.58, and the worst ERA in the league was Arizona on 5.17. Atlanta's defensive approach is so powerful that they have the second best record in MLB so far in the 2014 season, despite having the fourth worst scoring record.
Why is this important for the runs over/under market? Because spotting teams with a strong defensive record and weak scoring record, or vice versa, is a great way to spot games that will be especially high or low scoring; and that's where the value lies. Odds usually hover around evens for most bets, rarely rising in excess of 2/1 or falling below 1/2, so finding extreme performers is one of the keys to unlocking value.
Once you've identified teams that are worth betting on, it's then a matter of comparing the key statistics with their opponents. Take the Colorado Rockies at the Arizona Diamondbacks on 28 April as an example. Colorado boast the best batting average in the league. Arizona, despite having the worst record, are still 20th (of 30). On the defensive side, Colorado's 4.13 ERA places them 21st and Arizona are rock bottom. That sets the scene for a high scorer, and a wise punter would have taken over 9.5 runs at 7/5, because the match finished 8-5 to the Rockies.
If you're looking to build a quick, simple betting system without the excess statistical analysis, there is a relatively reliable shorthand too. Any MLB standings worth their salt will show you a team's runs scored and runs against. Use these to work out the runs per game for and against, then, when two teams face off, simply average their averages for a good idea of where the score may finish.
This system can be quickly and easily tweaked for accuracy by factoring in position as an extra point for or against. For example, for every five places that separates the teams in the standings, award a point to the top ranking team. Playing with simple adjustments like these will help make regular returns in this surprisingly predictable sport.
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