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PostSubject: ESPN Insider MLB: Midseason MLB betting lessons and takeaways   ESPN Insider MLB: Midseason MLB betting lessons and takeaways EmptySat Jul 28, 2018 8:09 pm

Midseason MLB betting lessons and takeaways
Injuries can certainly impact betting success -- Noah Syndergaard has been on the DL for most of the season for his struggling New York Mets. AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File
Jul 19, 2018

   Derek CartyDaily Fantasy

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The All-Star break is here, which means it's a good time to take a step back and evaluate the first half of the MLB season: What bets went right, what bets went wrong, what we have learned and what trends are emerging that we'll need to be aware of going forward.

Baseball is an ever-changing game, and in no era is that more true than the current one with talk of juiced baseballs, de-juiced baseballs, Statcast, humidors and a rising number of player injuries.
Stratification is still very present

When suggesting potential value bets this preseason, I wrote about the stratification of teams in baseball:

"An elite crop of seven teams stand an excellent chance of making the playoffs and have a relatively even chance of winning once there. Then, there is a truly horrible crop of teams that have absolutely no chance of getting there. This makes betting the World Series champion a particularly tricky endeavor because the odds on the teams you really want to bet -- that elite crop -- don't tend to offer much edge."
Editor's Picks

   Best midseason World Series bets

   It's always a good time to look for World Series betting value at the All-Star break. Which teams are worth a wager?

While some teams have made strides to wiggle their way into this top tier, or have begun to slide out a bit, this is mostly still true. The New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Houston Astros, Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs are all cruising. The Los Angeles Dodgers, despite many injuries, also remain in first place and would easily be part of this tier at full strength. The Washington Nationals are the only "top-tier" team that is truly struggling.

The Seattle Mariners have won the fourth-most games in baseball, which could lead you to believe they're in this top tier now, but they've actually just been incredibly lucky. Despite the fourth-most wins in baseball, they have just the 16th-best run differential and the fourth best in their own division. So, they've not only not been great, they've been below average. Bolstering their win total is a wildly unsustainable 26-10 record in one-run games. Split those in half and they're barely a .500 team. The Arizona Diamondbacks are tied with the Dodgers for first place in the NL West, but their run differential is practically half that of Los Angeles'.

The firm top tier of teams is still in place, which leaves us in the same precarious position we were in at the start of the season when it comes to betting. Either you take fair odds on one of the teams that everyone knows is good, or you hope to find a small edge on a midtier team like the Mariners or Diamondbacks and then hope they overperform a little bit. Here's a full look at the best value on World Series bets.
Chase Field's humidor effect is real

There was plenty of skepticism before the season as to whether Chase Field, the second-best hitters' park in baseball, would actually become a neutral park -- or even a pitchers' park -- following the addition of a humidor. Officials from the Diamondbacks said the move was simply to help their pitchers grip the ball better in the dry air and that offense wouldn't decline because it didn't in Coors. Except it did in Coors. By a lot. And all the math and physics models said the same would happen in Chase.

After 27 runs were scored in the first two games of the season in Chase, the non-math crowd took a very premature victory lap. Fast forward three months and Chase Field is a completely different offensive environment. It has become a neutral park overall that suppresses home runs by 10-15 percent. A half-year park factor can certainly have a lot of noise, but when exit velocity is down, homers are down and offense is down -- and it all matches up with what we expected to begin with -- it seems pretty safe to say that the humidor effect is "real."

This doesn't have a huge bearing on yearly betting, but on a day-to-day basis, it's enormous. If you've been looking at the over/under totals on Arizona home games thinking "Man, these look so low compared to last year, let's hammer the over," you probably crushed those first two days and have been unprofitable since. If you're betting on these games, you absolutely have to be accounting for it now. Vegas certainly is.
Run environment matters

This is kind of a preemptive lesson more than anything else. When betting over/unders on a daily basis, run environment matters. It feels weird to say, but in extreme cases, run environment matters more than anything else. If you were to suddenly supplant every baseball stadium onto the moon, and Vegas didn't notice, the ball would be flying, home run rates would be way up, and you'd want to hammer the over on every single game, regardless of the hitting or pitching talent.

I don't think commissioner Rob Manfred has plans to expand into outer space, but there are some indications that he might want to alter the run environment. It's well established at this point that over the past few years, home run and strikeout rates have been rising, hitting an all-time high in 2017. Players are utilizing advances in technology, such as Statcast, to tailor their games to become more efficient. But another part of it is the apparent change in the physical properties of the baseballs themselves (as evidenced by Ben Lindbergh and Mitchel Lichtman at The Ringer, and by Rob Arthur at FiveThirtyEight, among others).

This offseason, Manfred ordered a commission to study the baseballs (though not much was found). He also mandated that all teams store their baseballs in a regulated condition to assess if humidors in additional stadiums would be needed. There even has been some speculation by Alex Chamberlain at FanGraphs that the baseballs have already been "de-juiced," given that 2018 home run numbers are below their 2017 counterparts. As of right now, I calculate only a small decrease once you adjust for the cooler weather this year (average temperature of 69.6 degrees compared to 73.6 last year), but if it does turn out that the ball has changed again, this will be extremely important to account for.

If teams are suddenly required to add humidors next year, that would also make a huge difference. Personally, I think it seems like a terrible idea. Parity is no fun, and it would threaten to diminish the betting edge if everyone's playing with something closer to the same environment. But we'd have to adjust nonetheless, and we need to be ready for it.
Injuries can kill the best of projections

The part of projecting performance that everyone tends to focus on is the rate production. What will the pitcher's ERA be? What will the hitter's batting average (or wOBA, if you're of a more sabermetric persuasion) be?

The part that sometimes gets overlooked, at least in baseball, is volume. How many innings or plate appearances will the player accrue? Even if you have perfect rate projections, they don't mean much if the guys don't actually take the field frequently enough. For no team is this more of an issue than the New York Mets. They, year in and year out, deal with scores of injuries that derail otherwise promising seasons, and 2018 has been no exception.

This year, Yoenis Cespedes has missed nearly two-thirds of the season and remains on the DL. Noah Syndergaard has missed nearly half of the season and remains on the DL. Michael Conforto was injured during spring training, came back much earlier than expected and has been suspiciously terrible all season long. Then there were injuries to Jay Bruce, Travis d'Arnaud, Jason Vargas and Anthony Swarzak.

Projecting injuries is difficult for several reasons, first because research suggests that injuries simply aren't predictable unless they're chronic. And even if they were, they are often an all-or-nothing proposition. We can try to put a probability on it, but in the cases that injuries do happen, they'll almost always have a greater impact than we can ever actually project. We can never project an otherwise healthy player to miss a full season or even half of a season, but oftentimes when a player gets hurt, this winds up being the case. And if injuries wind up being clustered for a particular team, the way they have been for the Mets, the problem becomes compounded.

Worst of all are injuries like Conforto's, when the player is on the field but might be feeling the residual effects of his injury bleed over onto the rate production side of the projection. We can't know a player's physiology, and so how can we say with any kind of confidence when this will happen -- or even necessarily whether it's currently happening, or if it's just random variance, aging or legitimate erosion of skills?

Vegas and I agreed on the Mets this year, both projecting 83 wins, and we were both terribly, terribly off on them. (Though to be fair, I did warn that this kind of doomsday scenario was a very real possibility.) So I suppose this isn't a lesson in the sense that we can learn from it and improve our process, so much as it's a lesson in coming to terms with the degree to which we can and cannot predict things and the need to be OK with that.
Sometimes, everything just goes wrong

My system was especially bullish on the Baltimore Orioles this season, in part because of a favorable strength of schedule with interleague games against the weak NL East. But the Orioles have won the fewest games in all of baseball. Despite playing in a longball-friendly park, they sit just 14th in baseball in home runs. Literally every regular starter except for Manny Machado (traded to the Dodgers during the All-Star break) and Mark Trumbo has seen his wOBA plummet from where it was last season. And we're not talking normal regression here. Pedro Alvarez fell by 40 points, Trey Mancini by 60 points, Caleb Joseph by 60 points, Jonathan Schoop by 75 points, Chris Davis by 85 points and Tim Beckham by 90 points. When offense is supposed to be your strong suit and half of your lineup is putting up sub-replacement level offense, that's a problem. It becomes a bigger problem when your pitching is even worse than advertised. Chris Tillman somehow pitched his way to a 10.46 ERA through seven starts before being released, and Alex Cobb has posted a 6.67 ERA through 16 starts.

The lesson here? Sometimes, stuff happens. There's simply no way to predict an entire lineup to have career-worst years. There's no way to predict even a bad rotation to post nearly a 5.50 ERA. Sometimes, all the bad-luck clusters around one team and everything goes wrong at once. And when that happens, the easiest schedule in the world won't save you. It's easy to look at all of the advanced stats and data at our disposal in the modern age and be confident in our ability to project outcomes, and it's just as easy to forget that despite it all, this is still a game with a ton of variance. We have to accept it and love it for what it is, Orioles and all.
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