April 17, 2014
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Value in MLB Underdogs
As I’m sure you've read and heard before, many solid baseball handicappers believe that taking underdogs is the way to make a nice profit in baseball.
We agree with that.
However, blindly betting underdogs doesn't necessarily do the trick. You must be selective and try to find value in the underdogs you are selecting. A closer look reveals an interesting, but somewhat obvious in hindsight, phenomenon.
The better teams had more positive results as money-line underdogs. Take good teams as underdogs and we’ll make money in the long run. This is easier said than done.
The key is to try and predict which teams will be good (above .500) and take advantage of them. This can obviously be tough to do at times as teams that are expected to do well sometimes under perform. However, once the season gets into swing, most solid handicappers can sift through and determine who the better teams should be at the end of the season. By mid-season, you should definitely have a great grasp on this. So far this year just eight of 30 teams have a positive return on investment as underdogs.
St. Louis +111.7
San Francisco +18.8
New York Mets +14.2
Los Angeles Dodgers +2.5
This simply says that, for example, if you happened to bet on the Milwaukee Brewers every time they were an underdog this season, you would have made 132% on the money you invested (the amount you wagered).
How do you figure this out? If you wagered $100 on Milwaukee every time it was an underdog this season (5 times), you would be up $660. Since the amount invested was $500, you divide $660 by $500 and you see the return listed above.
Not a bad investment.
You’ll also notice that only one of the eight teams (Minnesota) listed has an overall losing record. Once again, the general conclusion is to find spots where good teams are underdogs and you’ll up your chance of making money. Even bad teams win games as underdogs (and favorites for that matter), but in the long run, they are usually not a money making proposition. You can obviously find spots to play on bad teams and do OK. However, finding good teams, in good spots as an underdog is the way to go.
One team that we'll be keeping an eye on this year as an underdog is Toronto.
The Blue Jays were expected to be a World Series contender last season with some big free agent moves, injuries and a poor start to the season led to a very disappointing season at 74-88. Toronto was only -44 in run differential last season though and they were one of the top power hitting teams in baseball. Home run threats throughout the lineup can keep Toronto in games even against top end pitching. This season, they are tied for sixth in HRs (4th in MLB in HRs last season). For being a team with great home run power the Jays don’t strike out that often either.
After a quiet offseason, the expectations are much lower for 2014 but Toronto has averaged over 80 wins per season the last nine seasons with 73 being the low water mark as they have been relatively consistent, though without a breakthrough playoff season.
The AL East features prominent teams and some big name pitchers so the Jays are going to be an underdog in many matchups, even sometimes at home where they have a strong historical track record. Jays have already been dogged in half of their games this season and a home set with Houston is already out of the way (three games where the Jays had some of the highest favorite lines they will have all season). Boston has struggled early, New York looks down this season, and the Rays are battling early season injuries as the division as a whole may not be as strong this season.
With veteran innings-eaters Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey the Blue Jays should be able to avoid burning through the bullpen early in the season and Brandon Morrow remains a starter with a high ceiling despite inconsistency while young starter Drew Hutchison has been promising in early season action.
Toronto starters won’t be overvalued like some of the big name pitchers around the AL East and while Dickey and Buehrle are proven veterans many see them as past their prime though both could have bounce-back seasons. The bullpen has also had solid early results with no blown saves and a 3.35 ERA.
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