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  BETTING BASEBALL TOTALS
(All Rights Reserved by Nolan Dalla)
nolandalla@aol.com

All change in history, all advances in society, comes from the non-conformists. If there had been no troublemakers, no dissenters, we would still be living in caves.
-- A.J. P. Taylor


I'm long overdue for a discussion of what I call "trade secrets" in sports handicapping. Trade secrets are the unpublicized nuggets of wisdom that the "experts" and "insiders" use to beat the game. There are trade secrets in many fields including stock investing, poker, and of course -- sports betting.

Trade secret usually involve trends and angles to watch for when betting games. Unfortunately, most trends and angles do not last forever. By the time they are publicized, results regress to the statistical mean (which means it was just a temporary deviation), or worse, the public starts pounding a side due to the trend and value diminishes on the wager (remind me to do an article on trends where precisely this has happened).

One angle I consistently try to exploit is betting baseball totals given a certain number of circumstances. Here are a few ideas you may want to consider when looking at baseball totals and deciding whether to play OVER or UNDER:

First, it is generally advisable to look for UNDER plays, rather than OVER plays. Most novice sports bettors tend to bet OVER the total. More knowledgeable players understand that it is usually advantageous to bet on the prospect that NOTHING will happen, versus SOMETHING will happen. This doesn't mean that there are more UNDERS than OVERS. Most seasons split 50-50 on totals (or close to it). For an OVER to occur, the pitching of both teams must break down and/or hitting must come to life. In the event just ONE of the teams has either a good night pitching, or a very bad night hitting -- the game will usually go UNDER the total.

Rules changes (a larger strike zone) have created lower scoring games in 2001 versus 2000. April statistics show that scoring is down on average about one run per game in the majors this season. It appears Las Vegas sportsbooks are just now catching on to this trend, as totals are still posted in the 9-10 range in most AL games and 8-9 in most NL games.

Remember that National League games are more inclined to go UNDER the number, rather than the American League (if given the same run total). This is because 12 percent of the hitting lineup is essentially "dead" in the National League (since pitchers hit and their averages are marginal). Since there is a 12 percent edge in the NL, this means totals should be about a run per game less on average in each NL game. This is rarely the case when you look at the totals posted in Las Vegas however -- which are oriented almost entirely towards starting pitching. NL totals remain at 9 or 9.5 in many games -- which is incomprehensible given the differences between the leagues. Exceptions of course apply to Colorado and Houston home games.

Pitching in early to mid-season games is generally much stronger (and usually more predictable) than pitching in late season games. By mid-August and September, many pitchers are worn out, most teams are out of contention, and novice pitchers are brought up from the minors to face contending teams. I tend to do a complete flip-flop in betting totals when considering games before and after the All-Star break. I start looking for lots of OVER plays in late July. Of course, a lot depends on the lineups and what is happening around the league. But, my view is that games become increasingly higher scoring as the season progresses (albeit by a small margin).
Look for situations where a team's bullpen has been stretched to the limits. Games where a team has given up double digits in a couple of recent games are prime candidates to go OVER the total in the next game (especially with a shaky starter), since these teams are desperate to give their middle and late relief pitching a rest. If the starter gets knocked out early, the bullpen is in serious trouble.

When betting UNDERS, look for home teams with strong starting pitchers, since that potentially eliminates 3 additional outs at the bottom of the ninth. Sure, the home team winning and not batting in the bottom of the ninth is "only" worth just under 6 percent to a baseball total, but every single edge counts. By contrast, look for OVERS to occur when the road team has a definite advantage with the starting pitcher. Three extra batters means the added possibility that one hitter might hit a home run, hopefully with base runners if you have an OVER.

Look for key numbers, such as OVER 8 or 8.5 and UNDER 9 or 9.5 Games that are tied 4-4 will ALWAYS go OVER the total when the number is 8/8.5. And games that are tied 4-4 will usually go UNDER the total when the number is 9.5. A total of 10 is often a good UNDER bet, since it takes 11 runs to lose the wager.

Beware of laying more than -115 on a total, unless you have a decided edge (such as a key starter, an NL game, and a home team that's favored -- for example). Laying -120 or -125 on an total is rarely a wise play. Also, almost never go UNDER in a game where the total is 7 runs. Back in the days when pitching was king, two starters would duel for 9 innings and produce a 2-1 final score. But with complete games being so rare, UNDER 7 is rarely a bet with any value -- no matter is P. Martinez or K. Brown is on the mound.

In intense rivalries (San Francisco/Los Angeles and Boston/New York, for example) be more inclined to bet UNDER the total. Teams get fired up against their rivals and often hitters are not as relaxed in the batter's box. Managers tend to exert more control over their teams and are not as willing to take chances. Although I have no statistics to support this claim, based solely on personal recollections, I believe that more "rivalry" games go UNDER than OVER. I will post a correction if anyone can prove otherwise.

Never underestimate the power of a half-run. The difference between 8 versus 8.5 and 9 versus 9.5 is monumental. I can't even begin to count the number of totals I've won by a run or half a run. Just as pro football (admittedly, my first love) prodices "key" numbers such as 3 versus 3.5 (for instance), baseball games often land on the fringes of a total. The point is -- it's a very good idea to shop around and find the best number possible.


Finally, these points should never be taken as the sole reason to make a wager. Obviously, you have to weight many factors and be as familiar with the teams as possible.


-- NOLAN DALLA
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