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Baseball Road Treks

   by Bryan Leonard - 05/02/2008

It’s essential for sports handicappers to understand the significance of home and road play. Teams in all sports usually play significantly better at home than on the road for a variety of reasons. Think about all the inconveniences when you travel on the road: Time spent driving to the airport, parking, luggage, a plane ride through different time zones, red-eye flights means having your sleep interrupted, not knowing your way around an unfamiliar city, practicing in different gyms with lighting and temperature conditions you’re not used to.

I recall a major league player a few years ago talking about how he simply couldn’t sleep on airline flights, which is common with a lot of people. That would be an extra burden on a professional athlete, who makes his living by having his physical gifts in pristine condition. Not having enough sleep could very easily put a pro athlete at 85% physically than 100%, a significant drop when your job requires the hand/eye coordination to smack a 90 MPH fastball into the outfield!

Notice that the penny pinching Washington Nationals are a .500 home team, but a horrendous 4-10 on the road. Toronto averages close to a full run more at home than on the road. Why is this important for bettors? The Blue Jays started 12-4 under the total.

Another reason for disparities like this is the way teams are built. That is, most teams are constructed with the configurations of their home park in mind. For instance, the Marlins and A’s play in large, pitcher friendly parks, so they build their teams with an emphasis on pitching and speed, particularly in the outfield. You need speedy outfielders to run down fly outs with so much ground to cover. Smart organizations have to consider things like this, as they play 82 games a year at home.

I recall last season when Baltimore Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada was highly criticized for his lack of power early on, but gave the Orioles a 4-2 lead in the sixth inning with a three-run homer, only his third home run of the season and his first in 101 at-bats. It was Tejada's first homer since April 25, the second-longest homerless stretch of his career.

What stands out is that that April 25 was a home game when he hit that home run. What’s less noticed is that the Orioles then went on a 6-game road trip, came home for a short stretch, then embarked on another 9-game road trip. That’s another reason Tejada was “strugglingâ€쳌 at the plate – few home games! Said Tejada, 'It's good to get a home run - not because I haven't hit a home run, but because we got the lead on that swing.In that spot, you're looking to get a base hit to tie the game. I just got lucky to hit the ball out.' Being at home in Camden Yards helped, too, though he couldn’t say that.

While Tejada has since been traded, the Orioles are similar this season, starting 10-5 at home with very good offensive production, but a losing road record averaging almost a full run less. They started 8-3 under the total on the road. Baltimore just finished a stretch going 14-5 under the total. That included a PAIR of 6-game road trips. So, you see, it’s not a coincidence. Hot streaks and cold streaks often coincide with home and road trips.

I recall a year ago when my Indians suddenly after a slow start. Taking a look at the schedule and you find they won 6 of 7 games at home during that run. And they had lost 4 of the previous 5 games, all on the road! Make sure you look carefully at a team’s schedule each day. If a team is hot, see if that correlates with a home stand. If that team is suddenly going on a road trip, perhaps they might be overvalued, a time to back off them or look to go against them. The schedule-maker can play a key role in the fortunes of a team, so study you stats, injury reports, and weather conditions each day, and don’t ignore that schedule.

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