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by Scott Spreitzer - 06/16/2008
We're going to see several days of interleague play between now and the end of the month. I wanted to outline some of my strategies for picking winners during this very lucrative window of opportunity.
Sometimes winning can be something as simple as "When in doubt, take the American League." That approach made a fortune two seasons ago. The betting markets never caught up in 2006 to the obvious edges enjoyed that season by the AL. This approach didn't work out as well last year because the edge wasn't as pronounced, and because there were FINALLY some line adjustments.
It's hard to say, based on early results, if there's a difference between the leagues this year. The American League has shown a slight edge early. But by the time you read this article, (written 6/14), it may have flip-flopped the other way. Be sure you're paying attention to this as it develops! Most newspaper or internet standings show how each team has performed against the other league. Add up each league daily so you can monitor the relationship.
*Look at home teams in the first game of a series. I've noticed that home teams are taking Interleague play very seriously because their crowds are bigger. The visitor may be tired from traveling into town, or just isn't otherwise motivated for a peak effort in that first game in the new city. Home teams are showing an edge here. American League home teams in particular have done very well in recent seasons.
*Look to back quality pitching. That makes sense all the time of course. But quality pitchers are even more potent in Interleague play because opponents may not have seen them before, or may have only seen them once or twice in past seasons. It's hard enough to hit above average pitchers if you've had chances to get your timing down. It's almost impossible the first time you see them. I think the oddsmakers have made virtually no adjustment to this over the years, even though it's a very clear advantage.
*Look to go against mediocre righthanded starters. Most major league offenses can hit guys like this even if they haven't seen them before. You may have noticed in the past that righthanders who get called up from the minors often have trouble getting people out at first, while lefthanders have an edge because of their unique delivery. The same principal holds true in Interleague play when an offense hasn't seen a pitcher. They know how to hit a mediocre righthander no matter who it is! If the team you're betting on is throwing quality, and you're facing a mediocre righthander, you're going to be in great shape. And, with this theme in mind, you should be looking to invest in lefthanders who have unique deliveries.
*While you're looking at the leagues, also look at the divisions. Try to evaluate how each division might perform in Interleague play. I wrote an article a few weeks back talking about how badly the NL West was playing at the time. They've picked up the pace a little since then. There are still clear differences in divisional quality right now. The best division in the stronger league is likely to do well in Interleague play. The worst division in the lesser league is likely to have big troubles. It's our job to see how things unfold so you can back the first group, and go against the latter.
*Look for real intensity in the rivalry showdowns. We've seen in past years that BOTH teams involved in a rivalry series take things very seriously. That means it's tougher to get a 3-game sweep. You don't often talk about "revenge" in baseball the way you would in football or college basketball. It actually applies in a baseball rivalry series. Teams who dropped at least two of three in the first go-round will be motivated to perform better in the rematch. If a team wins the first two in a series, you can look for the opponent to really battle to avoid getting swept. Playing "bounce backs" or revenge won't win all the time. In my experience it's won enough to cover the moneyline prices and show a profit. As handicappers and legal sports bettors, that's what we're looking for.
*What about totals? Here's something very simple that has worked like a charm. If you've got two quality pitchers on the mound, take the Under. The oddsmakers haven't fully accounted for the pitching edge in these matchups, and you'll see some low scoring pitchers duels that stay way Under the total. Oddsmakers will make a minor adjustment when they need to make a major adjustment. If two mediocre righthanders are going, take the Over. Everybody can hit these guys, particularly in warm summer temperatures. Totals are typically at least a run too low in these games.
I'm not going to give away all of my secrets today. I really love handicapping Interleague play. If you put these strategies to use in the coming days, I think you'll love it too!