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Hot and Cold Streaks
by Jim Feist - 06/15/2010
Baseball is a game of stats and streaks. The Red Sox started this season 4-9 and had all kinds of problems with pitching and injuries to two starting outfielders. However, they made some minor adjustments, got their starting staff straightened out and have been playing good baseball the last two months, back in the pennant race. Two years ago the Tigers started the season losing 7 straight games, despite being favored in the first 5! The Angels went 14-1 under the total that May when their offense was banged up. Last year the Florida Marlins started 11-1 before going in a massive funk, not even coming close to the postseason. There will be all kinds of streaks over the course of a 162-game season: Consecutive shutout innings thrown by pitchers, a batter hitting safely in X number of games, or consecutive saves by a closer. You will see 10-game win streaks, 10-game losing streaks, pitchers ripping off 7-straight wins, teams losing 4-straight one-run games. All these add to the excitement and interest in the game. From a betting perspective, streaks need to be approached with a careful eye and a cautious head. Playing against "the law of averages" is no way to wager. For example, some bettors think, "This team has won nine in a row, therefore it is time to bet against them, as they are due for a losing streak." This doesn't work in the world of eleven-to-ten. In 2004, the Boston Red Sox played close to .500 baseball much of the season from May through mid-August. Starting on August 16, the Sox won six in a row. If you supported the law of averages, you might conclude that the Sox would be due for several losses and bet against them. In fact, they did lose, 3-0 to Toronto ending that streak – only to then go on a ten-game win streak. When that streak ended, they won nine of the next 12 games. The "anticipated" losing streak never arrived. Simply put, the law of averages can't predict what is going to happen the next game, or the next ten games. Many expected the Tigers to turn it around after their bad April of 2008 figuring they were too talented to keep playing sloppy ball, but they never got hot. Some teams can slip out of a funk that had gone on for months, as the 2004 Red Sox did, and begin to play very well, while others do not. In fact, that is the point – there are almost always tangible reasons why a team goes on hot or cold streaks, more so than the law of averages. The 2004 Red Sox had improved their defense by adding several players at the trading deadline, including SS Orlando Cabrera. It took a few weeks, but the improved defense and attitude was real and they showed it by playing winning ball on the field the rest of the season. The 2008 Tigers started poorly because of weak defense and pitching injuries. The Angels 14-1 under the total streak was not a fluke – the offense was decimated by injuries and the pitching staff was magnificent. Sometimes injuries can play a role, especially if an ace pitcher is out, and other times teams go into a collective hitting or pitching slump. Think about the talented 2007 NY Mets. They ended the year 5-12, blowing the division lead to the Phillies. If you had bet on them the last week with the reasoning, "They're too good to keep playing this bad," you would have lost your shirt when they went 1-6 against the Nationals and Marlins, two of the worst teams in baseball. Think about the talented Phillies offense last month going in the tank while getting shut out in four of five games. If you had played the over or wagered on them reasoning that they HAD to bust out offensively, you would have lost as they were in the middle of a 7-1 run under the total. Remember the start of the 1988 season when the Baltimore Orioles lost their first 21 games? Sports bettors playing the law of averages hoping the Orioles "were due to win" blew out their betting bankrolls before May 1st. Overall, it is better to ride a hot team or continue to bet against a cold team, than to rely on the law of averages and bet the other way.