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MLB Diamond Dogs

   by Scott Spreitzer - 03/29/2011

Many baseball bettors can’t bring themselves to bet on underdogs. They are thinking, “How can I bet on a bad starting pitcher?” This kind of thinking leads to bad habits, such as playing too many favorites. You need to reverse this thinking. Instead, examine the overall records of teams and you’ll find in many areas a bad team wins more often than you might think, while a more dominant team isn’t as dominant as you may at first believe once you factor in the prices.

The Phillies are the talk of the National League for 2011 with their rotation for the ages with Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. They will also be overvalued, often with those guys on the hill. Halladay led the majors in wins (21), innings pitched (250 2/3), complete games (9) and shutouts (4), and threw a no-hitter in the playoffs. Yet, you may have forgotten that from May 12 of last year the Phillies lost 6 of 8 starts when Halladay took the mound. One of those wins was a no-hitter, but he also suffered losses of 2-1, 4-3 and 2-0 as the Philadelphia offense struggled. Bettors backing Halladay would have been laying a lot of wood every time -- and watching their bankroll diminish.

It’s essential to learn patience when wagering on baseball. With games every day, you will have good days, bad days, and days where you break even. It’s important to grind out a profit over the long haul and that means understanding the value with underdogs.

How? Some bad teams are actually respectable at home, but awful on the road. The Baltimore Orioles last year were 29-52 on the road, but close to .500 at home (37-44). Being a last place team in a tough division, you could find some value with the Orioles as a home dog. The last place Royals were a mirror image of the Orioles last season, with the same road record but 38-43 at home.

So were the Arizona Cardinals in the National League, a .500 team at home, but 25-56 on the road. The same kind of thinking applies when those teams are on the road: If they are off a respectable home stand and a small favorite on the road, that may be the time to go against those teams. It’s all about turning a gradual profit.

After a nice run Tampa Bay lost some key contributors over the winter. Before their recent surge, even making the 2008 World Series, the Rays were consistently a bad team on the road but much better at home. When Tampa Bay lost 101 games in 2006, their home record was 41-39. They started the season 4-3 at home, then faced Boston in a three-game series. As dogs of +145, +125 and +160, Tampa Bay won two out of three. This was a team that had a winning home mark coming into the series, but was still not getting respect from oddsmakers because Joe Public was thinking, “I can’t back Tampa Bay against the big market Red Sox.”

Players can also perform different from one season to the next. A player can get traded to a new team, one with poor defense or a very different ballpark. Adrian Gonzalez (31 homers last season) goes from a big park in San Diego to Boston, a smaller park. Gonzalez hit 10 homers at home last year, but 21 on the road. Many think he will have a bust-out, MVP-type season and going to a smaller hitter-friendly park should help his already impressive stats. He’s projected at 36.5 homers on future bets.

Ace pitcher Zach Greinke moves from the AL to Milwaukee in the NL, getting a better offense to help put some runs up for him, something that was always a problem in Kansas City. And don’t be surprised if Jason Werth drops off: he hit well in Citizen’s Bank Park, but now heads to Washington with its huge outfield. Last season he hit .320 with 18 homers at home, but .270 with 9 homers and 34 RBI on the road.

Brandon Webb of the Texas Rangers is a big question mark, too. On the one hand, he has great stuff when healthy and will get better run support with the defending AL champion Rangers. On the other hand, he’s battled injuries and goes from the NL to a small, home-run happy park in Texas which can be brutal on pitchers. He’s a ground ball pitcher, which is a plus, but reports are his velocity is way down from his Cy Young years and his curveball isn’t as sharp. I wouldn’t pencil him in as a replacement for departed Cliff Lee!

You may recall pitcher Jose Lima. Lima was 16-8 in 1998 and 21-10 with a 3.58 ERA in 1999 with the Houston Astros. That was the last season in Houston’s cavernous Astrodome. Then in 2000 they moved into their tiny, homer-friendly new park, and Lima suffered badly, going 7-16 with a 6.65 ERA! He may have been the same pitcher, but he clearly missed the large Astrodome. It’s essential for sports bettors to not be afraid of dogs and to keep up on moves, parks and injuries and how it might influence players.

I've been waiting to say this since last fall...PLAY BALL!

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