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Recognizing Value in MLB Underdogs
by Bryan Leonard - 08/01/2011
I've found that inexperienced sports bettors have trouble taking dogs, especially in baseball. Favorites are no problem. It's easy to spot games that favored teams should win, especially with the better starting pitcher. But identifying dogs and getting the courage and confidence to back them often takes time, patience and careful analysis. With that in mind, here are a few tips on what I look for when assessing to back a live underdog. Are They Hitting/Pitching Well the Last 7 Games? A team may have a terrible batting average on the season, but what interests me more is: What have they done over the last week? Individual players can begin to get hot just as slumping star players will begin to crawl out of a slump at some point. The Yankees were a great example six years ago. The star-studded lineup was awful offensively in the first month of the season.
After an 11-19 start, they made some adjustments, benching aging Bernie Williams, moving speedy Tony Womack higher in the order and bringing up the rookie Robinson Cano to play second base. The offense and defense improved culminating in a 15-2 run. After a struggling start the 2008 season, the LA Angels got hot because of adjustments to the offense. Reggie Willits came up from Triple-A and took over the leadoff spot, Chone Figgins got healthy and newcomer Gary Matthews Jr and Vlad Guerrero continued to drive them in. Teamed with a strong pitching staff, the Angels took over first place by ripping off a 17-5 run. Last season, the Arizona Diamondbacks started 5-3 before going in the tank. A good handicapper tracks individual players as well as team batting averages daily. Other times, teams will bench guys who haven't been productive and give bench players or Triple A kids a shot. You have to be on top of your game at all times to beat the bookies.
Home/Away Play: This requires breaking down teams and players by how they perform both home and away. I've mentioned this many times, but it's worth repeating: One team can perform very well on a regular basis at home and appear to be a completely different team on the road. If I see the Oakland A's as a home dog, for example, I look carefully at the game - is it worth a play? If I see the A's as a road dog, I'm much less likely to play them because they have a recent history of playing very poorly away from home.
Many teams can fall into that home/road disparity. In 2009 the Angels and Phillies were excellent both home and away, but teams like the Red Sox, Rays and Blue Jays were very good at home but lousy on the road. I recall in 2008 the Angels started as a .500 road team, but sensational at home, starting 24-9. The same situation developed with the Indians, who started a sizzling 21-7 at Jacobs Field. Last season the Mets, Braves, Dodgers, Rangers and A's have had extreme home/road disparities. Again, do your homework daily to keep up on these teams (and players), and you can find spots where the dog offers value, both home and away.
Runs Scored on the Road: Often I find that some teams simply can't hit or score runs on the road. They are often road dogs, and one must be careful when preparing to back them. However, some teams have just as productive an offense on the road as they do at home. This is very significant. Some teams rely on their home park to help them score runs, so they can be a liability on the road. You can find out by simply examining their average runs scored home and away. If a team is just as good offensively on the road as at home, you can find good spots to back them as a road dog, providing they are a competitive road team. Oakland has been a good of late, scoring significantly more runs on the road than in their cavernous home park. Teams like the Astros, Reds, Rays, Red Sox and Rockies have a recent history of playing significantly better offensively at home, taking advantage of their hitter-friendly parks, so they can be worth a play as a home dog, or a go-against on the road.