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Rewards & Pitfalls of MLB Streaks

   by Scott Spreitzer - 06/18/2006

There have been a lot of extended winning and losing streaks of late in major league baseball. The New York Mets had a long winning streak going before losing to Baltimore Friday Night. The Oakland A's carried a long winning streak into the weekend. On the other end of the spectrum, the Arizona Diamondbacks, who we discussed some last week, have continued to lose on a regular basis.

How should you handle streaks?

I've heard a lot of different theories in this regard. All of them have dangers. All of them have rewards. Today I wanted to outline what I think are the BEST and WORST ways to deal with streaks.


Don't try any Martingale systems. If you're not familiar with those, it's where you keep betting on something to happen (or not happen) and you keep doubling-up if you lose. The theory is that whatever you're chasing will eventually happen and you'll show a profit at the end of the run.

*This is most commonly discussed in roulette, where people keep betting red or black until it hits on the theory that there won't be a zillion of one or the other in a row. Eventually your color comes up. You pocket the profit then you go back to your base bet and start over.

*This has also been tried in blackjack. You can't possibly lose every hand can you? Just keep doubling-up until you win a hand and show a profit then you go back and start over.

*I've even heard of people trying it at no-limit online poker. They just wait for a good hand, go all-in trying to double their money. If their strong hand gets cracked, they buy in for twice the amount and try again. Same principal.

In baseball, there are some bettors who will try this when they see a streak. They believe that there's just too much parity for LONG streaks to happen. So, after a streak hits three or four they start betting that it will end. Eventually they're right.

What's the drawback? This sounds foolproof!

It's not. The problem is that you have to have a massive bankroll to cover the abnormal stretch that goes the wrong way. If you're doubling-up on red when a dozen blacks in a row hit, do you have a million dollars to put on the table? If you hit an unlucky stretch in blackjack, will there even be a table that takes the limits you'll need to bet to recoup your losses?

What about baseball? Do I need to remind you about the 2006 Kansas City Royals? I personally know of a guy who took a big hit because he decided THIS was the year that the strategy would work and he had to stop and lick his wounds in late April because the Kansas City disaster single-handedly trumped any of the successes.

What works BEST?

I think the best way to play streaks is to find those that have a logical backdrop to them. You want to RIDE streaks because you can score a lot of winners before the loser finally puts an end to it. Don't go against them and keep chasing. That could lead to a bunch of losers followed by just one winner. Ride the streaks so you've got the potential for just one loser, but a lot of winners!

The catch is that you can't just jump on every streak once it hits two, three, or whatever. Different handicappers have their different thresholds. Parity does exist in baseball, and long streaks are relatively rare. This is what tempts all of those Martingale guys in the fist place.

What I suggest is to look for streaks that can be tied to a logical reason. Some examples:

*Hey, there's nothing better than the Arizona D-backs situation right after the raid on Jason Grimsley's house. At best that was an enormous distraction that kept the team from focusing on winning. At worst, it scared a bunch of players to death and they stopped cheating! Anticipating a losing streak there was logical.

*Look for good teams who just got healthy after dealing with some injuries. I'll be watching the St. Louis Cardinals to make a run when Albert Pujols gets back. I'll give him a few games to get his timing down again, then I'll look for a winning streak.

*Look for bad teams to cool off if they were playing over their heads for a long period of time. The Milwaukee Brewers did something like this for three full months a couple of years ago. They weren't as good as they looked in the first half of the season. All the games after the All-Star break seemed like one long losing streak to them.

*Look for "momentum" on road trips or homestands. I'm not really a big fan of "momentum" in sports. I think it's an illusion more often than not. But the players themselves actually believe in that stuff. If you get a team stringing together victories on a road trip or homestand, they’ll often keep the mojo going until it ends. Conversely, teams going through the doldrums often need a change of sites to get things back on track. History shows that many winning and losing streaks correspond EXACTLY to the duration of road trips or homestands.

Bottom line: RIDE STREAKS! But don't try to ride every possible streak that looks like it's about to bust loose. Look for logical streaks that have a reason for beginning and have a reason for continuing. These are the ones you can ride for four or five winners before dropping a game.

Whatever you do, don't keep asking streaks to end. Even if it works at first, the time it doesn't work could very well bust your bankroll. I've seen it time and time again here in Las Vegas.

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