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When Dogs Are Your Best Bargain, Part 2

   by Bryan Leonard - 07/25/2006

Inexperienced sports bettors can have trouble backing dogs, and this is particularly true in baseball. Last week I outlined several areas that I examine when looking to possibly back a live underdog. Here are some more.

Pitcher Home/Away Performance: The home/road breakdowns on pitchers are especially fascinating, offering not only insight into what makes certain pitchers tick, but even where linemakers come up with some of their numbers, both sides and totals. That’s the only way to handicap someone like Angels righty Kelvim Escobar.

Over the last three-plus season Escobar has a 4.54 ERA at home with a poor 14-20 record. There isn’t much of a case in the numbers to back this guy at home. One the road, however, during that time, Escobar has a 3.39 ERA and an 18-9 record! This season he started 2-4 at home with a 4.93 ERA, while going 3-2 with a 2.78 ERA on the road. Sometimes there are reasons for this, such as the guy throws in a tough pitcher’s park at home and is not comfortable. Other times it’s less obvious, such as pressure a guy puts on himself in front of the home fans. Regardless, you can’t ignore when stark numbers come up like this. Putting the odds in your favor is what turning a profit in sports wagering is all about.

When 50-50 Turns Into a Big Dog: Sometimes after doing all the research and compiling data, I find that a game seems to be rated evenly. For instance, the pitchers are comparable, the visiting team is able to score consistently on the road, both teams have been playing well over the last week. Yet, in what should be roughly a pick ‘em game, the home team is a considerable favorite. Naturally, this would be the time to back the dog, as there is value. In short, if a game is rated evenly and either team has a 50-50 chance, in my judgment, of winning, then I’m getting extra value with +145 or +170 road dog. You won’t hit all of these, of course, but even hitting 40% turns a profit when you’re getting +150 or +160 value.

East Coast, West Coast Trip: Long road trips are common over the course of 162 games. Visiting teams that are favored despite flying a long way can offer good go-against spots. When the Yankees are playing on Sunday, for example, then traveling all the way to Anaheim to play the next night, they could be favored with one of their better pitchers going. But that travel-factor could give a significant edge to the home dog. More so than if, say, the Indians are flying to play the White Sox the next night. Remember when the Yankees opened this season on the West Coast? They lost 4 of their first 5 games. Keep tabs on how many time zones a team may be crossing and if they are playing in a back-to-back spot.

If A Pitcher is Hot: This appears obvious, though it is a sometimes overlooked area. A pitcher may have a poor overall ERA, but I look at his last three or four starts to see if he’s as consistently bad as his overall numbers suggest. Many times, particularly with young pitchers, you find hurlers who are getting significantly better. Veteran righty Livan Hernandez was a perfect example this season. He started horribly, losing his first 6 decisions. However, the team then won 4 in row when he started, as he allowed 1, 3, 2 and 4 runs. If you looked at his overall numbers at that point, they were bad, but if you looked at his last four starts, he was pitching very well. And recent play is MORE important!

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