Brad Allen: "The biggest thing to consider when betting totals"

7 min

I’ve long preferred betting totals to sides. The market seems that little bit softer thanks to the extra factors that have to be taken into account, chiefly refereeing and weather, which are usually harder to quantify and thus model.

That said, I’ve almost certainly lost money betting baseball totals this year.

As baseball fans will know, the scoring has taken off this year thanks to a home run surge, largely due to changes in the make-up of the ball.

Here’s the home run spike in 2017.

Mathematic models of course are designed to ignore this kind of spike in the short term as it is usually random. As someone who usually bets unders, and bets them based on numbers, I got murdered by this spike early in the season.

So I stopped betting totals.

As more and more research emerged about the rising home run rate, I realised something fundamental about the game had changed and I didn’t yet know how to quantify it. Then gradually as I collected more information and the market started adjusting, I started betting on totals again, but only the biggest perceived edges and for half the units I was betting on sides.

There are lots of lessons here. Firstly, how slow the markets are to adjust. Bookmakers are also reliant on models and numbers that don’t change quickly.

Overs in the first half of the season hit at almost a 55% rate. But now I feel the market may have adjusted a little too far.

In 2015, the average run total for the first half of the season was 8.24 runs per game. In 2017, it’s now 9.62. That is nearly 1.5 more runs per game, and now I think there’s some value on blanket betting unders late in the season as the weather cools.

Brett Gardner doesn’t care for the unders as he connects and hits a home run for the Yankees. Well done, Brett. Good for you.

The other thing I learned from studying totals so closely this season is how relatively little the teams and pitchers themselves matter to the outcome.

Weather is by far the biggest factor in my opinion, while umpire tendencies also lay a major role.

Here’s how temperature alone affects MLB totals, per Bet Labs.

Ignoring the below 40F games which are outliers, the over is a significant loser below 79 degrees, while above that, the over starts to get more and more profitable.

It’s the same with wind. Wind blowing out is simply not accounted for strongly enough by the market.

Again I think it’s because odds-makers are loathe to stray too far from their numbers.

It’s a similar story in the NFL, where wind wreaks havoc on offence, and the market accounts for it…but not enough.

Per a 2014 study, wind speeds of 10 mph are estimated to reduce total passing yards by 6.8%, completion percentage by 2.4%, and yards per completion by 1.6%.

According to Pinnacle research, in the 50 games in recent years when average wind speed was 20 mph or greater, the average total was 38.5, but actual points scored were even lower at 35.3 and under bets were successful in 64.6% of games.

So, don’t forget the weather forecast when betting totals.

But as for some more actionable betting advice this weekend. We are looking to the Seattle Mariners and their newly acquired pitcher Mike Leake.

Last week I wrote about the importance of velocity. Well, Mike Leake has been losing his velocity all season and seeing his effectiveness diminish alongside it. His FIP (estimated ERA) in the first half of the season was 3.94, and that has dropped almost a full run to 4.89 in the second half.

He also moves over from the easier National League to the American League where he will have to face a designated hitter instead of a pitcher.

With the spotlight on Leake in his first game for the Mariner’s this weekend, expect him to be overpriced facing the Oakland Athletics on Saturday. My advice is to bet against him.

On that note, this will be the last baseball-only column of mine, because the mighty NFL is back next week and that will be the focus or the next few months.