Following the right trends proves profitable in baseball

You often hear how there’s no such thing as a “sure thing” in sports. Not true. Here are plenty of examples:

The UNLV football team underachieving.

An NBA superstar whining whenever he’s called for a foul (and the same referee subsequently whistling a makeup call in the next three minutes).

Patriots coach Bill Belichick being a pompous jackass at a news conference.

The Detroit Lions, Los Angeles Clippers and Kansas City Royals sucking the life out of the few fans they have left.

Tiger Woods stiffing a valet.

A soccer game ending 1-0.

What there isn’t, however, is a sure thing in sports wagering. And so we study. We study statistics, tendencies, injury reports, weather forecasts, umpire/referee rotations, historical trends—anything to get the slightest of edges before making a bet.

Does the studying always pay off? Of course not. But if you’re going to wager without doing some research, you might as well just flush your money down the toilet (or give it to the government).

With research in mind, this week I’m offering some study tips for baseball.

What a Relief: You may recall a few weeks ago I mentioned that before placing a baseball bet you must first look at starting pitching, as the odds on every game are based more on the pitching matchup than anything else. That will never change. However, this isn’t 1972, when pitchers frequently finished games they started. Over the past 30 years, relief pitching has become an increasingly critical component in determining the outcome of games.

Through the first eight weeks of this season, the Tigers had the best relief corps in the game with a 2.34 ERA, 11 wins and 12 saves (with just two blown saves). Rounding out the top five bullpens are St. Louis, San Diego, Tampa Bay and Minnesota. Not so coincidentally, those five teams entered this week a combined 49 games above .500. Also not so coincidentally, all five teams finished the first two months of the season profitable, with the Rays (first), Padres (second), Tigers (fifth) and Twins (eighth) all ranking in the top 10 in money won.

Running Wild: Obviously, pitching is only half of the equation in baseball. You can’t win if you can’t score. And when you cross-reference the best money teams in baseball with the best run-producing squads, you’ll see that six teams rank in the top 11 in both categories: Tampa Bay (tied for third in runs, first on the money list); Toronto (second in runs, third on the money list); Minnesota (ninth in runs, eighth on the money list); Cincinnati (tied for 10th in runs; sixth on the money list); Texas (tied for 10th in runs, 10th on the money list); and the Yankees (first in runs; 11th on the money list).

It’s Official: You’d think that a game’s outcome is mostly decided by the nine guys on the field and the one holding a bat. Not always. The man in blue behind the plate can have a big impact on wins and losses. While it’s very difficult to determine umpire assignments prior to the start of a series (Major League Baseball doesn’t release that information), it’s easy to figure out once the series starts because umps rotate clockwise around the bases each day (just check the bottom of box scores after the first game of a series).

Because each ump calls balls and strikes differently, trends become obvious as the season goes along. For example, home teams are a combined 25-2 in games in which Todd Tichenor (9-0), Mark Carlson (8-1) or Doug Eddings (8-1) are behind the dish. Conversely, road teams are a combined 27-4 when Ed Rapuano (8-1), Marvin Hudson (7-1), Scott Barry (7-1) and Jerry Crawford (5-1) are wearing the mask.

As far as “totals” (over/unders) are concerned, look to bet the “over” when Mark Wegner, Tim Welke, Angel Campos or Tichenor (combined 27 “overs” vs. six “unders”) are calling balls and strikes. On the flip side, Jim Wolf, Tim Timmons, Mike Estabrook, Bruce Dreckman and Bob Davidson have proven to be low-scoring umps (a combined 37 “unders” vs. nine “overs”).