I bet on more Major League Baseball games than any other sport, and I’ve been doing it for decades. Over the years, I’ve learned a great deal about evaluating MLB games for betting purposes.
I’m going to share some of the things I’ve learned based on position on this page. The tips on this page don’t include everything you need to know to win MLB games on a consistent basis, but they are a good place to start.
Start with the tips on this page and build on each of them as you learn how to evaluate MLB games.
1 – Catcher
The mistake most MLB bettors make when evaluating catchers is only looking at their offensive contributions. While it’s important to evaluate catcher’s offense, it’s even more important to evaluate their defensive contributions and how the pitching staff performs with each catcher.
A catcher hits three to five times in each game, but he’s responsible for helping the pitching staff and defense on over 100 pitches every game. I’m much more interested in the staff ERA with the catcher behind the plate than his personal batting average.
Some pitching staffs are better than others, no matter who’s behind the plate. This makes it challenging to determine how good or bad catchers on different teams are.
2 – First Base
First base is mostly about offensive production. You do need to look at the defensive ratings when you evaluate the first baseman, but the truth is that even the worst defensive first baseman can be valuable if their offensive production is good.
Traditionally, first base is a power position, and the best players hit many home runs and doubles. But don’t overlook players that hit for a high average with a high on-base percentage that don’t hit a lot of home runs.
Real money sports bettors are often like the general public and most fans. They get fascinated by home runs. But you can’t afford to overvalue home runs and undervalue other offensive contributions if you want to win more wagers.
3 – Second Base
Second baseman used to all be light hitters that helped their team more on defense than with their bat. But this has changed quite a bit recently.
I still rank the second baseman defensively, but the offensive production is more important than it used to be. You have to determine the value of each player based on his ability to prevent runs as well as his ability to produce runs.
Most second basemen aren’t going to produce many home runs, but solid defensive players who can produce a decent on-base percentage with some extra base hits can be quite valuable.
When you look at defensive contributions, don’t make the mistake of just looking at fielding percentage. Fielding percentage is important, but a guy that has better range can be more valuable defensively than a guy who has less range with a better fielding percentage.
The shifts used in modern baseball have altered the way defenses play certain hitters, and smart managers are able to cover up weaker defensive second basemen more easily than in the past. Make sure you take this into account when ranking second basemen.
4 – Shortstop
Other than the catcher, the shortstop is the most valuable defensive player on the field. Just like catchers, a truly great defensive shortstop is more valuable than a hitting shortstop with a weak glove.
I always rank the shortstops based on defense, then make minor adjustments based on offensive production. But the truth is, if a shortstop can hit .250 with a .325 on-base percentage and hit an occasional double or home run, he can hold his own in the lineup.
Anything over these numbers combined with good defense is going to rank a guy toward the top of the list.
Shortstop is also one of the most important positions to track the backup players. Most backup shortstops are decent fielders and can’t hit. If they could hit, they’d be starting. But a gold glove caliber backup that can’t hit can be an important defensive replacement in close games and be the difference between winning and losing a wager.
5 – Third Base
Third base is a power and hitting position, but smart gamblers understand how important good defense is at the hot corner. Third basemen have to hit to stay in the lineup, but a good defensive third baseman is extremely valuable to the pitching staff.
I find that the best defensive third basemen have usually played shortstop in the past. Sometimes, this was at the major league level, but other times, it was in the minors or in college. Look at the past positions for third basemen when you’re evaluating their defense.
6 – Center Field
The third-most important defensive position on the field, behind catchers and shortstops, are center fielders. A great defensive center fielder can be more valuable than a slugger.
When you find a center fielder with great defense who can hit well, you have a truly game-changing player. A young Ken Griffey Jr. won games with his glove and bat. These players are extremely rare.
In most cases, you have to balance offensive and defensive production when you’re evaluating center fielders. I’m a bit old fashioned, but I still count great defense slightly over great offense when I’m evaluating center fielders.
7 – Corner Outfield
Corner outfielders are mostly offensive players. But a bad defensive corner outfielder can cost his team games. Smart managers have a defensive replacement for all-hit no-defense corner outfielders for late game subs.
I’ve mentioned on-base percentage several times already, but once again, don’t get too focused on power and ignore average and on base percentage. A guy with a high average and on base percentage can be more valuable than a slugger.
8 – Designated Hitter
The designated hitter is 100% offense. But there are a limited number of high-quality designated hitters in the major leagues. This might not seem like it makes sense, but the majority of good hitters are also good enough to play defense on an everyday basis.
You don’t have to consider defense, but you do need to learn how managers use the designated hitter spot in the lineup. When a great player needs a rest, will the manager slide him into the DH spot? This information can help you win an extra game or two over the course of a season.
9 – Starting Pitcher
Starting pitching is the core of every good baseball team, and the core of every good gambling evaluation. You must learn how to evaluate starting pitchers if you want to win as an MLB handicapper. This is one area where you can’t afford to be average or make mistakes.
You need to evaluate every possible starting pitcher in the league and track their performance throughout the season. Track pitch counts, percentage of pitches that are strikes, ground ball percentage, walk percentage, and strikeout percentage.
As you track all of these things, watch how they change from start to start and learn why they change. Is it tied directly to how many pitches they threw in the last start or over the last three starts or how much rest they get? The more you learn about the causes, the more accurate you can predict future performance.
10 – Relief Pitcher
Relief pitchers are more important than they’ve ever been, pitching more innings than in the past. Starting pitchers still pitch more innings, but the gap is closing.
And you have to evaluate every pitcher in the bullpen and understand when they’re likely to get into a game. It’s easy to predict when set up men and closers are going to pitch, but when does each manager use his long men and middle relievers?
I attempt to map out each game based on how deep the starters tend to go in games to predict which guys will enter the game out of the bullpen. A starter that routinely goes 7 innings is much different than one who goes 5.
If a team can avoid using their long relievers in a game, they have a much higher chance of winning the game.
Each position on the baseball field is unique. You need to learn the importance of each position and use this information to effectively evaluate every game on the schedule.
By understanding the balance between offense and defense, and how it influences each game, you can learn how to find value and make profitable MLB wagers.
Starting pitchers, catchers, shortstops, and center fielders are the best place to start. These positions are more important than the others. But you can’t afford to ignore the other positions either. Evaluate all 10 positions to the best of your ability and never stop learning how to improve your evaluation techniques.
Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016. …