The only way I can make money betting on Major League Baseball is to use every possible advantage and bit of information when I handicap games. Accumulating and analyzing data starts in spring training. But you can’t just look at the stats accumulated in spring training without learning how to separate the useful from the worthless.
Here are some strategies and information about how I use spring training statistics to evaluate hitters in MLB. I don’t start betting on baseball games until the regular season starts, but evaluating spring training stats is a good way to get a jump-start on your handicapping.
Veterans vs. Young Players
The first thing to consider when evaluating spring training hitting statistics is if the player is a veteran or a player fighting to make the team. An established veteran isn’t worried about making the team. He’s more interested in fine tuning his swing and getting physically prepared for the grind of a 162-game season.
A player fighting for a spot on the opening day roster can’t afford to work on anything except performing at his best. He has to maximize every at bat and opportunity.
As a handicapper, I don’t care how good or bad the stats are for a guy like Mike Trout in spring training. All I care about is if he’s healthy and ready to start the regular season. On the other hand, a highly-rated rookie fighting for a starting spot is someone I keep a close eye on. I need to get an idea if he’s ready to help his team win when the regular season starts.
Of course, some veteran players don’t have a spot on the opening day roster secured, so you need to evaluate them more like young players fighting for a spot.
When you evaluate veterans who have an opening day spot secured, look for signs of health issues and watch how they handle at bats. Is their swing the same as in the past or are they making adjustments? Are they seeing the ball well and swinging smoothly, or does their timing seem way off? Are they taking good swings and just missing by fowling good pitches off or are they swinging and missing more than in the past?
The last thing to remember is that spring training stats rarely predict actual performance in the regular season. Every year, a couple hitters have a hot spring then fall off the face of the earth once the season starts. Don’t put too much faith in spring training hitting stats when you start handicapping regular season games.
A Games and B Games
Spring training schedules are unique, and can be somewhat confusing. Each team has a schedule often called “A” games. “A” games are the main games on the schedule. Each team also plays some “B” games, which aren’t much different than “A” games, but they might include more minor league players.
On many days, a team plays one game away and one at home. Most veterans stay and play in the home games, while younger players and older players fight for a spot to play on the road.
The main thing to remember is that the teams use spring training to get players ready for the regular season and don’t care about your evaluations and handicapping. This means you can only work with the information you get and that you need to adjust to what the teams do.
When I’m evaluating players in spring training, I don’t care if they’re in an “A” game or a “B” game. I’m more interested in the pitchers they face. In the first few weeks in spring training action, the pitchers who are most likely to make the opening day roster tend to pitch early in the game. Evaluating an at bat for a hitter in the first five innings of these games is different than an at bat later in the game.
As the spring training games get closer to opening day, most of the minor league pitchers have been sent to minor league camp and you can evaluate hitters deeper into the game.
Every Major League Baseball player reaches a point where his skills start to diminish. Some players are able to play at an elite level as they get older, but many start dropping off quickly in their early to mid-30s.
The problem is that this makes your job as a handicapper difficult. You can’t predict when an older player is simply going through a slump or when the poor performance is his new normal.
Age Does Count
I start evaluating hitters more closely when they turn 32 and 33 years old. Most good hitters continue producing at high levels at this age, but many start showing cracks in their game. With each passing year, they come closer to being replaced by a younger hitter.
When hitters turn 34 and 35 years old, I always start reducing their expected outcomes for my handicapping purposes. Hitters 35 and older have to prove to me that they can still play at a high level.
Spring training is a good place to evaluate these players before you start betting on games. I don’t worry as much about their actual numbers in spring training as I look at their swing. I like to see them against pitchers throwing 95 and up to see if they still have the quickness in their swing to get the bat through the zone when it needs to.
When an aging batter starts struggling to swing fast enough to keep up with pitches at 95 and up, it’s a good sign that they’re in decline.
Strikeout Rate and Swinging Strike Rate
Two things that I consider when evaluating hitters are strikeout rate and swinging strike percentages. Veteran players have a track record of how often they strike out and how often they swing and miss.
Strikeout rates and swinging strike rates go up and down over each player’s career, but they usually stay in a fairly narrow range. When a player starts declining, his strikeout rate and swinging strike rate tends to start going up quickly.
The reason why these two stats are so important is because strikeouts and swinging strikes are the closest thing you have to taking everything about a hitter’s swing into account. It helps track how well the batter is seeing and recognizing pitches, and gives you a way to track the batter’s bat speed and hand-eye coordination.
These stats aren’t perfect, but they’re as good as any you can access to evaluate hitters in spring training.
If you track regular season statistics for hitters, they generally follow a similar path. When they break into the majors, they perform at a certain level for a season or two, then improve to a better level and stay close to that level until they start to decline. This is a normal career projector.
Of course, there are always outliers, so you can’t ever predict the future with complete accuracy. And this is a good thing, because there wouldn’t be any profitable betting opportunities if the sportsbooks could accurately predict the future.
Most MLB handicappers are aware of common hitting trends and use them to some degree when handicapping games. They also often consider this when evaluating spring training stats. But a better way to evaluate spring training stats is to compare past spring training stats to present spring training stats.
If you know how hitters have performed in past spring training seasons, it can help you evaluate their performance in the current spring training. Many veteran hitters are able to have consistent and valuable regular seasons while never performing well in spring training. Others tend to carry their spring training performances into the regular season.
It’s not valuable to know that this is happening as a whole. But it is valuable when you know which hitters fall into each category. Learning how to be a winning MLB handicapper is about finding value. Finding value is usually as much about outworking everyone else than anything else.
How many handicappers do you think track the spring training stats by player year after year and use the data to help them find value? No one knows the exact percentage, but I can guarantee that it’s an extremely low number. This is just one example of how you can take your MLB handicapping to the next level.
Spring training stats aren’t always useful, but this doesn’t mean you should completely ignore them. Learn which stats are important and which ones aren’t, and it’s going to help you become a better handicapper early in the regular season.
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. ...
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