Saturday, 10 September 2011

Quitting Time

I mentioned Peter Nordsted's comment / question yesterday, and here it is:

Just a quick one - the ratings on my MLB selections are not performing as they did up to the middle of August as it peaked at around the mid 40 point mark only to come down to around the mid 20s.

My colleague states the following:

The last part of the season often provides crazy results. Large part of MLB teams is not 100% result oriented during this period. The teams that have no chance of reaching the playoffs put emphasis on testing new young players, giving inexperienced players more playing time. This significantly impacts the outcome of the game. Then there are teams with secured or almost secured place in playoffs. They are reducing pitch count to their pitching stars to keep them fresh for the playoffs and also they are more often resting hitters. The last part of the teams are those that are still fighting for the playoff spot and for them we should be "sure" they are giving 100%.

My question is in your opinion when should you stop betting on the MLB
It's a good question that applies to more team sports than just baseball, and is also relevant within single games rather than in the context of a full season, as I shall get to later.

To address Peter's question specifically with regard to baseball, the answer in my opinion is that there should be no hard-stop on MLB betting, rather you should stop betting on teams that no longer have an incentive to win.

Peter's colleague is correct in his assessment. When post-season play is no longer realistically attainable, the focus for teams moves to preparing for next season rather than the current season, and the opportunity is taken to bring players up from their minor league teams. It's also true that teams with a play-off spot guaranteed will rest star players, and reduce the number of pitches starters throw. So when you eliminate the teams with nothing to play for, you are left with those still in with a chance of post-season play, and indeed, these are the teams who should perform as expected. If you look at the standings right now, there are several teams with an E in the Elimination number (E#) column and a few more who are realistically all but eliminated. In the American League right now, I would only consider backing the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Texas Rangers. In the National League all three Divisions and the Wild Card are all but sewn up. Slim pickings in other words. It's usually August when the E# starts coming down and it may be no coincidence that mid-August saw the high point in profits. (It was pure luck that I happened to start my holiday two days later!) Opposing chasing teams such as the Angels, Giants, Red Sox or Cardinals or teams still not quite there (e.g. Yankees, Rangers) could be risky.

Other sports can be even more of a minefield, and in the US, there is often actually an incentive to lose games. Finish with the worst record in the NFL, and there's no relegation. Instead, the team is rewarded with the fist pick in the upcoming draft, and an easier schedule next season! The NBA has attempted to address this issue with a Draft Lottery (meaning that the worst team is not assured the number one pick), and it's less of an issue in the NHL and MLB where the draft is of less importance.

In football, half of the EPL is playing the season out with a few games to go, and while clubs still have a small incentive to win (more prize money) many use the last few games to blood young players and teams just go through the motion with players trying to avoid injury and strange results abound - and not only in Italy's Serie B. Even winning teams put out weakened teams ahead of bigger games. It's not something new. The problem with pulling the plug on betting too soon is that, combined with the caution generally exercised early in the season, you can be left with a window of six matches in December / January from a 38 game season when form is reliable. I exaggerate of course, but my point is that it's very easy to find excuses for not putting your money where your mouth is. There's probably someone out there saying to avoid December and January because of the heavy pitches.

As for the in-game incentives I mentioned earlier, it is why I am not a big fan of handicap betting, or any 'by-product' markets for that matter. Games are played for wins and points, not to win by an arbitrary total or to take the most corners. When the Lakers are up by 17 late in a game, the team don't care if they win by 14 or more (covering an example spread of -13.5) or by 13. Teams typically care about winning, not so much about the margin. With a lead of 17, and the game won, starters are rested, and bench players are given a run out. Anything can happen, and there is often value late in games on the handicaps (if the liquidity is there - a big if).

Bottom line - never assume that teams want to win.


Pete Nordsted said...


Thank you very much for your reply for which I am extremely grateful. Not really knowing much about the sport I really thought I had cracked it with these ratings and last night (although unlucky) all 5 selections won so I ended up 5 points down and now the ratings stand at the mid season point of +22 points.

Although this is a reasonable return it is still a little disappointing as it did hit the mid 40’s but it is a good lesson learned and I’m fairly positive we have a reasonably strong system and strategy for next season given the number of games played.

I have therefore discontinued doing these selections for this season and hopefully next year we can continue the good work and have another profitable season. Only this time I will cut off in mid August (at the start of the football season)

Once again thanks for your advice

P said...

Hi Cassini

Further to this discussion, it seems that based on your experience you concur that laying the short-priced home favourite from August onward is conceptually problematic for the reasons you have explained, although again we only have one season's worth of data.

In your opinion, does it then follow that a strategy of BACKING the short priced home favourite in the final two months of the season would/should be profitable?