Betting hockey or baseball, know how to read between the baked-in lines

Josh Beckett’s shaky start makes him a candidate for bettors to monitor.
Photo: Charles Krupa

It’s a challenge to identify any factor not already accounted for in the betting line of a game—“baked in,” as the lingo has it—but it can be done. One opportunity that baseball handicappers seek out entails spotting pitchers who are in questionable form.

“Form,” in this context, does not refer merely to a pitcher’s performance in his most recent starts. That’s likely baked in already. Rather, it refers to a nagging injury, an unpublicized health issue or a change in his elemental approach to the game. The early going of the major league baseball season has yielded two starters to watch: Josh Beckett of the Boston Red Sox and Josh Collmenter of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Both had alarmingly poor showings in their 2012 debuts.

If the first starts by Beckett and Collmenter were just bad outings, it means virtually nothing in terms of handicapping baseball. Everyone has an occasional off day. It would be premature to revise your season-long projections for these pitchers. But if something is fundamentally wrong with their form, and either man is headed for the disabled list or mop-up duty in the bullpen, you might find value in betting against them. Consider playing against them or taking “over” the total number of runs when they start.

There must be a few NHL enthusiasts who frequent Las Vegas sports books and swear by Gene Hart’s old catchphrase, “Good night and good hockey.” The perennial story in betting circles, however, is the paltry amount of action hockey generates at the windows in Nevada. Hockey betting is ignominiously included in a category called “other” in the official state Gaming Control Board tally. In calendar year 2011, the money risked by gamblers in Nevada books on “other”—which also covers golf, auto racing, boxing, MMA and the like—amounted to just over $179 million, only 6.2 percent of the $2.8 billion bet on all sports. By contrast, football betting accounted for 46.6 percent of the total.

For the record, though, the Pittsburgh Penguins entered the NHL playoffs this week as a 4-1 favorite to win the Stanley Cup, followed by the New York Rangers at 9-2 and the Vancouver Canucks at 5-1 (LVH sports book odds). The St. Louis Blues, with 8-1 odds to win the title, stand as the league’s biggest overachievers. They opened at 30-1 last summer.


Previous Discussion:

Top of Story