Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What are the bookies (or the handicappers) saying to us when they make a team a 1 to 100 favorite? Only lunatics need place a bet?

With my 2009 MLB database only a few hundred games short of completion, I have become used to what seems to be a spin-the-bottle approach to the critical task of setting the odds on baseball games.

One day, a club is as sure-fire a winner as it can get, at least according to the odds. And less than 24 hours later (sometimes against the same opponents!) it's a long shot.

I have barely made any progress with my college football database, and am tempted to abandon it because of a range of odds that defies explanation.

In baseball, with its 30 pro teams in 15 pairs and its relatively similar ability and performance range, dogs start at even money, more or less, and occasionally go up to 3.5 to 1 (+350).

As all you experts already know, that's not the case with the motley rabble playing under the NCAA banner.

Is there anyone crazy enough to put money down at -10000? Maybe, but even for the most daring of gamblers, that's a lot of risk for almost zero return.

Not much reaction to my "dog project" so far, but I have evidently ruffled a feather or two by seeming to suggest that a careful analysis of teams and players, game locales and conditions, wind speed and chances of precip, is redundant.

What I am actually suggesting is not coming from me at all: It's the numbers that tell us that in the absence of expert knowledge and a love and understanding of the game (whatever sport it might happen to be) betting the odds can be very effective.

Put another way, no one should let common sense and good judgment get in the way of making steady money betting on ball games!

"Doggy power" is so pervasive not just in baseball but in pro-football and hockey and in baskeball too, I'll bet, that I will make a prediction or two ahead of the completion of my databases.

My guess is that when all is said and done, it won't matter how you shake up the stats...chasing dogs will always be a winner, not necessarily betting flat, but certainly with target betting applied.

I heard an interesting baseball snippet on NPR the other day, on my way up to the casinos in Stateline. The Washington Nationals were quoted as easily the worst team in the MLB lineup, but somehow they managed to win 59 of the 162 games they played in 2009.

That's a fairly crappy win rate, even for the team at the bottom of the heap. But with the odds-makers routinely rating them at +250 and above, backing them as underdogs throughout the season might have made a tidy profit at, say, $1000 a pop.

Let's do the numbers, as they like to say on the radio show that caught my ear. Those 59 wins amounted to 36% of all games played, or one win per 1.75 losses. Bad outcome if the odds on the Nationals as bottom dogs averaged less than +175, but I very much doubt that was so.

From what I have seen so far, I'll wager that if you applied pretty much any selection criterion, backing your picks only as "dogs" throughout the season, you would end up making money. Not a lot, maybe, but probably more than the expert laying down his dough on the team as favorites.

How about backing only teams playing in the mid-west time zone? Or teams with left-handed batters? Or the same team all season? Or only teams with the letter "Y" in their name? Or...

You get the picture. The dog factor is so reliable that you can count on it to bring home the bacon no matter what you do.

Watch this space!

Wednesday, October 21:

OK, time for me to eat a little crow, courtesy of the redoubtable Washington Nationals!

Even though the databaseball is about 900 games short of the full 2009 regular season schedule, formulas are already in place to analyze each team's performance.

The Nats were already on track for an embarrassing year when they bungled their way past the 100-game mark.

They lost 67 of 102 games and were favorites 15 times last season (against their own grounds-keepers, perhaps?). As favorites, they won 5 games, which is eerily consistent with their overall 33% win rate.

A dog-lover would have put money on the Nats 85 times during the season, winning 29 of those wagers for a total flat-bet take of $4,537. He would have lost the remaining 56 bets (66%, which is becoming an awfully familiar losing number in this scenario!) at a cost of $5,600, leaving him $1,063 in the hole for the year.

Bummer! That means that while my optimistic prediction in yesterday's post might hold true for any MLB team that lost more games than it won, the stats have to draw the line somewhere and the awesomely awful Washington Nationals are under that line!

Plug in, say, the L.A. Dodgers, and the picture brightens greatly:

Los Angeles Dodgers

111 Games 30 Bets
67 Wins 60%
44 Losses 40%

Won D 17 2067 $122
Lost D -13 -1300 $767

Dogs 33 17 57%
Max U 175
Min U 109

Fav 78 47 60%
Min F -260 0.38
Max F -104 0.96

Won F 47 3135
Lost F 31 -3100 $35

The dog fancier could only make 30 bets on the dodgers in 111 games, keeping in mind that the MLB database is not yet complete.

The Dodgers had a win rate of 60% in the sample to date, and consistent with that WR, 57% of the "dog" bets (17 wins) brought in $2,067 offset by losses of $1,300, giving us an end of season (EOS) profit of $767 based on flat bets of $100 apiece.

To me, the most critical piece of information above comes in the last two lines of the summary: 47 wins as Favorites would have brought in $3,135 in the season so far, and losses as Favorites would have swallowed almost all of that ($3,100) leaving $35 in folding green to show after 78 bets at $100 a pop!


So...the dog-devotee nets $767 or a whopping 26% of his ($3,000) action, while the fave-follower sees $35 back, or 0.45%.

Food for thought, I reckon!

My faith in the Washington Nationals may have been misplaced yesterday, but the bottom line superiority of dogs over faves remains unsullied!

An important reminder: The only person likely to make money out of this blog is you, Dear Reader. There's nothing to buy, ever, and your soul is safe (from me, at least). Test my ideas and use them or don't. It's up to you.