With Major League Baseball’s 2020 regular season set to begin on July 23, there’s absolutely no doubt that this season will have a feel unlike any other. While it’s easy to focus on the negatives, I think there’s potential for the 2020 regular season to be the most exciting season ever due to the fact that the pennant race essentially starts from Day 1.
With the intensity of games being jacked up at the onset of the season, teams won’t have the luxury of a feeling-out process that’s often needed to work out any kinks and managers won’t be able to take their time when it comes to determining optimal lineups. Combine that with all the pain-in-the-ass new processes and rules related to coronavirus and there’s a lot more for MLB bettors to consider before placing their bets each day.
Here’s a handful of tips to keep in mind for handicapping games during the 2020 MLB season:
Don’t assume a home-field advantage doesn’t exist
There’s many factors that make up a home-field advantage and one of those factors will be absent this season – the crowd. A great fan base can provide an edge by supporting the home team and harassing the competition, but don’t assume the lack of fans in attendance will result in the lack of a home-field advantage.
I personally feel the biggest part of a home-field advantage is that the visiting team is out of their comfort zone due to the inconvenience of travelling and this could be magnified even more due to the added restrictions related to coronavirus. Instead of activities I’m sure players look forward to when on the road such as visiting different restaurants and bars and taking in perks that different cities offer, they’ll be stuck in their hotel rooms. That will get old fast.
I think an argument can actually be made that the annoyances visiting teams will need to go through in “the new normal” could actually offset the difference made with no fans in attendance. With home teams winning 53.1 percent of regular-season games last year, don’t expect that number to budge much.
Track bullpen usage
This is something you should be doing during a normal regular season anyway, but with a sprint of 60 games in 66 days for every team, wear and tear on the bullpen will be a critical factor and will provide some areas bettors might be able to take advantage of.
During a normal regular season, teams can have upwards of five days off per month. In 2020 it’ll range from two to four depending on the team and month. This might not seem like a big deal, but those extra days make a big difference and provide an opportunity for the bullpen to reset so they can start fresh in their next series.
An overworked bullpen presents a great opportunity to target the opposing team’s team total or, of course, their moneyline/runline if the odds are fair.
For example, the Angels might be coming off a three-game series with the A’s where they didn’t get much out of their starting rotation and their bullpen carried a lot of the load. Then, they immediately go into a series with the high-powered Astros and need to rely on Dylan Bundy or another end-of-rotation quality starter to eat some innings. This is a scenario that will arise more often and while it won’t be ideal for teams in this spot, it’s an area where we can find an edge.
Also, keep in mind that all relief pitchers aren’t created equal, so keep tabs on whether the more reliable arms will be available for the game you’re betting on.
Who’s behind the plate?
With so many games squeezed into a small window, starting pitchers might not have the comfort of having their preferred catcher available to work with them each game. This isn’t something a lot of bettors pay attention to and it can be a bit tedious to wait for official lineups to come out, but some pitchers perform very differently depending on which catcher is helping them navigate the game.
My favorite example of this came in the 2018 season where I cashed in big time on then Mets starter Zack Wheeler when he had Kevin Plawecki, of all people, behind the plate. In 11 games working with Plawecki, Wheeler posted a 1.88 ERA. With the three other Mets catchers that season, he had a 4.14 ERA.
There’s countless other examples of this across the league, so keep those eyes peeled for potential red flags behind the plate besides the out-of-shape umpire who’s in desperate need of Lasik.
More runs won’t equal more OVERs in the NL
This shouldn’t require much explanation. As we know, MLB will utilize a universal DH this season, meaning the black hole that’s usually occupied by a pitcher in the batting order in National League ballparks will be filled by someone who can actually hit above .200. This will undoubtedly lead to more runs, but guess what, oddsmakers will adjust and just set the totals higher.
Don’t assume that you have some sort of edge if you’re using this as your reasoning to take an OVER for a National League game early in the season. Also consider that NL teams weren’t aware they’d be using a DH until just a few weeks ago, so that wasn’t a spot they focused on filling during the offseason.
On a related note, one of my biggest pet peeves is when people take the OVER at Wrigley Field simply because the wind is blowing out, as if they’re the only ones who have access to a weather report. Oddsmakers always adjust and public knowledge like this is always accounted for in the odds!
Managing is more important than ever
Imagine being in a typical regular season and every single team is tied at the 102-game mark with 60 games left to play. That’s basically the scenario in 2020 as every single game matters and as we get later into the season, the games will take on more and more of a playoff feel. This is why a manager’s ability to properly set a lineup and manage a bullpen will take on a greater importance.
We have 10 teams coming into the season with new managers: the Phillies, Angels, Royals, Cubs, Pirates, Padres, Mets, Giants, Red Sox and Astros. David Ross of the Cubs, Derek Shelton of the Pirates, Jayce Tingler of the Padres and Luis Rojas of the Mets will all be managing for the first time at the MLB level. This could put them at a disadvantage out of the gates as the short season won’t allow for an on-the-job training period where they have breathing room to make up for mistakes.
I think it’s probably fair to trust Joe Girardi of the Phillies. However, Joe Maddon of the Angels, Gabe Kapler of the Giants, Mike Matheny of the Royals and Dusty Baker of the Astros (don’t even get me started on this guy) could be in over their heads based on a lack of familiarity with their rosters and recent histories of demonstrating bad decision-making. The same thought process should also be applied to your MLB futures bets.
My point is, try to keep tabs on some of the new faces calling the shots to see if they’re putting their team in a better spot to succeed or making boneheaded decisions that you could handle better while half-drunk on your couch… Like when A.J. Hinch removed Zack Greinke from Game 7 of the World Series when he was only 80 pitches in with just two hits allowed and the Astros bullpen went on to completely implode.
While it’s easy to pick apart MLB’s square peg in a round hole approach to dealing with coronavirus, this form of baseball is still better than no baseball at all. We’re foaming at the mouth for more sports action and this is the league’s first attempt at existing in the new normal. MLB has taken a much-deserved public beating in the buildup to the season, but let’s be fair, the logistics of putting this season together are a total nightmare. If they can pull off some version of a season and keep players and staff relatively healthy, they should be commended.
Will some of our favorite teams get burned? Absolutely. Will the eventual World Series Sportsbook be as legitimate as in previous seasons? Maybe not. BUT, will we have something to bet for the rest of the summer that’s played every day from the early afternoon until late into the night? Yes! And that’s something to be grateful for.
Good luck this season, be sure to take your time with your handicapping and before you hit that “bet” button, make sure you’re considering the impact the unique conditions of the 2020 season could have on every game.