I’ve typed out an introduction to this betting year-in-review piece five times already and have deleted all five of them. They’ve been too contemplative. Too personal. Too reflective of my own life, my own shortcomings, and my own missteps. After all, this isn’t LiveJournal or MySpace. Rather than wax poetic about my year, my life, my experiences, and my faults, I’ll leave it at this…
Don’t bet on the Browns.
In all seriousness, resolutions are great. Setting goals for the New Year is fantastic. How many people adhere to them long-term? How many people get that gym membership the first week of January and give it up by the end of February? How many people vow to drink less and eat better only to have a diet of Evan Williams or Captain Morgan with some beer nuts and pretzels?
The only way to truly improve what you want to improve is to remember what didn’t work in the first place. Many people will tell you not to dwell on the past. “What’s done is done,” they’ll say. In the same breath, they’ll utter something about how “history repeats itself”. You don’t learn by forgetting the past. You don’t grow by forgetting the past. When you forget the past, you, inevitably, make the same mistakes. We’re all creatures of habit.
How much repetition does it take to change an incorrect golf swing after taking golf lessons? How many of us still text and drive even though we’ve all seen accident photos or maybe have been in one from doing that exact thing? How many times do we vow to eat better only to throw that package of Mega Stuf Oreos in the cart at the grocery store or impulse buy a Snickers bar in the checkout line? It takes a concerted effort to remember the past and that allows you to be better in the present and the future. Keep in mind that, at one point in your past, you probably vowed not to do those things.
While many of these concepts apply to that crazy little thing called life, this is a sports betting website. You come here for sports betting content. You come here looking for answers to your questions about handicapping. You come here to remember what you did in the past and look for a different way to do it in the present and the future. We could be talking about one game. We could be talking about one league. We could be talking about one season. The end result is always the same. To be better. To actively take the necessary steps to improve. Because we remember the past and what worked and what didn’t.
A lot of things that I have done in the past didn’t work this year. It is both frustrating and disappointing to have one of my least successful years as a handicapper with a growing audience and a collection of people that look to me for advice. For the longest time, handicapping was a hobby for me. An escape from the doldrums of daily life and something I did to enjoy watching games just a little bit more. With my current gig and my responsibilities to readers and listeners, it has become something entirely different. When motivations change, pressure often increases. I am my harshest critic. I always have been and always will be. What I expect from myself is far more than anybody else expects from me. Mentally, it has been a tough year in that respect.
But, because I look at the past and analyze it, I’m eager to learn from my faults and shortcomings. I’m eager to make adjustments and fix the problems that plagued my 2017 year. Let’s start with my favorite sport, and the one I believe I have the greatest authority on, Major League Baseball.
It was a weird year. Whether the ball is truly juiced or not, it was a season in which my handicapping process hit a wall. About 10 years ago, I embraced sabermetrics as a way to understand what my favorite team, the Cleveland Indians, was thinking. What my favorite team was doing. To understand the decision-making process and evaluate it in the same capacity that people much smarter than me were. It worked. Not only did I have a greater understanding and appreciation for the way the Indians do business, but it also helped to open doors for me with writing gigs and more betting success. Now, most of the influential bettors in the MLB marketplace incorporate the sabermetric statistics into their handicapping and many have models that spit out win probabilities and other projections.
My edges have diminished significantly from sharp overnight line movements and with oddsmakers that have a greater understanding of these concepts. One of the greatest challenges for me is that I wait until the morning to write my picks and analysis article for the benefit of my readers. Most bettors are not taking advantage of the overnight numbers, so it seems disingenuous and unfair for me to publish earlier than I do. That is a conscientious decision on my part. More often than not, value has already been extracted from the lines by the time I write or is being extracted in real-time as I break down these games. It can be frustrating, but the onus is still on me to adapt. I didn’t do that enough this year.
We also saw an outlier season in Major League Baseball in that the juiced ball threw many sabermetric stats out of whack. The launch angle craze wreaked havoc on advanced pitching metrics, which are predicated on things that pitchers can “control”, like the allowance of home runs. While hitters struck out more than ever before for the 10th straight season, they also homered far more than ever before. As the season wore on, I stubbornly held to my past beliefs, attributing my struggles to variance or the outlier season.
Furthermore, a big part of my handicapping for MLB is based on the starting pitchers. Starting pitchers threw 26,787.1 innings this season. That was 625.1 fewer innings than last season. Last season’s total was 811.2 innings fewer than 2015. Basically, the decline of starting pitcher usage is something that I did not properly account for. To give you an idea of how dramatic this swing has been, starting pitchers threw 28,992 innings in 2014. We’ve seen a drop of more than 2,200 innings from starting pitchers since the 2014 season. The specialization of the game is something that I have paid close attention to and something I follow closely in the free agent market, but it is something that I clearly did not incorporate enough into my handicapping both last year and this year.
This is an uncomfortable angle for me because bullpens are volatile in nature, but we’ve also seen the dynamics of bullpens change. Collectively, relievers almost struck out a batter per inning. Like starters, they allowed a higher number of home runs last season, but walk rates have trimmed a bit from the early 2000s and specialization with matchup relievers and multi-inning guys has really changed the complexions of the bullpens. I don’t think they’re as scary as they used to be, despite the 4.15 ERA, 4.16 FIP, and 4.27 xFIP from last year.
So, my 2018 New Year’s resolution for MLB is to factor starters into my handicap less and less. The elite of the elite are still going to work deeper into games. Most will not. Teams are becoming more cognizant of the third time through the order penalty and are also starting to leverage relievers better. I’ll be paying far more attention to bullpens and rest for those relievers.
Let’s transition to college football. This season, I posted my power ratings each week at BangTheBook.com. I did them more seriously this year than I have in past years, largely because I knew I was going to post them publicly and wanted to do my due diligence for the readers. I had a hard time making week-to-week adjustments with a lot of teams and did have some enormous outliers. It was an interesting college football season, in that we could have had multiple two-loss teams in the College Football Playoff, even though we haven’t had any in the first three years of the system. We still haven’t had any.
This is something that we really need to pay closer attention to. Kids are faster and stronger. There are more camps available. There are more kids playing sports year-round. The talent pool has been diluted because there is simply more talent to go around. NFL players aren’t just coming from blue-chip schools. They are coming from all over. Group of Five schools are hiring more creative head coaches and coordinators.
I’ve used “inconsistency” as a crutch this season. The fact is that the gaps between teams and the gaps between conferences are growing smaller year by year, month by month, and week by week. It is easier to recruit in this age of social media. Highlight videos that had to be sent to schools by the parents are now posted on YouTube for all to see. Scouting resources and networks are bigger than ever.
I think we’re looking at a new age of college football. The “haves” will remain better than the “have-nots”, but the degree to which those teams are better isn’t the same as it was. Some call it parity. Some call it inconsistency. Whatever you call it, it is something that I need to consider more for next season. Group of Five schools can steal recruits from Power Five schools in Texas, California, Florida, Ohio, and the like. Those national programs are truly recruiting nationally now. Ohio State used to get every big recruit in Ohio. Now, the Buckeyes are pulling kids from SEC/ACC country in Florida, SEC/Big 12 country in Texas, and Pac-12 country in California and are losing those Ohio recruits to other Big Ten programs or the MAC and AAC. Similarly, those schools are tapping into the Midwest and the East Coast to fill their scholarship allotments.
I’m not sure how much sportsbooks and novice bettors pay attention to this trend. The name-brand programs will continue to be overvalued. Group of Five schools that have tremendous success one year may have a harder time sustaining it the following year because other schools are pulling in better talent. The college football climate is so much different than it used to be and I need to respect that more going forward. I’ll need to pay closer attention to recruiting rankings, coaching happenings, and stick to my guns.
When it comes to the daily winter sports, I have found that the edges from using the schedule to my advantage are dwindling. Athletes are in better shape than ever before. Back-to-backs aren’t as big of a deal. Organizations are constantly reaching out to sleep study experts, nutritionists, and other areas of study to give their teams an edge. Travel continues to be streamlined. Situational spots still exist, but between these industry advances and players better equipped for those spots, they have lost some of their luster. Obviously, the leagues have incorporated more off days as well.
A new edge needs to be found in the NHL and the NBA. What worked before is working less and less frequently. I’ll continue to study those things in the early part of 2018 to see what I can do better. One of the most important things any handicapper can do is admit when things aren’t working. We always want to believe that it’s not us. That it’s variance. That it’s some outlier. That we’re running bad. We don’t need to reinvent everything about ourselves as handicappers, but we need to understand the areas that need to be addressed. For me, those are some of them.
Finally, the NFL. I did my SuperContest entry by myself this season. I felt like I made some good plays that I didn’t get rewarded for and fell victim to a big year for favorites. That is the one sport I can truly point to and say that I wouldn’t change a whole lot. I’ve incorporated some new advanced metrics and I’ve been really focusing in on the scheduling spots that matter. But, here’s the thing, the secret is out about all of those. They’re all shaded into the lines. It may not be all that visible, a half-point here or a point there, but they’re in there. They’re present. They’re accounted for. Sometimes they may not be accounted for to the degree that I would adjust the number, but I might be the one that is wrong.
The NFL is less of a quarterback-driven league than it was. The teams with great quarterbacks are still succeeding, but balance means everything. Running games and defenses have gradually accumulated more importance and influence. Basically, you need something elite to be a trustworthy team. The Catch-22 is that something elite stands out and the market knows that.
I’ve done a much better job of studying the markets and looking for those overreactions and perception biases. I feel like that is a strength of mine in the NFL and across the other markets. Getting a better feel for the market is then the challenge. Knowing which way lines will move and when they will do so.
I’ll leave you with a few final observations from 2017, both about myself and overall. As you know, we saw significant game day line moves in college football and the NFL. The value in getting out in front of the market still exists. But, I’ve found that it is better to be sure of my positions than to try and get out in front of a number. In most cases, that number will reappear or something very close will be available.
Everybody’s goals are different in the industry based on what betting means to you. If this is for fun, keep it that way. If this is a supplement, make sure that you’re betting responsibly, with around three percent of your bankroll as a standard wager. If this is your livelihood, diversify your profile with more live bets, more futures, more derivatives, and more positions to guarantee profit, like in-game trading.
This is probably the most important thing I’ve picked up on this year:
Live betting is the future of this industry. Right now, we’re looking at a live betting climate that is formulaic. It is algorithm-based. The score is XX to XX and there is X:XX time left on the clock and the ball is at the X-yard-line, so our live lines are A and B. Sportsbooks don’t have the handles or the staffs to put traders at the desk in real-time to be following foul situations, player injuries, or any of the other things that happen over the course of a game. This is the best area to exploit. It is very hard to write about and report on because not everybody has access to live betting and it would certainly be hard for readers to read something and then get a play locked in before lines are frozen or move.
The lines are softer and the markets are weaker. The limits are lower, but how many of our readers are limit bettors anyway? This is the part of the industry that we can exploit nowadays. This is the part of the industry that bettors need to focus on. If you have the time to do it and can sit and watch multiple games and monitor multiple box scores, this is for you and this is your ticket. It will take some time to gain a feel for when to play and at what parts of the game, but this is the future. Make this the present and you should have success.
In conclusion, I want to thank each and every one of you for your support, your kind words and encouragement, and your readership/listenership in 2017. Because of you, I have this platform and BangTheBook has been able to thrive. Because of you, I have become a better handicapper and strive to be even better.
Here’s to more winners in 2018!