The Paradox of Totals Settings in MLB Ballparks
As the betting industry continues to grow, handicappers are starting to become more and more advanced in their research with each passing season. It can be argued that baseball has the most intriguing variables, and perhaps the most insightful and concrete considerations of factors when making bets. There are a few reasons for these arguments.
First off, let us begin with the fact that unlike any other major sport, every MLB ballpark has different dimensions. Some stadiums have significantly shorter porches than others, stadiums have different depths in dimensions, and every park has specific unique features. Examples of these would be: The short right field porch at Oracle Park in San Francisco, granting access to the balls flying into the McCovey Cove; The 38 feet wall known as the Green Monster in Fenway Park in Boston, leading to less homeruns and more doubles hit into left field; The miniature dimensions of the New Yankee Stadium in the Bronx; The deeper left field (which has seen renovations) in Citi Field in Queens; The massive foul zone in the Oakland Coliseum, created due to the more football friendly stadium structure; even the glaring rocks in day games at Angels Stadium, that former Angels Ace Jered Weaver has admitted to using to his advantage in blinding batters at the right time of the day; and of course, the extremely deep outfield at Petco Park in San Diego.
These are just a few examples.
While weather, climate, and altitude are all factors in football as well, these factors are far more influential in baseball. Humidity affects ball carry and different pitches, altitude affects batted ball distance and pitching velocity and style, wind affects ball carry, temperatures affect how far balls will fly as well. Examples of these include: the hot and humid Midwestern ballparks in the peak of the Summer months, causing the ball to carry more on hard hit balls; the very mild climate and low altitude in the West Coast stadiums, leading to less carry and reverse pitching styles that rely heavily on the sinker pitch; the high altitudes of Coors Field in Denver, leading to balls flying much further than they would anywhere else; and of course, the more controlled environments in indoor ballparks that allow pitchers to be more loose with their styles.
As more and more people take notes on all these factors, it is becoming more and more of a commonly known concept as to which stadiums are hitter friendly parks and which ones are pitcher friendly parks.
The one thing that the average bettor does not take into consideration though, is that oddsmakers know a lot of this in depth, and far before any of us did. Yes, adjustments have been made on their part from season to season, but they are not setting Totals to lose money when it is all said and done.
“This game will fly over 11.5 because these are two hard hitting teams, and they are playing in Colorado! It’s a lock!”
“The wind is blowing out 14 mph in Chicago, this Cubs game is going to see 20+ runs”
“In that massive park in San Diego with those two pitchers? no way that game goes over!”
Do these comments sound familiar?
What am I getting at here?
In a nutshell to start, betting the obvious is not going to be as easy as it sounds.
Let me present some numbers that will expose the paradox in betting totals based on reasoning.
Now, I am fully aware that stadium settings are only a part of the big picture. I am fully aware that roster composition, team situations, and pitching matchups are also important in baseball handicapping. I do not expect bettors to use this lone following concept as the bible, and to base every wager off stadium specifics and climate/weather/altitude. However, the point of this segment is to highlight the irony of results versus what is logical and generically expected.
Let us begin with the epitome of offense, which would be the conditions of Coors Field in Denver, Colorado. The stadium is home to the Colorado Rockies, and sees significantly more hard hit balls than any ballpark pretty much since its existence. I am not going to get into specific numbers, but simple research will show that Coors Field clearly and consistently sees more hits and doubles, and a higher average ballpark factor in runs than any other stadium.
There is a reason that games played at Coors Field do not normally see totals set below 10.5, even with an Ace pitching matchup.
If Colorado is a ticking time bomb just waiting to see an explosion of runs in every Rockies game played at home, then betting an Over in Rockies games more often than not should be a good thing right?
Logically, it makes sense. However, the numbers say otherwise.
In 2018, The Colorado Rockies had the least OVERS out of any major league team, with 68 OVERS in 162 games. Since we are focusing specifically on the home numbers, let’s look at that. Out of 82 home games, only 33 of them went OVER. In 2017, out of 82 home games, only 32 of them went OVER the total.
Dig deeper and you will find that the trend is quite consistent.
While Coors Field is by far the best hitters park in baseball and it is not even close, there are other ballparks that consistently rank in the top ten and even top five in Park Factor in runs. Some of these include Yankee Stadium (New York Yankees home), Globe life Park (Texas Rangers home), and Chase Field (Arizona Diamondbacks home). You will discover in backtracking that their teams’ OVER-UNDER records over the years have no indication that taking OVERS in those ballparks over time will prove to be profitable.
Let’s now look at the complete contrast, which would be Petco Park in San Diego.
While Pitcher friendly parks are not quite as clear cut as to which one prevails as the ultimate batter’s nightmare, many will agree that Petco Park meets the criteria of a low scoring setting for baseball. First off, it is massive in dimensions. The outfield alleys and field lines start at 334 ft to 357 porches, and deepen into large alleys that result in a large part of the outfield set at 390+ feet in distance from home plate. Second, the West Coast climate is quite moderate, and does not see too much heat nor humidity in comparison to the Eastern and Midwestern ballparks. Third, San Diego’s downtown is situated at around sea level, meaning that the altitude factors are rather stable, and suitable for flyballs dying sooner than in other parks. Pitchers are able to operate on looser and reverse arsenals, rather than leaning on velocity in their pitches. On top of that, the San Diego Padres have not put together a competent Major League offense in nearly a decade now (sorry Padres fans, but you know it is true).
Likewise, this ideally sounds like a place where UNDERS are the right play almost no matter what the Totals setting is.
Let’s take a look at how true that is…
In 82 games at Petco Park in 2018, only 35 games stayed UNDER the set Total.
In 82 games at Petco Park in 2017, only 34 games stayed UNDER the set Total.
Other large National League sea level pitcher ballparks where the pitcher bats include: Dodger Stadium (Los Angeles Dodgers home) and Marlins Park (Miami Marlins home). Look up numbers of the past few years on both, and you will find that there is no consistent trend that supports games that fall below the set Total either..in fact, quite the opposite.
Again, team construction and situations do play a role in how games play out, but in no way does the pitcher or hitter ballpark dictate whether games are expected to play out accordingly to their respective Total settings.
So, if you think you have Vegas fooled…well, you don’t.