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Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Friday, August 3, 2012 at 12:32 PM

As promised, I’m back to talk about a big picture assessment for the stretch run in Major League Baseball. Our coursework here in the College of Advanced Handicapping will become very football heavy in the coming days with the start of the NFL Preseason this weekend. (Be sure to check the archives here at website for a look at the do’s and don’ts for exhibition handicapping from this past Tuesday and a-week-ago Tuesday). Today we focus on baseball.

Probably the single most important thing I can tell you for August and September action is to avoid overrating “Must Win” scenarios for the playoff contenders. It’s not that I don’t think motivation is important. I’ve talked at length in the past about the motivation factor and how you must incorporate it into your handicapping process. My point today is that “Need to Win” is only relevant to you when it offers LINE VALUE.

Let’s say a team would normally be a -140 favorite in a game, and your assessment of the motivation factor suggests that -150 or -155 makes more sense. If Vegas oddsmakers have posted -140 for the line, you have some value and can make a bet. But, if Vegas oddsmakers have posted a line of -180 because they think everyone is going to bet the “Must Win” team, then you don’t have any line value. Either consider the underdog or pass the game.

In the months of August and September…favorite lines get inflated. Oddsmakers expect action on the playoff contenders, particularly when they’re facing bad teams who are just playing out the string. You can’t go betting all the contenders willy-nilly or the juice will grind you up when a few start to choke or otherwise fall apart.

Let me run through some numbers for you quickly. I’m always surprised by how many Vegas gamblers don’t understand many of the math basics for what we do. A line of -150 represents a 60% win scenario. If you’re betting on a -150 favorite, that team hast to win 60% of the time just for you to break even. That means, you’re looking for 65%, 70%, or better options before you consider laying -150.

When you look at the newspaper standings, a win percentage of .600 is the same as 60%. How many teams right now are playing better than .600 ball this season? As I put the finishing touches on this written lecture Friday morning Las Vegas time, there’s only one! The Cincinnati Reds have a record of 64-41 for a winning percentage of .610 (or 61%). The Yankees are below 60%. Washington is below 60%. The strong teams in the AL West are below 60%.

You have to be really picking when laying -150 in a game. That’s even more true when the lines scoot up to -170, -180, or even -200. You’ve probably read here at the website that I’m looking for teams who are in 90% win scenarios on the games I rate at 100-Units or better. Those have been hot for me lately because I’ve been finding them. There’s no way “Must Win” by itself will get you to that percentage. The “Must Win” theme helps you narrow down the full card to a smaller sampling as a starting point. Then you run through the gauntlet of other factors to look for dominant advantages.

Like:

*Isolating the PLAYMAKERS and GAMEBREAKERS who are most likely to win your bet for you. In baseball, these are typically overpowering starting pitchers. But, there are a few hitters who can carry a team on their shoulders when it matters. And, a few teams where a shutdown closer provides additional win percentage insurance.

*Isolating bad teams who have thrown in the towel on the season and are barely giving any effort. I’d argue that the “Don’t Care if They Lose” factor down at this end of the spectrum is twice or three times as important as the “Must Win” factor up in the playoff races.

*Isolating the situational advantages that magnify existing edges. For example…backing a dominant pitcher in a great pitcher’s park…or fading a bad starting pitcher in a great hitter’s park. Backing a tricky lefthander against a team that hasn’t seen him yet this year…or fading that same pitcher if he’s facing the same team twice in a two-week period. Backing a rested team that’s been on a long homestand against a tired team that’s been on a long road trip. Fading pitchers who have lost 2-3 mph off their fastball in the second half of the season.

Having a team in a must-win situation by itself isn’t enough to beat the Vegas line in August and September baseball. Be sure you’re doing the additional work we’ve talked about all summer here in the coursework.

If you’re concerned that you won’t be able to make the right choices when the pressure is on during the pennant races, you can purchase my game day releases right here at this website. You can also use your major credit card to purchase the rest of the baseball season at a very affordable rate. Be sure to check on football too. My Preseason starts Sunday Night with Arizona vs. New Orleans in the Hall of Fame game.

My next lecture in the College of Advanced Handicapping will be on Tuesday. I’ll start talking more in depth about the NFL exhibition slate in that report. And, as I said, we’ll be football heavy through the month as we work through the Preseason and gear up for the start of the college and pro regular seasons that will be here before you know it.  

I greatly appreciate all of you loyalists who have been here through the summer. It’s the true blue among you who bet baseball in Las Vegas. I hope the principles of Advanced Handicapping have helped make this a profitable 2012 season for you on the diamonds. Now it’s time to get ready for the gridiron.

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