Betting the Moneyball way

The book Moneyball, dramatized in the movie of the same name, details how statistics and mathematical analysis began to dominate baseball scouting at the expense of more traditional techniques.

A similar development has taken place in the world of sports betting. In the past, particularly before the Internet, a lot of opinion and gut feel went into sports handicapping.

Sure, there were statistics, but most of the hard numbers bettors were able to get their hands on were published in daily newspapers.

What those stats consisted of was typically determined by newspaper editors simply looking to fill space between ads. If there was only a small amount empty space to fill, there was little in the way of numbers to satisfy stat-hungry handicappers.

Due to this lack of statistical supply, sports bettors were forced to make their picks based largely on opinion and gut feel.

When the Internet came along, there were no longer any space constraints and the availability of sports statistics exploded. As a result, numbers have largely replaced gut feel as the key ingredient when making sports picks.

Unfortunately, there is a downside to the sports statistics revolution and that is volume. There are so many statistics online that you can get buried in numbers. Stats may point you to one side one minute, but glance at the next statistical column and suddenly some newfangled stat points you to the other side.

For amateur bettors, making educated wagers can end up being time-consuming, frustrating, if not overwhelming. This is one reason why touts selling picks are still in business. Theoretically, they are supposed to do the homework for you.

Besides touts, another cutting edge source for picks handicappers are turning to is Sports Options. Now before I explain, I’ll admit that I work with Sports Options, so I am biased. That said, I can assure you the picks provided by the real-time odds service are intriguing, to say the least.

Sports Options has five different categories of picks, which it refers to as “System Plays.” Here is how they break down:

1. Office Plays – These are traditional picks made by experienced Sports Options staffers. These guys live in Las Vegas and have been in the business for years. They work on the front lines of the sports betting business gathering data such as player stats, injuries, line up changes, weather forecasts, and more. They are also keenly aware of important line movements. As such, their picks are based on sound reasoning.

2. Computer Plays – These are plays based on opening odds calculated by a comprehensive computer program. The odds act as a reference point – picks are generated when actual lines move at least two points from the computer lines.

For instance, say the computer opens the Cowboys as 6-point favorites versus the Giants. Through the course of the week, the line is bet down to -3. In this case, the computer play will be on Dallas minus the points.

3. Public Plays – In conjunction with a group of large books, Sports Options monitors where the public is putting its money. Public Plays are generated when 60 percent or more of the public betting action is on a side.

So, taking the example above, Sports Options may show that 75 percent of the betting public is on the Cowboys. In this case, the Public Play would be on Dallas.

4. Moves vs. Public – These unique plays are generated when odds move in the opposite direction as the public.

Staying with the same example, say Dallas opens as a 6-point favorite. Even though 75 percent of betting public is betting on the Cowboys, rather than increasing, the line actually drops to -3. In this case, the play would be on the Giants.

5. Steam Plays – These are perhaps the most valuable plays because they are based on where professional bettors are putting their money.

Steam Plays are generated when there is a significant line move at several books at the same time. These “steam moves” are created by sharp bettors who order their agents (a.k.a. beards) to place large wagers on a particular side.

A Steam Play is based on the side getting the action and the odds prior to the move. So, in the case of Dallas, say there is a steam move whereby the line moves from Cowboys -6 to -7. The Steam Play in this case would be on Dallas at -6.

The trick here is acting fast, and you can really only do so if you have a real-time odds service like Sports Options. When a Steam Play is generated, a bettor has to be ready to pounce on a book that has been slow to move its lines.

So how do all these System Plays perform? Well, it varies of course, but let’s take a look at the first month of the football season.

Keep in mind that based on odds of -110 for a straight football or basketball wager, a bettor must win 52.38 percent of the time in order to breakeven. While it sounds small, beating this percentage consistently is extremely difficult despite what some touts might tell you.

From September 8 to October 4, here is how the Sports Options System Plays performed:

1. Office Plays: 24-23-1 = 51.064 percent
2. Computer Plays: 166-147-8 = 53.035 percent
3. Public Plays: 541-494-35 = 52.271 percent
4. Moves vs. Public: 63-61-3 = 50.806 percent
5. Steam Plays: 186-149-9 = 55.522

Those are some pretty interesting numbers. If acted upon, Sports Options System Plays certainly perform well enough to give you reassurance that you’re making educated wagers and that you have a decent chance of beating the book.

By the way, all of the Sports Options’ System Plays are graded and past performance of the plays can be easily tabulated within the System Plays interface.

For a 7-day free trial to Sports Options, click here.

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