MLB to alter baseballs, how will it impact betting and which teams will it help?

Detailed view of an official Rawlings brand baseball on the field during the Arizona Diamondbacks game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Chase Field
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Andrew Ortenberg

MLB · 1 year ago

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I'm an editor here at Pickswise who was raised in a household full of sports fanatics. Since I unfortunately never had LeBron James' jumping ability I wasn't able to make it to the NBA, and chose writing about sports as the next best thing. An avid sports bettor myself, I'm excited to get to write about the industry as it gets set to take off across the country. Buckle up.

The 2021 MLB season is right around the corner, and the league just made an eyebrow-raising announcement. An internal memo obtained by the New York Times and other media outlets (first reported by The Athletic), details how MLB is changing its ball for the upcoming campaign.

Pitchers have long alleged that the league juiced the balls in order to increase offense, and these changes seem to be a response to that backlash. MLB didn’t explicitly admit that’s what they did, but it’s hard not to get that takeaway from the memo. Everyone seems to agree that the changes could lead to fewer home runs, and of course our minds immediately went to what that means for betting. Let’s dive in:

MLB over/unders

MLB totals are always interesting to handicap, and I can’t wait to see how oddsmakers adjust to this news when they start hanging lines. One could make the argument that changes to the ball could reduce home runs, and in turn make unders more profitable early on. That being said, I think a contrarian opposite path makes more sense for a couple of reasons.

For starters, the differences with this new ball are going to be very subtle. The media impact this news got is likely disproportionate to the actual on-field impact the balls will have, and as such I’d expect oddsmakers to overcompensate if anything.

As the New York Times pointed out in their piece, while home runs have been increasing to record rates, scoring actually hasn’t. That’s because in addition to all the home runs, there have also been a lot more strikeouts and fewer balls in play than usual. The public perception that scoring will be down could lead to some value the other way, and it might be wise to fade that perception and hone in on some good over spots early on.

Which teams will benefit from the MLB’s ball change?

The league has trended more toward long balls and away from contact hitting for a while, but the change has certainly been apparent in some teams more than others. Not every squad has completely changed the way they instruct their hitters to approach at bats. As such, teams that have had their guys selling out completely for launch angle and maximum home run efficiency could be hurt disproportionately by these changes.

On the flip side, teams that have been less reliant on home runs could benefit early on before everyone has a chance to adjust. The St. Louis Cardinals only hit 51 home runs last year, easily the fewest in the league, but that doesn’t mean they were terrible. St. Louis actually made it to the playoffs, so clearly they were already able to make things work without being a home run team.

The Washington Nationals are another team that would seem to fit the bill of a squad that could benefit. They were 21st in the league in home runs, while being fourth in batting average. They were tenth in OPS too, so it’s not like they were only hitting singles.

Meanwhile there are teams like the Cincinnati Reds, who were seventh in home runs but 19th in OPS. Clearly their strong home run numbers weren’t helping their offense already, and that could get even worse now in 2021.

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