The numbers don't lie, home run totals have considerably increased in the past few years. This season the 2017 season has had more home runs since 2000 the all-time best.
As I lay awake at night, I ponder many things: Where is this country headed in the next several years? Am I leaving a better world behind for my children? Did I make someone smile today? And most importantly, has Major League Baseball started using "juiced balls?" The answers, in order, are "LOL," "maybe," *shrug*, and "evidently."
What cannot be denied is that home run totals have sky-rocketed over the past few years. Just this week, Major League Baseball beat its own best record of 5,693 total home runs in the 2000 season. As of Wednesday morning, the 2017 home run total sits at 5,707, with an estimated 1,483 of those being hit by Rhys Hoskins. If you're anything like me (and thank the gods you are not), you're already wondering: "Can I use this information to gain an advantage betting the over/under on MLB run totals?"
The answer is yes, you can.*
*May not apply to you specifically.
Let's dig into some of the numbers. For this experiment, pretend that I somehow invented time travel and decided to go back to 2013. Obviously, I meant to go back to 1013 so I could witness the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry II, sign a peace treaty at Merseburg, but ugh, stupid autocorrect! So here I am in 2013, and I have forgotten to bring along my 2013 Sports Almanac, so I am now forced to blindly bet on MLB run totals for 100 games in June.
Obviously, I am betting the over every single time, because that's how this particular fantasy works.
In the span of these June 2013 games, the average price on the over is -110 (or a 92% payout), with 80% of the prices paying out below even money. The average over/under total is eight runs, and the average MLB team in that year scores roughly four runs per game. Already, you can see what kind of a fool I am, because if the average team is scoring four runs per game, and obviously someone has to be losing those games (i.e., scoring less than four runs), probably the run totals aren't going over eight very often.
And it turns out the data supports this. Betting the over on those 100 games in June nets me a loss of 3.5 betting units, and now I have to go back to 2017 and tell all my friends what a gigantic loser I am because, even though I went back in time and bet on sports, I somehow still lost money.
Ok, fine, let's try it again. This time I'm going back in time all the way back to, oh, let's say, June of 2017. (I'm really bad at this whole time-travel thing, ok?)
Because I apparently have the IQ of a brain-damaged ferret, I once again forgot to bring my 2017 Sports Almanac, so I am forced for the second time to blindly bet the same 100 games in June.
However, the numbers have shifted slightly. In this stretch of June 2017 games, the average price on the over is still -110, but only 75% of the prices are paying below even money. The average over/under total has crept up from eight runs in 2013 to 8.75 runs in 2017, which mirrors the overall increase in average MLB team run scoring -- up from 4.2 runs per game in 2013 to 4.7 runs per game in 2017.
While the markets have adjusted their opening totals to account for more runs being scored, they haven't adjusted enough, because betting the over on these 100 games nets me a profit of 7.3 betting units. In purely mathematical terms, that's known as "a lot." Like, if I took out a second mortgage on my home and always bet the over, I'd be able to buy a few more houses. Or pay the bill on this time machine.
The jump in profits, despite the overall adjustment in market prices on run totals, means that teams are scoring more runs in specific game instances than they were expected to score. That's what happens when home run numbers go up, and one swing of the bat clears the bases.
So should you start betting on MLB run totals? I have three tips if you go that route: first, pay attention to the over/under totals and see if they start to creep over 8.75 on average; second, keep an eye on the average MLB run scoring totals and see if they remain steady at 4.7 runs per game; third, if you're going to time-travel, for the love of Christmas, don't forget to bring the Sports Almanac.
Questions for Discussion
1. If I time-travelled back to 2013 with a 2017 phone, wouldn’t I have 2017-and-prior data available? Isn’t that kind of a big flaw in my story?
2. If Rhys Hoskins only took at-bats in Coors Field, could he hit 2,000 home runs in a season? Show your work.
3. Have you ever turned a profitable month betting MLB run totals? If so, why aren’t you writing this column?
4. Which is more juiced? Current MLB baseballs or Jose Canseco circa 1990? Explain with drawings.
This article was written by Hookslide, a self-described Tigers fan, West Michigan Whitecaps groupie, writer, and podcast master. You can check him out at www.westofwoodward.com and you can follow him on Twitter @HookSlide23.