- The Westgate Superbook and South Point sportsbooks have eliminated ‘listed pitchers’ in baseball betting.
- All bets will be ‘action’ at the price bet regardless of pitching changes.
- The rationale is an effort to ‘simplify’ baseball betting.
There’s no question that the forthcoming 60 game Major League Baseball season will be unlike any previously experienced. Even in this context, the decision to eliminate ‘listed pitchers’ at the Westgate Superbook and South Point sportsbooks in Las Vegas is definitely an unexpected move.
If a bettor indicates that a pitcher is ‘listed’ it means that if that pitcher doesn’t start the wager is ‘no action’. Since baseball betting lines are primarily determined by the starting pitcher the practice of ‘listing pitchers’ definitely makes sense. When I was first learning how to handicap and bet baseball I was taught that you should always list your pitchers unless you had a reason not to (which you actually do at times). For a longtime baseball bettor, it’ll be an adjustment. For now, bettors can choose to take their business elsewhere as made evident by iconic Las Vegas handicapper Dave Cokin’s reaction to the ‘no listed pitchers’ decision:
“I’ll bet somewhere where they list pitchers. I’ve been doing it the same way for 50 years. I’m not going to change now.”
The Westgate Superbook and South Point are both influential sportsbooks and particularly within the Las Vegas ecosystem. You’ll likely see others follow their move in Nevada and offshore. The Las Vegas Review Journal resports that Circa Sports and Station Casinos are ‘considering the move but haven’t made a final decision‘. MGM Resorts and William Hill said they’re sticking with the traditional ‘listed pitchers’ option.
‘LISTED PITCHERS’ AN ENDANGERED SPECIES?
I’m still not clear on why the decision was made. Admittedly, the 2020 MLB season will be somewhere between unprecedented and bizarre but that alone isn’t a justification. There’s a reason why they go with a straight moneylines during preseason as there’s significant difficulty getting accurate starting pitcher information. Presumably that won’t be the case during the forthcoming season and teams will list their projected starters like they always have. The same stats we’ve always had access to will be available for both the bettor and the bookmaker. Since the starting pitcher largely determines the betting line eliminating the option to ‘list pitchers’ definitely doesn’t work in favor of the bettor. At the same time it’s unclear how it will benefit ‘the house’ since in the event of a pitching change they’re not out any money or assuming additional risk.
South Point sportsbook director Chris Andrews says that changes in pitching strategy helped to prompt the move. Relievers are used as ‘openers’, there are ‘bullpen games’ so on and so forth. According to Andrews, bettors were often surprised to find out that because a reliever went in for an inning before the traditional starter that his bet was canceled:
“The good very much outweighs the bad. Before, there’s a very slight change, and all of the sudden he doesn’t have a bet.”
Westgate sportsbook manager Randy Blum says that his shop has considered making the change for the past two seasons. That means that the 60 game MLB season wasn’t the catalyst though it’s definitely a good time to try something different:
“This is the right time if we’re going to try it. It’s a short season with a lot of unknowns and more changes than normal.”
Blum did make some interesting points about baseball betting relative to other sports in comments to the LVRJ:
The change actually puts baseball in line with betting on other sports, Blum points out. If bettors wager on the Kansas City Chiefs as 7-point favorites, that bet stands even if quarterback Patrick Mahomes is ruled out before kickoff.
It’s a common occurrence in the NBA, with stars frequently held out of games to rest (so-called “load management”). A star such as Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard would be worth more to the money line than a baseball pitcher, but those bets stand regardless, Blum said.
“Why is that so different?” Blum asked, compared to baseball.
I’ve always thought it might be a good idea for sportsbooks to offer options similar to ‘listed pitchers’ in other sports. For example: “listed goalies” in the NHL or “listed quarterbacks” in football. Make bettors pay a small premium for doing so.
Blum goes on to articulate the ‘win some/lose some’ dynamic at play without ‘listed pitchers’:
The effects of pitching changes cut both ways, he said. If bettors take the Los Angeles Dodgers at -200 expecting ace Clayton Kershaw on the mound, they’re not going to be excited about laying -200 with a fill-in starter. However, bettors taking the Arizona Diamondbacks at +180 against Kershaw will be thrilled to have them at that price against another pitcher.
He concluded his comments by admitting that “some people like it and some don’t.”
DOES IT REALLY MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
Probably not. I’ve been betting baseball for well over 20 years and over the course of the season I don’t recall the ability to list pitchers as making much of a difference. I’ve always done it because that’s how I was ‘schooled to the game’ but Blum is right on the money that the effects of pitching changes cut both ways. Ultimately, it will even out. You’ll eat a few losses here and there without listed pitchers but you’ll also pick up a few wins with replacement pitchers. You’ll get the best of it sometimes and end up laying a big chalk price on a mediocre pitcher other times. Philosophically, it seems like this works against the bettor but the bookmaker will be subject to the same forces. There will be a bit more variance in results but ultimately it will even out on both sides of the counter.
In his comments to the LVRJ Blum says that “it’s just a new wrinkle” and there’s definitely some opportunity here. It places a serious premium on getting information on pitching changes before the sportsbook does. Even without concrete information you can make ‘speculative plays’ on pitching changes–think a starter that struggled in his last start might have a blister? Bet accordingly and you could have a nice overlay if he does get scratched. In fact, there’s a chance that if sportsbooks are all of a sudden vulnerable to ‘sharps’ with better information on pitching changes you could see them reverse course.
The enhanced importance of pitching change information notwithstanding not having ‘listed pitchers’ won’t change my handicapping processes at all. With a few exceptions, starters are working fewer innings than they did ‘back in the day’ and bullpens are far more valuable. It’s unwise to lay big chalk prices with even elite level starters and that is the situation where the bettor is most vulnerable without the option to list pitchers. In my view, this seems like a big deal because there’s so much tradition to listing pitchers for old school baseball bettors. On a practical level, it won’t make much of a difference in how baseball is bet or to a bettor’s profit/loss statement at the end of the year.