Friday, February 27, 2015

February’s Teams of the Month: Utah Jazz and Philadelphia 76ers

If I had done this post at the end of last month, we’d be talking about the Boston Celtics. I’m not sure if a team can have as good of a month (for covering purposes) as the Celtics did in January. We backed the Celtics for each game of a ridiculous five game road trip the week of January 19th, in which they faced the Clippers, Blazers, Nuggets, Jazz, and Warriors. The Celtics managed a combined point differential of -1, covering in all five games and winning three outright.

This month, we have the Jazz (who went 4-1-1 in the six games we backed them) and the 76ers (who went 4-1 in their five games). My prediction for February’s team of the month was Minnesota, but they ended up going 6-4 ATS for us despite a couple of brutally close losses. The Sixers covering dominance makes sense, considering they are given insanely high point spreads every night, but the Jazz kind of came out of nowhere (we are counting a January 31st 10-point win over Golden State in these records because I’m in charge and it was really awesome).

So yea, Utah’s most notable win was that home thrashing of Golden State, although they managed similar performances against Portland and San Antonio this week. Enes Kanter’s departure to OKC seemed like a bad thing, but Rudy Gobert has really taken advantage of the extra playing time. Gobert, Gordon Hayward, and Derrick Favors form an excellent trio, and they’d probably be in the playoff mix if they had some competent role players (no, Trey Burke and Dante Exum do not fit this category). Linemakers seem to have finally caught on, however, making the Jazz favorites this weekend against the Nuggets and Bucks.

The Sixers have won three games outright this month as underdogs of seven points or more, (these were actually their only three wins, lucky us!) all at home and all by a margin of seven or more. Beating the Nuggets, Hornets, and Wizards was nice, but they also managed a five point home loss against the Warriors. All of this came without any players that anyone has ever heard of (with the exception of Jason Richardson… he’s still good, right?). All in all it was a great month to be a Sixers backer.

I’ll give a couple picks for my March team of the month prediction. We’ll go with the Wolves again, who still seem to be vastly underrated by linemakers and also the public. This is a much improved team since Rubio, Martin, and Pekovic all returned from extended injury absences and Wiggins has gotten much better as the season has progressed.

The Knicks have the worst ATS record in the NBA, but with so much New York bias and a miraculous win in Detroit Friday night, it’s hard to imagine their spreads will continue to be so inflated. That leaves the Nuggets, holders of the second worst ATS record in the NBA this season, who have been getting absolutely slaughtered lately. I expect the lines to become inflated for them over the next few weeks, giving them a good shot to be our March team of the month. Check back in 30 days to see how we did!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A Lesson in Probability Theory (and calculating fair moneylines)

Sports betting is math. You may be a dinosaur and refuse to believe that sports are about numbers (although numbers are quite literally how it’s determined which team wins), but there’s not much of an argument to be made that betting isn’t about math. A bet is worth making when the expected value is positive, meaning that the payout outweighs the risk. When a moneyline is +150, that implies a 40% chance of winning. If you were to make 10 bets at a +150 price and win 4 of them, you would be exactly even (4 wins x 1.5 = 6, 6 losses x 1 = -6, hence a net profit of 0). A bet at +150 is worth making if you have a greater than 40% chance of winning it.

A bet against a point spread is no different, but the moneyline odds are usually -110 rather than +150. A price of -110 implies a 52.4% chance of winning, so in order to have positive expected value on a point spread bet you need to have greater than a 52.4% chance of winning.

(Here is a simple tool to convert moneylines into their implied percentage counterparts)

I generally use a larger threshold than 52.4% (typically 55% or higher) to give myself some margin for error, but the point here is that you shouldn’t bet something just because you think you will win. You need to have a positive expected value. This is why you can’t simply bet favorites on the moneyline in all the games and expect to turn a profit. The underdogs win the games a certain percentage of the time due to randomness. Randomness is why a good foul shooter can’t make every single free throw, and why even the best hitters sometimes strike out.

The philosophy that the best sports gamblers employ is this: make as many wagers with positive expected value as you possibly can. The more times you expose yourself to positive expected value, the more likely you are to have long term success. This is due to something called the “law of large numbers” which dictates that the more times a fair coin is flipped, the more likely you are to see the breakdown of heads/tails approach a 50/50 split. This can be applied to sports in general, e.g. the more times a .300 hitter comes to the plate, the more likely you are to see him bat close to .300. In one day or week or even season, anything can happen. But over the course of an entire career, a .300 hitter is very likely to bat close to .300. In betting, this means that the more positive expectation bets we make, the more likely we are to see positive results overall. This methodology isn’t necessarily just for people who bet a lot. Even if you’re a casual gambler you still want to give yourself the best chance to win, right?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Introduction: Why (Almost) No one Wins at Sports Betting

(please see the "A Word From the Guy" section for a disclaimer)

Have you ever stood at a roulette table and tried to guess whether red or black was coming up next? Or tried to predict a series of coin flips? Or maybe even tried to predict if a dice roll would come up odd or even? If you have, then you’re basically the average sports bettor.

Let’s say you’re a professional coin flip picker. You’ll have big runs when you’re guessing right and also some huge cold spells when you’re guessing wrong. You’ll question the system you use and try to make adjustments. “Heads-Tails-Heads isn’t working? Time to switch to Heads-Heads-Tails! That ought to work!”

Maybe you’ll make some money and maybe you’ll lose some. You might even win a lot or lose a lot, or maybe just hover around even. And then you’ll try to tell your friends that you’re either a good or bad coin flip prognosticator. But in reality, coin flips are just a 50/50 proposition no matter how you try to spin it.
As ridiculous as trying to make money flipping coins sounds, it’s remarkably similar to how most people go about sports betting. They have their analyses and their breakdowns and their trends, but essentially they are just flipping coins.

Bookmakers generally know how to set proper point spreads, and the reasons people generally come up with for picking teams are almost as useless as the reasons for picking heads or tails. It’s essentially the same thing. If things like streaks, momentum, emotions, etc. actually had a predictable impact on the outcome of a game, don’t you think Vegas would know it too? Most people are too arrogant to believe that the guys who set the lines are exceptionally good at their jobs, and too clueless to realize that these line-setters have a significant advantage over just about anyone.

But sports betting is actually worse than coin flipping. In the coin flipping example, there are no odds or vig. You get your money back when you win, and the house doesn’t get a cut. In sports betting, however, the books set the standard price at -110, so that it costs you $11 to make a $10 bet. This extra dollar may seem insignificant, but would you really bet to win $10 on heads if you’d have to pay $11 every time tails came up?

With all of this knowledge, doesn’t it seem insane that anyone would bet on sports at all? You’re virtually guaranteed to lose in the long run with such a steep hill to climb, so why even try? The reason people do it though, aside from the entertainment factor, is that sports tend to seem predictable. You can always attribute reasons as to why a team won or lost, after the fact, and then try to use that hindsight going forward. In the long run, this doesn’t work. And having to bet $11 to win $10 makes it even harder because it means that you need to win 52.4% of your bets just to get your money back.

So how do you actually win at sports betting without merely getting lucky? It’s not impossible, and there are actually quite a few people out there who are doing it. Beginning with this post, I will be detailing the methods that are necessary to employ in order to win at sports betting in the long run. Stay tuned.

(Oh and of course there will be plenty of picks, because obviously that's what you're all here for!)