Is there a difference between outfielders and infielders in MLB other than where they play on the field? If you’re a casual baseball fan, there’s not much difference. But if you bet on MLB games and want to have the best chance to win, you have to look at everything you can, including positions.
The middle infield positions are important, but you can’t ignore the corners.
Good shortstops are rare, so you need to take a close look at the position. Here are seven techniques you can use to evaluate MLB infielders when you’re handicapping games.
1 – The Usual Suspects for Hitters
The most valuable skill that hitters have for handicapping purposes is the ability to create runs. This means that you have to value runs created more than the other areas, but you also need to make sure that you don’t only look at runs and ignore other important areas when you handicap MLB games.
I know some handicappers that are using newer statistical methods like WAR and isolated power heavily when evaluating games, but you need to be careful not to buy into new metrics at the expense of statistics that have been used for decades.
I still use slugging percentage, on base percentage, and batting average a great deal when evaluating infielders. Some handicappers are completely ignoring batting average, and I’m convinced that this is a mistake.
You should learn about old and new statistical methods, and if you find ones that help you evaluate games you should use them. I use a couple different types of WAR when I handicap games, but I don’t ignore other important offensive statistics.
You also need to evaluate each infield position in relation to other players at the same position.
You don’t find many middle infielders that are able to produce offensively at the same level as corner infielders. A shortstop that has what would be average offensive numbers for a first baseman is one of the better offensive shortstops in the game.
I roughly rank each shortstop against other shortstops, and each second baseman against other second baseman, etc. This gives me a good way to evaluate each team by position when I handicap games.
2 – Defensive Range and Throwing
While range is more important for shortstops and second baseman than it is for first and third baseman, you can’t ignore it when evaluating corner infielders. Infielders with more range get to more balls in play and tend to save runs.
You can’t evaluate range for infielders from box scores. You can find some new statistics that attempt to put a number on defense, like zone ratings, but I’ve never found one that’s as good as watching games. You can see which infielders get to the most balls when you watch games.
I also use fielding percentage when I evaluate MLB infielders, but I always consider the range of each player as well.
An infielder that gets to more balls that makes a few more errors than one who doesn’t get to as many balls isn’t always hurting his team.
A ball that an infielder doesn’t get to is going for a hit, so if he can get to more balls he’s more valuable, even if he occasionally makes an error on one of them. This seems like common sense, but most MLB bettors ignore it, so you can use it to get an edge.
The only time I use throwing when I’m evaluating infielders is if a player has a particularly high number of throwing errors in comparison to others at his position.
3 – Speed and Base Running
Speed is one skill that can’t be taught, so it’s an important thing to track and evaluate. You should look at stolen bases when evaluating infielders, but it’s only a small part of properly evaluating the impact each player has when he’s on base.
Just like defensive range, the best way to evaluate MLB players for their base running ability is to watch them play.
Smart base runners, no matter how fast or slow they are, know when they can get an extra base and they know how to avoid making extra outs on the base paths.
You need to know which infielders are good base runners and which ones cost their teams runs.
Speed is also important because faster players put more pressure on the defense. The defense knows they have to field the ball cleanly and make a quick throw, so there’s a higher chance of an error.
Speed and base running aren’t as important as offense and defense when you’re evaluating MLB games, but if you’re not using them in your handicapping you’re not doing everything you can to win.
4 – Balancing Runs Created and Runs Saved
I covered offense and defense in the previous sections, but it’s just as important to figure out the balance between the two if you want to be a winning handicapper. Is a run created more valuable than a run saved or prevented?
Infielders, especially the middle infielders, influence games with their defense more than outfielders.
You can’t always see how they influence games from the box score, but you need to know which infielders save runs and which ones give up more runs than they save.
The way most MLB bettors handicap games is to look at offense and pitching, and they ignore defense. This is basically a ratio of 50% offense and 50% pitching and 0% defense. This isn’t the proper ratio if you want to do everything you can to win.
What’s the correct ratio for offense, pitching, and defense?
- The simple thing to do is use 33% for each of the three. But this undervalues offense, so it’s not much better than ignoring defense. I recommend using somewhere around 45% offense, 40% pitching, and 15% defense.
Pitching is as important as offense, but defense also helps or hurts pitching. The truth is that my balance is what works best for my handicapping style and that your style and abilities might not work best using my percentages.
You need to figure out what the best balance is for you. Just remember that ignoring defense or runs saved isn’t the way to bet on the MLB run line or handicap MLB games in general.
5 – Shortstops
Shortstop is the second most important defensive position on the field behind catcher. You can even make the argument that it’s more important than catcher. Most players don’t have the skills and abilities to play shortstop, and even fewer can play it well.
This makes the shortstop position an important consideration when you’re handicapping MLB games at online sportsbooks. Often there’s a significant difference in ability and production between the shortstops on the two teams you’re evaluating.
When I evaluate baseball games I always look at the three key positions:
- Center Field
The team with an advantage in these areas tends to win more games, and when you identify an advantage in these areas it can help you do a better job handicapping close games.
6 – Second Baseman
Shortstops tend to get all of the consideration when it comes to infield defense, but second base is almost as important. Second base is the least important of the four up the middle defensive positions,
A great defensive second baseman saves his team several runs over a season, and this can be the difference between winning and losing several times a year. Take the time to identify the second baseman with the best range and the ones who save the most runs.
7 – Corner Infielders
Most bettors completely ignore the defensive abilities of first baseman and third baseman. These positions are usually manned by the best hitting infielders and worst fielding infielders.
While offensive production is important at the corners, you also have to consider the defense if you want to do a complete handicapping job. Don’t make the mistake of ignoring the defensive influence that corner infielders have on the field.
A strong shortstop and second base combo forms a solid foundation for any team. In MLB there aren’t many teams that have a great middle infield.
But corner infielders are also important, so you have to evaluate every position.
Learn how to evaluate each position based on runs created and runs saved if you want to be a winning MLB handicapper. It’s difficult to find the proper balance, but it’s one of the best ways to improve your results.
Finally, don’t forget about base running ability. It’s not just about stolen bases, and a good base runner can help his team win more games every year.