7 MLB Outfielder Handicapping Techniques

Aaron Hicks Robbing Homerun

When you’re growing up and play baseball, the kid that can hit but can’t field is often put in right field. In my case, I was the ninth best player on the team, so I got hidden in right field. The belief seems to be that anyone can play outfield.

Or outfielders are somehow not as important as other positions.

Outfielders are just as important as any other position on the field when you’re handicapping MLB games at online sportsbooks and it’s not all about the offense. Here’s a list of seven MLB outfielder handicapping techniques to help you evaluate games.

1 – AVG, SLG, OBP

When you’re evaluating MLB outfielders you have to use statistics to compare them. The challenge is figuring out which statistics to use and which ones to ignore. Baseball fans are fascinated by the long ball, but I only use home runs a small amount when I evaluate games.

Bryce Harper Hitting Ball

I find other statistics more predictive of future results.

I start with the three hitting stats that have been around almost as long as the game:

  • Batting Average
  • Slugging Percentage
  • On-Base Percentage.

These three statistics give me a good way to compare hundreds of outfielders across the league, and the outfielders on two teams in an upcoming game.

Over the past few years I’ve read an opinion shared by many people that batting average is a poor way to evaluate players. These people claim that new statistics like isolated power and wins above replacement do a better job when it comes to evaluating players.

It seems like most people still consider OBP and SLG, but they don’t like batting average.

I’m a big believer that high OBP is good, and of course high SLG is good, but batting average still matters a great deal. The players who seem to get bashed on by this new opinion are guys that have a good batting average but a low on base percentage.

Of course I rank guys with a similar batting average and higher OBP higher than the guy with a lower batting average, but I don’t discount batting average as much as many others. And in some ways a guy who hits .290 with a .320 OBP is more valuable than a guy who hits .250 with a .350 OBP.

  • A base on balls gets a batter on base just like a single, but a single has the chance to advance a runner, or runners, more than one base.
  • A hit also forces the defense to make a play, which increases the chance that the defense makes an error.

When I evaluate the outfielders in an upcoming game I start with AVG, OBP, and SLG and rank the starters using all three. This gives me a good base that I adjust based on the other things on this page.

2 – Base Running Plus or Minus

Base running ability is usually ignored by baseball handicappers. The better handicappers might consider stolen bases, but there’s a great deal more to helping or hurting your team on the bases than stolen bases.

Stealing Base Against Phillies

The problem is that it’s almost impossible to use statistics to judge whether a player is a good or bad base runner. Stolen bases aren’t as important in MLB today as they were in the past with more teams relying on power to score runs.

This means that you need to watch as many games as you can so you can evaluate each outfielder for his ability on the bases.

The best base runners always know when they can take an extra base, and they don’t run into outs. They know when they can tag up on a fly ball and give their team a better chance to score.

As you evaluate outfielders as you watch games, put each one into one of five categories.

I use these five categories:

  1. Great base runner
  2. Above average base runner
  3. Average
  4. Below average base runner
  5. Terrible base runner

Remember that speed isn’t the only factor. It’s not even the main factor, but it does come into play. A great base runner might steal bases or he might not, but he almost always makes the absolute best decision on the bases.

The players in the terrible base runner category are usually slow, but not always.

Terrible base runners never tag up and get an extra base, and rarely advance from first to third on a single or score from second on a single. They also tend to run into outs at a much higher rate than other runners.

Once I place each outfielder into the correct category, I use this to make adjustments to the rankings I developed in the first section.

3 – Outfielder Defense

When I’m betting on my MLB betting app, I think of outfield defense much like base running. You have to watch games to get a true feel for how good or bad each defensive player is. You can look at some of the new defensive statistics to get an idea, but all of them are flawed in one way or another.

The first thing I look at is how much range each outfielder has. Does he get to more or less balls than average?

Jackie Bradley Catching Ball

A speedy center fielder that gets a good jump can save his team any runs over the course of a season.

On the other hand, a slow footed guy that doesn’t get a good jump costs his team several runs over the course of a year.

Outfield defense isn’t as important as offensive production in MLB, but it’s another way to adjust the ranking that I use from the first section.

4 – Outfielder Wins above Replacement

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I don’t rely on many of the newer statistics heavily when I handicap games. I’m not against using them, because I use anything that’s available to help me find value. But most of the new statistics don’t do a better job than the ones I use along with what I see in games.

The one new statistic I use is wins above replacement, or WAR.

Please Note:
More than one system is used for WAR, so you can look at them and decide which one is the best complement to your handicapping abilities.

WAR uses a combination of offensive statistics, so it takes most of the things I already use into account. For this reason, I don’t use it heavily, but I do look at it to see if I need to make any final adjustments to my rankings.

5 – Platoon Outfielders

Some teams platoon one or more of their outfield positions. When you rely heavily on statistics when you’re evaluating outfielders, make sure you know which players platoon and separate their stats against righties and lefties.

In other words, never use an outfielders overall numbers.

Look at each outfielder’s stats against righties and lefties and use them based on the opposing starting pitcher. Next, consider the arms in the opposing bullpen and how the manager uses his bench when his team gets into the opposing team’s bullpen.

6 – Fourth Outfielder

Even when you’re evaluating teams that don’t platoon their outfielders, you need to include the fourth outfielder when you evaluate games.

The fourth outfielder gets plenty of starts over the course of a season and also is often the first pinch hitter when he doesn’t start.

The main thing you need to evaluate is how much of a drop off the team sees when the fourth outfielder is starting in the place of one of the top three.

7 – Center Fielder Considerations

Center field is one of the hardest positions on the field to play well. The only positions that hitters fill that are more important are catcher and shortstop. Not every player can play center field, so I take a special look at the center fielders in the game.

Mike Trout Center Fielder Leaping For Ball

It’s not unusual for one center fielder in a game to be much better than the other. This is an important thing to know when you’re evaluating games, and something you can use to help you win more games with tight lines.

Conclusion

From a purely hitting standpoint, there’s no difference between infielders and outfielders. But if you want to be a winning MLB handicapper, you have to look beyond basic stats. You have to evaluate the defensive impact each player and position has on games.

Start with the main offensive categories to rank outfielders, and then make adjustments based on defense and base running.

Watch as many MLB games as possible to make your rankings as accurate as possible. This is how you can get an edge against the sportsbooks. Use these seven tips to evaluate MLB outfielders and improve you handicapping results.

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Rex Hoffman / Author

Rex Hoffman is a passionate sports writer, with over five years of experience covering sports journalism in line with the Vegas betting landscape. His favorite subjects include football, basketball, and baseball. As a Las Vegas resident, he enjoys finding an edge against the local sportsbooks and aims to share his extensive knowledge with both beginners and experienced bettors. Rex also dabbles in horse racing wagering and enjoys typical casino fare like blackjack and poker in his spare time.