2016 MLB Playoffs: Contrarian Betting Strategies

Editors Note: This article was initially published on October 3, 2016:

For anyone who’s unfamiliar with Sports Insights, we track public betting percentages from seven major offshore sportsbooks: 5Dimes, BetDSI, BetUs, Carib, GTBets, SIA and Sportsbook.com. These betting trends reflect real bets placed by real bettors, as opposed to other websites that use “consensus” numbers. By including both sharp and square sportsbooks, our betting percentages give the most accurate indicators about which teams the public is backing, and which contrarian teams are providing value.

It’s been proven that casual bettors love betting favorites and sportsbooks understand this tendency. By shading their lines to account for this tendency, sportsbooks are able to force casual bettors into taking bad numbers when playing the popular side of the game. Our past research has conclusively proven that by betting against the public, contrarian bettors are able to capitalize on these artificially inflated lines.

Although betting against the public has consistently proven to be an effective strategy, there are a number of additional factors that need to be taken into consideration. Prior to the start of every season, we release a series of betting against the public articles which discuss the optimal thresholds for fading the public. This past season’s featured system includes many contrarian staples including:

  • Taking underdogs in games with high totals
  • Backing the league’s worst teams
  • Fading the league’s best teams
  • Betting against tired teams
  • Buying on bad news, selling on good news

The system, which focused on underdogs receiving no more than 30% of moneyline bets, went 25-25 (+12.96 units) during the 2016 season. That pushed the all-time record to 364-394 with +154.41 units won and a 20.4% return on investment (ROI). This performance was particularly remarkable since, broadly speaking, betting against the public did not produce profitable returns over the last year.

The table below displays the performance of MLB underdogs during the 2016 regular season.

Year Record Win Rate Units Won ROI
All 1010-1416 41.6% -70.15 -2.9%
<50% 780-1142 40.6% -62.79 -3.3%
≤40% 651-947 40.7% -23.94 -1.5%
≤35% 542-811 40.1% -27.04 -2.0%
≤30% 428-642 40.0% -5.04 -0.5%
≤25% 281-440 39.0% -10.19 -1.4%
≤20% 141-232 37.8% -8.29 -2.2%

Betting against the public wasn’t profitable at any of these data points, but you can see that the sweet spot once again came at the 30% threshold. That’s a valuable piece of information, but recent research sparked an even more interesting development.

Oddsmakers shade their lines to capitalize on public perception and subsequently allow their sharpest bettors to shape the lines. That said, public money is still an important factor in line movement — particularly in heavily bet games. When one team is receiving overwhelming support in one of the day’s biggest games, sportsbooks are far more likely to adjust their lines to help minimize liability.

Based on earlier analysis, I believed that the value derived from betting against the public would be magnified in the most heavily bet MLB games. Sportsbook Insider customers are able to view the number of bets placed at two of our , which helps indicate which games are receiving the most action. Using this data, I compared how the ticket count for every game related to the daily average and filtered out all games with minimal public support.

The table below displays the performance of MLB underdogs when their game received more than the daily average number of bets. That means if there are 15 games on a given day and we tracked 150,000 total bets, only games with more than 10,000 bets tracked would be included.

Year Record Win Rate Units Won ROI
All 470-643 42.2% +2.82 +0.3%
<50% 372-535 41.0% -4.96 -0.5%
≤40% 331-471 41.3% +8.42 +1.0%
≤35% 293-415 41.4% +15.94 +2.3%
≤30% 259-358 42.0% +28.14 +4.6%
≤25% 182-274 39.9% +5.18 +1.1%
≤20% 106-159 40.5% +12.46 +4.8%

When focusing on the day’s most heavily bet games, the return on investment increased at every single data point. This proved that the value of betting against the public is directly correlated with the number of bets placed on each game. This was a welcome development considering that the number of bets increases substantially from the regular season to the postseason.

Our historical database indicates that the number of bets per game more than doubles from the regular season to the postseason. That information was validated by Scott Cooley, an Odds Consultant for Bookmaker.eu. “It certainly picks up during the postseason,” according to Cooley. “It’s usually on par with what we book per big game in the first month or so of the season.”

With postseason games taking increased levels of action, I wanted to confirm that sportsbooks would be more likely to shade or adjust their lines based on public money. “Absolutely,” said Cooley regarding the increased likelihood of shading playoff lines. “The big-name pitchers and big-market teams command a bigger adjustment during the postseason.”

Since the number of bets placed on each game increases during the playoffs and the value derived from betting against the public is directly correlated with the number of bets placed, I surmised that betting against the public would be highly profitable during the MLB playoffs. To nobodies surprise, I was correct.

The table below displays the results from betting against the public during the MLB playoffs. This includes both favorites and underdogs.

Public Betting Record Win Rate Units Won ROI
<50% 187-165 53.1% +55.45 +15.8%
≤40% 78-74 51.3% +25.03 +16.5%
≤35% 42-38 52.5% +17.90 +22.4%
≤30% 11-9 55.0% +5.29 +26.5%

Although the return on investment increases as I examined increasingly one-sided public betting, our units won drops off significantly. It’s also worth noting that we haven’t seen some of the same extreme levels of public betting. Since the start of the 2005 season, only four playoff teams have received less than 25% of moneyline bets.

  1. 10/6/2010: Reds (+190 at Phillies) received 21% of ML bets — Lost 4-0
  2. 10/12/2013: Cardinals (+126 vs. Dodgers) received 23% of ML bets — Won 1-0
  3. 10/6/2013: Braves (+133 at Dodgers) received 24% of ML bets — Lost 13-6
  4. 10/7/2013: Athletics (+135 at Tigers) received 24% of ML bets — Won 6-3

Teams receiving less than 30% of moneyline bets represent the optimal threshold for betting against the public during the regular season, but teams rarely fit that criterion during the playoffs. Based on the massive sample size and consistent year-to-year results, bettors should be focusing on teams receiving less than 50% of moneyline bets.

It’s also worth noting that our friends at Bet Labs recently published an article explaining that the Zig-Zag Theorycannot be applied to MLB postseason betting. In other words, there’s value taking MLB playoff teams after a win — not after a loss. By combining our findings with their results, I found that teams receiving less than 50% of moneyline bets after a victory have produced a 19.8% ROI.

A majority of our past system picks have been on the underdog, and historically underdogs have been undervalued in divisional games. This is because the familiarity between the two teams levels the playing field which disproportionately benefits the team getting plus money. By solely examining non-divisional games, our return on investment jumps substantially.


The number of bets statistic is included with a Sportsbook Insider membership, and our in-house Best Bet picks are available exclusively to Sportsbook Insider Pro subscribers.

Sign up for Sportsbook Insider today and you’ll receive access to these valuable features in addition to steam moves, reverse line movement alerts, public betting trends, money percentages, and live odds from over 50 sportsbooks.

Have any questions for the staff at Sports Insights? Utilize our live chat to speak with a customer service representative or e-mail us at help@sportsinsights.com.

10/26/16 Update: This system has gone 13-6 with +7.76 units won during the 2016 postseason. The all-time record is now 124-91 (57.7%) with +56.04 units won and a 26.1% ROI.

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David Solar

David Solar has been the Content Manager at Sports Insights for over four years. He specializes in sports betting analytics and has created several popular data-driven betting systems. He can be reached directly at david@sportsinsights.com or on twitter at @TheDavidSolar.

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