Fancy betting on the 2019 MLB playoffs but not sure where to start? This betting guide by BRAD ALLEN explains all…

We are down to the business end of the MLB season. The players have scratched and clawed for six months to determine the best team, but we are down to the final four, with the Cardinals and Nationals facing off in the National League championship series and the Astros taking on the Yankees in the American League championship series. The winners, of course, will go to the World Series to play for all the marbles.

Both series are best-of-seven and form a betting point of view, our main options are money lines (who will win the games) and total runs (will there be over or under a certain amount of runs?). We can also bet on or against teams with a specified run handicap, the so-called run line. All these markets are available on Betconnect, and the first game of the NLCS begins in the very early hours of Saturday, UK time.

What should we be looking for?

There are several key factors to investigate when betting the MLB playoffs. The first and most important factor in every game are the starting pitchers. To simplify this we’re going to look at their FIPs – a metric that uses several stats to estimate a pitcher’s true talent. We are also going to go one step further and look at projected FIP rather than past season or career FIP. In case you’re interested, FIP stands for Fielding Independent Pitching.

The projection, built by an analytics company called Steamer, properly weights the statistics to generate a more predictive number going forward. These number can be found by typing the pitcher’s name in Fangraphs and scrolling down a little.

Does defence win championships?

We certainly want to know how good a team’s defence is. This is often an underrated part of baseball betting as it has historically been tough to measure for the statistical-inclined and it’s not always easy to see the benefit of a good defensive position.

To save you some time, we’re only including the teams left in the playoffs by their defensive efficiency, which essentially measures how often a defence turns batted balls (hits) into outs. In other words, we’re looking at how good teams are at fielding. The number is how they ranked in the entire MLB this season.

1) Astros

I’m going to pause there to point reiterate how important defence is. It’s no coincidence the best team in the league is also the best defensive team. Perhaps we can find some hidden gems further down the list.

5) Cardinals

This is the interesting one as the Cardinals have been undervalued to my eye throughout the playoffs because their hitting line-up has looked so relatively weak and lacking in star power. This is a team I’d be looking to back across various markets.

15) Yankees
19) Nationals

The Nationals are at a pretty big disadvantage to their opponents, the Cardinals, but are likely to be favoured in most games on the strength of their starting pitching and hitters.

Bullpens – bench strength is vital

Bullpens – the relief pitchers who come in when the starter tires – are more important than ever before in modern baseball. This season, bullpens threw more than 41% of total innings in MLB –  the highest percentage ever. In the playoffs we can expect that number to top 50% for the first time because managers are quicker to pull their starter.

So here’s the playoffs’ best bullpens by 2019 FIP (number is again their league-wide rank)

5) Cardinals
9) Yankees
11) Astros
26) Nationals

The Nationals are interesting again as having the worst bullpen of the final four. They could be a team to bet against once their starter is done and they’re forced to turn to the bullpen.

In the previous round of the playoffs against the Dodgers, the Nationals bullpen threw 15 innings and nearly gave up a run an inning. That is not good.

Hitting stats: A recommendation

Last of all you’re going to want to look at hitting. Of course this isn’t the least important factor in a baseball game but this sort of stuff is rarely missed by the market so it isn’t always that useful to look into. I’d recommend https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/ which has handy heat maps for line-ups.

If you’re really in a hurry…

The aforementioned Fangraphs also has predictions for each game based on projections for each and every player. These can be a useful starting point for a handicap.

The summary: Expect the unexpected

In the main when betting in the playoffs I’d be looking to back underdogs where possible and road teams where possible. There’s very little between these teams at this stage of the season and anyone can beat anyone. I’d also rather have the better defence and bullpen onside all else being equal. The only thing left is to get the coffee on because you’re going to be in for some late nights!

Brad Allen is a US sports bettor and news editor of EGR, the online gaming industry’s leading information portal. You can follow him on Twitter.