Positive Expected Value Series with Gill Alexander

This Positive Expected Value series will ask five questions to those involved in sports analytics, sports investing or people who have experience identifying +EV investments.


This week feature’s Gill Alexander, host of the Beating the Book podcast, MLB analyst at Dr. Bob Sports and NFL contributor to William Hill.  

Beating the Book  provides sports bettors with a winning edge through advanced stats. Includes free picks, odds, line moves, handicapping tips, previews, and Las Vegas gambling stories. Covers NFL, college football, MLB baseball, golf, horse racing, and more.  Features the most impressive collection of handicappers and sports betting experts found anywhere. 


Q: What conventional wisdom about sports betting is untrue?

There are so many answers to this question, but I’ll go with a macro answer related to the potential legalization of sports betting. The conventional wisdom on this seems to be that if sports leagues come around on this subject and legislation is subsequently passed, that somehow that will magically be the end of that. But, even if all of the above were to happen, and one has to believe that one day it will given the money at stake, the parties involved — government, leagues, and sports betting operations — will have to figure out a way that all of this will actually make sense and achieve their desired end. Most simply put, most bettors are unaware that there was a day not too long ago where there was a 10% tax, later followed by a 2% tax on sports betting. If government and leagues naively feel that the cost of the earmark for their generated revenue will simply be passed on to the bettor, all of this will crumble before it even starts. Even the 2% tax of yesteryear prevented the offering of dime lines in baseball. If there is a similarly punitive price to pay for legalization in the future, and sports bettors end up bearing the brunt, bettors will just take their business underground, the very thing that legalization seeks to prevent in the first place. In other words, the mere legislation itself might just be a mole hill compared to the mountain that is the actual execution of this.

Q: If you could only look at one stat to predict a baseball game, what could it be?

A mere six or seven years ago, I was doing things with advanced statistics in handicapping baseball that pretty much no one else was doing. But the metrics I used then to exploit the market are now commonplace, even, and perhaps especially, among fantasy players. The beauty of baseball, though, is that new ways of measuring the game are always being developed, and most of the time, those numbers are in the public domain. It’s just really a function of figuring out what numbers matter most. I’ve willingly — and some would say, stupidly — given away a lot over the years, both on podcasts and otherwise, as I’ve always enjoyed the teaching aspect of this. In that vein, I think the exercise of picking just one stat to predict a baseball game is an interesting one, but honestly, I’m not telling anyone anything they don’t already know at this point. I’ll go with SwStr%, or swinging strike rate, as my answer. Devoid of any other measure to go on, I’d argue that you’ll get further with that toward predicting an outcome than you would with most anything else.

Q: How has the game of baseball evolved since you have been handicapping the sport?

Well, I guess the quick answer would be that we’ve come in and out of the PED era of baseball in recent history, but, for me, it’s always about pitching, and specifically, the way clubs view starter and reliever usage. Obviously, long gone are the days when the majority of big league starters could be counted on to eat up 8 or 9 innings. And, the Royals, in their back-to-back World Series runs in 2014 and 2015, took that a step further, changing the way some other clubs viewed pitching staff and roster construction, in general. All of a sudden, we had teams that de-emphasized their starting rotation and built from the back up, if you will. Secure the 7th, 8th, and 9th from the pen, then just ask starters to go 6. But, as someone who delves into pitching numbers on a nightly basis for 7 months of the calendar year, I’d say that the evolution is right there in the numbers for all to see now. Even a year ago, you’d have to go a few nights in a row before you ran into a starter whose component stats were truly abysmal. In 2016, I see it with multiple starters each and every night. And that trickles down and dominoes to bullpens, as well. The dilution of quality pitching is the single biggest way the game is evolving in present day. I cannot be convinced otherwise of this answer.

Q: Are you a fan of predicting the outcomes, discussing on your podcast or watching the games? 

The entire reason that I do a podcast on sports betting is because I’m fascinated by every aspect of the psychology of the subject. So, whether it’s the spectrum of predictive processes, from the most mathematical approaches to the ones most absent of analytics, or the way humans handle success and adversity within the context of a bet, I just have an endless appetite for it. As for whether I’m more a fan of watching games or predicting outcomes, I reject the binary choice. I know handicappers who almost wear it as a badge of honor that they watch virtually none of the games on which they happen to be predicting an outcome. I’m unabashedly simply not wired that way. I’d watch every pitch or play of every game if I had the time to do so, whether for picking up on some nuance that I wouldn’t otherwise capture, simply monitoring a bet, or just for pure entertainment value. And I’ll always be in love with the process of predicting outcomes in betting markets. I ran a football pool in grade school and wore out my Beckett Price Guide. I mean, I didn’t ask to be this way.

Q: Being so well-connected in the sportsbook industry, what sports / areas do you think are under-exploited?

The sports that are under-exploited are some of the ones that we here in the U.S. would consider non-major ones, like golf, tennis, and NASCAR. And just writing that, I can feel folks who make their living focusing on these sports wincing just a bit at that answer, preferring that potential new bettors to those arenas remain none the wiser. As for “areas”, while in-game wagering is finally taking hold with a younger generation of bettors in this country, I’d still say that the lower hanging fruit is halftime wagering in football and basketball. The books simply don’t have enough time to set good lines across the board in these markets and certainly can’t calibrate them properly thereafter within the allotted time frame. And the beauty is, short of the abolition of halftimes, this answer will never change given the inherent time constraint on those bets.


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