Pirates vs. Astros Betting Pick: How to Fade the Public With Heavy Favorites

Pirates vs. Astros Betting Pick: How to Fade the Public With Heavy Favorites article feature image

Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Roberto Osuna (54) and left fielder Michael Brantley (23)

  • More than 60% of bettors are taking the Astros tonight at a very high price, but should Houston be thought of as the public side?
  • With high moneylines in play, betting percentages should be looked at a bit differently, which leads to some value tonight.

Perhaps the first betting tip I ever received was a simple one: fade the public.

Of course, betting isn’t as easy as just that, but for anyone just learning the ropes it’s not a bad place to start. The theory is fairly straightforward — if the public wins then the books lose, and the books certainly don’t lose in the long term.

Now there’s also the juice (vig) which gives books the extra edge, but in plenty of situations — I’d say in most situations, in fact — sportsbooks end up with some kind of liability on a given bet. In other words, they’re rooting for (betting on) a certain side in most instances.

So how do you go about identifying the public side? Easy enough, just look at updated betting percentages and take the team receiving less than 50%, right?

Well, pretty much. In standard spread sports that would generally be the case, but it’s important to remember why the fade-the-public theory exists in the first place — the idea is to be betting with the books.

With -110 options on either side of a line, sportsbooks will be rooting for the team getting less action. In the case that it’s 50-50, they’ll be indifferent. But in a moneyline sport like baseball, if a line is listed at -220/+200 and the action is once again split, the books will certainly be rooting for the favorite.

If the underdog pulls off the upset, they’ll have to pay out twice what was wagered on that side, whereas the favorite winning would mean paying just half of what was bet (while collecting the losses from dog bettors).

So where am I going with all this?

Tonight, the Astros are the biggest favorites on the baseball board, listed at -280 against the Pirates (8:10 p.m. ET). They’re getting 63% of bets and 73% of money, which makes them seem like a popular play, but because the line is so high, the 50% mark is not the point of indifference for sportsbooks.

Instead, it’s up around 72-73%.

In other words, these percentages are similar in meaning to a -110 team seeing about 42% of bets and 50% of money — figures that would be pretty intriguing.

The Astros have also seen the line move in their favor, going from -240 to -278 — a jump that would be comparable to going from -110 to about -124.

To get a sense of how teams in these spots do, I jumped into Bet Labs to create a version of a reverse line movement system for heavily-favored teams.

As it turns out, teams at -250 or higher whose line has moved at least 20 cents on 70% or less bets have done pretty well over the years. They’ve gone 90-20 on the moneyline since 2005, winning 11.9 units for a 10.8% return on investment.

What was especially intriguing, though, was the average run differential in those games: +3.04. Naturally, that begs the question of the run line.

In games where the spread was available, these teams have gone 64-34 on the run line, winning 15.4 units for a 15.7% ROI.

The pick: Astros -1.5 (-145)

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