Reviewing MLB dark side bets 

July, 6, 2012

On Wednesday night, the Fourth of July, my wife and I had some friends and their kids over. Earlier in the day, one of the guys had stocked up on fireworks -- the legal kind that you can launch in Connecticut without getting arrested. I won't say they were harmless -- that would be a bad lesson for the kids, like just about everything else that is relayed in this column -- but they weren't so scary that my buddy couldn't take his time lighting them before walking away.

All over the neighborhood you could hear spinners, missiles and cuckoo fountains. Pop, pop, whiz they went. You would have thought it was San Diego, except our show lasted half an hour. And just as my buddy was about to launch the grand finale, we heard a voice from the side of my house. "Hey, no more fireworks!" He yelled, as though he had been talking for several minutes and no one heard him. We all turned our heads and saw one of our town's finest in uniform, waving his flashlight toward the box of fireworks and saying, again, "Do not light those fireworks."

"What's going on?" I asked.

"Too many noise complaints," the officer said. "We are shutting them down all over town."

Just then a screamer nearly landed in our yard from across the street and the very kind officer slumped his shoulders, holstered his flashlight and gave a resigned look before saying, "I'm giving you a warning. Next time it's a ticket. I have to go."

And off he went. The kids were sad. The adults told them the officer was just doing his job, then we went inside to complain about the fuzz while our delinquent children burned off the last of dessert by chasing each other with flashlights outside. The next morning, the first thing my 8-year-old said to me was, "Dad, can you believe what happened last night? How the police made us stop because people complained? Who would do that? I mean, seriously people, the Fourth of July is like New Year's Eve -- there is going to be noise. What do you expect?"

And right there in the playroom, while he was watching Jeremy Wade on "River Monsters" ("This week, I am going to track down the killer catfish that ate three babies and a cowboy"), I nearly started to cry tears of pride. Not because he was beginning to sound like an insufferable smartass, but because he so clearly understood the concept of expectations.

Gamblers are always grappling with expectations in the way they examine point spreads, money lines and series prices. But right now, in the oven-bake middle of summer, the variety of expectations they're examining is nearly at its widest. There are CFB and NFL season win totals, CFB games of the year, futures for the two footballs, plus the always-relevant, ever-changing NBA. Then there is baseball, where expected value is especially paramount given the challenges of betting money lines day-to-day.

For example, in my podcast on Thursday, Paul Bessire of pointed out that MLB teams that were minus-150 favorites this season have only won at a 54 percent clip. In order to make money wagering at those prices, you would have to be winning 60 percent of your bets. Not a great opportunity. Meanwhile, if you bet the same amount on every team that was an underdog in those games, despite just winning 46 percent of the time, you would have a nice return on your investment. I'm willing to bet an unexploded case of fireworks that gamblers found a positive expected value in a lot of those teams that were being offered plus prices.

As we approach the All-Star Game, also known as the game the fans screwed up, it's also a good time to re-examine our expectations from the beginning of the year, when I offered up five MLB futures bets you should be paying attention to. Let's go through the list.