Pitch hour approaches next season for Major League Baseball, and with it a number of byproducts. Playing time will decrease. Work in the field will increase. And the sport – so I hope the powers that be announced the move earlier this month, including Commissioner Rob Manfred – are more correct.
Testing the new rules as Manfred said there had been nearly 8,000 minor league games had a huge impact on the MLB decision. Most notably, the average playing time was reduced by 26 minutes. Reducing takeoff attempts helped boost key stolen attempts by 0.6 per game in 2022 compared to 2019. A ban on defensive shifts should boost attack.
Among the areas of the league’s business strategy that will be affected by this is betting, and more specifically mini betting. With its traditionally slower pace and frequent rest periods in the movement, baseball has always been naturally favorable to gambling opportunities both within the game and even within the bat. In fact, MLB’s in-game betting handle now accounts for nearly a third of the market, according to league research. Additionally, according to Johnny Avello, Director of Sports Betting Operations at DraftKings, in-game prop bets are increasing at a faster rate than any other baseball-related betting category.
“The bettors will adapt,” Avello said. “They will know that they will have a shorter time to place the bet. But that also forces us to make the odds faster and make them faster. It might cause some mistakes on our part, but we just have to keep getting better at it.”
Avello added that improvement in this regard is within DK Tech’s reach, and preparations for the MLB 2023 campaign will begin once this season is over.
“Anything new at work, you make lines and then you make adjustments,” he said. “And eventually, you get really good at it. In the beginning, it’s not that you’re bad at it, it’s just that there might be some loopholes. So we’re going to make those adjustments I think very quickly.”
In-game prop betting is becoming increasingly popular as users become more familiar with it and sportsbooks continue to roll out new relevant features. However, Kenny Gersh, MLB’s executive vice president of business development who oversees the league’s sports betting strategy, said it still represents only a small portion of the overall baseball betting market. Singles pitch betting – a feature available on DraftKings and a few other sports bets – is a subset of that category. But it’s the piece most affected by putting a clock in between pitches.
New MLB rules dictate that bowlers have 20 seconds between courts when there are runners at the base, but only 15 seconds when the bases are empty. As for betting every move, Avello admitted that 15 seconds is a narrow window for adjusting the automated odds, relaying that to the potential bettor, and then making him bet. According to Kelly Pracht, co-founder and CEO of predictive analytics platform nVenue, it takes a person at least eight seconds to read, understand, choose, and feel good about a bet. “Anything shorter is a traumatic experience,” she said.
So DraftKings, an MLB sponsor since 2013 who added sports betting to the partnership status for the first time this year, may have to think outside the box regarding bets on single-court outcomes in 2023 and beyond.
“Maybe we’ll be a little creative and come up with something else that fits in that window,” Avello said. “We may not be able to give you [an opportunity to bet] in every stadium. We might say, not this pitch, but what will be the outcome of the next pitch? We might miss the stadium. I do not know yet. But we will definitely make it work.”
For its part, MLB has not looked to encourage betting on every move. Instead, the league is focusing more on the next closest thing: support bets placed on the at-bat outcome, which Gersh expects will increase in size as the action begins due to rule changes.
In addition to the court clock feeding more balls during play, increasing the size of the bases — from 15 inches to 18 inches, and reducing the distance between the bases by 4.5 inches — will increase thefts, which fell 32% from 2011 to 2021, per baseball-reference .com. Restrictions on defensive shifts – with two players on each side of the second base when freeing the playing field – will lead to more hits, which fell by about 7% from 2011 to 2021, and should lead to more runs.
A shorter game does not necessarily mean that there will be fewer opportunities to place bets on the MLB, regardless of any ramifications with betting on each match. Pracht said nVenue, which supports predictive analytics for all 50 MLB games streaming on Apple TV+ this season, helps break up the game into thousands of micro-betting moments, with a single baseball game offering 15,000 betting opportunities. She said the stadium clock would not affect that.
“The overall behavior of the game has not changed,” said Bracht, whose company opened its betting industry forecast briefing for the first time this year, as he explores potential partnerships. “There are still an average of 300 hits per game, 72 hitters per MLB game, 18 half runs, 9 runs. You can expect the same amount of betting opportunities coming from our platform.”
In short, the factors that make MLB rule changes so compelling for the game itself are the same factors that make executives so optimistic about how they will affect betting around baseball.
“It will make the game more enjoyable for everyone involved in it, which will have benefits across the entire industry,” Gersh said. “As the product improves, it should help with ratings, and more people will be interested when you see more balls in play.”
Other areas of work around baseball will have varying degrees of impact. A shorter game should not affect concessions – the hope is that more fans will stay longer rather than having to leave to go home in a reasonable time – but retailers may be hurt by fans spending less time walking around the stadium.