When Giovanny Gallegos was on the mound last season, he wasn’t the only one who didn’t need to be in much of a hurry.
The St. Louis Cardinals reliever was the slowest-working pitcher in Major League Baseball last season, taking nearly 31 seconds between pitches when at least one runner was on base. Gallegos’ lack of urgency worked well for bettors with a penchant for constant action, since they had plenty of time to wager on what the right-hander’s next pitch would produce.
Like other big league hurlers, Gallegos had all winter and six weeks of spring training to get used to MLB’s new pitch clock, which limits pitchers to 15 seconds with the bases empty and 20 seconds with runners on. Pitchers who blow through their allotted time are penalized with an automatic ball. Hitters who dawdle outside the batter’s box while the clock ticks under eight seconds get a strike called on them.
Gallegos and other players aren’t the only ones who will need to make some adjustments to hurry things up this season, which gets underway Thursday. For aficionados of one of sports betting’s fastest-growing market segments, microbetting, the pitch clock will have a significant impact in 2023.
Roughly 10% of microbets in question
Ryan Keur is the vice president for trading and revenue at Simplebet, a business-to-business company that incorporates machine learning into in-play betting platforms to set odds, freeze them, and reset them in a matter of milliseconds. Among the products Simplebet offers is a pitch market in which bettors can wager on the result of every pitch in a game.
Last year, Keur said, around 80% of pitch-by-pitch bets came within 10 seconds of the lines being set by the computer. Another 10% came in during the following five seconds. The remaining 10%, which would be null and void in this upcoming season, were placed after the 15-second mark.
“One way to look at it, which is what most people are going to probably say is, ‘Oh, this is obviously going to make it tougher to make in-play bets. Therefore, in-play betting could slow down,’” Keur said. “We’ve taken a fairly different approach, which is that these specific markets are going to benefit by some of the rule changes. First, if MLB’s hypothesis is correct and we do get shorter, higher-scoring games, that should keep people engaged longer and increase in-play handle for the entire industry.
“The second thing is, with microbetting specifically, people tend to gravitate to the instant gratification it provides. All the pitch clock is doing is speeding up that instant gratification.”
In other words, microbetting and in-play wagering, which some analysts think could make up 50% of the sports betting market as soon as late 2024, could become the closest thing the industry has to slot machines. MLB just announced that the pitch clock had shaved more than half an hour off spring training game times, getting them down to an average of two hours and 35 minutes compared to 3:03 in 2022.
More action could equal more microbetting
As for the other goal, increasing scoring, that’s a work in progress. In spring training, the pitch clock combined with larger bases and a ban on certain kinds of defensive positioning didn’t immediately bump up scoring. Teams combined to average 10.2 runs per game, compared to 10.6 runs per game in 2022. Batting averages were down a couple ticks from .259 to .257.
Those who react too slowly and don’t get their microbets placed in time this season can’t automatically blame Simplebet. One of the culprits, Keur said, is the built-in bet delay sportsbook operators have adopted to thwart courtsiding, the practice of gaining a tiny edge by being at the game in question instead of streaming it or watching it on cable.
The standard bet delay is three to four seconds, but Simplebet has been working with its partners to shrink the gap. Betr, which uses Simplebet technology to provide business-to-consumer microbetting in Ohio and, soon, Massachusetts, has eliminated its bet delays entirely. DraftKings has reduced its microbetting delay to about a second, while Caesars Sportsbook, a relatively new adoptee of microbetting, hopes to reduce its bet delay to one or two seconds at some point during this baseball season, as does bet365, Keur said.
Simplebet thinks its five-year head start on some of its competitors will be crucial as each second becomes more meaningful in microbetting on baseball, the leading sport for such products.
“When you sit and think about it, I mean, 15 seconds to get a bet in is pretty fast,” Keur said. “It really requires this level of perfection and detail at every moment of what we call the market life cycle. Between creation, suspension, and then settlement, which is happening every 15 seconds across 2,500 baseball games across the entire course of the season, there’s a lot to get done in a short amount of time.”
Consider any actual matchup you might see in a game and it’s easy to see why setting odds that quickly is a job for a computer that can learn on the fly. Let’s say Dodgers pitcher Julio Urías is facing Phillies shortstop Trea Turner with nobody on base and nobody out in the fourth inning of a scoreless game and a three-ball, no-strike count. To set odds for the next pitch, the computer must not only take into account Urías’ and Turner’s tendencies in a 3-0 count, but also their tendencies against each other and league-wide trends that offer more robust sample sizes.
“Trea Turner might only see 50 3-and-0 counts all year. If he swung at five of those, that might skew the results versus looking at the rest of the league, which might only swing 3-and-0 about 3 percent of the time,” Keur said. “It all gets weighted into it and the computer spits out a price in under a second.”
Good luck to a human bookmaker trying to replicate that level of productivity. As usual, it’s the computers setting the pace and the rest of us trying to catch up.