Ask A Bookmaker With Johnny Avello: We’re Talkin’ Baseball

DraftKings' Hall-of-Fame bookmaker answers questions about the sports betting industry
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Welcome to our weekly “Ask a Bookmaker” feature, which answers many of the common (and uncommon!) questions gamblers and enthusiasts have about how sportsbooks operate in the modern age of sports betting.

Respected bookmaker Johnny Avello has been involved in the betting industry since the 1970s and previously managed the Las Vegas sportsbooks at Bally’s and the Wynn. Now the director of race and sportsbook operations for DraftKings, Avello was recently inducted into the Sports Betting Hall of Fame.

Have a question you’d like to ask Avello? Send it to jbalan@bettercollective.com. Questions and responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.

This has been a somewhat unique baseball season, with the lockout and negotiations delaying spring training. Has that changed how you set lines and prices, with pitchers not going as far into games to start and players maybe not being 100% ready for the regular season?

Johnny Avello: You gotta remember that baseball has changed a little over the last five years or so. There used to be these “horses” — pitchers who would go out there and give you seven or eight innings, or even more. But the game has changed, because the teams have changed the approaches to their pitching staffs. The Yankees are a perfect example. Who pitches six innings for the Yankees anymore? So maybe guys weren’t quite as ready, but they were getting ready on their own and got in shape, so it really didn’t change that much.

In that sense of the changes in the modern game, from a bookmaking perspective, how do you handle something like a “bullpen game,” where they have a reliever start and have the bullpen handle the entire game?

JA: You have an idea who they may give the ball to in the third inning, but that’s not something you can really put into the line itself. I think you just have to go on, this guy is the starter, and he’s probably only going three innings, so what is he worth as a starter for three innings? That’s it. Otherwise you’re trying to handicap the whole game. Now, you’re handicapping as the game goes along for in-game wagering and things like that, but for pregame stuff, that’s pretty much what you have to go by.

For in-game wagering, with matchups and things of that nature, how detailed do you guys get? For example, I can remember some elite hitters struggling against average pitchers. Maybe those are just anomalies, but for some reason, certain guys struggle against pitchers you wouldn’t expect. Do you go into the depths of individual splits for in-game bets and props?

JA: Remember, we have a model that we go by. But we have traders that are watching every single game, so the model doesn’t dictate the price. The trader does. The trader can override what the model gives them, because he’s watching the games and aware of those things. That’s where the human factor comes in on live wagering.

Just another thing for you guys to think about, right?

JA: It’s a lot. People don’t realize how much goes into that — before the game, during the game, watching the futures, news coming out about a guy who got traded or a guy who got hurt. There’s just so much during a day that a trader does. It’s a fun job, but it’s a job where you really have to be on your toes at all times.

Is there something about booking baseball games that differentiates them from other sports? What would a regular fan be surprised by as far as how the bookmaking process goes for baseball?

JA: The regular fan may not use this, but the sharp players do. It’s umpires. Some umps have a higher strike zone, lower strike zone, no strike zone. There’s umps that are different, and if you know who is behind the plate, that could make a difference in the total.

How much of an impact are we talking about for umpires? A half a run on a total?

JA: It could be a half a run. If a total is 9 in a game, and an ump has a wide strike zone, maybe that total comes to 9 but under is -120. Usually they don’t move the number too much. They could move a game from 8 to 8.5 or 7.5 to 8, but on some key numbers, it basically just moves money a little.

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