Many would envy Gill’s lifestyle as he spends Monday-Friday in Las Vegas and the weekends in San Francisco.
He talks about how he developed into a consistent winning punter and the different characteristics of winning versus losing gamblers.
Punting Insights You’ll Find
- The reality of a successful bettor’s timeframe.
- How to know if you’re taking steps backward.
- The benefit of baseball being an every day sport.
- Whether or not numbers are crucial to your betting strategy.
- How to extract value from other punters, even if you have different beliefs.
- Gill Alexander – Betting Dork
Gill’s Closing Tip:
” Baseball has 162 games, as we mentioned. That is the most variance proof allotment of games you will find. “
David: Hi this is David Duffield and my special guest on today’s show is Gill Alexander. He’s a baseball expert, that’s what he specialises in, and so he’s developed a model that focuses on baseball statistics or metrics and basically finds a value edge there, together with watching a hell of a lot of games. So he’s got a lifestyle many would envy, in that he spends 5 days a week, the weekdays in Las Vegas, and then the weekends back at home in San Francisco throughout the baseball season, which is basically a 6 month season. So he has an interesting story to tell, he has his own podcast as well, and that’s where I first came across him. But a very interesting guy, so let’s have a chat with Gill.
David: Thanks for joining us today Gill, and welcome to the show.
Gill: Thanks for having me David, I appreciate it
David: Yeah, look forward to the chat. So, you host a really good podcast of your own, Betting Dork at pregame.com, but today the shoe is on the other foot, I’m the one with the easy gig asking a few questions, so are you ready to give us some gold nuggets?
Gill: (Laughs) I will do my best, I appreciate you having me on, I’ll try to make it worthwhile.
David: Good stuff. Alright well right now we’re in baseball season, and if you don’t mind I’d like you to talk us through a typical week for yourself. Because I think you’ve got a lifestyle that a lot of my listeners would be pretty jealous of.
Gill: Yeah I don’t know how, you know I never intended necessarily, this wasn’t by design I suppose. Although in recent years I suppose it was by design. But I live in Vegas during the week, come back to my apartment in San Francisco for the weekend and it’s dual purpose really. Just to make sure everything’s okay, just to keep my sanity probably, it’s two-fold. But I bet baseball professionally, and that’s for many of your listeners may know, many may not, that’s a daily grind for 7 months. With the exception of a 4 to 5 day All Star break, which we just got off of last week, which was a very welcome break. But other than those 5 days, for 7 months of the season I am in this routine, that probably is unhealthy to be quite honest with you. But it’s the life I’ve chosen, it’s the life I love. And I beat baseball, or I try to beat baseball on a yearly basis. So that’s a lot of handicapping at night, that’s watching a lot of baseball, and that’s sort of a rinse and repeat on a daily basis.
David: Yeah talk about the grind. Because what is it, 160 or 180 games a year for baseball?
Gill: 162 regular season games yes, plus the play offs.
David: Wow. Alright so that’s where you are right now I suppose, but I need to find out how you got there. How did you go from being a sports fan, to learning how to win as a gambler, and then onto being able to make a living from it?
Gill: Yeah I’ll just start from the beginning there. It started for me as a child really, I was innately drawn to sports and to statistics. I was a big American football fan without anybody really telling me to be one, a big baseball fan, my parents weren’t from this country so it was just something I gravitated towards. And I collected baseball cards as a child, which unlike the great options that kids today have, was pretty much all we had in this country in the 80s. Collecting baseball cards much like collecting stamps or coins. I was fascinated by the statistics on the back of the baseball cards, and sort of knew that there was more to them. I was very curious as to greater truth about baseball stats, and somehow knew that they were incomplete.
But at that age couldn’t really articulate it. And I maintained that level of sports and numbers into my adult life, but led a much more mainstream, call it normal existence. I got a job in radio, I was in music radio, I was a DJ for many years. But when I got too old for the hip hop format, I sort of went right back to my sports and numbers roots, while maintaining the broadcast side by starting a podcast. When podcasting first started I decided there was a niche in the United States. I’m not sure if this is true globally or in Australia specifically, but in the US sports wagering was very much rife with fraudulent people, and people who misrepresented their records.But I basically decided I was going to start this podcast, an honest sports bettor.
I was going to tell people about my wins, I was going to tell them about my losses. I was going to be honest about how I looked at games, how I used stats to try to handicap them and from very few listeners it really grew and grew and grew, and today is a quite popular show, I’m pretty proud of it. And I hope that it has helped in my own little corner of the world, sort of you know try to make an otherwise seedy industry somewhat less so. And so that’s what I do, so I do the show, but general in my day to day life what I actually am is a professional bettor at baseball. I specifically do baseball, I do American football too, but those are the only 2 sports I’ll do. But baseball is really my bread and butter.
David: So you make your living crunching numbers, but you don’t come across as the stereotypical numbers nerd. So I was going to ask how you gain that knowledge, because it’s fairly specialised, and it does take a number of years I would’ve thought. And then how did you put that into practise?
Gill: Yeah it did take a number of years. And I think that’s the key point about gambling. I think that a lot of people, like they hear, oh man he lives in Vegas during the week, he goes home to San Francisco on the weekend, what a life, oh my god. But you know it took me a long time to get to that. And I started out like everybody started out, I was a losing bettor you know when I first started this. And I think anybody that tells you that they weren’t, either has a very poor memory David, or they’re just lying to you. And so from that I very much viewed it as a problem solving, as a puzzle solving thing. And so I started very primitively with numbers, and tried to use advance stats.
What I generally do in general terms is I use advanced metrics in baseball, which are very publicly available by the way. It’s not something that I concoct on my own necessarily, although I do have certain numbers that are my own doing. But generally speaking they’re all public domain numbers, and I try to exploit betting lines based on the discrepancy of what those advanced stats reveal to be the truth, versus what conventional stats do in leading people astray if you will. And so it’s a very slow process, I mean I started this more than a decade ago, where I would try to apply those numbers. Moneyball was very much, the book Moneyball that is, was very much the moment of epiphany for me, where when I read that book, was this wonderful narrative about the Oakland A’s, and about how the Oakland Athletics used their own metrics and advanced metrics to exploit inefficiencies in the player personnel acquisition market in baseball.
And I just kept thinking to myself, gambling gambling, the whole time I was reading it. And so that was the moment where it switched for me, and from that process, from that point I should say, I developed a slow evolutionary process. And every year and still to this day I add layers. So I don’t think you’re ever, I think if you ever get to a point where you’re satisfied with what you do, you’re going backwards. I think the market is always evolving, and I think you have to always try and stay ahead of it.
David: And so how do you do that? How do you add layers? Because I had Elihu Fuestel on the show earlier in the year, and he emphasised that no edge lasts forever. Inevitably the market catches up and it just, gradually or even faster than that the edge reduces, so how do you stay ahead of the game?
Gill: Yeah I think you always have to kind of, I think you have to be honest with yourself. And I think during the off season what I find that I do, that startlingly I don’t think a lot of people do, I think if you polled gamblers, a very small percentage actually go back and review their work. Which I find to be a fascinating thing. And every off season I go back and I look at what I did well, I look at what I did poorly. And when I say that I mean I break it down into what statistics did I use that I thought were relevant, that may have turned out to be relevant or not at all relevant, or degrees on that spectrum.
Same thing with certain stats that I use that I didn’t think were important, that were actually much more important in my findings. And so I’ll adjust on that, and I’ll also look for other things that I hadn’t used before. So for instance if I find I had a great season last year, much slower out of the gates, and one of the things that I’ve tried to adjust with is to add a certain layer. What am I not thinking about that other people might not be hip to yet. In baseball, like I don’t know how hip your audience is to the minutiae of baseball, but managerial tendencies, are sort of a layer that is not really explored that in-depth thus far. And I’m trying to develop my own numbers, in terms of being able to determine how managerial tendencies will inform my wagers based on how long they keep starting the pitchers in, how quick they are to remove certain relief pitchers, that’s a layer that’s unexplored.
There’s also, in terms of a pattern of performance with starting pitchers, no matter how good they are, they inevitably have a pitfall in their performance. Every 3rd or 4th or 5th start, or whatever it is I’m trying to come up with metrics that help me there, that will inform wagers or take me off wagers in the future. So there’s all kinds of ways that I try to stay ahead of the curve, and to be quite honest with you David sometimes successfully sometimes not as successfully. But it really is a trial and error process.
David: Because you know the bigger the market the more efficient it is as a rule. And the sports books have got some pretty strong computing networks and algorithms and the rest to come up with accurate lines. I know yours, if you’re specialising on baseball it’s a bit different, because you’re mainly betting the money lines. But how do you, if it’s man versus machine, how do you come out in front?
Gill: Well the beauty of baseball, and we could do a whole show or an hour as to why baseball is my preferred sport, but one of the big reasons why it is, is because it is every day. And because it’s every day and there’s typically 15 games every day, it’s not quite like American football, which is a weekly endeavour which is a weekly, or every team plays once a week. Those lines as you point out, those are tenderised and calibrated, to be as efficient as they could possibly be. Baseball, there’s just no way they can be that good on a daily basis, and they aren’t, and inevitably there are 3 or 4 games I’d say per day, where it’s not as accurate as they could be with those lines.
And the baseball market is much smaller than the football market. If you’re in Las Vegas during baseball season, right now we’re in the dead of July, if you’re in a sports book in Las Vegas today, this notion that somehow Las Vegas is always hopping with people it’s just not true. There’s very few people in there. So a sport as big as baseball is, it is just not that popular of a sport betting wise. And it is the very notion of those money lines, which to those of us who deal with it on a daily basis find very logical, money lines scare away American bettors by and large. They’re used to point spreads, and football, and basketball. So baseball does have advantages in that it’s really exploitable in ways that other sports are not.
David: Okay. So is there any subjective analysis involved before you place a bet? Because I know you’ve got to believe in your numbers, but you mentioned that you’re also watching the game. So how do you go about that final decision on whether you’re going to pull the trigger and make the bet?
Gill: Yeah I mean I, there are people who follow their numbers sacredly. And I do believe that makes them successful. There should be an adherence to numbers, and I think if you don’t do it that way then you’re probably not going to be a long term winner. However, I also find people that only subscribe to their numbers, and just refuse to have any sort of, let’s say a dash of common sense and knowledge to what they’re doing just from an eye test, I think that’s probably a recipe for downfalls as well. So I’ve given an example on another show that I was on, watching a lot of baseball allows you to see certain things that numbers cannot in certain incidences.
Now it may not make you make a bet let’s say, it may not trigger a bet for you, but it certainly could keep you off from bets. And often times the best bets are the ones not made. And so with baseball, I’ll watch a pitcher, I gave an example in another show, there was an American pitcher Cliff Lee who had a tremendous strike out to walk ratio a couple of years ago. But in watching him I felt as though he became enamoured of his strike out to walk ratio. In other words, it had ceased to become this organic achievement. And now he was simply in a mode where he was doing anything possible not to walk batters to maintain this amazing ratio.
And that’s not going to be found in the numbers themselves, that’s only going to be found in observation. And sure enough the next couple of starts he would groove balls right down the centre of the plate, and he would get them hammered for homers against him. But that’s the type of example, that’s just one example of how watching games matter. I’m not going to sit here and tell you it matters more than the numbers, but it matters.
David: And does that also include early in the season? Because I’ve heard you say that you find some good betting opportunities early in the season whereas a lot of other, I suppose numbers guys, or data computer model guys, want some current season data before they can be really confident, whereas you can exploit some earlier lines, is that right?
Gill: It’s a great question and I’ll tell you that my answer is different today on this then it would have been 2 years ago admittedly. I used to be very good early in the season. I used to be able to exploit, and this applies to both baseball and football, I would exploit lines that my pre-season preparation would tell me are way off. And in baseball you can get a really good number back for those specifically.
And football, you can you know, for the first couple of weeks of the season, and really the first week, you can really find some juicy lines. I will say this though, in the last couple of years, that has not at all been the case for me. I have really sort of become the very quant, you know that pattern that I’ve seen in others which is I don’t do well early anymore. I just simply don’t, and I really am more in need of substantial data to better solidify my results. Because early on it really has become a crap shoot for me, this is the case, this has been the case now in baseball for a few years running now, and in football last year for sure before it really went gangbusters.
David: Okay. So you mentioned a normal week for you is 5 days in Vegas and the weekend in San Fran, which does sound pretty appealing, but what’s a typical day for you in what is probably quite a grind of the baseball season. How does a normal day pan out for you in terms of working out which plays you’re going to be making, watching the games, and then getting a head start for the following day.
Gill: Well I’ll start, my day really starts at 4pm pacific, which is watching baseball. That’s when baseball typically, unless it’s an all-day baseball schedule, which occurs on the weekend of only maybe every once during the week. Typically a baseball schedule begins at 4pm Pacific Standard Time, and so I’ll watch you know, I may not watch 6 hours every night, but I’ll watch 3 to 6 hours every night for sure. I’ll watch a lot of baseball, and at that point I’m really seeing how my bets from the previous night faired. And I’m trying to learn whatever other nuggets I can find by watching.
David: Just to jump in there Gill, so when you say you’re watching baseball, you’re at a Vegas casino and you’ve got all the screens, and you can keep an eye on many games?
Gill: Yes, I should make it a more vivid picture for you. Yes so I’m in a Las Vegas sports book, and I have multiple screens in front of me, with all kinds of baseball games in front of me. So that’s my life, I’m in a sports book more than a human being should be allowed to be at a sports book. That’s typically where I spend my evenings, I’m not one who is attracted to the other vices of Vegas if you will. So it doesn’t interest me to then you know to, oh man I’m losing time at the strip club, or I’m not at the night club, that doesn’t you know that’s not my thing. I’m there for one purpose and one purpose alone.
But after my games are done, the games that I have my bets on, or if I feel like watching a little more into the night, I’ll go to my room in the hotel that I’m staying at, and I’ll spend 2, 2 1/2 hours handicapping the next day’s game. Sometimes 3, but it doesn’t usually go past that, it’s usually a 2 to 3 hour endeavour. And I’ll crunch the numbers and I’ll come up with my best bets of the day. And that’ll take me into the wee hours of the night, it’ll be about 2am before all is said and done. And if I’m doing a podcast then it becomes problematic, because then I’ve got to get up and do a show, I’ve got to prep for the show and that’s a whole other thing. In baseball that becomes difficult. But if I’m not, I’ll wake up in the morning I’ll place my bets, some really big Las Vegas bettors who get my bets too, and so they rely on my picks as well.
Communicate those to them, we try to get the best numbers in town, perhaps offshore, if that were legal David we would do it that way as well. But we try to find the numbers available to the extent that we can. Baseball you know, in American football getting the best number is paramount. In baseball you want to get the best number, but I’m not going to sit here and tell you that on a daily basis it’s going to really matter on any given day you can’t really tell if that’s a good thing or not. But you do strive to get the best number obviously, and then you really rinse and repeat on a daily basis. So I don’t even live in Las Vegas for the rest of the year, but I know someone, many people in Las Vegas now, I’m always meeting with people there. But it’s a real grind, so you watch a lot of baseball, you handicap, but my days typically to answer your question is 4pm to 2am.
David: So you’re meeting with a lot of, or interacting with other professional gamblers in Vegas?
Gill: That can vary from the most numbers based handicapper, or to the guy who is right who is wrong. What I think that you do though over time is, you do become true to yourself, in that you know what works for you and what feels comfortable for you. And it’s great to be exposed to different ideas and different approaches, and you learn something from everybody, and you may take a little something from all those. But in the end you kind of know where on that spectrum you fall, and what works for you. But I do think that it’s a whole valuable process, by learning from others. I don’t think you should ever be close minded. You know it’s funny because you often hear talk, you know hear people say, oh that person doesn’t know what they’re doing, or that person, you know there’s a lot of ways to skin a cat. And I might have an opinion as to what I think works better, but that doesn’t dismiss other methods either.
David: And what about on the other side, you must also meet gamblers who head to Vegas with high hopes but don’t end up going so well. Do you see warning signs with these types of guys, that it’s not likely to go well for them?
Gill: Yeah and it’s typically sort of just the opposite of what I said. I think it’s the people who, it’s not to, I don’t want to generalise, but often times it’s people who want to show you how smart they are, and can’t stop talking about how smart they are early. Those are the people that you, you know there might be some correlation between that and a quick burnout. Because I think by nature, by virtue of the fact that we are sports gamblers, there is a little bit in all of us that we enjoy being right about things. I think that’s inherent in all of us, just sort of inherently in the fact that we are gamblers, we’re trying to predict outcomes.
But I think there is a offshoot of that, where people become too enamoured with themselves, and get a little cocky, and think they know best, and think their way is the only way. And those are the people who are probably in for a quick ruin, because they don’t have the humility. This is a very, if you’re really serious about being a sports bettor, and I think this is, if I can impart anything this would be it. I think you have to treat it like anything. If you want to be good at it you have to put in the time. There are no get rich quick schemes, people would like to think of it that way, but this is a commitment.
And if you really want to be a long term winner, I’m not talking about 3 months, 4 months, I’m talking about over a span of years, if you want to be a long term winner, you have to have a plan, and you have to be committed and devoted. And I think the people who don’t get that, eventually they lose. And sadly sometimes they lose big. And look we’ve all lost, it’s just a question of being able to minimise those losses. And I think the best way to do that is to maintain a bit of humility.
David: And what about in terms of bankroll management. I mean you’ve found an edge, you want to maximise your profits, but you don’t want to take too much risk. Variance has killed many a profitable approach. So how do you balance those two?
Gill: Yeah I mean you’re right. And you know baseball, that’s another, getting back to the ‘’why is baseball best’’ argument that I like to make. That’s my sort of, I stand on my pulpit and talk about baseball betting as the best. Baseball has 162 games as we mentioned, that is the most variance proof allotment of games you will find. In American football season there’s 16 of them. Well if I have 3 bad weeks in American football, that could be my season right there. It’s not going to be a profitable season if I have 3 really bad weeks.
In baseball I could have a couple of bad months, god forbid, but I could have really couple of bad months. I can still manage to get past that, and I could really soar past it. Variance gets the best of anybody, no matter how successful of a gambler you are. And so even in the best of times, you know do I rate plays? Are certain plays stronger plays than others for me? Yes. But I’m talking about 1 and 1 and a half percent of bankroll, you know 2 maybe at the top. I’m never going to go out and you know bet 10% of my bankroll. You always have to be conservative in that regard. But yeah certain plays if you’re doing this correctly you should be able to determine what your edge is, and if your edge is greatest, yes make that the biggest of your plays, but don’t go crazy.
David: Good stuff. Really appreciated the chat today Gill but just to finish up, what’s the best way for listeners to connect with you, listen to your podcast, or find out a bit more about the baseball work that you’re doing?
Gill: The podcast is available, it’s called the Betting Dork, and that is available on iTunes. All you have to do is type in Betting Dork or Gill Alexander always two L’s on iTunes. And that’s available also on Stitcher, at pregame.com, several outlets, but iTunes is probably the one that most people use. And then I do baseball at drbobsports.com.
David. Excellent. Well good luck for the rest of the season, thanks for coming on the show and all the very best.
Gill: David thank you so much for having me, I appreciate it
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