A sharp player who is a known winner bets five figures on an MLB game. Wouldn’t you like to tail this guy? That’s the thought process for chasing steam. When a big player, or more commonly a syndicate, that is respected by the sportsbook places one of these bets, they are usually quick to move their betting lines. Other sportsbooks notice this movement and don’t want to get hit at their book too so they quickly move their line accordingly (this is known as “moving on air”). If you are carefully following the market, you can see this happen in real time and trying to follow this bet is called “chasing steam”.
I wanted to analyze if this is a sound strategy. To do so, I simply used the Steam Moves filter in Bet Labs:
Notice that you can select between steam moves originating at Pinnacle, 5Dimes, and CRIS using this filter. For this article, I’ll focus solely on Pinnacle steam moves (meaning the initial line move happened at Pinnacle). You can see by the record in the image, it has a winning result with $8,434 won since 2005 betting $100 on each game. However the ROI is really low at only 1.1%. If you look at the resulting graph, you may notice another trend:
You can see it had pretty good gains through 2011. In the five seasons since, it’s basically broke even. But we can take another step. From previous research we know that underdogs have outperformed favorites in baseball. We can use the Favorite/Dog filter to only look at moneyline underdogs:
By focusing on dogs, we are able to improve our overall results but the resulting graph tells a similar story:
Again most of the gains of this system were early on and the last five seasons have essentially resulted in a net zero. Could we continue to add filters to try to find a winning betting system we would feel confident in? Yeah, probably. But the main point of the article was to show that blindly following steam isn’t profitable like it used to be. Similar to contrarian betting, the market gets a whiff of a winning strategy and it starts to go away.
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