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MLB’s Release Of Starting Lineup Info Will Remain For 60-game Season

Bookmakers and bettors are gearing up for a daily race for information, with the winners at an advantage during what’s expected to be a turbulent baseball season with frequent changes to starting lineups and pitching rotations.

Major League Baseball has informed clubs that the protocols for releasing starting lineups, which were revised before last season, will remain in place for this year’s 60-game season. Teams are required to submit their starting lineups to the league office before releasing them publicly. Once received, MLB will transmit the starting lineups to league partners, including domestic and international sportsbooks, via its official data feed.

In the U.S., MLB has partnerships with sportsbooks DraftKings, FanDuel, MGM Resorts and PointsBet, among others. Theoretically, those sportsbooks would receive the starting lineups first. Jay Croucher, head of trading for PointsBet, said access to a “faster official MLB data feed,” especially when lineups could be impacted often by the coronavirus pandemic, is an advantage for his book.

“The PointsBet trading team will see a benefit … In being able to respond to noteworthy substitutions, such as a starting pitcher, in real time,” Croucher told ESPN.

With the legal sports betting market expanding rapidly in the U.S., MLB wanted to add uniformity to the release of the information that could impact the odds. Traditionally, pitching rotations were announced before the start of a new series and daily starting lineups were released three or four hours before first pitch. Sometimes the lineups first appeared on teams’ twitter feeds; other times they were posted on the wall at clubhouses, where reporters had access and often posted the lineups on social media. This season, however, clubhouses will be closed to the media due to COVID-19 safety measures, according to the Chicago Tribune’s Paul Sullivan, president of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

“Lineup changes, especially pitchers, in the age of COVID will be huge,” a professional sports bettor who goes by Jack Andrews told ESPN. “It’s going to be an information race each day.”

The tweak of releasing the lineups on MLB’s official data feed first was hardly noticeable last season, according to multiple beat writers and fantasy site operators.

“From a practical standpoint, we didn’t see any difference,” said Peter Schoenke, president and owner of Rotowire.Com, a fantasy sports site known to gather and post starters quickly by using publicly available information.

“Baseball could change,” Schoenke added. “Hopefully this year’s setup won’t result in cultural change, where all that information becomes a lot more guarded. I certainly understand the league, with sports betting, wanting to unify the release of their data so everyone has the same access. But I hope that doesn’t decrease its availability and the amount of time it comes out before a game.”

A core group of Rotowire’s 25 full-time editorial employees are charged with tracking starting lineups. They monitor twitter feeds of beat writers and the clubs, in addition to listening to pregame radio and TV spots featuring managers or players. The same process plays out in sportsbook offices around the nation, with bookmakers scouring social media for the latest news on lineups. However, with clubhouses closed to the media, digging up leaked lineup news from beat writers might not be as productive as in past years. Some sportsbooks might know if a superstar like Mike Trout or the entire left side of the New York Yankees infield is ruled out before others.

“It’s a unique situation that we’ve never seen before,” Randy Blum, sportsbook manager for the SuperBook at Westgate Las Vegas, said. “Lineups could change at any time if there were a positive test. And if there’s one guy [who tests positive] and he was around the other players, it could be multiple guys. You just have to get as much information as you can. This is something that none of us have ever been through before, on our side of the [betting] counter or on the other side of the counter.”

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