Though betting on spring training baseball is only for true hard-core followers, early March is a great time for handicappers to get ready for the regular season.

Because we’ll be buried in basketball and hockey the next several weeks, let’s spend some time on preparing for the first pitch of the 2020 season on March 26.

First, familiarize yourself with all the offseason personnel changes. Some new faces will be in new places, on rosters and in manager’s uniforms. You might know what happened with your favorite team, but not in divisions on the other side of the country. Get caught up.

Second, project the likely rotations for all 30 teams. This won’t be too difficult, using last year’s rotations as a starting point. Evaluate the quality of each rotation based on career norms. It’s easy to fall in love with possible dark horses if you’re listening only to media hype. A cold, hard look at projected rotations will bring you back to earth — or help you find better dark horses.

Gerrit Cole
Gerrit ColeN.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg

Third, force yourself to realize that teams tactically using openers and a stream of relievers turned out to be much more successful than so-called experts expected. Betting markets were extremely slow to accept this reality and are arguably still being slow about it based on game-day pricing. Be aware of which teams already use the approach and which ones may add it to their arsenal in 2020. What used to look like a hole in the rotation might be a hidden strength.

Fourth, project likely batting orders — at least for the most important parts of the lineup. If you’re looking at regular-season win totals or futures prices, it’s easy to misperceive value because you’re thinking about bounce-backs or letdowns from last season. Think hardest about this question: “What’s most likely to happen this season for this group of hitters?” Regression can be an influence, but it’s usually talent that most controls its own destiny.

Finally, if you’re relatively new to baseball handicapping, familiarize yourself with insightful analytics stats at websites such as fangraphs.com. Sharps place a lot more weight on fielding-independent pitching stats than earned-run average or wins and losses. Many hitting stats created long ago build on the basics represented by batting average. You can’t beat the market using the stats you liked when watching games on TV as a kid. If you accept that talent controls destiny, you must use the stats best suited to expressing true talent.