The popularity of baseball betting has grown massively in recent years. While it does not garner as much action as the NFL or the NBA, Major League Baseball is now one of America’s most bet on sports, thanks in large part to the availability of online sportsbooks.
When I first started betting games with a local bookie, I did not know anyone else who bet regularly bet on baseball, apart from maybe the World Series. In fact, many bookies closed up shop after March Madness until the start of the football season. This was in spite of the fact that the MLB season was still in full swing.
Obviously, things have come a long way since then, but I still feel like some people write baseball off as a betting option.
One key reason for this is that in baseball, there are no point spreads; games are decided by money line odds. For those of you who have never bet on the MLB, this might be a little confusing as the most popular way to bet on football and basketball involves the point spread.
Secondly, while the NFL and gambling go hand in hand in the minds of most, baseball does not have as much of a tie in with gambling, despite Pete Rose’s best efforts.
Spring Training, the MLB’s preseason, begins in late February with pitchers and catchers reporting before position players. In March, Spring Training is in full swing. The season begins in April and runs the whole way through to the end of September. Each team has a whopping 162 game schedule.
The MLB has two leagues, the American League and National League. The key difference being that in the NL pitchers have to bat while the American League has a designated hitter’s spot for the pitcher. AL and NL teams will play each other occasionally throughout the season with the home team of each game determining the rules (no DH or DH).
Each league has three divisions, the winners of which make the playoffs. There is an additional two wild cards for each league. These are given to the teams with the best records aside from division winners. These teams face each other in a special one-game playoff to move on to the Divisional Series. The AL and NL Divisional Series are each a best-of-five game series.
The winners then move onto the AL or NL Championship Series, a best-of-seven game series that determines the representatives from the AL and NL in the World Series. The World Series is the Championship between the two pennant winners from each league; it is also a best-of-seven series.
MLB Money Line
Since traditional point spreads do not work for baseball, money line odds are preferred odds. MLB has an extremely long season and can be high degrees of variance from game to game. Because of this, the odds difference between the favorite and underdog is usually far smaller than in other sports.
A typical baseball moneyline looks something like this:
Atlanta Braves -170 Pittsburgh Pirates +160
Moneylines work as follows. The team with the minus (-) number is the favorite and the team with the plus (+) number are the dog. For the dog, the number represents the amount you will win if you bet $100. So in the example above, if you bet $100 on the Pirates, you are risking $100 to win $160.
Conversely, the odds on the favorite represent the amount you need to risk to win $100. Using the example above, you would need to risk $170 on the Braves in order to win $100.
MLB run lines are designed to even up the difference between weak and strong MLB teams. The question changes from “Who will win?” to “How much will they win by?” Due to the low scoring nature of baseball run lines will typically be 1.5 or 2.5 runs. Notice that they include a half run. The half run prevents bets from being a tie. A run line might look something like:
Detroit Tigers -1.5 -140 Chicago Cubs +1.5 +120
This means the Tigers must win by 2 or more runs to cover the run line. Think of the game starting with a score of 1.5 – 0 in favor of the Cubs. Picking a run line allows you to pick an underdog that may lose the game while you still may win the bet.
Now for the astute readers who are saying: “but Mark isn’t this the same as the point spread in football”? The truth is they are similar but have a few key differences.
For one, a run line in baseball will never move. If the bookies set it at 1.5, this line will stay at 1.5 regardless of the amount of money they take on it. This is totally different to the NFL. In football, one max bet, can move the point spread by a half point or even a full point.
Let’s say the betting line on a match between the Patriots and the Saints opened as:
New England -5.5 -110
New Orleans +5.5 -110
If a sportsbook receives one maximum bet on New England, this may actually move the line. So now it might look like:
New England -6.5 -110
New Orleans +6.5 -110
In baseball this does not happen. Instead the odds change. So let’s say the Pirates are -1.5 +120, if there is a lot of bets on them, the line might move to -1.5 +110. If there is a lot of people betting against them at +120 it might move to +130.
Again, this is in stark contrast to how the NFL and NBA work. If a line is -110, that will never ever change.
Totals allow you to bet on the overall score of the game, rather than who will emerge victorious. The total is the combined score of both teams. So if a game ends 5-3 the total for that game is 8. A typical run total might look like:
New York Yankees 6.5 New York Mets
If the total score of both teams is 6 runs of lower, the under will payout. Should the total runs scored between the two teams be 7 or higher, the over will payout. Again, the half run (0.5) ensures there are no ties.
If you have been looking for a reason to take out your crystal ball, then now you have one. Betting on futures involves making a prediction about something that will happen, you guessed it, in the future. The most popular MLB futures market is on the winner of the World Series?
However, you can also bet on who will win the AL and NL pennants. The odds will vary based upon current expectations of the team you pick. Futures odds might look something like this for a strong and a weak team;
Atlanta Braves +800 (8 to 1)
Houston Astros +30000 (300 to 1)
As you can see, there can be a large gap in odds based upon team expectations. Notice that even picking a favorite, like the Braves to win the World Series, will still payout at 8 to 1 odds. This is because you are picking only one team against the entire field. So say you risked $100 dollars on the Braves to win the World Series and Atlanta rejoiced! The Braves become the MLB champions; you will earn an $800 payout on your $100 bet.
Futures markets have expanded tremendously in recent years with the increase in popularity of online betting. The markets I mentioned above only scratch the surface of what is available. Bettors can wager on MVPs of both leagues, divisional winners, home run crowns, Cy Young award and much more.
A baseball prop is a bet that is placed on a smaller aspect of the game, rather than who will be the winner of the contest. You might bet on who scores first, will any runs score in the first inning or how many errors will be in the game. A standard prop might look something like;
Miami Marlins Will any runs be scored in the first inning, yes or no?
Other common props include the number of strikeouts a pitcher may have in an outing or the number of hits plus RBIs a player will have in a game.
Props were extremely profitable for sharp bettors, due to the difficulties in pricing up markets effectively. Because of this, oddsmakers have lowered the max wager amount in order to make them less appealing to the pros.
Don’t Rely On Starters Too Heavily
This may seem contradictory since the listed starting pitchers are a significant factor in the bookmaker’s line. However, few starters can be counted on each and every start. Always make sure to look beyond the listed starters to get a better idea of how the game might go.
Utilize Lesser Known Statistics
Anyone can look at ERA, WHIP and bullpen ERA along with other more widely known stats. Baseball, more than any other sport, has a lot of statistics that can give real insight into a player’s true performance beyond just the basic numbers.
Sabremetric statistics are a powerful tool to help handicap games more effectively and predict how a pitcher or hitter might perform in the future.
For instance, Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) measures a pitcher’s ERA with average luck. It can be measured in both the short term and the long term, and works on the premise that pitchers have almost no control over balls hit into play. The stat is calculated on the same scale as ERA, so it can help to spot a pitcher who has been unlucky or one that is due to regress.
Look for Dime Lines
Perhaps more crucial than any other factor in MLB betting is getting the best price. To do that, make sure to look for dime lines before making a bet. The dime in “dime line” refers to the difference in price separating the favorite and the underdog which is 10 cents. Here’s an example:
San Diego Padres +130 Los Angeles Dodgers -140
Notice the difference of 10 between the lines, making this a cost effective bet no matter which side you pick.
Two of my favorite sportsbooks, both of which I recommend highly throughout this site should actually be avoided when betting on baseball. They are Bookmaker.eu and Bovada.lv. The reason is they have 20 cent lines for all MLB games. At the risk of sounding repetitive, it is paramount that you shop around to find the best odds. Putting your money on a 20c line is the equivalent of buying a coffee for $4 when the cafe next door sells the exact same cup for $2. A 20c line looks like this:
Detroit Tigers -180 Chicago White Sox +160
This is not a dime line as the difference between the two wagers is 20 cents, making it a far more expensive bet. This may not seem like much but it adds up heavily throughout the season.
Dime lines are offered by many sportsbooks and some sites may even offer 5-cent lines. Betting with dime lines will save you thousands of dollars of the course of a season.