How to Bet on Baseball
Betting on baseball is a completely different experience from betting on any other sport. With 30 teams and a 162-game schedule, there are a staggering 2,430 regular season MLB games played over a span of about six months. This nearly doubles the total amount of regular season NBA games (1,230) and is over nine times more than the 256 regular season NFL games played. With so many betting opportunities available on a day-to-day basis, learning how to bet on baseball is a worthwhile endeavor for any sports fan in Tennessee.
Baseball betting: Different bet types
The massive amount of games available during the MLB season gives way to thousands of different betting options, as you can bet on each game in a number of ways. Here’s a look at the different ways that you can bet on baseball.
The most common way to bet on a baseball game is with a moneyline wager. These wagers are simply a bet on which team is going to win, but they do come with a caveat as both teams very rarely pay out the same amount on a win. The betting price on each team appears in the moneyline odds column.
For example, say that the Atlanta Braves are hosting the New York Mets. A standard game will be listed with the teams, starting pitchers and moneyline prices, like this: New York Mets, Jacob deGrom (+120) vs. Atlanta Braves, Mike Soroka (-140).
In this instance, a bet on the Mets to win will be at +120 (bet $100 to win $120) while a bet on the Braves to win will be at -140 (bet $140 to win $100). Odds vary greatly depending on the skill levels, starting pitchers and other factors around the two teams playing. An evenly matched game could see both teams listed at -110, while extremely lopsided ones have favorites of over -500 and underdogs of over +400.
Runlines are a popular alternative to moneyline wagers in which the underdog (the team that the sportsbook projects as less likely to win) receives a handicap of +1.5 runs and the favorite (the team the sportsbook projects to win) receives a handicap of -1.5 runs. The betting lines are adjusted to take this handicap into account.
Sticking with the same example from above, the New York Mets are a +120 underdog on the moneyline, so they will be the team receiving the +1.5 runs on the runline. The runline for this game might look like this: New York Mets +1.5 (-135) vs. Atlanta Braves -1.5 (+115).
If you bet on New York on the runline at +1.5, your wager will win if the Mets win outright or if they lose by exactly one run. A bet on Atlanta at -1.5 will cash if the Braves win by two or more runs. Runline wagers offer bettors the chance at bigger payouts on the favorites they like and more security on underdogs that they like.
Right next to the moneyline prices and the runline prices on the betting board is the game’s “total.” Sportsbooks project a certain number of total runs to be scored in the game and list this as the total. Bettors can then bet on whether the actual number of runs in the game will go over or under this projected number. This is why these baseball bets are also referred to as over/unders.
Say that sportsbooks are predicting a pitching duel between Jacob deGrom and Mike Soroka, so they set the line on New York vs. Atlanta at 7.5 runs. Bettors who bet the over will need the two teams to combine to score at least eight runs over the course of the game, while those who bet the under will be rooting for a combined total of seven runs or fewer.
Which team wins or the distribution of the runs doesn’t matter. A 13-0 Mets win (13 runs) or a 5-3 Braves win (eight runs) will both pay out winners who bet the over 7.5.
First five inning lines
Baseball bettors have the option of betting on only the first five innings of the game with “first five” lines. These lines take bullpens or late-inning rain delays out of the equation as they are scored based on the score at the end of the fifth inning. First five inning lines offer modified moneyline, runline, and totals numbers and prices that apply only to the first five innings of the game. Runline sides often appear with a 0.5 line instead of a 1.5 line on first-five bets.
Proposition bets (also known as prop bets) are bets on events that happen within the game that aren’t directly tied to the outcome of the game. For example, you might be able to bet on whether Mike Trout will have over or under 3.5 hits+runs+RBI in a game, or if Max Scherzer will have over or under 8.5 strikeouts. These are examples of player props as they are props based on player performances.
Other common prop types include game props (on events like will either team score in the first inning, “Yes” or “No”) and team props (such as will the Washington Nationals score over or under 4.5 runs in today’s game). One of the most well-known baseball props is the runs+hits+errors prop, which sets a combined total on these three categories for bettors to go over or under on.
Long-term bets on events such as what team will win the World Series or what pitcher will win the National League Cy Young Award are futures bets. You can place futures bets at any time during the season, but the bets do not resolve until the season has run its course. Odds on future events receive updates throughout the year based on team records, performances, injuries and other factors that could influence the outcome of the futures bet in question.
How to bet on baseball: Betting strategies
Now that you know the different ways to bet on baseball, let’s go over some handicapping strategies that could help you pick some winners and make some money betting on baseball.
Don’t forget to handicap bullpens
Every sports bettor who has bet on baseball with any regularity can tell you plenty of bad beat stories about how the perfect handicapped game went south due to an ugly blown save. This is unfortunately just a part of baseball, and in some cases you will be the victim of bad luck. But in other cases, these late-game collapses may have had some warning signs.
- Rest days — Virtually all relief pitchers require a day of rest if they have pitched in three consecutive games. But there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to bullpen rest days, as different players and managers have different systems. A hard-throwing pitcher might need a day off after two straight appearances instead of three. Study every team’s bullpen depth and tendencies (and check manager interviews on player availability).
- Fatigue — Along the same lines, check box scores to study recent bullpen usage. A relief pitcher may be available in today’s game, but there could be a big difference in his performance level or pitch count depending on if he threw eight pitches in a tidy 1-2-3 inning yesterday of labored through a 31-pitch outing.
- Recent form — Confidence is essential to high-pressure bullpen work. A pitcher who has had a couple of rough outings in a row may be trying to pitch through an injury or may be dealing with some confidence issues. On the flip side, a generally shaky pitcher who has strung together a few strong performances could carry that momentum into another one. Be aware of the current form of the bullpen’s key pitchers.
Taking the time to break down the bullpens on games that you like the starting pitchers and lineups in will increase your confidence, and allow you to skip the game or bet on the first five innings instead in others.
Be selective when betting on games
The advice to be selective when choosing which games to bet on applies to all sports, but it is especially important in baseball. Again, there are 2,340 MLB games across a six-month season. Monday and Thursday schedules can be slightly lighter due to travel days, but on most days throughout the season, every team in the league will be in action.
It’s easy to say that you should skip an NFL Sunday if there aren’t any games that you like, but when you only have a full card to handicap and bet on once a week, taking the day off is easier said than done. But when it comes to betting on baseball, there really isn’t any reason to bet on games that you don’t love. There will always be another full day of action right around the corner.
Being selective will help make your bankroll last longer as you won’t be stretching it too thin betting on too many games. And in the long run it will be more profitable too as you will only be betting on teams, pitchers and situations that you have found success with in the past.
Home field advantage isn’t that big of a deal in baseball
It feels as if home field advantage should matter a lot in baseball. Baseball is the only major sport in the United States that doesn’t have a uniform playing field no matter where you play. Baseball outfields have unique dimensions and wall sizes depending on the particular field. The home team also gets the last chance to win the game in the bottom of the ninth inning and has the home crowd behind it.
But statistically, MLB teams don’t perform much better at home than they do on the road, with home teams generally only winning about 53-55% of their games per year. NFL home teams have won about 57% of their regular season home games over the last 20 years, while NBA teams are at right around 60%.
A FiveThirtyEight study in 2017 on home field advantage revealed that in the playoffs, the winning percentage of home teams in the NBA and NFL shot up to nearly 65%. But from 2000 to 2017, there was virtually no change in the postseason for MLB home teams, as they won just 54.2% of their games.
Home teams do perform slightly better than road teams, but not to the same extent as in other sports. You should still study the home and road splits of individual teams to find exceptions to the rule, but in general you don’t have to worry too much about home field advantage.
Look for value on underdogs
Online sportsbooks in Tennessee and around the country are in the business of making money. They know that when Justin Verlander takes the mound at home with the high-powered Houston Astros offense behind him, the vast majority of the betting action is going to come in on that side, and rightfully so. Verlander wins the majority of his starts, and often covers the -1.5 runline, too.
But if you want to bet on Houston, understand that you are going to do so at a heavy premium. Because sportsbooks know that a Houston win is the likeliest outcome and that sports bettors bet the favorite heavily in these spots, they are going to set the price sky-high.
In August 2019, the Astros lost games to the Chicago White Sox as -380 road favorites (bet $380 to win $100), to the Baltimore Orioles as -460 road favorites, and to the Detroit Tigers as -515 home favorites. These were fluke upsets against bad teams that would have been hard to predict, but they are real-world reminders that even the worst teams in the league are still compiled of professional athletes, and the best teams in the league are prone to letdown performances.
When you see an “obvious” spot, remember that everyone else is going to know that it’s obvious, too. Make sure that you still feel it is a profitable bet at its super high price, or consider going with the underdog at a great price instead if you can find a case for the upset.