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Odds and Ends

How to bet baseball like a pro

Updated On: April 13, 2020, 7:57 pm ET

How to Bet Baseball Basics

 

How to Bet MLB Moneylines

The most common way to bet on MLB are moneyline odds – simply picking which team will win the game outright. But because not all baseball teams are at the same skill level, oddsmakers assign a set of values to both sides of a game based on implied probability of winning.

For example, the New York Yankees are at home hosting the Boston Red Sox. The Yankees are the stronger team and playing at home, so they have a higher implied probability of victory. The Red Sox aren’t as good as the Yankees and are the visitors, so they have a lower implied probability of winning the game.

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A $100 wager placed on the Yankees’ moneyline at -150 would payout $66.67 in profit if it won, while a $100 bet on the Red Sox at +130 would payout $130 in profit if the underdog was victorious.

Another way to look at MLB moneyline odds is to treat them like a currency exchange. In order to get $100 back from betting on the Yankees -150 you must wager $150 – or risk $1.50 for every $1 you want to win. A $100 bet on the Red Sox +130 could turn a profit of $130 – or $1.30 for every $1 wagered.

 

How to Bet MLB Totals

If you don’t have a strong opinion on which team will win the ballgame but expect the game to be high or low scoring, you can always bet on MLB totals.

Also known as the Over/Under, oddsmakers calculate the expected combined runs scored by both teams and offer the option of betting on whether the final score will go OVER that projected run total or stay UNDER the projected number of runs. The Over/Under total takes many factors into consideration, including starting pitchers, current team performance and offensive stats, home and away splits, and game-time weather.

MLB totals will be displayed as either a whole number (such as 9 runs) or as fractional number with half runs (such as 9.5 runs). You may be asking how a team scores half a run but that’s not exactly what oddsmakers are stating with these types of totals.

An Over/Under with a whole number can have a final score equal to that exact total (a 5-4 final score is exactly 9 runs), which means the Over/Under wagers are graded as a tie or push and the original bet amounts are returned. With fractional Over/Under totals, the final score can’t produce half runs so there’s no chance of a push (a 5-4 final score stays UNDER the 9.5 runs while a 6-4 final score goes OVER the 9.5-run total).

How to Bet MLB Runlines

While most MLB betting is done via moneylines – picking which team will win the game outright – sportsbooks also offer baseball’s version of the spread: the runline.

With the majority of MLB games decide by slim margins, most runlines have a spread of 1.5 runs and are used to level the playing field between two teams. Many factors go into the MLB runlines, such as starting pitchers, overall and recent team performance, and home/away splits.  

The team with the higher implied probability of winning the game – or the favorite - will have a runline of -1.5, which means they have a handicap of 1.5 runs and must win by two or more in order to be graded the runline winner. The team with the lower implied probability of victory – or the underdog - will have a runline of +1.5, which means they’ve been given 1.5 extra runs and can lose by one run or win outright to be graded the runline winner.

There’s also a set of odds associated with each team’s runline, more commonly known as the juice, vig, vigorish or price, which is calculated based on each team’s implied probability of covering their assigned runline (-1.5 or +1.5).

Here’s where it can get tricky for those new to MLB runline betting: while a team may be set as a runline favorite at -1.5, covering that spread is harder than winning outright, based on the matchup. Therefor, that team winning by two or more runs has a lower implied probability. That’s why it’s common to see a runline of -1.5 being set with positive or “plus money” vig.

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On the other side of the diamond, a team with a +1.5 runline could have a higher implied probability of covering depending on the difference in skill between the two clubs. That means the vig attached to the +1.5 could be set with negative or “minus money” vig.

For example, the New York Yankees are hosting the Boston Red Sox in the Bronx. The Yankees have the higher implied probability to win outright and are then set as 1.5-run favorites on the runline with the vig priced at +140 – you can win $1.40 for every $1 wagered or $140 on a $100 bet.

The Red Sox have a lower implied probability of winning outright against a superior Yankees team on the road, and are deemed +1.5 runline underdogs with the vig attached set at -160 – you need to wager $1.60 for every $1 you want to win or win $48.08 on a $100 wager.

If the Yankees beat the Red Sox 5-4, they fail to cover the -1.5 runline despite winning outright and runline bets on the Yankees -1.5 are graded as a loss and runline bet on the Red Sox +1.5 are graded as a win. However, if the Yankees beat the Red Sox 6-4 they would not only win the game outright but cover the 1.5-run spread, grading those Yankees -1.5 bets as a winner and grading bet on Red Sox +1.5 a loss.

 

MLB Futures Betting

Beyond the odds for the daily action on major league diamonds, you can also bet on MLB World Series odds and other season-long events and results. These types of wagers are best known as futures odds. MLB futures include World Series odds, American and National League Pennant odds, division winners, AL and NL MVP and Cy Young awards, and Over/Under season win totals for all 30 MLB clubs.

These odds are also adjusted throughout the year with team performance, player movement and injuries, as well as individual betting handle influencing those odds. And, once the postseason begins, the market is trimmed to only those qualifying playoff clubs.

Futures bets can be placed at varying times throughout the year, even during the MLB offseason, and are constantly adjusting. When looking specifically at the odds to win the World Series, the best teams – clubs with the highest implied probability - are near the top of the futures list and have the shortest odds available, which means that while they are more likely to win the World Series the payout is not as large due to the smaller risk.

 

What Counts as a MLB Game

Baseball is right behind oil and the Wicked Witch of the West when it comes to things that don’t mix well with water. And in the early workings of the MLB season, you’re going to be faced with plenty of rainouts and delays.

April showers bring May flowers and plenty of headaches for baseball bettors who don’t know their sportsbook's rules when it comes to grading MLB games as official. Different bets need a different amount of innings in the scorebook to be considered complete. These may vary from book to book, but the most common rulings are:

• MLB moneyline wagers only need 4.5 completed innings with the home team winning or five innings with the road team winning to be graded official.

• Total bets (Over/Under) must have at least nine innings (8.5 with home team winning) to be considered complete.

• Runline bets (spread) must also have at least nine innings (8.5 with home side winning) to be graded official.

If these requirements are not met, books grade the game no-action and bets are refunded. For extra-inning games that go more than nine innings and then get canceled or suspended, wagers are graded on the final score after the last completed inning or if the home team is winning/tied heading into the bottom of the inning. Wagers on suspended games do not carry over to whenever the game picks back up again.

 

Key Baseball Betting Tips

Starting Pitching

Baseball teams play more games than any other sport. This means as the season progresses, you have a substantial amount of statistical data to analyze. The starting pitchers are the most important factor in setting baseball lines. Two offenses could be equal, but if one team has a substantially better starting pitcher on the mound, they might be anywhere from a -150 to -200 moneyline favorite.

When analyzing the pitching matchup, there are three key statistical categories to take into account: No. 1. ERA (earned run average) tells how many runs per nine-innings the pitcher is allowing. Any number below 3.50 is solid, and below 3.00 ERA is All-Star quality. No. 2. WHIP (walks + hits per innings pitched) gives a good indication of how many base runners a pitcher is allowing each inning. A WHIP below 1.30 is solid and below 1.10 is excellent. No. 3. K/BB (strikeout/walk ratio) and K/9 (strikeouts per nine innings) are also useful as this once again shows which pitchers are able to keep runners off of the bases by striking them out.

Bullpens

While starting pitching is still the key factor to handicapping baseball, it has become less of a factor in deciding the result of games. This is because most starting pitchers only last 5-6 innings per game, which means bullpens now play a bigger role in the outcome. For this reason, you must also factor in bullpen statistics such as ERA, WHIP, and save percentage.

Handicapping the bullpens is a bit tricky since you never know which actual relief pitcher(s) will be brought into a game. Therefore, using overall seasonal numbers for the entire bullpen is a good barometer. Also, look to play against teams that have used several relief pitchers in the past one or two games as fatigue often becomes an issue.

Pitching Changes

Starting pitchers are the most important element when it comes to setting and betting the MLB odds. So when a scheduled starter is suddenly swapped out, most books offer bettors who wagered on the moneyline, runline, or total for that game a couple different options.

• You can opt to rule the bet no-action and return all money risked. No harm, no foul.

• You can keep your bet in place but at the adjusted odds after the pitching change.

• Any prop bets directly connected to the pitching change are deemed no-action and bets are returned.

Not all books will actively pursue your decision to void or keep the bet in place, rather just sending an email that the wager is void due to a pitching change. If the bettor wants to place the same wager on the adjusted odds after the switch, they’ll have to do it manually.

Offense

When analyzing offensive statistics, you can look at the overall team numbers such as runs per game, team batting average, and OPS (on-base + slugging percentage). Be sure to break down the offensive numbers for home and road games, as well as the difference when facing right-handed pitchers (RHP) and left-handed pitchers (LHP). Some teams often exhibit extreme home road dichotomies or perform substantially better against righties or southpaws.

Current form/injuries

With the long 162-game regular season, momentum and current form are important handicapping factors. Look to back teams playing well and avoid teams that are struggling, until they turn the corner. This is especially true with current offensive momentum (good and bad). Also, keep an eye out for injuries or teams that might be resting starters.

5-Inning Lines

In addition to full-game sides and totals most sportsbooks now offer 1, 3, 5, and 7-inning betting options as well. And the 5-inning betting is the moneyspot for those looking for a real edge when it comes to their MLB handicapping.

Every baseball bettor out there has a story about a bullpen that blew a big lead late and sank their bet. Well, the 5-inning bet eliminates that risk and many other variables. You can reasonably expect a starter, particularly the aces of the world, to go five innings in a start. So, the 5-inning option allows you to handicap only the starters and how they fare against the opposing teams.

Another advantage is you have the chance to push on your sides whereas you can only win or lose on sides for 9-inning wagers.\

 

Handicapping Umpires

One of the best kept secrets among sharp baseball bettors is using MLB home plate umpire stats when researching their daily wagers.

Every umpire is different. Some have a large strike zone, benefiting pitchers and Under bettors, while others have a small strike zone, which helps hitters and Over bettors. Some give the home team the benefit of the doubt and others are not rattled by their surroundings.

Over/Under Umps

The one MLB wager that utilizes umpire stats the most is betting baseball totals. You can find how a team is playing offensively as well as how the starting pitcher is performing in recent efforts, and should weigh those factors against the umpire calling the balls and strikes. You can simply go to our MLB umpire stats and find which umpires call more Over winners and which ones are involved with more Under winners.

Factoring those umpires with a particular lean to the Over or Under, along with the teams’ current form and starting pitchers, should give you a good idea of which side of the MLB total you want to wager on.

Matching Umps and Pitchers

As mentioned above, some umpires have a liberal strike zone while others call the game much tighter. Recognizing how a home plate ump calls the balls and strikes can give you a huge edge when capping starting pitchers and Over/Under totals.

For example, if an umpire is known for having a big strike zone and is calling a game with an accurate pitcher, who likes to paint the corners, then there is a good chance the pitcher – and their team - will excel given those added inches.

This also gives value to the Under, as the pitcher will strike out more batters than walk, putting less men on base and therefor allowing fewer runs than normal.

However, if you have a command-based pitcher on the mound and an umpire with a stingy strike zone behind home plate, that pitcher could struggle to get Ks as they attempt to nibble the corners of the strike zone.

That quickly translates to more balls than strikes and can often force a starter to throw pitches they wouldn’t normally make – just to appease the umpire – and change their approach to each hitter as they find themselves walking more batters than normal. This opens value to play against those pitchers as well as the Over, with more men getting on base due to elevated walks and just seeing more pitches in general.

Home/Away and team trends

While MLB umpires are supposed to be neutral when it comes to home and away teams, there are some umpires who side with the host teams more than the visitors. There may be a subconscious factor at play with these types of umpires, who feel like they need to appease the home crowds. However, there is a flip side to those trends, as road teams have prevailed more often with certain umpires behind home plate.

Along with these Home/Away and Over/Under records, Covers generates unique umpire trends for each and every MLB game on the schedule. Throughout the course of a 162-game baseball season, betting trends will develop between home plate umpires and MLB clubs and their starting pitchers, giving leans toward certain sides and totals.

 

Watching Weather

With the MLB schedule spanning the spring, summer and fall, baseball bettors will want to keep a close eye on the weather reports around the major leagues.

Rain

For the most part, baseball doesn’t do rain. When you’re throwing a hard ball at 100 mph and swinging a heavy bat trying to hit said ball, safety is a big concern and umps will call for the tarps if it gets too wet. But that’s not to say baseball won’t take place in mist or light rain.

Rain can have an impact on how a pitcher grips the ball, so those pitchers relying on breaking balls – which require specific grips – could lack command if the weather gets wet and wild. Pitchers are also left standing on the mound in the middle of a rain storm, while batters get to seek shelter inside the dugout. Getting soaked and cold can leave pitchers tight and uncomfortable, which could lead to bad throws or shorter appearances.

When it does rain enough for umpires to delay or postpone the game, there are some other factors bettors can consider. Depending on how far a pitcher has gone into a game before it was delayed, you may not see that arm again on the mound if action returns. If they do return from a lengthy layoff, the pitcher could be cold and out of rhythm. There could be some opportunity to jump in the live in-game market and play against pitchers in this spot or with the Over.

And if a game is fully postponed due to rain, there could be a double header set for the next day. Given that situation, MLB bettors should take a long look at bullpens – especially as it pertains to the first game of the double header. If a team digs deep into its relievers in Game 1, they may be hesitant to turn to the bullpen in Game 2 – even if the starter struggles early on. You can find value going against those thinning bullpens and also with the Over.

One more thing to consider when capping games with possible wet weather is that a soggy playing surface is a slow playing surface, which means ground balls are slowed down and easier to field compared to a dry fast surface. This could give an advantage to ground-ball pitchers and teams with solid infield defense.

Wind

When it comes to outdoor sporting events, wind is the most influential factor. Baseball is no exception. Taking a look at wind speed and direction is a must-do for any baseball bettor handicapping a game played in an open-air stadium.

There are a handful of ballparks that change dramatically with different wind conditions, none more so than Wrigley Field in Chicago. The Windy City lives up to its nickname, and many sportsbooks won’t set a total on Chicago Cubs games until the morning when they have a better idea how the wind is blowing. A strong gust blowing toward the bleachers can turn pop flys into home runs, while a wind pushing toward home plate can keep the ball inside the park.

Baseball bettors should measure those wind conditions against the team and pitching matchups. A starter who allows more fly balls could get dinged for home runs if the winds are blowing toward the outfield, while a groundball pitcher may not be impacted as much. Some lineups swing for the fences, and could get more power from the gusty gales compared to teams that play contact small ball.

Hot and Cold

Temperatures range at either end of the mercury during baseball season. It’s nothing to see snow in the early workings of the MLB calendar and then plus-100 degree weather come the summer, only to be cooled off again in the fall.

Capping the cold is an underrated and underused edge in baseball betting. Often times, MLB bettors can find a West Coast or Southern ball club in Colorado, Cleveland or Chicago in early April, when game-time temperatures have been known to hover around freezing. Those players, used to warmer climates, may not respond as well to the chilly environment.

On top of that, pitchers can find themselves frigid on the mound with their hands stinging with every pitch and struggling to get a good grip on the baseball in those climates. Batters, however, can find warmth in heated dugouts before making their trip to the plate.

As the weather warms up in the summer, some locations challenge teams with searing temperatures and high humidity. Spots like Arlington in Texas can turn up the heat on opponents, serving up starters like eggs in a frying pan. Some MLB handicappers turn to heavier-set starting pitchers in these situations, rather than lighter hurlers, simply because they aren’t drained as quickly by the heat and can go deeper into a start.

Humidity, much like wind, can have a major impact on fly balls. In the dog days of summer, balls tend to carry much further which means a deep fly ball that would be a warning-track out in May is now a home run in August. This drastic shift in distance can also be seen in domed stadiums that open the roof in the summer months. Places like the Rogers Centre in Toronto and Chase Field in Arizona can give life to deep fly balls if the roof is open and the humidity index is high. Finding out if the roof will be opened or closed can help give you an edge with these types of ballparks.

 

Swing Into Spring

Many baseball bettors wouldn’t be caught dead wagering on spring training lines, but some believe there is value to be had if you know what to look for.

Do Your Homework

Like betting any preseason sport, you have to know what the gameplan is before even thinking of putting your hard-earned coin on the line. Read, read and read some more.

“One advantage that bettors have in these exhibition games is information,” Covers Expert Matt Fargo says. “Similar to NFL preseason games where coaches give out their player rotations and game plans, managers in baseball are very up front on how long starters will be pitching for and what sort of lineups they are going with.”

Listen to what the manager is hoping to accomplish this spring. Is he working in prospects or trying to sure up the rotation? And study up on key players and how they approach spring ball. Do they pace themselves in February and March or come out swinging?

Play it Cool

The first few games of spring training might as well be a high school science fair. Managers are experimenting with lineups and rotations, mixing this guy with that guy and swapping bodies like he’s rolling out hockey lines. New managers are working with players for the first time, still getting an idea of how to best use their talents.

Players are also a tough read in the opening slate of exhibition games. Some guys are easing into the action, others are battling for positions with the big-league club, and others are just trying to stay healthy. Keep an ear to the base paths or sit back and watch how a manager is treating the first weeks of spring ball.

Pitching Matchups

As spring training marches on, starting pitchers take on more and more work. Guys will go at least five innings, giving you a pretty good idea of what to expect from the staff. The best situation is when you have an ace matched up against a No. 4 or No. 5 starter or a young prospect trying to break into the show. Managers aren’t quick to change up pitchers in the spring, even if a guy is getting hammered.

Bet the Better Team

Roster depth and a surplus of talent can go a long way in spring training. Since veterans tend to limit themselves in the exhibition slate, knowing who’s behind them is imperative to betting spring baseball.

A talent-loaded lineup can make up for the absence of one or two big bats, while a shallow roster struggles without those elite hitters at the plate. It’s the reason baseball bettors see many of the same clubs excelling spring after spring.

Ride Streaks

There is almost zero consistency in spring training, so when you start to see a pattern – winning or losing – jump on it. Managers couldn’t care less about the results, so don’t expect them to rush to right the ship if their club struggles in the spring. And if a team is winning, the skip must be doing something right and will only tweak minor details.


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