HomeMLBHow to Bet on MLB: Basics of Betting on Baseball

    How to Bet on MLB: Basics of Betting on Baseball

    A basic guide to betting on baseball and how MLB differs from betting on other sports.

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    Basics of Betting on Baseball

    (This article originally appeared in the 2024 MLB Betting Primer – get your copy here)

    Consider this the primer within the Primer, as baseball can be something of a difficult and frustrating sport to bet on for those who are not used to it. There are some fundamental differences between baseball and other sports that are worth discussing, along with some higher-level thoughts to keep in mind as the season draws near.

     

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    Let’s start with the differences and then get into the strategy.

    Baseball is a moneyline sport: Instead of having a spread like football and basketball, baseball is a moneyline sport. In nearly all cases, there will be a plus-money line on the underdog and a minus-money line on the favorite, something like -140 and +120.

    The moneyline odds, much like in other sports, convert to an implied win probability, which is how the sportsbooks set the odds and how bettors analyze which side they want to bet.

    You can bet a version of a spread called the “run line”, which is traditionally listed at -1.5, but there are “alternate run lines” out there like -2.5, -3.5, +2.5, etc., but moneylines are the most common bet type.

    Starting pitchers determine the odds: The strength of the team and the lineup are absolutely factors, but the starting pitcher is the most important part of the handicap and they are actually listed by the odds for the game. That is obviously different from something like the NFL or NHL, where the quarterback and goaltender are extremely important, but aren’t specifically listed.

    A really bad offensive team may have its best starting pitcher on the mound and they won’t be nearly as much of an underdog as they would be with somebody else in line for the start.

    1st 5 vs. Full Game: Bettors have the option to bet on the 1st 5 Innings (think 1st Half) or full game. A lot of bettors will shy away from full-game betting in baseball because of the volatility of bullpens and relief pitchers. Also, you’ve handicapped the game based on the starting pitchers. What happens when they leave the game is open to a lot of interpretation.

    It’s not like the QB suddenly gets replaced for somebody with a fresher arm in the third quarter or a goaltender gets pulled because he’s tired in the third period. Relative to baseball, other sports operate under a “the game is the game” type of premise. In baseball, the guy with the biggest impact on the game is typically pitching five or six innings of a nine-inning game.

    1st Inning bets: A lot of bettors love to play “Yes/No 1st Inning Run” props. You could think of this as a 1st Quarter or “Race to X Points” prop if you want, but these are growing in popularity, especially because there are a lot of people out there who find baseball boring and would rather have an instant gratification bet in play. These odds will obviously be set based on the starting pitchers and the top of each batting order.

    These are the four main differences. There are other nuances, but I’ll touch on those as part of the strategy elements.

    MLB Betting Strategies

    Shop around for the best odds: Baseball used to have a standard called “Dime Lines”, which are still used in faraway places at some sportsbooks, but most of the market now uses a 20-cent line or sometimes higher.

    You want to find a sportsbook that offers fair MLB odds. A “20-cent line” would be like the above example of an underdog at +120 and a favorite at -140. A “dime line” or “10-cent line” would be more like +120 and -130 or +125 and -135. The type of line is defined by the difference between the two odds.

    It is always in your best interest to shop around for the best odds and moneyline sports make that concept even more vital. Don’t take -140 when you can have -135. If you are betting $100 per unit, it is a five-dollar difference to bet $140 to win $100 as opposed to $135 to win $100. Those differences add up. More often than not, spreads are very similar across the board. Moneyline sports can have more variance from sportsbook to sportsbook with the odds.

    Analyze the weather and the ballpark: Basketball courts are pretty much all the same. Football fields have different playing surfaces, but are still 100 yards with two end zones. Baseball stadiums vary greatly and play to different strengths and weaknesses.

    Home teams across sports have advantages based on the crowd, familiarity, and sometimes the weather, but all 30 Major League stadiums are different. Every stadium stores the baseballs to be used in the game in a humidor to try and account for the atmospheric differences in an effort to standardize the ball.

    But, all ballparks and environments are different. In hotter weather, a team that hits for more power may have a big advantage over a team that does not. Teams without power bats may fare better in the cooler months in April and early May than they will in the summertime because the other team’s offensive output will be diminished. Ballparks with deeper dimensions may hurt left-handed hitters or right-handed hitters based on how far away the wall is from home plate.

    Some ballparks also play differently based on the wind. Wrigley Field is a prime example, where totals with the wind blowing in might be 6.5 or 7 and totals with the wind blowing out might be 12 or 12.5. All of these things have to be factored into your handicap. Temperature and wind are two very big factors when betting totals.

    Remember, MLB teams play 81 games at home (with the exception of international games or extreme circumstances), so they can tailor their rosters and skill sets to their specific ballpark in hopes of having more success.

    Picking out props: Prop betting is really popular in baseball. Bets like “Will [Player] hit a home run?” or “Total Bases” or “Pitcher Strikeouts” are among the most common, but there are plenty of others. The individual battles in baseball make these enticing handicaps because it is batter vs. pitcher or pitcher vs. team for most of those stats.

    You don’t have to worry about other players on the floor or on the field. It also allows you to focus on one particular element of the game instead of the game as a whole. With the immense amount of publicly-available data, you can look at everything about a pitcher vs. batter matchup and confidently take a position. A lot of people will only bet props as a result.

    Be prepared for the grind: The last, and probably most important, “strategy” element I will leave you with is that the MLB season is long. It is 187 days and every team plays 162 games. The only days with no games will be during the All-Star Break. Most days will have 15 games, with lighter travel days on Monday and Thursday. You might get 15 games a couple times per season in the NBA/NHL and football teams only play once a week.

    It is a very different beast and one that can absolutely get overwhelming, especially during the days and weeks when it seems like nothing is going right. Try to keep a level head and the right perspective. Take a day off when you need to. Focus on your strengths and work on your weaknesses as time permits. Find what works for you and try to stick to that routine.

    Adam Burke
    Adam Burke
    Adam Burke is the Managing Editor of VSiN.com and has spent well over a decade in the sports betting content creation space. He has been with VSiN since 2021 and covers a wide range of sports, along with hosting the VSiN Daily Baseball Bets podcast.

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