Baseball season is a time for rejoicing amongst sports gamblers. The long season and data-driven nature of the game make it the perfect sport for number crunching and regression analysis, the things that separate the skilled handicappers from the wannabes. The analytics movement has already taken the game by storm, thanks to Billy Beane, and now we all have rich data sets and advanced metrics to work with so that we may maximize the accuracy of our forecasts.
If all of that isn’t exciting enough for you, how about the fact that underdogs win more frequently in baseball than any other league? Likewise, the differences in winning percentages of the best teams in the league and the worst are narrower than in any of the other major sports. What this all means is that if you’re properly prepared and know what to look for, baseball is highly exploitable for generous payouts.
Before we dig into the complicated stuff and start breaking down how to handicap games and build analytical models, this article is meant to provide basic tips to get you started in the right direction. We’re going to cover some of the most common baseball-specific wagers, share some variables you should consider when looking at games, and look at some ways to organize your bets to have the most positive impact on your bankroll.
The run line is a type of bet that’s unique to the sport of baseball, in a sense. You won’t find run lines offered for any other game, but you will find similar wagers. A run line is merely a point spread bet, in which you get to move the score 1.5 runs in either direction. The number of runs that you can move never changes; it’s always 1.5.
If you’re betting on the favored team, you will lose 1.5 points from your final score, meaning your team will need to win by at least 2 for you to cover the spread. Betting on the underdog is just the opposite; your side receives an additional 1.5 runs. As long as your pick only loses by one run in real life, you still win your bet.
Because there’s no option to apply a more drastic spread, the odds of each bet are still uneven. Where most handicap bets move the point spread enough to make betting on either side an even-money proposition, run lines do not do this.
If you’re gambling on a heavy favorite that’s realistically expected to win by 3-4 runs, losing 1.5 runs will only move the odds to something like -195, instead of -110.
If you prefer to forecast the type of game that will be played rather than anticipating which side will win, there are also run totals or over-under bets offered on the number of runs scored. The bookmaker sets a line – for example, 6.5 runs – and you wager on whether both teams’ total scoring output will be higher or lower than that number. The half-point is used to prevent ties.
So, in the example above, if the final score of the game is 4-3, the “over” bets would win. Run totals are great bets to pair with moneyline or run line bets on parlay cards. They’re also helpful if you know how a particular umpire or ballpark will impact offensive output.
4 ½ or 5-Inning Bets
Another wager that’s unique to baseball is the ability to gamble on only the first 4 ½ or 5 innings. The betting sites will allow you to choose either option, and the odds will vary slightly. The reason these bets are appealing is because of the immense importance of starting pitching in baseball and the fact that pitchers rarely complete a full game.
These bets are designed to essentially let you bet exclusively on the part of the game that you’re expecting the starting pitchers to still be on the mound. Sure, they could still get pulled early, but it’s less likely.
You will also find Major League Baseball futures bets on most online gambling sites. They offer odds on every team in the league for:
- Winning the World Series
- Winning their League
- Winning their Division
Some websites will also have odds on individual awards like the MVP and Cy Young, but those are less common than the three markets listed above. The odds for futures bets are expressed in fractions. This is because fractional odds are better for handling large pools of contestants.
Your average online betting site offers a wide variety of prop bets on every baseball game. Here are some of the prop bets currently being offered for an upcoming MLB contest:
- 1st Innings Winner
- 1st Innings Runs
- First Team to Score
- Last Team to Score
- Winning Margin
- Highest-Scoring Period
- Team Total Odd/Even
- 7 Innings Total
- Extra Innings
There are probably another fifteen options available, but you get the gist. When betting baseball, prop bets allow you to gamble on very specific outcomes all throughout the game. If you have a knack for predicting how a team will start or end a game or during what innings they’ll perform their best, you’ll most likely excel at proposition betting on baseball.
Tips to Consider When Making Your Picks
Between the nine different spots in the lineup, starting pitching, relief pitching, and everything that goes into defense, there are a lot of variables at play when trying to handicap baseball. If you’re able to build complex spreadsheets and crunch large datasets, you can break this sport down and create some compelling statistical models.
The following tips will play a role in the outcome of the games; they’re just more surface-level than what the top pros use.
Regardless, Rome wasn’t built in a day. These are just meant to get your mind thinking about these games in a certain way.
Due to baseball’s grueling 162-game extended schedule, players spend a significant portion of their time traveling and living on the road. Scientists have found that teams following specific travel patterns frequently experience a reduction in performance. This is due to their circadian rhythms being disrupted.
This study suggests that teams traveling from west to east while crossing multiple time zones will give up more home runs while hitting fewer. The prime opportunity to exploit this information is when an east-coast team is returning home after spending a week or more on the road. For each time zone crossed, an extra 24 hours is needed before returning to normal.
One weird thing about baseball is that it’s one of the only sports that doesn’t have standard dimensions for their playing surface. The diamond, pitcher’s mound, and foul poles are always the same, but beyond that, teams can do as they please. Some parks favor batters; some favor pitchers. Some are better for right-handed hitters; the others are better for lefties.
That’s why handicappers everywhere now track “park factors.” If you study sites with all of the dimensions and batting statistics, you will be able to more accurately consider the park’s role in an upcoming contest before placing your bets.
Just like the ballparks, a referee will play a massive role in the outcome of a baseball game. The man calling balls and strikes has a direct impact on what kind of contest it will be. Umps with large strike zones tend to have lower-scoring games with less offense, on average. The exact opposite is true as well.
It’s good to research all of the members of an officiating team at the beginning of a series. Each game, the officials will rotate clockwise, so you’ll always know the tendencies of the umpire calling the next game. Data-driven websites now record umpire statistics just like players so that you may use this information for your picks.
When you see the line a bookmaker is offering on a baseball game, that value is typically heavily based on the starting pitcher. Furthermore, pitching is the number-one factor the casual betting public forms their decision around, meaning the odds are skewed a bit towards starting pitching.
The best way to fade the public and find value is by studying and understanding teams’ bullpens.
These days, with strict pitch counts, middle and long relievers are more vital than ever. Teams with strong bullpens have a significant advantage. You may be better served gambling based on relief pitching than starting pitching in some scenarios.
Home and Away Records
This is an extremely basic variable, but it comes into account more than you’d think. It’s worth checking how much drastically better a team performs at home versus away, or vice versa. If the difference is significant, you then have a starting point to start diving into to figure out why. It could have something to do with the type of park, weather, and altitude; there’s no telling. But once you notice the first trend, you can extrapolate more information from there.
Find Your Niche
When you first start gambling, it’s normal to want to try all the different kinds of wagers and the various options. That’s fine in the short term, but over time, it is a sure way to lose money. The smart plan is to gradually find out what you’re good at forecasting and develop a specific niche to specialize in.
Maybe you’ll learn that you excel at totals bets on windy days at Wrigley Field. Or perhaps you’re good at predicting which team will score first when there’s a left-handed pitcher facing the Astros. It could be anything. All that matters is that you find a specialty, because those are much easier at exploiting for profitable returns.
Organize Your Bankroll
If there’s one tip you take away from this article, hopefully, it will be this one. Before you even place your first bet, you should have a set dollar amount that you plan to bet with and a set duration that you want it to last. The number of dollars you ultimately choose should be a value that you can afford to lose without it disrupting your day-to-day life in any way.
Once you have that money set aside, it’s time to organize it into individual bets. Depending on how long your money needs to last, decide how frequently you will be placing bets, and divide the bankroll accordingly. This is called a staking plan.
Once you’ve calculated how much to stake per bet, do not increase your wagers. Just stick to the plan regardless of your wins and losses.
If you take the time to do this up front, and you force yourself to keep this tiny amount of discipline, you can save yourself from potentially dangerous issues down the line. Gamblers that don’t pay attention to their money or that chase their losses frequently bet more than they intended or than they could afford to lose and get themselves in trouble. We love gambling on this website, but only when it’s done responsibly.
Look for Value
We will break this concept down in depth in a more advanced article, but it’s still vital that you understand the basics. When you’re betting on sports, you aren’t just trying to decide which team will win and plopping money down on them. Instead, the object of the game is to accurately forecast the probability of certain events happening.
Then, you compare your real-world probabilities with the implied probability that you calculate from the odds. If the likelihood of an outcome happening is higher than the odds suggest, that bet has value.
Think about a coin toss.
If you were gambling on whether a coin would land on heads or tails, you would expect the odds to be even money to reflect the 50% chance each result has. But what if the bookmaker offered you 3-to-1 odds on heads and 1-to-4 odds on tails?
No matter how strongly you feel in your heart that the next toss will land on tails, you have to bet heads every time.
That’s the bet with all of the value. And even if you lose a single toss, over time the odds will work themselves out to make “heads” a profitable bet and “tails” a fool’s errand.
Tips for Organizing Your Baseball Bets
Now that we’ve covered some of the most common baseball-specific bets you’ll find and a few of the criteria you should consider when gambling, it’s time to put it all together into actual wagers. These are some basic strategies to use when organizing your parlays to win these combo bets without letting a single lousy pick here or there ruin all of your cards. How you organize your picks can be just as important as predicting a high percentage of winners.
Correlate Your Parlays
Correlating your parlays just means pairing up your picks in a way that makes logical sense. For example, let’s say Team A is playing Team B. Team A’s strength is their potent lineup and high-scoring offense. Team B, on the other hand, is led by an ace starting pitcher that routinely shuts teams down. On your parlay card, you want to pick a winner and the over-under or run total.
In this game, clearly, something is going to have to give. One of these two team strengths is going to prevail. So, if you’re betting on Team A, it only makes sense to pair that choice with the “over,” since they win with their offense. If you think the pitching will prevail, your Team B bet should be parlayed with the “under.”
Round Robin Parlays
Round robin parlays are useful when you have four or five picks that you feel good about, but don’t want to put them all on one card, since only a single upset or wrong prediction can trash your entire ticket. Instead, round robin your picks to limit exposure to bad bets while still profiting from the rest.
So, let’s say you have four bets you like. To round robin your parlays, you’re going to make several three-pick parlays, each with a different combination of the four wagers. That way, if you lose one, only a card or two is lost, while the other parlay cards still return winnings.
Heavy Favorite and Two Underdogs
Attaching a considerable favorite to a parlay card is a way to sweeten the odds slightly. You want your favorite to be as close to a sure thing as possible. Then, you find two underdog picks, preferably in the +160 or more range. You place two separate parlay bets. The favorite appears on both cards, but the underdog pick is different on each.
You just have to ensure that the underdog odds are such that the parlays will pay out better than even-odds. If so, it’s an easy way to make money in small increments.
Betting on straight favorites is a hard way to win money. The way the odds are set, you have to risk too much just for the potential for a decent return. Winning back ten cents on the dollar isn’t worth that occasional colossal upset that wipes out all the money you have to stake.
So rather than betting favorites alone, consider pairing them together in two- or three-team parlays. This just helps to move the line a bit more in your favor. Risking $800 to win $100 would be a nightmare on a -800 bet, but if you can make a parlay and get that number to -350, that risk might be a bit more palatable.
The thing about baseball betting is that you can never run out of tips to give people. You can make gambling on the sport as complicated or straightforward as you desire. The way it’s broken up into hundreds of moments of action, with each movement and at-bat recorded into the statistics of the game, makes it the perfect sport for research and analysis, meaning it’s the ideal sport for gambling.
This article was meant to just scratch the surface of baseball betting – to get you thinking about value and how you can apply the different variables to your handicapping so that you may better predict outcomes in the future. It’s also to help you consider how you organize your bets. A person that hits 75% of their bets could win a lot or nothing at all, depending on how they arrange their picks.
Most importantly, remember the section about bankroll management and developing a staking plan before you place any bets. If you get the fundamentals down now, your sports gambling career is going to be much more rewarding and free of stress down the road. Sounds like a home run to me!