The question of how to bet on baseball is one that a new group of maturing baseball fans asks themselves each and every year. And why not? The regular Major League Baseball season runs from April to October and sees 30 teams playing a total of 162 games. Add in the postseason playoffs and the World Series and it’s easy to see why this sport is one of the most popular among sports bettors.
The aim of this Expert Guide to Baseball Betting is to provide you with all the information you need to start betting on baseball in a way that maximizes your chances of success.
We will highlight the main betting markets that you would do well to focus on, and then we will provide guidance on which stats you should be particularly careful to consider before making bets in those markets.
The most common type of betting market in baseball is the moneyline, also known simply as the line. It is popular because it is very simple to understand. All it requires you to do is predict which team will win a particular game. This makes it a great market for those who are just learning how to bet on baseball.
Baseball betting lines will show you the two teams involved in the matchup with a different price for each.
The price for the team that the sportsbook expects to win will be negative (-). You would need to bet that price in dollars to make a $100 profit if the bet wins.
The price for the underdog team will be positive (+). You would need to bet $100 in order to win the price in dollars if the bet wins.
Consider the following:
Toronto Blue Jays
Baseball Betting Lines
In this game, if you believe that the Orioles will win, you would need to bet $190 to achieve a return of $290. That would give you a profit of $100.
If you believe that the Blue Jays will win, you would need to bet $100 to achieve a return of $222. That would give you a profit of $122.
How to Bet on Baseball Run Lines
Baseball Run Line betting also requires you to predict the winning team. However, here you are betting on the number of runs that a team will score. The Run Line is presented as a very narrow spread of 1.5. One team is quoted at -1.5 and the other at +1.5.
If you bet on the team quoted at -1.5, their final score will be reduced by 1.5 runs before your bet is determined a winner or loser. You would therefore need the team to win by 2 runs or more for your bet to win.
If you bet on the team quoted at +1.5, their final score will be increased by 1.5 runs before your bet is settled. The team would therefore need to win the game or lose by no more than 1 run for your bet to win.
What is the best time to bet on the Run Line? When you believe that the favorite team will win, but the moneyline doesn’t offer you much value. In that case, you could take the -1.5 and get a better return on your money if they win by 2 runs or more.
For example, consider a game between the New York Yankees and the Detroit Tigers. The moneyline price for the Yankees is -360. But you don’t like the idea of risking $360 for a $100 profit. If you were to bet the Run Line instead, you might be able to get the Yankees -1.5 at -200. This would reduce your risk to $200 for a $100 profit.
The Run Line should therefore be viewed as a great way to get action on a game where you think the team has a good chance of easily defeating their opponent.
How to Bet on Baseball First-Five Innings
This market requires you to predict which team will be in the lead when the first five innings of the game have been completed. It is similar to a first-half result bet in basketball or football. Similarly, it tends to offer more value than you would get in the main moneyline market.
The key to success with this bet is to use it selectively. For example, if a starter is notorious for getting a lot of strikeouts, thus throwing a lot of pitches, but rarely going more than five or six innings, this might be the ideal bet. You won't have to leave your money in the hands of the team's bullpen; you can just bet the five-inning line.
How to Bet on Baseball Totals
Baseball totals work like the Over/Under markets in other sports. They require you to predict the total number of runs that will be scored in a game. Most run totals will fall between seven and ten runs. This depends on the team and the starting pitchers for the game.
Weather can be an important factor in betting on totals in baseball. If you see cold temperatures or the wind blowing in, the Under might be a good bet. If it is a nice sunny day with the wind blowing out, an Over bet might be in order.
In this section, we will highlight several strategic approaches to using past form to guide your betting activities. No strategy is foolproof. However, relying on a rational strategy when betting will always give you a better chance of success than relying purely on luck or your personal baseball allegiances.
Starting Pitching is Key
There is a well-known saying that ‘pitching wins championships’ but pitching can also help you to win baseball bets. Looking at the starters for the game might be even more important than knowing the two teams playing. That's because great pitching usually offsets great hitting.
The Los Angeles Dodgers might have one of the best teams in baseball. However, when they have their number 5 starter going against another team's ace, they probably aren't the team to bet on. This makes baseball quite different from many other sports because in baseball the best team isn't always the best bet.
KEY TIP: You should never pick a baseball team to bet on without researching who the starters are.
Another thing to keep an eye on when trying to find value in baseball betting markets is the history of batters versus pitchers.
There are certain hitters who just really seem to be one step ahead of certain pitchers. They might see the ball well out of their hand, know that they tip a pitch, or just have confidence because of a homer they hit off them earlier in their career. This is when betting the underdog can be a great approach to take, and we will discuss that particular strategy a little later.
There are a lot of free sites which enable you to dig down into career batter versus pitcher numbers. Our recommendations here would be to take a look at MLB.com, rotowire.com, and dailybaseballdata.com, all of which do a good job.
Know The Numbers
If you aren't already familiar with baseball, you should get to know the important numbers before you start betting.
ERA and WHIP
Back in the day, ERA (earned run average) was the primary figure by which to judge effective starting pitching. However, these days WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) has replaced ERA as the figure that most fans track for pitchers.
That’s because WHIP is a better indicator of pitching success, since ERA can be distorted by a team's lack of defense or untimely home runs. WHIP, like ERA, is pretty easy to calculate. It is simply the sum of the walks and hits allowed divided by the innings pitched.
For example, let’s say that Jacob deGrom has allowed 10 walks and 50 hits over 75 innings. In this case, you would calculate 10 + 50 and then divide by 75. deGrom's WHIP would therefore be 0.80.
Anything under 1.00 is extremely impressive for a pitcher.
While the win-loss record is a little overrated, it is still a very useful tool when betting on baseball via the moneyline. Some pitchers can get you a quality start every time out, giving their team a greater chance to win. Also, a lot of wins indicates that the team has a strong bullpen and doesn't blow the lead after they leave the game.
If you see a pitcher who has a great WHIP and ERA, but maybe very few wins, this might be a great chance to bet on the team for the first five innings instead of a full game bet.
A few years ago, Jacob deGrom won a Cy Young Award even though his win-loss record was not impressive. This goes to prove that a win-loss record is not the best judge of how good a pitcher is. It also means that we don't want to bet the moneyline when deGrom pitches even though he was an absolute stud that year. Betting the Mets on a five-inning bet would have been a better strategy in those games.
Pay Attention to Pitching Splits
Splits give you another way to really dig down into the matchup. There are a lot of splits in baseball, but pitching splits are the number one split to use when deciding on a bet. Pitching splits are a deep dive into the time of day, lefty/righty, home/away, and so on, and will give you the tools you need to win when betting on baseball.
Visit your favorite baseball statistics website and look at the starting pitcher and how he performs at home and on the road.
It seems like a simple stat, but some pitchers have huge variations in performance based on where they are pitching. Everyone assumes that a pitcher at a hitter-friendly park will have significant home/away splits, which is sometimes true, but a lot of pitchers really struggle at one place or another.
Don't just assume that a pitcher is better at home because a lot of pitchers end up with better road numbers. If you get a guy who is great at home and the opposing pitcher struggles on the road, it might be a great opportunity to make a bet because there would be plenty of value available.
Lefty/righty is a split that most baseball fans will be familiar with. Late in the game, a manager will go to the bullpen to get a lefty to face the other's team's left-handed hitter. But, when you are risking money on a game, you want more than just the batting average against a certain handed pitcher.
You can compare a team's OPS (on-base plus slugging) stat against righties and lefties on multiple sites. Some teams are heavy with their best hitters batting from the same side. You can use this information to find an underdog and use The Underdog Strategy which will be presented shortly.
Day/night is another great split to use, but only with caution. While the stat is very useful, it can also be skewed by a really bad day game start early in the season. Because day games are much rarer than night games, you want to get as many opportunities to get this number closer to a normal mean.
When looking at this number, go back beyond the current season. This stat is more effective if you can get a career number, as it will reduce the risk of it being skewed by a number that includes an exceptional performance, whether good or bad.
Pay Attention To Streaks
Streaks of winning and losing tend to occur more often in baseball than in any other professional sport. That is probably because hitting a baseball takes confidence as well as skill, and confidence is contagious. Success breeds success, so it is common to see teams experiencing hot batting streaks during a typical MLB season. Sportsbooks often underreact to such streaks, so it could be relatively easy to get value by betting on them.
The same philosophy holds true with a hot pitcher. A starting pitcher can be dealing game after game. Pay attention to which pitchers are having a really good string of starts and consider betting accordingly because the moneyline will probably be in your favor.
The Underdog Method
We have all heard the saying that the secret to making money from betting is to win more often than you lose, but if you are someone who wants to side with underdog teams, that particular truism can be discarded straight away.
If you are betting on teams with moneylines that are positive (as is the case with underdogs) you really don't have to win more than half your bets to turn a profit.
For example, if you find value in underdogs around the +160 moneyline, you can afford to win just two out of every five bets and still show an overall profit.
(Incidentally, when you see huge negative numbers next to a team, it is never a good bet. Big favorites in MLB can be some of the worst bets of all.)
For this reason, if you do your research and conclude that the underdog is pretty much 50/50 to win the game, consider having faith in your conclusion by making a bet.
When a couple of bounces don't go your way, and you find yourself losing four or five bets in a row, your human nature will tell you that your luck is sure to turn around if you will keep on betting regardless, but that isn’t the case.
Losing streaks can be extensive, and simply throwing money at them will only serve to turn such streaks into even bigger problems.
To avoid this scenario, only bet when you find genuine value in games, and never just to try and win back what you might have lost over a tough weekend. When you start chasing you can get in real trouble and lose a lot more money than you can afford.
That being the case, instead of chasing during tough stretches, spend your time examining your strategy and see if you can tweak your formula a little and get back to winning the sensible way.
Baseball Betting FAQ
Why are the five-inning line and the moneyline different?
The team may have a really weak bullpen, or a starting pitcher may usually never go more than six innings, which means there would be a greater likelihood of a comeback from the underdog team. They have a better chance of winning on the moneyline than the five-inning bet.
What is the most important factor for choosing who to bet on the moneyline?
This is a trick question because you need to take everything into account when placing a bet, but the top three things to consider are:
1) The starting pitching;
2) Whether or not one team is on a winning streak;
3) Pitching versus hitting career numbers.
How much should I bet?
There are no rules that can be set in stone here, but a couple of good rules of thumb are to:
1) Never put more than 10% of your take-home pay in your sports betting budget, and;
2) Never bet more than 10% of your betting bankroll on one game.
I'm new to sports betting. What should I look for when picking a place to bet?
Two things are important when choosing a sportsbook to open an account with. The first is the deposit matches and bonuses that are being offered. Look at how much in cash bonuses or free bets are being offered to new bettors and go with the sportsbook that is being the most generous.
Secondly, look at the lines that each sportsbook offers. If a sportsbook is putting a bunch of juice on the bets then it might be better to settle for a smaller bonus with another sportsbook that offers better lines.
What is juice?
This is the amount of money that the sportsbook makes on each bet, and why you see a difference in the moneyline when betting on baseball. The difference is where the sportsbook makes its money.
For example, if one team is at -180 and the other at +160, the difference of 20 is where the juice is. If a sportsbook constantly has lines that look like Cubs (-150) versus Cardinals (+110) then it would be adding too much juice for most serious bettors and you would be best advised to look elsewhere for better value.