Though the sport suffered from a fan exodus after a number of high-profile cheating scandals, baseball is slowly gaining back its loyal American fan base. According to a recent Harris poll, Major League Baseball is the second most-popular sport in America, behind professional football.
Believe it or not, that’s an improvement. For a couple of decades now, America’s pastime has been stuck in third-place, behind both professional and college football.
The frenetic pace that teams play during the season and the length of that season both give the game a lot of variance. That means bettors need to be able to weather some natural ups and downs.
In this post, I’m going to outline the most basic information any baseball betting newcomer should know. I’ll also include some basic strategic advice at the end.
Why Bet on Baseball?
As the national pastime, the basic appeal of baseball is easy enough to understand. I’m old enough to remember listening to games on the radio with my dad when I was just a boy. To myself and many fans like me, baseball is a season, just as important to me as spring, summer, fall, and winter. We love the game, and we love to bet. Why not combine our two loves?
Another big draw for baseball bettors is the unique lineup of wagers the sport allows. Baseball is popular enough among sports bettors that a number of unique bets exist that you can’t lay on other sports. Baseball presents a unique challenge in that respect, something that some gamblers are immediately drawn to.
A final factor in some people’s decision to bet on baseball – the wealth of available statistics. If you’re a bettor that likes to crunch numbers, MLB betting is ideal for you. The game has been a statistician’s dream for decades, and so many unique stats and analytical algorithms exist, you can zoom in on individual facets of a team or athlete’s performance from your office chair. That makes handicapping a lot more interesting, and potentially a lot easier if you know what to look for.
What is the Moneyline?
Because baseball games aren’t handicapped with a point spread, oddsmakers use a thing called a moneyline to present wagering opportunities. The easiest way to explain baseball’s moneyline is to describe it as “wagering on a team to win outright.”
Betting on the moneyline means placing a wager that one of the two teams will win, regardless of the final score. Like any other form of sports betting, the team favored by a sportsbook will pay less for a winning bet than a bet on an underdog that earns an upset victory. So the moneyline also tells bettors which team is favored and a few details about payouts.
Here’s a sample moneyline:
Chicago White Sox +120
Los Angeles Dodgers -130
We can learn a lot about the game from this two-line entry. LA is the favorite (they have a minus symbol next to their name), and the White Sox are the underdogs (indicated by the plus symbol). The number next to the Dodgers tells us something cool, too – it means you have to wager $130 in order to win a payout of $100. Books show information in units of $100 to make it easy for bettors to scale up and down. If you want to bet on the underdog White Sox, you’ll win a $120 payout for every $100 you wager.
What is the Run Line?
The run line is basically a combination of a moneyline and a fixed point spread. I like to think of betting on the run line as “Betting on a specific team to win by at least two runs.”
Here’s an example of a run line:
Houston Astros +1.5 -125
Chicago Cubs -1.5 +105
It looks kind of like the moneyline, doesn’t it? It works the same way, in terms of the symbols and stuff, so if you understand the moneyline you already understand this one.
The first number after each team’s name is the number of runs they’re being given as part of the run line. Bettors that pick the Astros are being asked to risk more than they’ll win ($125 per $100 of winnings), but the book is giving them a run and a half. Even if the Astros lose by a single run, bettors on Houston will win thanks to the 1.5 runs they’re granted.
What are Game Totals?
Totals betting isn’t unique to baseball, but it is one of the more popular bets to place on the sport. Totals bets are nothing more than wagering on the total number of runs scored by both teams.
Sometimes called “Over/Under” bets, game totals bettors are asked to wager on whether the total number of runs scored will be over or under a number set by a sportsbook.
Here’s an example of a Game Totals bet:
New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox O/U 8 (-110)
In this example, whether you pick the over or under, you get the same odds – you’d have to risk $110 for every $100 you want to win.
Basic Baseball Betting Strategy
If you’ve been a baseball fan all your life like I have, learning how to bet on the sport is a breeze. You’ve already got the sports knowledge and familiarity with the game. Now all you need to do is learn how to wager and apply some basic strategy to your bets. Here are my strategy suggestions for baseball betting newcomers.
- Become Familiar with Baseball Statistics
It’s easy to drown in stats while researching baseball bets. This makes it really easy to nerd out over statistics, and also to develop your own personal handicapping system that’s easy to use. I have a set of about fifteen stats that I look at when handicapping hitters, and all of them are accessible for free on my iPhone or my laptop. Read up on Sabremetrics and other baseball stats and prepare for more advanced strategy later on, which will be stat-heavy.
- Research Injury Reports
Injuries affect the day-to-day performance of a baseball team more than almost any other sport, simply because of the variety of possibilities that exist when a player is replaced. Injuries are also more confusing for fans in baseball because teams have freedom to play with their injury list more than in any other sport – it’s common to see a team put a player on the DL for a single day, or leave an injured player on their active roster until the very last minute. It’s a kind of psychological warfare, and it can be confusing. Learn to read these reports and understand their impact now and you’ll be a better baseball gambler for it in the long run.
- Perfect Your Handicapping Skills
If you’re a total beginner, don’t worry about handicapping every player on the teams that you’re betting on. Just handicap the pitchers. After all, everything begins and ends with the pitcher in baseball, even in the modern game where hitters have been given a slight advantage.
I’ll give you a piece of advice I wish someone had given me – streaks, for most pitchers, are meaningless. Starting pitchers go through more ups and downs than a nervous bride. The most important feature for a starting pitcher is his recent history against the team he is facing, and their recent history in the ballpark they’re playing in. You can also take a look at that pitcher’s bullpen, too, if you want to earn a little extra credit. Without a decent bullpen, a Hall of Fame starter isn’t enough to guarantee a W.
Major League Baseball betting is made tougher by its lengthy schedule and frequent play. A baseball bet is a wager on a very brief event in the middle of a very long season. Thanks to a large variety of available wagers, the ease with which MLB bettors can research player statistics and handicap contests, and the tradition of the game itself, MLB betting is also very popular. If you’re a lifelong baseball fan like me, or even a total newcomer to the game, betting is an exciting way to feel like a part of the game.