How To Bet On Baseball | MLB Betting Guide And Strategy
February 20, 2020
For a sport built on numbers and large sample sizes, no one knows the unpredictability of baseball like a sports bettor. Betting odds and lines are set based on season-long trends, player production and starting pitcher matchups, only for an unknown reliever to enter the game in the latter innings and cough up a lead by surrendering a home run to a struggling bench player from the other side. Derailing the performance of a starting pitcher and the best research of bettors, alike.
If one knows the proper numbers at which to look — and more importantly, those to ignore — one can achieve long-term success vs. the sportsbooks with proper bankroll management and smart betting. Our MLB betting guide defines key sports betting terms and strategies. With this information, and a look at the best sites and apps for legal sports betting on the MLB in the US, beginner bettors can set themselves up for continued success.
The MLB has long been one of the most resistant of the major North American sporting leagues to accept sports betting. From the 1919 Chicago White Sox scandal in which they threw a World Series, to former Cincinnati Reds manager — and all-time hits leader — Pete Rose betting on games, the league and sport have also been among the most closely tied to sports betting.
Regulations will vary state-by-state, and while some may allow online (and mobile) sportsbooks, others stand by the brick and mortar method of casinos (New York, for example). Online sportsbooks are operating in Indiana, Iowa, Montana, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. Betting online and on mobile devices makes it easy to log on, log in, and place wagers on a wide variety of events and bet types. Betting on the go is the best way to live bet and improve your chances of winning.
Some of the perks of mobile betting include:
Bonus offers for first-time users, or “price boosts” on odds for certain events.
Intuitive layouts for quick sign-in and bet selection, as well as search features for sport, event or bet type.
Live betting with continuously updating odds based on the event situation and score.
Some things for bettors to check into before placing wagers include:
Privacy and security of the online sportsbook. Is the app legal and will deposits/withdrawals be honored in a timely manner?
Bonus offer process: How many bets does it take to receive the full amount of the bonus and when can the first withdrawal request be placed?
Which states allow certain apps and prohibit others? Will your app of preference work if you’re traveling across state lines?
Sharp bettors have accounts on a variety of different online sportsbooks in order to shop around and ensure they’re always getting the best price on the bets they want to make.
How to bet on MLB games
The best wager to make in the MLB is the moneyline. Bettors simply choose Team A to win vs. Team B, with the books typically setting odds in the range of -200 to +200. As the season draws on and injuries pile up, and talent discrepancies become more apparent, that range will extend on either end. Many factors go into the books deciding which team will be favored, such as, home/away, active winning streaks and overall records, starting pitchers and offensive numbers, and which team is most likely to draw in more bets from the public. It is, and seemingly always will be, rare to see the New York Yankees as an underdog vs. the Baltimore Orioles, for example.
The next best spot to place your MLB wager is on the total, or Over/Under. Here, bettors are predicting whether the two teams on the field will combine for more or fewer runs than a line set by the books. A midsummer game in the thin air of Coors Field between the host Colorado Rockies and a hard-hitting team like the Yankees may have the total set at 10.5. A late-season game between the Houston Astros and New York Mets with reigning Cy Young winners Justin Verlander and Jacob deGrom starting for their respective teams may see an Over/Under set closer to 5.5.
The spread, or the run line, is much less popular in baseball than it is in football or basketball. The books almost always set the line at 1.5, with one team needing to win by two or more runs, and the other needing to stay within a run in a loss, or win outright. Betting on the two-run victory for a favorite will always offer greater value than the moneyline for the same side, while the potential profit margin can drop significantly for the underdog. On occasion, (typically later in the season when games can become more lopsided) lines may rise to 2 or even 2.5, but this is rare.
Different variations of each bet type exist. Bettors can choose to bet a moneyline, spread or total for the first 5 innings of a game, as a way to hopefully, base the bet solely on the starting pitching matchup.
Prop bets are the best way to add some excitement to a game a bettor plans on attending or watching on TV. Bet on which inning will have the highest score, which team will score first, or how many home runs either team will hit.
Prop bets also exist for individual players. Will Pete Alonso hit a home run? How many will he hit? How many runs or RBI will he have? How many total home runs, runs and RBI will he record during the game? Will he drive in more runs than Jose Altuve in a game between the Mets and Astros? How many strikeouts will Verlander record, or will he allow a home run? The more remarkable the statistical achievement, the greater the payout on that bet.
The home run derby is another great time to jump in on prop bets. The bracket format pits players head-to-head with bettors able to back their preferred choice. A batter can also be bet at any point to win the exhibition or to exceed a certain number of runs in a specific round. Or, bettors bet the Over/Under on the highest amount of home runs hit by any one player.
MLB futures betting
Futures bets are a great win to pass the doldrums of the offseason if your favorite team isn’t swept up in the free-agent frenzy. Bets exist to win the upcoming season’s World Series, win either the American or National League pennant, or to win each division. Win totals are also set for each team. The books may set an Over/Under line of 101.5 for a team such as the Yankees. The Marlins are more likely to be closer to 70.5.
These bets also exist for individual players. How many home runs for a power hitter, or how many wins or strikeouts for a pitcher? How many stolen bases for a speedy, high-average player?
Season-end awards such as MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year for each league are regularly updated throughout the season. They’ll generally include the usual suspects before the start of the season, with surprising breakout stars working their way up the odds board through the season.
MLB live betting
With online betting, bettors can jump into a game at any point and bet on the live lines. The odds for the moneyline, run line and total will adjust and fluctuate throughout a game based on lead changes and the amount of runs being scored.
A game scoreless through five innings may see the total drop drastically from where it was at the outset, but if the bettor is watching the game and knows the starters are approaching high pitch counts and about to be replaced by shaky bullpens, it’s a good time to bet the live Over on a lower number.
Alternatively, a game which starts with a few first-inning home runs may see the projected total rise. Knowing the teams typically don’t exhibit such power and they’re about to face elite relievers would signal the live Under as the appropriate play.
If a team jumps out to a big early lead, the run line could reflect the gap at 3.5 or 4.5. It can also be fun, albeit risky, to put a small-unit wager on the moneyline of an underdog trailing by four or five runs in hope of a comeback and a big payday.
MLB odds explained
As noted above, moneyline odds in the MLB will typically range from -200 to +200. The +200 means bettors will make twice their investment in profit i.e. a $10 wager will return a $20 profit. The -200 odds will profit half your investment ($10 bet equals $5 profit).
Odds can also be represented as fractions or decimals. All represent a team’s implied probability of winning, or a certain side of the bet cashing. An implied win probability of 99% would be presented as -9900, 1.01 or 1/99. A 1% chance of the bet being a winner would be presented as +9900, 100.00 99/1.
Lower probability events are said to have higher or longer odds. The higher the probability, the lower or shorter those odds become. A team with +350 odds of winning a game would be considered a longshot. A player with +10000 odds of being named MVP at the end of the season as a futures bet would be considered a longshot.
The lower the odds for a certain event, the chalkier the bet. Betting a first-place team to simply win outright over a last-place opponent without handicapping it on the spread would be a chalky pick. Low odds mean a small return on the investment.
While underdog teams will often carry plus-money on the moneyline (+200), spreads and totals is where the sportsbooks take their rake or vig by setting the lines at something like -110 on either side. This way, regardless of which side wins, the book is taking 10% on all wagers. A bettor laying down $100 on -110 odds for an Over to hit would fetch a profit of $90.91.
Bettors can still make a reasonable profit when looking to only bet favorites by building a parlay. Backing five teams to win (or five Unders, or two teams to win outright plus one team to cover a spread plus two separate Overs and Unders) on a full day’s slate of games can fetch a much greater return if all five bets hit. The degree of risk rises as events are added to the parlay, but as does the potential profit. All five bets would need to hit individually for the parlay to cash.
By teasing each event in a parlay, bettors can either raise or lower the likelihood of a result by adding or subtracting runs to/from one side or the other. The odds will adjust relative to which side of the line is being teased.
MLB schedule 2020
The 2020 MLB schedule will begin with Opening Day on March 26. All 30 teams will be in action. The final day of the regular season will be Sunday, September 27. Playoffs will run through October and can extend into early November.
All teams will play 162 games with those being split into 81 home games and 81 road games within the span of 187 days. The Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals will play a mini-two-game set in London, England in mid-June. The 2020 All-Star Game will be held Tuesday, July 14, at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Calif.
Teams must play 19 games against each of their four divisional opponents. Six games are played against four interdivisional opponents within the same league and seven games are played against the remaining six interdivisional opponents. Each team plays 20 interleague games.
Be sure to monitor team success against divisional or interdivisional opponents over the course of a season. Teams familiar with one another gain an edge in knowing hitter or pitcher tendencies.
What are MLB Power Rankings?
Power rankings are predominantly based on the MLB standings, but they’ll also take into consideration recent winning or losing streaks and the offensive and pitching production of teams over smaller sample sizes.
The rankings are generally compiled by beat writers or those who most closely follow specific teams. They’re updated weekly and/or monthly.
Bettors can use power rankings as a tool when searching for value bets as opposed to looking at only the standings. If a team is slipping down the power rankings week-over-week but remains a consistent favorite at the sportsbooks, their opponents can be good bets.
Advanced MLB betting strategies
With the basics of MLB betting out of the way, we’ll dive deeper and take a look at some strategies which can lead to consistent, long-term success against the books. It’s important to always keep bankroll management front of mind and knowing how much to wager on each event and each day is one of the biggest keys to success. The aim for sports bettors of any experience level is to break even, and a rate of 50% correct picks is considered a win.
MLB injuries are generally more difficult to navigate but less important overall than in other sports. Teams can place players on the 10-day or 60-day injured list, but their activation doesn’t always come at the first possible opportunity.
With teams playing 162 games in a 187-day span, players are also often given days off to rest injuries that don’t necessarily warrant a designation, or even an announcement. Players will also sit if they’re mired in prolonged slumps, or based on the day’s pitching matchup.
There are many sites that post the daily lineups for every team. Always be sure to check there before placing a bet to ensure star players will be in the lineup. Twitter is an excellent resource as well when it comes to MLB betting. Beat writers will share lineups and notes on which players are in the lineup, who may see action off the bench, or how many pitches a starter is likely to throw before getting the hook.
The sportsbooks will also adjust lines based on these lineups, but getting the news before the books can adjust means bettors will have the edge. If you notice peculiar line movement, it’s likely a result of a player being scratched or returning to the lineup.
Home park advantage
MLB teams don’t enjoy home advantage in the same sense of teams in the NFL or NBA, due to the vast quantity of games played in a season, and the fact most series are three games long allows players to adjust to not being in their own bed. Always watch for teams having to travel after a game with a late finish before playing the next day. Especially if they’re switching from a 7 p.m. to 1 p.m. start.
With no two baseball stadiums being alike, teams are able to tailor their lineups to the specific dimensions of their home parks, thus providing an innate advantage. For example, a team playing home games in a park with a short right-field wall may load up on left-handed power hitters who are more likely to hit home runs. An opponent with predominantly right-handed batters may struggle in that venue.
Situational betting factors
This is where MLB bettors get their edge. Baseball comes with more numbers than any other sport as the leader of the analytics movement. Knowing where to look and what to avoid, is the key to success.
Most baseball statistical are broken into splits. Home vs. away. Righties vs. lefties. Days of the week, months of the year, day vs. night, grass vs. turf. How much experience does a batter have against a pitcher and vice versa.
These stats are also great ways to find value when live betting. A team having success against a starting pitcher may quickly run dry when the manager turns to the bullpen. Also, is there a key bench player with a run of historical success against a reliever they’re likely to face in the 8th or 9th inning?
Don’t overvalue hitting streaks or slumps. Be sure to compare and contrast numbers over the course of a season to date vs. a smaller sample size of one or two weeks. The same goes for pitchers. Are there any outlier starts (poor or great) that are skewing the numbers in either direction?
For those teams who play in outdoor stadiums, weather forecasts are as important a tool as any. The direction of the wind, whether toward home plate or over the center field wall, can greatly affect totals.
Temperatures earlier in the season in environments such as Boston, New York or Cleveland can be cold and even come with snow. As the temperatures rise and weather improves, run totals are also likely to climb.
Be wary of when rain is expected to hit in the middle of a game. If you’re counting on a team to get most of their runs against the opposing bullpen, maybe they should be avoided if there’s a risk of the game being called after the fifth inning.
Watch out for when the books are trying to steer the betting action in a particular direction. As noted above, a team like the Yankees will almost always be favored, or at the very least, will never be as big of an underdog as they may warrant. They’re a public favorite and therefore are more likely to draw in bets regardless of how likely they may be to win a specific one-off game.
Teams on prolonged winning or losing streaks will also fetch lower or higher odds based on public perception outside of the matchup on the field. If the Marlins have their top starter going up against a Triple-A call-up for the Yankees, Miami would be likely to warrant a wager at plus-money, particularly if they’ve lost several games in a row, or were blown out in Game 1 of the series.
Similarly, the totals for a team struggling to generate offense over a period of multiple games will slowly decline. As the projections decrease, start betting the Overs.
Advanced MLB betting systems
Betting against the public
Betting against the public, or “fading” the public, means to monitor the lines and to target the other side if one team is receiving a lopsided percentage of the betting handle.
Additionally, it can mean betting against a widely favored team such as the Yankees, who will typically have lower odds – and their opponents have higher odds – than they should, as the books hedge against the public slant.
Bad teams after a win
Similar to betting against the public, casual bettors and fans never expect bad teams (or underdogs) to win twice in a row. As a result, their odds often stay inflated following a victory which may have been the result of good bullpen performance, defense or an offensive outburst.
Unders for winning teams
Teams stringing together long winning streaks are usually doing so on the backs of their pitchers. As the winning streak continues, that team’s moneyline and run line odds will decrease over time. Instead of simply betting the winning team to keep winning, bet the Under of their games, either as a standalone of by parlaying it with a moneyline or run line wager. Betting the Under on its own helps to hedge against the risk of an eventual loss.
Oddsmakers will also artificially inflate the total when two winning teams are playing head-to-head. The fans watching are looking for runs and the books take advantage of this fan desire. Bet the Under on outlier numbers.
Run lines against elite teams
This strategy is best when a division leader is playing against a team on a losing streak. The better team is obviously favored on both the moneyline and run line. While the losing team may be a massive underdog to win outright, they have a much better chance of losing by a single run. Target the run line odds when they’re boosted as a result of the perceived mismatch.
Welcome bonus betting
As mentioned above, most sportsbooks offer welcome bonuses to new users. Understanding the rules of the bonuses and what goes into maximizing the potential earnings is key. One of the most common rules of the bonuses requires bettors to bet through the bonus amount a certain number of times. By placing larger wagers on heavier favorites with this bonus money, you’ll earn smaller profits but you’ll be able to claim the bonus amount sooner and either pad your bankroll or withdraw the free money.
Advanced MLB betting markets
As sports betting rises in popularity, sportsbooks are creating more and more events. Beyond the basics of the moneyline, run line and total for a complete game, bettors can also get action on individual innings or segments of a game. One can also bet on series scores and winners, especially come playoff time.
Take advantage of these additional bet types as a way to boost your winning potential. Edges can be gleaned by live betting when you’re attending or watching a game if you’re keeping a close eye on bullpen and bench usage or noticing a starter tiring out.
Getting in on futures bets early and backing a longshot MVP or Rookie of the Year candidate before the national audience is properly aware of the breakout star is a great way to set yourself up for a big payday if you’re able to catch the value early.
Using stats for MLB betting
There are enough statistics in baseball to support or disprove nearly any pick. Bettors need to be careful and avoid the trap of “confirmation bias” where research stops once you’re found the support for your initial belief.
Baseball stat keepers and sites such as Fangraphs are better than any other in breaking down splits by the situation. Look deeper into the numbers for every underdog when searching for value. Has a team been hitting poorly of late? Well, those offensive numbers could bounce back if the team has hit left-handed pitchers well for the bulk of the season and they’re facing a shaky southpaw.
Is a team playing a road game in a venue with different dimensions than its home park? Does the team’s power hitters pull the ball or favor the opposite field? Is a team having more success against fly-ball or groundball pitchers? Be on the lookout for parks where doubles can turn into home runs and boost the run totals.
Batter vs. pitchers stats
A point of contention within the fantasy baseball and MLB betting communities is the use of Batter vs. Pitcher statistics. Some like to highlight the one-on-one success of either against the other; however, the small sample sizes need to be acknowledged. Noting a batter has two home runs against a pitcher is fine and all, but over how long of a time period did it take? What happened in those other at-bats? The success of a divisional rival against an entire opposing pitching staff, or vice versa, across the tenure of a manager or pitching coach is far more important.
How to bet on MLB and win
Now that we’ve looked at the basics and explained several key strategies for getting the upper hand on the sportsbooks and avoiding some of the most common traps, we’ll look at the best ways to maintain success over the long haul.
Beginner bettors should be employing a very conservative approach whereby they risk no more than a single unit (where a unit is a set amount you’re willing to risk and lose on any one bet) on a single wager. New bettors also shouldn’t risk more than 5% of one’s bankroll – the amount you have deposited into the sportsbook and are willing to lose – on a single bet. Also, avoid the temptation of big-payday parlays and teasers. Stick to individual games and events. A win is a win and you have a much better chance of long-term success by taking it slow and making a consistent profit, rather than looking to get rich quick and cash out.
Develop your own betting system where you pick a certain return you desire on correct bets, and work backward from there so the amount you’re wagering on any one event achieves the same profit. As the odds vary, alter your investment for the desired return.
Due to the number of games during an MLB season, there are more opportunities to win than in any other pro sport. Diversify your wagers for any one day while staying consistent with your number of bets. Be sure to track your results with your losses and gains and never overreact to a stretch of “bad luck”. Stay even keel and change your approach before chasing lost money by betting bigger on higher odds.
Shop around at different books. With online betting gaining steam across the nation, try creating an account at every legal book in your state. This way, you can not only make use of more “welcome” bonuses, but you can also compare odds for each event you choose to bet. Betting at just a single book can often leave money on the table, even if you win. If one book is offering +130 the Marlins and another has +135 odds, you’re talking about a loss of $0.50 on every $10 wagered by betting the lower number.
Finally, avoid the big favorites and target more underdogs with plus-money returns. This way, when making more bets, you have a better chance of making a profit even if you’re losing more wagers than you win.