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Reading Baseball Betting Lines - Understanding How To Read MLB Lines and Odds
by Trevor Whenham - 06/27/2007

I really don't understand why more people don't bet on baseball. The huge number of games and the general consistency make it a very attractive sports betting option. In fact, I would suspect that most people who seriously play baseball would say that it is their most profitable sport. It's not necessarily the most interesting all the time because of the monotony of an endless season, but the bottom line makes that occasional dreariness more than worthwhile. I suspect that what keeps many people away from baseball is the perceived difficulty of reading baseball betting lines. Understanding how to read MLB lines and odds doesn't have to be tough, though. Sure, it's different than football, basketball and the other point spread sports, but once you get your mind around how the lines work it is actually easier to deal with in many ways than a point spread is.

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The most common method of betting on baseball is with a money line. A money line is simply a bet on which team is going to win a game. Unlike with a point spread, it makes absolutely no difference how much a team wins by as long as they win the game. Of course, it would be incredibly easy to make money over the long term if all you had to do was pick the better team, but it's not that simple. The sports books have to have some way of evening out the chances of the two teams - making a bet on a heavy underdog as attractive as a bet on a heavy favorite - or they would go broke. In football or basketball they do that with a point spread. On the money line they do that by changing the cost of a bet. If you were to bet the same amount on two different teams, you would win more than you bet on the team that was an underdog, and make a profit of less than you bet if you chose the favorite.

The money line is most often presented as a number larger than 100, and it can either be positive or negative. A number that is -101 or lower is a favorite, and the more negative the number is, the more of a favorite the team is. A -130 favorite is more favored than a -110 one is. A team that has a positive money line of +101 or higher is an underdog. The higher the number is, the less likely are the team's perceived chances of winning.

The easiest way to understand how money lines work is to imagine in every scenario that you are working with $100. It is especially simple when you are dealing with underdogs. In that case the money line is the profit you would receive on a winning bet of $100, If you bet $100 on a +120 underdog, then you would receive a total of $220 when you won - the $120 profit plus your initial $100 wager. If you are a horseplayer or you prefer to think of things in terms of odds, then converting from a positive money line to odds is very simple - you just have to move the decimal place over two spots. That +120 favorite, for example, could also be looked at as 1.2/1, or 6/5.

When you are dealing with a favorite, the easiest way to think of it is not that you are betting $100, but that you want to win $100. In that case the price then becomes what you would have to bet in order to earn your $100 profit. If the favorite is at a price of -120, then you would have to bet $120 to win $100, so your total return would be $220, of which $100 would be profit. On a -170 money line you would have to bet $170 to win $100, so the -170 team is perceived to be more likely to win than the -120 team. If you want to look at favorites in the same way as underdogs - betting $100 per game regardless of the odds, then figuring out the payout requires a bit of math, but it isn't difficult. You can figure out why it works if you want, but the simple trick is to divide -10000 by the moneyline price to get the payout. For example, -10000/-120 is 83.33, so a $100 bet on a -120 favorite would pay $83.33 if it were to win. From that you can figure out the payout if you bet a different amount than $100. Twenty dollars is one fifth of $100, so it would pay out one fifth of $83.33, or $16.67. A $300 bet would pay three times as much, or $250.

Are you enjoying this column? Check out Doc's baseball betting guide page. Doc's Sports baseball predictions page is and excellent MLB baseball resource as well. If you plan on betting MLB you'll also want to read our MLB baseball predictions page. Keep on top of all the MLB topics as well as free MLB picks and predictions on Doc's home page - check it out after reading this article.

There are other options for betting on baseball, including several different kinds of run lines. A run line is a bit like a point spread. On a -1.5 run line, the most common option, a team has to win by two or more runs in order for a bet to pay off. On a +1.5 run line a team could lose the game by one run and still earn a winning ticket. The difference between the run line and the typical point spread is that the price of the bet will vary much more than most point spreads do. A run line could be something like Yankees -1.5 (-145). That means that if you bet on the Yankees and bet that they will win by at least two runs then you would have to bet $145 to win $100. The price for run lines works exactly the same as we discussed above for money lines.