Baseball Betting: First Five Innings
by Trevor Whenham - 04/06/2007
When betting on basketball you can sometimes manage your risk or exploit a favorable situation by betting the first half and, in the NBA, the first quarter. The same goes for football. In both cases, the first half bet is increasingly common and viewed as a logical way to approach a game. Far less common is using similar logic when betting on baseball. An increasing number of online sports books will allow you to play a first half, or five inning, bet. That bet has many of the advantages of the bets in football and basketball and can, in some cases, give the bettor more control over a betting situation.
As the name would suggest, a first half or five inning bet in baseball is a bet on the score after five innings. They are generally offered as a money line, so your team only needs to be winning for you to cash in your bet. There are a couple of differences between this and a standard money line bet, though. First, both pitchers are usually automatically listed in a first half bet. That means that if one of the designated starters in the game doesn't make the start then your bet is returned with no action. You have the option of stipulating that in a full game bet, but it isn't always the case. That stipulation protects you from many unfavorable situations. The other difference, of course, is that a game can be tied after five innings while it can't be in a full game. In the event of a tie your bet is a push and it is returned.
The line on a first half baseball bet is usually very similar to the money line on the game. In fact, you probably wouldn't want to play the first half if the price varied by more than a few cents from the full game line or you would likely be paying too much juice on the bet. You have to be a bit more careful in choosing to play the first half bets than you do a normal money line. They are offered in fewer betting shops, which means that you can't shop around as much for a good price, so you have to be sure that the bet makes sense at the available price.
The obvious advantage of the first half bet is the control you have over the pitching. There is nothing more frustrating than seeing a good starting pitching performance ruined by an incompetent bullpen. Even in these days of protecting pitchers, a starter will almost always last for five innings. In fact, the only reason a pitcher would normally be pulled before five innings is if he is having a particularly bad outing. That means that in a first half bet you are able to handicap the outcome of the game in relation to the two starting pitchers. You don't have to factor in the unknown possibilities of how many innings the bullpen will be asked to handle, who is ready in the bullpen or is likely to get called in, or how each of those pitchers will react on this particular day against this particular lineup. Each additional pitcher that comes into a game is an extra variable that you can't control, so playing the first half often eliminates those variables.
It is important, however, that you are only playing the first half if your advantage, as you see it, is due to starting pitching. If you see a team as the likely winner mainly because their batting order is significantly better than their opponent's then a first half bet may not make the most sense. A team that wins through their offense will tend to have more advantage the more at bats they get, so you would likely be better off taking them in a full game where they get nine innings worth of chances to exert their superiority instead of just five. Similarly, you wouldn't want to play the first half if your advantage is that the opposition has a lousy bullpen, because you most likely won't get to take advantage of that in five innings.
You might also find the first half bets attractive in situations where a team tends to start quickly, or else when a team tends to sit back and wait before scoring the bulk of their runs late. Because baseball boxscores are always broken down by the inning it would be very easy to take note of patterns a team may have when it comes to scoring runs. If a team tends to get off to a fast start then they would be an attractive first half bet. If they are more often strong closers then their opponents might be more attractive in the first half than they would be in the whole game.
It is also possible to play totals in the first half. Again, this is an opportunity to exploit situations in which the starting pitching is, in your mind, likely to either stifle the offenses, or allow a lot of early runs. There is one difference between first half totals and regular totals that you need to be aware of. When a home team is a heavy favorite the total will be lower than it might otherwise be because it is expected that the home team will only bat eight times since they are expected to be leading by the ninth inning. In a first half bet each team is guaranteed to bat five times. A first half bet involves 10 half innings, whereas a full game usually involves either 17 or 18. That means that, all things being equal, the expected first half total of a game will be more than half of the expected total of the full game, and even more so in a game with a heavy favorite. If your handicapping doesn't account for that reality then, over the long term, you would be sacrificing an edge.