How to Bet Baseball
by Trevor Whenham
Baseball season is just around the corner. Finally! No sport offers more consistency or more opportunities to make money than baseball does. Baseball is potentially so profitable that, legend has it, sportsbooks just hope to break even over the course of the season. Despite the comparative ease of handicapping baseball, though, many people who regularly play football or basketball haven't crossed over to baseball yet. The biggest reason for that is probably that differences between betting on baseball and the other sports can be intimidating if you aren't familiar with them. If you're one of those people who isn't sure how to bet on baseball, then here's a crash course to get you ready for the season.
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Though money lines are available in almost all sports, they are the most common method of betting on baseball. The good news, then, is that you don't have to deal with point spreads in baseball, and you don't have to worry about the most frustrating thing there is - your team winning but not covering. If your team wins, you win. The only question is how much you get.
When you bet on the favorite it is called laying the odds. If you lay -150, that means that you would have to bet $150 to win $100. Traditionally, baseball has had what is called 20-cent lines. That means that if the favorite was -150, the underdog would be +130, or it would pay $130 on a $100 bet. The difference between the two prices is the commission the bookmaker earns - if the favorite wins, they would collect $100 and pay out $100, but if the underdog wins they would collect $150 and pay out $130, with a $20 profit. It's now very common to find dime lines (with a 10 cent difference) and even smaller spreads are commonly available online.
Though good teams will generally have lower odds than bad teams, the odds any one team faces varies widely based on the starting pitcher. Given that the rest of the lineup is relatively stable, it is the pitcher that makes the biggest impact on a game. If you only want to pay attention to one thing in your handicapping, focus on comparing the starting pitchers.
Because of the importance of pitchers, you have the ability to bet the money line in different ways to protect your investment. You can bet on listed pitchers, meaning that your bet only has action if both listed pitchers start. You can choose to specify only the starting pitcher for one team, so that it doesn't matter who starts for the opponents as long as the listed pitcher starts for your team, or vice versa. Finally, you can choose an action bet, in which case your bet has action regardless of who pitches.
Totals work just as they do in other sports. The only significant difference is that action depends upon both listing pitchers actually starting the game. If one or both listed starting pitchers miss the start then there is no action on the total and your bet will be returned. Though this can be frustrating at times, a change in pitchers can significantly change the expected number of runs, so the refund is often a welcome result.
A run line is the closest thing you can get to a standard point spread in baseball. It is fixed at a standard 1.5 points, so a favorite has to win the game by at least two runs for the bet to pay off, and the underdog can lose by one and still be a winning bet. There is a money line attached to the run line as well, but the price will obviously always be more attractive for the favorite than it is for the straight money line. If a favorite was -170, for example, then the run line may be +110 at -1.5. On the other side, the underdog that may have been +150 in the money line could be -130 at +1.5. This can be a reasonable option in cases where you would like a better price on a heavy, high scoring favorite, or if you are willing to trade some potential return on an underdog for more of a cushion.
The single most important thing to be aware of when you are betting on baseball is the amount of risk you are assuming when you make a bet. When you bet on football or basketball you are typically dealing with standard -110 odds, so you have to bet $110 to win $100. That means that you can easily understand the amount of risk and the percentage of bets you must win to make a profit. When you are playing the money line it's not quite that simple. If you were to win 57 percent of your bets while playing the point spread in the NFL then you would make a solid profit. If you were to pick winners at the same rate while laying -150 in MLB then you would go broke. You would have to win at least 60 percent of your bets at -150 just to break even. To make a sound bet on baseball, then, you have to not only consider which team is going to win, but if it is going to win often enough to be profitable over the long run at the given odds.