MLB Betting: The Right Time to Place a Wager
by Trevor Whenham - 07/05/2007
When wagering on baseball you not only have to decide which team you are going to bet on, how much you will bet and which type of bet you will make, but you also have to decide when you are going to place your bet. Prices can change dramatically from the time that they are first released until the first pitch is thrown, so the payout for a particular bet can change significantly depending on when you get your money down. Placing your bets at the right time can increase your bottom line quite nicely.
People that are familiar with betting football will know the importance of playing at the right time. Because lines are active for a week the changes can be dramatic and are often somewhat predictable - as a general rule you want to play a favorite early before the public jumps on and drives the price up, while waiting to play an underdog will often give you a preferable price. For several reasons, not the least of which being that baseball lines are only open for less than a day, picking the correct time to place your baseball bets is much more challenging. If you're looking for a simple answer to the question of when to bet then you've come to the wrong place. You will find lots to think about, though.
The clearest answer to the question is that you have to rely on your instinct and experience to bet at the right time. Situations in baseball are always different and are very fluid, so you have to have a sense of how a line is going to move.
When a line first comes out it is called a virgin line. It reflects only the oddsmaker's opinion, and it hasn't been tested and affected by public opinion or the sharp money. In some cases the oddsmakers will have very accurately predicted public opinion, and the price will change very little. In other cases, the public will have a very different opinion, and the price will move significantly. You can often see fairly quickly if a line is going to move and which way it is going to move. If the line moves against you, though, then it would be in your interest to place your bet as soon as you can. The best way to do that is to do your handicapping far enough in advance that you have a sense of what a fair line would be before the numbers are released. If the available lines represent significant value compared to your opinion then you probably have a bet worth making.
Despite the attraction of virgin lines, a case can be made that it more often makes sense to wait until closer to the start of the game to make a bet. In the absence of a good reason to bet sooner, waiting until the last minute has one distinct advantage - information. The longer you wait to make a bet the more you will know about the teams, the lineup, and the chances each team has to win. You won't be caught off guard by an injury, an unexpected lineup change, the weather or something that will affect the pitching staffs. You may sacrifice a slightly better line by waiting longer, but you will also avoid making a costly mistake in some cases. The longer you wait, the less uncertainty you have to deal with.
It's not that simple, though. One major advantage to waiting too long to make a bet is too much information. The longer you wait to make a bet, the more chances you have to read or hear something that will change your opinion. That's great if the new information is crucial to the outcome, but it is often too easy to get excited by something that ultimately isn't important and letting that blind you to the more important facts that initially led you to your decision. This can be especially true when it comes to trends that sound better and more useful than they really are. By locking in your bet early you can avoid getting bogged down and second-guessing. In some cases that it certainly worthwhile.
In the end it comes down to this - you just have to make a decision that you can live with and go for it. With practice and determined effort you can develop a good sense of how you think a line will move and how best to take advantage of it. You have to be comfortable with the fact that you are going to be wrong quite often, but that's what handicapping is all about. You can easily get to a point where you are right more often than you are wrong, and that will make the effort worth it. It's a good idea to track line movements for a couple of weeks or more. Set up a spreadsheet or a page in a notebook and keep track of the teams involved in games and how the public reacts to their lines. By doing this you will perhaps see some trends or patterns that may be helpful. More importantly, by concentrating effort on looking at lines you can't help but get better at predicting their movement.
Ultimately, you just have to trust yourself. You also need to focus your effort on your handicapping - it doesn't matter what price you get if you can't pick winners consistently.