Major League Baseball is one of the world’s most popular sports. More than 35 million people saw a live MLB game last year. 66 million people tuned in to see the Atlanta Braves edge the Houston Astros in the 2021 World Series. Who knows how many people engaged in MLB baseball betting, but I’m sure it’s a lot.
Baseball is America’s game. And, like everything else in America, we’ve found lots of ways to spend money on it. From casual bets among friends to online books selling parlays, betting on MLB baseball remains a big part of the pastime.
Learning how to bet on MLB games starts simple. You need to know the basic types of MLB bets. You need to know some basic MLB betting strategy. And there are some trends you should be aware of before you start.
This post covers all the basics of MLB betting.
Types of MLB Bets
Baseball betting can be broken down into 3basic types of bets:
- money lines
- game totals
- run lines
If you’re familiar with betting in any other sport, you probably already know about money lines and game totals.
(Readers who need a further breakdown of money lines and game totals should check out our post How to Bet on the NFL. That page contains a good guide to the basic types of sports bets.)
MLB Run Line Betting
The run line is baseball’s version of a point spread. The final scores of baseball games tend to involve single digits. You can’t say that about any other major sport besides hockey and soccer.
In short, the run line is unique among the big 3 betting sports. There’s no run line in football or in the NBA. Those are both point spread sports.
When you bet on the run line, you’re betting with a handicap in place for both sides.
You can think of the run line as a fixed point spread.
All MLB games are handicapped by 1.5 runs. The underdog is listed as +1.5. The favorite will be listed as -1.5.
What do those numbers mean?
Backing the underdog will pay out so long as that team wins outright or loses by just one run. Backing the favorite only pays out if the favorite wins by at least two runs.
The underdog can lose and pay out on the run line. It’s much harder for a favorite to win by two runs or more. That’s why favorites get plus money on the money line while underdogs get minus money.
Here’s a typical odds listing for an MLB run line:
Houston Astros +1.5 (-130)
New York Yankees -1.5 (+110)
You can tell from this listing that the visiting Astros are the underdog because they’re given plus money on the run line.
Houston can win outright or lose by just one run and a bet on the Astros on the money line is a winner. New York has to win by 2 or more.
Notice that each team has odds listed. That’s how sportsbooks differentiate teams by ability. They also sometimes use odds to attract wagers on one team or another.
MLB First 5 Innings Betting
First 5 innings bets are sometimes called First 5 or just F5. It’s a niche part of the MLB market. All the big sportsbooks offer First 5 lines.
Here’s how it works.
F5 bets are just money line bets, except they pay out based on the result at the end of five full innings of play.
Why 5 innings?
That’s the standard length of time a starting pitcher needs to earn a decision. Most starters are expected to go at least five full innings.
It’s also just about the halfway point of the game. (Technically the halfway point is in the middle of the fifth.)
The edge in F5 betting typically goes to the team with the better pitcher, even if the other team is considered more powerful. That’s because an ace pitcher can usually lock down a game through five innings. His ability to do that through even one more inning is often in question.
You can also bet for a game to be tied at the end of five innings.
MLB Baseball Betting Strategy Guide
The 3 tips here are designed to help newcomers to baseball betting start off on the right foot.
1 – Bet Against Other Bettors
You’ll sometimes see this shortened to “fade the public.”
Fading the public means finding a situation where most bettors are backing one side, then betting the opposite side.
MLB bettors have found a lot of success in fading the public only after the public betting action changes a game’s odds.
Imagine you’re looking at this game total bet:
Oakland Athletics Over 8.5
New York Yankees Under 8.5
After a few hours of betting, 90% of bettors have backed the Under total. Books may then shift the odds to encourage bets on the other side.
While you’re waiting to pounce on the game, you see the line has changed a bit:
Oakland Athletics Over 7.5
New York Yankees Under7.5
Because nothing has happened in the real world that would lead to this change, it’s pretty clear that the book changed the line to reduce their exposure.
Remember that bookmakers set the line at 8.5 for a good reason, not just on a whim. If the book liked it at Over 8.5, bettors should love it at Over 7.5
In this example, the smart money is to back the Over, since the book’s downward adjustment was a business decision, not based on any prediction of a real-world outcome.
2 – Build Your Confidence with Divisional Games
In many cases, games between divisional opponents are straight chalk situations.
Over the past five seasons, 1/3 of the league’s clubs have beat their divisional opponents at least 53% of the time. Four clubs (Dodgers, Astros, Yankees, and Guardians) are winning these divisional games at a greater than 60% clip. Identify these teams, compare it with recent trends, and make your oh-so-safe MLB bet.
The opposite is true for some of the league’s whipping boys. Baltimore, Detroit, and Texas have won less than 40% of their games against teams in their division.
3 – Know These MLB Betting Trends
Baseball is a weird game. The defense holds the ball. There’s no such thing as out-of-bounds; everything is in play. There’s no clock – technically, a game could go on forever.
It’s an unusual and beautiful game that lends itself to a lot of weird mathematics and trends.
Many of these trends exist on a macro and micro scale. Mining the data and implementing your own strategy is most of the fun of betting on sports.
Here are my favorite trends to teach new bettors:
Home underdogs almost always cover the run line.
They do it frequently enough to suggest a profitable baseball betting model if you use a little common sense along the way. Over the past ten seasons, 29 clubs have won at least 50% of the time when playing at home as the underdog. (The only club that didn’t hit the 50% threshold are the Baltimore Orioles.) If you combing this knowledge with a shrewd use of sportsbook promo codes, you can possibly improve your odds of winning money.
Avoid game totals bets between teams with equal rest.
Since 2012, just about 50% of these games went over and just about 50% went under. It’s a complete roll of the dice and the books are making money off you hand over fist when you bet on them. You’re better off backing the over in games with a rest disadvantage. Over totals win frequently enough in these games to represent a potentially profitable system.
Back road favorites on the money line.
Going back fifteen seasons, all but four clubs win at least 53% of their games when listed as favorites in an away game. Two clubs (Seattle and Oakland) have a winning percentage in this situation above 60%. If you’d blindly bet on the Mariners in every road favorite situation going back fifteen seasons, you’d have 167 wins and 109 losses for a 60.5% winning percentage.
Conclusion: MLB Baseball Betting
MLB betting offers some of the best odds at the sportsbook. According to data published by the Nevada Gaming Control Board, Vegas sportsbooks lose to baseball bettors more than any other market. Bettors who are aware of the powerful MLB betting trends mentioned in this post beat the books more than any other sports. The non-stop pace of baseball’s schedule contributes to the books’ weakness in this market.
Armed with the basics, and with a few meaningful betting trends in mind, you can take on your favorite sportsbook in the baseball market.