When betting on professional sports, like the MLB, it’s important to keep in mind that the process is going to be different for each sport. In this article we’re going to go over how to bet on MLB games, talking you through the different kinds of bets and the factors you should keep in mind when placing these bets.
New to betting? Read our Beginner’s Guide to Betting with a glossary of terms
Types of Baseball Bets
When betting on baseball, there are four main types of bets: Moneyline, Runline, Over/Under, and First Five.
A moneyline bet is one where you are wagering on who will win the game straight-up with no spreads or additional elements added.
While these are often viewed as “easier” bets in most sports, they tend to be much trickier for baseball. It’s important to not just think about who the “better team” is but also to look at who’s the starting pitcher for each team or which hitters are not in the lineup or what the weather is, to see if there are any factors that might influence the outcome of the game.
The runline is similar to the spread in football. A baseball runline will pretty much always be +/- 1.5, which means that the favorite would have to win the game by 1.5 runs to cover and win the bet. This is a tricky bet in baseball because it can just take one swing of the bat to score a run, so leads can vanish in a hurry, especially if you have a team with a particularly poor bullpen.
This bet is similar to the kind of bet you’d place in all other sports. Vegas will set an Over/Under for total runs scored in the game. It is usually around 8.5 runs in a game for MLB. You’re betting on whether the total amount of runs scored in the game will go over or under that total.
When betting on the over/under in baseball it’s important to keep in mind the pitchers, bullpens, weather, and ballpark in each contest since they can drastically impact the outcome (more on that below).
The first five bet is a type of bet similar to a first-quarter or first-half bet in basketball or football. You’re betting on where the game will be after five completed innings. You can bet on a first five moneyline or a first five over/under.
These bets are usually all about the starting pitchers. If you think there is a major difference in the quality of starting pitching, you may want to use first five bets to attack that and bet on a team to be ahead once five innings are over.
If you want to learn about betting odds, read our Beginner’s Guide to Betting
Baseball Prop Bets
Like all other sports, baseball also offers prop bets where you can bet on certain player performances during the game.
Strikeout props will allow you to bet on how many strikeouts a pitcher will have in a given outing. There will be an over/under based on the quality of the pitcher and his opponent.
It’s important to keep in mind not just the quality of the opposing team but how often they strikeout. Similarly, some pitchers can be good pitchers but not really high strikeout pitchers, so look at strikeout rates and swinging-strike rates (which can be found at Fangraphs) rather than just surface-level stats like ERA or WHIP.
A Total bases bet is one of the more popular bets for hitters. This allows you to bet on how many total bases the batter will earn in a given game. A batter is only credited for total bases if he hits a single (one base), double (two bases), triple (three bases), or home run (four bases) so walks do not count.
When betting on total bases, it’s important to keep in mind the quality of the hitter, the quality of the pitcher he is facing, the weather, and also the handedness of the pitcher as sometimes left-handed or right-handed batters are worse against pitchers of similar handedness because it can be harder to pick up the ball. Generally speaking, hitters who just get singles are not often the best bets here because you’re looking for somebody who can get a double or home run with one swing and win you this bet as the betting total is almost always 1.5 total bases.
This is pretty self-explanatory, but you can bet on how many hits a player will get in a game. This is usually set at 0.5, so you’re often betting on whether or not a player can get one hit. This can be a really tough bet to win since hitting a baseball is very hard.
For more MLB betting content from Tailgate, check out our MLB betting picks
Variables to Monitor
We already covered this in the sections above, but we just wanted to put it all in one place. When betting on baseball you should always take the following into account before placing any bet:
Starting Pitching Matchup: A bad starting pitching performance can torpedo even the best team. A team that has a significantly worse starting pitcher begins the game at a bad disadvantage. However, also take into account if a pitcher is worse against right or left-handed hitters and if the opponent has a lineup filled with those types of hitters.
Bullpen Performance – Please don’t forget about the bullpens. They are crucial to ensuring an Over/Under bet or a runline bet. When two bad bullpens face one another, you can sometimes see four, five, or more runs scored in just the final three innings of a game.
Weather – Obviously, we know weather plays a role in football too, but most of the other sports we bet on are inside. Weather is important for baseball for a few reasons. When it’s wet, it becomes harder to pitch and also harder to field and throw, so the defense is likely to make more mistakes. When it’s cold, it is much harder to hit, so cold weather matchups favor low-scoring games. Also, the wind direction is crucial as there are some stadiums, like Wrigley Field, where the wind can blow out aggressively, which often leads to more runs since the ball will carry farther.
Home Stadium – In most sports, the stadium only matters for crowd support. However, in baseball each stadium’s dimensions are different. This means that some stadiums are better for offense and others are better for pitching. You can find that info here. Knowing that before you bet can help you decide how many runs might be scored in a given game.
Lineups – Baseball is like basketball in the sense that sometimes a healthy starter just won’t play. When you have a 162-game schedule, days off are important. For this reason, it can be important to wait until lineups are finalized before you make a bet just to ensure that all of a team’s best hitters are playing that day.
Also, lineups are important when making prop bets. If a team is missing a big hitter, it can make strikeout props easier. Also, if a team’s lineup has a high strikeout rate, those can be the lineups you target when making strikeout props. Sometimes good offenses still strike out a lot, like the Yankees, so don’t just go by what offense is “good” or “bad.”