(First of two parts)
Betting on baseball is different than betting on other sports. Unlike football and basketball, baseball is predominantly a moneyline sport, which means you just need to pick which team will win. Bettors also have many more games to choose from compared with other sports, usually with about 15 games per day and about 2,400 throughout the season.
If you’re new to betting baseball or are looking for a refresher, here are some easy tips to help you turn a profit and avoid some common mistakes.
Avoid big favorites: The public loves taking favorites. After all, they’re the better team and expected to win. However, books know this bias and shade lines toward popular teams, forcing bettors to lay hefty, overpriced numbers. If you’re constantly laying -200, -250 or -300, you’re assuming big risk with little reward. If you like big favorites, you might be better off taking them on the spread, also known as the run line. For example, instead of betting a favorite -300 on the moneyline, you could bet the team to win by two or more runs on the run line at -1.5 (-140).
Lean on divisional underdogs: To break even betting on spread and Over/Under sports such as football and basketball, you need to win 52.38 percent of your plays assuming standard -110 juice. One advantage in baseball is that if you avoid big favorites and focus on underdogs, you can win at a sub-50 percent clip and still turn a profit based on the plus-money payouts (think +110, +130 or +175).
However, this doesn’t mean you should bet every ’dog. The key is focusing on divisional ’dogs. They perform much better than underdogs playing out of their divisions. This is due to the built-in familiarity. Teams in the same division play each other 19 times per year and know what to expect in terms of an opponent’s scouting report, managerial tendencies and even the stadium. This helps level the playing field and benefits the ’dog.
Target ’dogs with high totals, favorites with low totals, and first fives: Pay attention to the total (aka Over/Under). If you’re betting on a ’dog, you want the game to have a high total of 9 or higher. Why? Because when more runs are expected to be scored, it leads to more variance and more upset opportunities, which benefits the ’dog. Low totals of 8 or less are better for favorites because the fewer expected runs scored makes it more likely that they will come from the better team.
Baseball has its own version of first-half bets called “first fives,” or F5. Maybe you really like a starting pitching matchup but are worried the bullpen could blow it. You could bet a team on the F5 line instead of the full game. Or maybe you like the F5 Under instead of the full-game Under. Always know the options that exist.
Monitor line movement: The way a line moves can tell you a lot about where the public is and where the sharp money is going. The goal is to bet against the Average Joes who bet based on gut instinct and bias, place yourself on the side of the house and, most importantly, be on the same side as the wise guys who have the respect of the books and win more than they lose. Track how a line moves from open to close. If a line is moving toward a team, that’s a good sign that respected money is in its favor. Reverse line movement is a great indicator of sharp action. This is when the betting line moves away from the popular side and toward the unpopular side. Steam is also important. This is typically when you see a line move 20 cents or more in one direction. Also look out for late moves that happen right before first pitch. That’s when limits are highest and big moves come in.