How to Bet on Baseball – MLB Betting Explained

by | Aug 11, 2020

The first time I stepped foot in a Las Vegas Sportsbook, I was confused as could be. I wanted to place a bet on the New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox game. I looked up at the odds board (which was a huge dry erase board at the time) and saw the game, but there were plus signs, minus signs, and numbers all over the place. To make things more confusing, the bookmaker erased some of these numbers and replaced them with new numbers. I gave up trying to figure it out, so I walked up to the betting window and asked for $100 on the NYY. The ticker writer was visibly frustrated with me as he blurted out, “What is the rotation number? Do you want listed pitchers or action, and are you laying $100 or wagering to win $100?” I told him I was a rookie, and this was my first bet ever, and I didn’t understand any of that, nor how baseball betting odds work. Heck, I just wanted to put $100 on the Yankees. For all I knew, it would pay $100 if it won. Boy, was I in for a surprise! There’s a lot more to it than that, yet it’s not really all that difficult to understand once you’ve done your research. After reading this article, you’ll have a much better understanding of how betting on MLB games works. Should you have any questions after you’ve read this piece, feel free to drop me a line at predictem@gmail.com, and I’ll be happy to help you.

How to Read Baseball Odds: What do the Plus and Minus Mean? The Money Line Explained

A common baseball betting line (money line) will look like this:

Chicago Cubs +130
Los Angeles Dodgers -140

The road/away team is always listed on top. The bottom team is always the home team. (Note: This holds true in the USA. I’ve seen other sports in European countries list the home team on top)

The plus sign (+) tells us who the underdog is in the matchup. The team with the minus sign (-) is the favorite.

When it comes to sports betting odds, everything is based on $100. If you’re wagering on the underdog Cubs, you’re betting $100 to win (profit) $130. FYI, betting can also be referred to as laying, risking, wagering, or staking. It should be noted that when you win a bet, you get your original bet amount back, in addition to your win amount. For whatever reason, this can be very confusing to new baseball bettors, as we get this question asked quite a bit.

If you want to bet the Dodgers in the above example, you would need to risk $140 to profit $100. Should you be lucky enough to have your wager win, you would receive the $140 back plus the $100 win.

There are no point spreads in baseball, so odds are used to even the playing field for the bookies. You’ll notice that there’s a $10 difference between the underdog and favored team. The difference is the vigorish (aka: Juice). This is the commission the bookmaker charges and how he makes his money.

Note: When you see +100, this means “even money” (Bet $100 to win $100).

Rotation Numbers

You will notice three numbers to the left of each team. These are also known as NSS numbers or Vegas ID numbers. Every wager has a rotation number. The number helps keep the wagering process simple, so no mistakes are made when you’re at the betting window or partaking in telephone betting. It’s important to know about rotation numbers because Vegas sportsbooks and bookies who take bets over the phone will expect you to know them. Why, you ask? It’s because there are so many different bets available, not to mention there are multiple teams in multiple sports with the same team names. Imagine being a ticket writer on a weekend in Vegas, and a guy comes up to you and says, give me $100 on the Cardinals. He has no clue if you want to place a wager on the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team, Louisville Cardinals college football, Stanford Cardinal college football, or Arizona Cardinals NFL team!

Furthermore, it specifies if you’re betting first quarter, first half, halftime, or a particular prop bet. Think of rotation numbers like a phone number. Each is unique and gets you in touch with a specific entity.

Listed Pitchers or Action?

When betting on MLB games, you’ll have the option of selecting “Listed Pitchers” or “Action.” Always choose listed pitchers unless you like losing money! Listed pitchers mean that if either posted starting pitcher doesn’t start the game, your bet is no action. An action bet will be live even if one of the starters doesn’t go. Why anybody would ever select “action” (unless they’re a degenerate gambler) is beyond me. Smart baseball handicappers bet on games because they like the starting pitcher. An action bet leaves you vulnerable to a pitching change. It’s rarely a good bet to back a hurler who wasn’t prepared for the start or a rookie/gas can who gets recalled from the minor leagues to make a spot start.

Odds Change!

Depending on the odds board you’re observing, you’ll see MLB odds change throughout the day (aka: line moves). The betting lines change for many reasons, with the most common being an announcement that a key player is sitting out or a pitching change has happened. Wiseguy/Syndicate/Sharp money is also a frequent cause of line movement. Bookmakers will move their lines to balance their action in an effort not to have too much exposure to one side.

More Types of Baseball Bets

Totals: (Over/Unders)

As the name suggests, a totals bet is one in which you’re wagering whether the total combined runs scored by both teams goes over or under the posted number. This number includes any runs scored in extra innings.

A little secret for you… Totals have lower limits than betting on a team to win (sides). This is because they’re easier to beat. The sharpest of baseball bettors focus on nothing but betting totals. These sharps/wiseguy bettors pay close attention to pitchers, hold/cold hitting teams, weather and ballparks. (Some stadiums yield more runs than others due to dimensions/weather while some cater to lower scoring outcomes for the very same reasons.) Example: The ball carries well at Coors Field due to high elevation and thin air. The ball doesn’t carry as well at T-Mobile Park).

How the Run Line Works: It’s Like a Point Spread

A run line wager is similar to a football point spread, except it’s always -1.5 or +1.5. If you’re selecting a favored team to win on the run line at -1.5, your team needs to win by two runs to cash your betting ticket. If you select the underdog run line, your team cashes if they either win the game straight up or lose the game by no more than one run. An easier way to explain/understand this would be to tell you to take the final score of a game and either subtract -1.5 from your team’s actual score or if you’re betting the underdog run line to add +1.5 runs to the final score, to make a new score, which that number will determine your final score for betting purposes.

Example: The Cincinnati Reds at -1.5 on the run line vs. the Atlanta Braves. You bet the Reds, and they win 4-3. You then subtract -1.5 from the Reds 4 runs scored. This leaves you with a Reds score of 2.5. You would have lost your bet 3 to 2.5.

Example of an underdog run line bet: Let’s say you took the Braves +1.5 in the above example. You would add +1.5 to the Braves actual score of 3. This would give you 4.5 runs. Since the Reds scored four runs, you would have won your bet 4.5 to 4.

Most baseball gamblers use run line favorite bets to back good teams vs. poor teams to avoid laying the big odds that come with wagering on a heavily favored team. Example: At the time of print, the Washington Nationals are a -223 favorite vs. the New York Mets. Most wise gamblers won’t take the risk of laying -223 odds because if the game loses, they have to win 2.23 times in a row just to break even. They will lay the -1.5 run line instead, which comes with a much lighter price tag of -110 odds. Example: The risk $110 to win $100, instead of $223 to win $100. However, you pay a hefty price for this as your Nationals pick now has to win by two runs instead of simply winning the game by one run.

Many bettors like to employ an underdog run line wager when two good pitchers go head to head, and a low scoring game is expected. It’s said that 28% of MLB games end with a one-run margin, so two good pitchers will create heavy betting on the run line. This is a dangerous proposition, though, as the bookie knows you’re coming for a potential advantage. Most +1.5 underdog run line wagers carry a considerable price take of +1.5 -200. You need to win 67% of your bets just to break even with these odds. A sharpie who handicaps games for a living may have a significant advantage in this spot. A newbie not familiar with odds will likely be at a disadvantage betting this way. You may win your first handful of wagers; however, it’s probably just a matter of time before the odds monster eats you alive.

It should be noted that some sportsbooks offer adjusted 2.5 run lines. While these are very tantalizing, you’re playing with fire. In the NYM/Nats game mentioned above, you can lay -2.5 runs on the favored Nationals, and the payout changes to +135. If you were to bet the underdog Mets at +2.5 runs, you’d have to lay -155. It’s our opinion that it’s tough enough to win a game by one run, much less by 3. From the underdog perspective, +2.5 runs is very tempting, but should only be attempted in games where the pitcher is above average and playing in a stadium that tends to yield fewer runs such as AT&T Park, Petco Park, and T-Mobile Field.

But wait, there’s more! Bookies offer somewhat of a teaser bet with “Alternative Run Lines.” These are bets where the heavy favorite is “getting” runs. Using the Mets/Nationals example above, the favored Washington Nationals can be wagered on at +1.5, but you have to lay -370 odds. (Risk $370 to profit $100). While this may look like a lock to happen, should it lose, you’ll be playing from behind for a LONG time. At -370, you have to hit 78.7% of those bets, which is unsustainable. A loss at -370 puts you in a position where you have to win 3.7 times just to break even. It’s a sucker bet.

First Five Innings Bets: Wagering on the First Half of the Game

This wager is straightforward to understand. You’re simply betting on a team to have the lead after the completion of the first five innings.

As the game of baseball evolves, the “First 5” wager has become increasingly attractive. In the old days, starting pitchers would go deep into ball games. Nowadays, with starters going 5-6 innings, middle relievers going a couple of frames, setup men pitching the 8th inning and closers coming in for the 9th, the starting pitcher (SP) has less impact on the final score. With that said, the starting pitcher is still the number one variable to consider when handicapping baseball games. By making a first five innings bet, you remove the vulnerability of being waxed by relief pitchers, which “usually” are lesser in quality than the starter.

MLB Futures: Bet on a Team to Win the World Series and More

Baseball futures are bets that are generally placed early in the season (although sportsbooks are starting to offer in-season odds) on a team or a player. These should be viewed as fun bets because they’re very difficult to predict correctly. The most popular futures bet is on a team to win the World Series. Other futures bets you’ll see bookmakers offer are team to win the AL Pennant, NL Pennant, team to win their division, etc. Futures bets can also be on players, such as “Player to win the MVP, pitcher to win the Cy Young Award, ERA leader, “Player to hit the most home runs,” most RBI’s, most stolen bases, etc.

The great thing about baseball futures is that you can get down on them for as little as one dollar, and many offer huge payouts. This type of wager can provide great enjoyment and entertainment value with regards to bang for your buck. It’s fun to have skin in the game and even more fun to get paid out on a bet that may be 50 or 100-1 odds!

The downside of MLB futures wagers is that your money is tied up for an extended period of time. Not to mention, what happens if the bookie you placed your bet with skips town or dies? What happens if the sportsbook you place the wager with goes out of business? In summary, these bets should be for entertainment only and not a way to try to make money at baseball betting.

Season Wins Bets

One of our favorite types of baseball wagers is the “season wins” bet. This type of wager is available prior to the season starting and allows sports gamblers to bet on whether a team will go over or under a certain number of wins. We love these bets so much because they’re incredibly biased based on what happened in the prior season. The sportsbooks are preying on public perception, which in betting, it’s always a good thing to consider taking the opposite because generally speaking, situations change. The good teams aren’t usually as good as they were previously, and the bad teams work hard to get better. A team that has been really good for a long time suffers from an increasing payroll, so struggles to retain players. A perennial bad team gets high draft picks, drafts studs, and eventually evolves into a good team. These aren’t things that novice bettors are thinking about, so they can be capitalized on. It’s not uncommon for an astute baseball bettor to have a 70% win rate on such wagers.

Prop Bets: The Low Wagering Limits Should Tell You Something

Baseball is a game of momentum and streaks. If you’re a stat rat, baseball prop bets are for you! Baseball prop bets (aka: proposition wagers) are wagers that involve anything outside of betting on a team or the total. Some examples of prop bets are, but not limited to:

Team to score first in the game

Will there be a run scored in the first inning?

A team’s hits, runs, and errors over or under a certain number

Will the game go into extra innings?

A team to win by an exact amount of runs

There are also player prop bets such as:

A player to hit a HR or not

Player vs. Player most hits

Player vs. Player most total bases

Will a pitcher have over or under a certain amount of strikeouts?

Will a particular player have a stolen base or not?

Will a pitcher throw a no-hitter or perfect game?

An MLB prop bet can literally be anything, and you will see literally anything/everything offered when a big game such as the World Series takes place.

Parlays: Big Rewards for Low Risk. Bad Odds; Lottery Payouts

A baseball parlay is a wager where you pick two or more teams, tying them together into the same bet. If any of the bets in the parlay loses, the entire parlay is graded as a losing bet. Parlays can include point spreads, money lines, totals, futures, or even props, as long as the bets are on different games. The allure of this bet is the big payouts. See our parlay payout chart below to get a better idea of why bettors love this wager so much.

Paraly Calculator: Get your MLB parlay odds >>>

Hitting a big parlay is like hitting for the cycle. It’s rare and involves a lot of luck. It’s hard enough to pick one game correctly, much less 10. We recommend that you pass on this type of bet unless you’re crazy, wealthy, or are an elderly person who needs to do exciting things to get their blood pumping and feel alive. Anything in life with bad odds and big payouts is tough to beat. MLB parlays are fun, but can and will wreck your bankroll.

A Somewhat New Way of Betting on Baseball Games

Live Betting: Advantages to be Had!

The best way to bet on MLB games is live in-game betting. As it’s name states, this feature allows you to bet on a game after it has started. It’s like sampling everything on a restaurant menu before deciding what to eat for your meal. There are MAJOR advantages to be had here for a baseball purist that understands pitching mechanics and weather.

A pitcher can often be “off” due to unforeseen circumstances such as a blister, poor mechanics, or a bad night of sleep. Whatever the reason may be, these are not variables that you can handicap prior to the game starting. Once you’ve seen a starting pitcher perform for an inning or two, you can get a real good idea of how he’s going to do for the next couple innings. Is the pitcher in question struggling to find the strike zone? Is he falling off the mound to one side or the other? Is he constantly kicking at the front of the mound to create a proper landing spot that he’s not comfortable with? Is he wiping his nose or hawking loogies because he’s slightly under the weather? Are his pitches high because he’s releasing too early? Are his pitches low because he’s holding onto the ball too long? There are countless issues that pop up. Even with the best of pitchers, and you won’t know these things prior to the game starting.

Furthermore, you can bet totals in live betting. Is the ball carrying like crazy due to the wind blowing out? Does it appear that the game is being played with a batch of baseballs that seem to be too tightly wound? Is the umpire having a bad day and consistently missing strike calls? Are well-hit balls dying in the outfield because the wind is blowing in?

In summary, there are some significant advantages to assess after a short period of viewing. These variables can put the odds in your favor and seriously increase your odds of winning at baseball betting. We highly recommend buying the MLB Extra Innings package on DirecTV. Watch as many games as possible. It’s a GREAT investment!

Getting the Most Out of Your Money

Dime Lines: A Must Have!

One of the most underrated facets in baseball betting is the dime line. If you want to beat the house (bookies), you need to take advantage of every angle available to you. Dime line betting is kind of tough to explain and is easier shown via an illustration. Let’s show you rather than tell you:

Example of a 10-cent line (dime line)

Chicago White Sox +125
Houston Astros -135

Notice how the underdog is $10 less than the favorite? This is referred to as a dime lime. This gives you the maximum possible payout on an underdog wager. Many baseball betting sites only operate using 20 cent lines. This means that underdogs pay $20 less than the favorite. Here is an example of a 20-cent line:

Chicago White Sox +115
Houston Astros -135

See how the CWS are $20 less of a payout? This is much less of an attractive offer. Many sportsbooks offer 20 cent lines to deter sharp/wiseguy action because baseball betting is a beatable proposition. I’ve even heard bookmakers say they wish they could shut down for baseball season, but they can’t.

If you’re going to bet on baseball, it’s imperative that you’re wagering at a sportsbook that offers dimeline baseball betting. Check out our list of dimeline sportsbooks for the best the web has to offer.

Baseball Betting Strategy

Many MLB bettors feel like they have the “Curse of the Bambino” because they can’t win long term. You have to do your homework! Odds act as an equalizer. Sure, a good team might beat a bad team today, but laying -225 odds puts you in a position where you have to win 69.2% of the time, which is unsustainable. Too many baseball bettors swing for the fences. If you want to win, you have to have a plan. You have to choke up. Approach baseball betting as a singles hitter or control pitcher, not the home run derby where you’re trying to hit every pitch out of the park. Think like a leadoff hitter who is trying to get on base however they can. Don’t bet on every game. Be selective; have plate discipline! Only swing at good pitches (good odds/games where YOU have the advantage). Failing to do so will put you under the Mendoza line (.200 batting average) and get you sent back to the minors (re-depositing to your betting account). Doing things the right way will turn you into a power hitter over time.

Listed below, you’ll find a few tidbits that will help you with your baseball wagering.

The most important variable is the pitcher. Since starting pitchers seem to be tossing fewer innings these days, you should seriously consider making the first five innings bets your bread and butter.

Live betting allows you to get a feel for the game before placing your bet. I recommend watching the first couple innings before making your pick on who to bet on. A great example of why this is a good option is a recent Nationals game I had bet on where Max Scherzer started and left after the first with a hamstring issue. Had I bet the game live, I wouldn’t have lost my tail. There’s no handicapping that could have predicted his potential hamstring issue.

The beauty of baseball betting is the money line, which allows you to win less than 50% of your wagers and still show a profit. Most struggle with betting on MLB underdogs because they’re projected to be the weaker guy in the fight. This is where the money is, though! Look at the MLB standings. The difference between the good teams, the middle of the road and the bad really aren’t that much. Find underdogs with upside/good pitchers and ride that magic carpet to profits!

Weather = Money. The wind blowing in or wind blowing out is often baked into the current over/under. Sometimes it’s not baked in enough, though! There are plenty of sites offering MLB weather reports specific to not just the city but also the stadium. Many will show you a picture of a diamond and tell you which direction the wind is blowing and at what miles per hour.

Baseball Betting Tips

Pay Attention to Stats—study box scores. Read the player’s stats over the past seven days. Find players/teams experiencing both hot streaks and cold streaks. Learn Sabermetrics. These are all handicapping helpers. Stats are vital in baseball betting. I know professional baseball handicappers that don’t even watch games or know what the players look like, but make a living betting on bases solely relying on statistics!

Avoid the allure of parlay bets. It’s hard enough to win one game, much less 5-10.

Manage your bankroll properly. Don’t go all in! It’s not sustainable! Never bet more than 5=10% of your bankroll on any single game.

Consider betting divisional underdogs. These teams face each other numerous times throughout the season and are familiar with each other. Not to mention, the level of competition increases as they’re incentivized by the desire for divisional supremacy!

Not all baseball odds are created equal. Shop for the best price as you would for a car. The savings add up! Check out our list of recommended sportsbooks which highlight the benefits of betting at each. Plus, take advantage of the free cash you get with sign-up bonuses. Better yet, skip the instant gratification of sign-up bonuses and reap the long-term benefits that wagering at reduced/discounted odds offers! You find Walmart style pricing on all sports odds at the web’s best sportsbook: 5Dimes!

In closing: What do you think when you hear the following words? Wild pitch, error, balk, passed ball, grounded into double play, blown save, caught stealing, foul-out and golden sombrero. These are negative happenings in baseball. Similar results will happen to your bankroll if you don’t do your homework by handicapping (studying for advantages) games.

Conversely, there are words of success in baseball, such as clutch hitter, dinger, five tool player, grand slam, round-tripper, frozen rope, inside-the-park-home-run, and moonshot. These are similar to the good things that happen if you study pitching matchups, weather conditions, hot hitters, fading cold teams, looking at travel schedules to detect fatigue, etc.

And that, my friends, is how to bet on baseball!

Got questions? Drop us a line at predictem@gmail.com. We’re here to help!