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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Monday, December 01, 2008
How to Bet on MLB
The MLB season just ended with the Philadelphia Phillies beating the Tampa Bay Rays in five games in the World Series. For Phillies fans, it was a dream come true. But for some baseball bettors, things didn’t turn out the way they imagined. We may forget but the Tampa Bay Rays were actually favored to beat the Phillies in Las Vegas when the World Series started.
This was true even though the Phillies appeared to have the right blend of good pitching and good hitting to get them the trophy. I, for one, never even considered placing a wager on the Tampa Bay Rays. To me, the Phillies winning the series was a foregone conclusion.
Why? Well, that’s the nature of baseball betting. Unlike almost every other organized sport in the United States, baseball is a game of simplicity. Part of that simplicity is understanding baseball cycles. Teams go up and teams go down. There is no other sport, excluding horse racing, where this future’s trading type affect is so readily obvious.
Baseball betting is most like future’s trading in the sense that future’s traders on Wall Street are just like baseball bettors. In future’s trading, the trader looks to numerous factors regarding the commodity he wishes to trade futures on. For instance, if he wants to trade futures on coffee, he takes a look at numerous factors involving the coffee industry - - weather, political future of the various countries, trade pacts, etc.
When a bettor takes a look at a game, or a series of games, he takes a look at the relevant factors involving the teams that make up that game. Some of these factors for baseball are: pitching, hitting, injuries, management, ownership, mental toughness, etc. He also tries to calculate the “hot” factor of a team. The Phillies were definitely hot going into this year’s World Series.
The best example to understand how to bet on baseball is to look at the single game strategy. Although there is a multiple game strategy involved in betting, it’s convoluted and would take a very long time to explain.
So, let’s stick with the single game strategy for now.
Single Baseball Bets - - Single Games
Most sportsbooks, besides offering various prop bets which we won’t discuss in this article, offer three bets. The first is what’s called the run line. We’ll get back to that in a moment. The second is called the money line. The third is called the over/under.
Let’s take a look at the money line wager first. Here’s a typical money line baseball wager that sportsbooks offer to bettors.
BostonRed Sox - 110
New York Yankees - 125
The way to read this is, “The Boston Red Sox are visiting the New York Yankees. The Boston Red Sox are – 110 straight-up to beat the New York Yankees. The New York Yankees are – 125 straight-up to beat the Boston Red Sox.”
I know that the Boston Red Sox are visiting the New York Yankees because the Yankees are the “bottom” team. This is true for not only sportsbooks but also for the scores you see on various websites and on your television. The home team is always listed second.
Now, what exactly does – 110 and – 125 mean? The money line is always expressed in terms of a $100 dollar unit. You’re going to hear the word unit quite a bit if you start betting on baseball. A unit is simply the amount of money that a gambler is willing to put up on each single bet. For instance, if my unit was $100 and I put 2 units on the Red Sox, I would be putting $200 on the Red Sox. So, in terms of – 110 it means this, a gambler would have to put up $110 dollars to make a $100 profit on the Red Sox in this game. A gambler would have to put up $125 dollars to make $100 profit.
Of course, baseball bettors still need to look at each team regarding their chances of winning this game.
Over/under betting is quite simple. The concept is this: what is the total that both teams combined will score in this game. In other words how many runs will the Red Sox and Yankees together score? Usually, in a game like the Red Sox and Yankees the over/under will be between 9 to 10 ½ runs. If you believe that the two teams together will score less than 10 ½ runs, if that’s the total, then you want to bet the under. If you believe that the two teams together will score more than 10 ½ runs than you want to bet the over. The ½ is a key factor in this. It means that the total can’t land exactly on the number. Why is this important? Sportsbooks always want one side to win and the other to lose. The sportsbook will have to give everybody their money back, minus the juice (that’s the “10” in football betting) if, for instance, the total was 10 and the total runs scored landed exactly on 10. That is why bettors see a lot of wagers instilled with a ½ point. It ensures that one side wins and one side loses.
The run line is a strange bet. Most of the time it has to do with the starting pitchers on each team. Betting the run line involves deciding which pitcher will perform the best on that day for at least five innings. A pitcher has to last for five innings for “action” on a run line bet. Here’s an example of what a run line bet looks like:
Boston Red Sox
Daisuke Matsuzaka - 1 ½ - 120
New York Yankees
Andy Petite + 1 ½ - 145
The way to read this bet is, “Matsuzaka is – 1 ½ runs at minus 120 to beat Andy Petite at + 1 ½ runs minus 145.”
The way this works is this - - if you like Dice-K in this match-up then you are betting that he will be ahead of Andy Petite and the New York Yankees by at least 2 runs at the end of five innings. You are giving up 1 ½ runs to Petite and the Yankees. You are also putting up $120 to win $100 profit.
If you like Andy Petite in this match-up, you are betting that he won’t be behind Dice-K and the Yankees by more than a single run after the fifth inning. With Petite you get a run and a half (hence the name “run line”). That wager will cost you $145 to win $100 in profit.
It is important to realize that teams go through a 182 game regular season schedule. During those 182 games, teams will be hot and teams won’t be hot. The key for success is figuring out exactly when that hot streak is going to occur.
For instance, once the Milwaukee Brewers traded for C.C. Sabathia, they got hot. Why? A lot of it had to do with confidence. C.C. brought a certain brand of confidence to the team that ended up going through individual players. If it sounds crazy, it sort of is, but it also makes total sense. Baseball is at its core a psychological game. Although physical talent is important, mental toughness is much more important.
Because of that, it’s a good sign to always look for starting pitchers that have that mental toughness when making bets. For instance, in game six of this year’s ALCS, the Boston Red Sox sent Josh Beckett to the mound. Even though Beckett had a bad regular season, I knew that his mental toughness could carry him to a victory in that game against the Tampa Bay Rays even though the Rays were at home with one of their better pitchers, James Shields, on the mound.
Information is king when betting on baseball. Having a good understanding of which pitchers do well under pressure situations is the biggest advantage that a baseball bettor can give himself.
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