Guide To MLB Betting, Handicapping Tips and Strategy

Betting on baseball is a little different than other sports. Major League Baseball is a six-month, 162-game regular season grind (although not in 202), and in many ways it takes more time and research to win at a consistent rate. The 2020 MLB season will have even more intrigue than most, with the Houston Astros cheating scandal at the forefront. The scandal has tainted the team’s 2017 World Series title and overall success since that championship season.

With more states open up legal sports betting, and MLB mercifully starting its shortened 60-game regular season on July 23, a result of the covid-19 pandemic, now is a great time to brush up on MLB betting so you can astutely shop around at legal mobile sportsbooks. In this guide, we’ll give you a better understanding of betting on baseball and help prepare you for the long season ahead.

Where can you legally bet on MLB?

Legal MLB betting is available in the following states:

StateLegal and Live?
ArkansasYes
Colorado
Yes
DelawareYes
IndianaYes
IowaYes
MichiganYes
MississippiYes
IllinoisYes
MontanaYes
New HampshireYes
New JerseyYes
New MexicoYes
NevadaYes
New YorkYes
OregonYes
PennsylvaniaYes
Rhode IslandYes
TennesseeLegal, not live
Washington, D.C.Yes
West VirginiaYes
VirginiaLegal, not live

Most popular baseball bet types

Moneyline

A moneyline bet in MLB is pretty straightforward. With a moneyline bet, the point spread or “run line” is irrelevant. You simply make a bet on the team that you think is going to win the game.

If you are betting the favorite, you will see a minus (-) symbol next to the team and odds. If you bet the underdog, you will see a plus (+) symbol next to the team and odds.

For example, you could see a line of New York Yankees (-200). In this scenario, the Yankees are the favorites and priced at -200. If you were to wager on the Yankees at this price, a $200 bet would win $100 if the Yankees won the game. Remember, all that has to happen with a moneyline bet is for the side to win the game.

Using the same scenario, let’s say the Yankees are playing the Boston Red Sox and the Red Sox are the underdog at +200 odds. If you made a wager of $100 on Boston at this price and they won, then you would win $200. When you bet an underdog, the sportsbook gives you better odds because you took a chance going against the team that is favored to win.

Run line

The run line is baseball’s version of the point spread. When you make a bet on the run line it is similar to making a point spread bet in other sports.

A run line bet in baseball will almost always be either -1.5 or +1.5. What this means is that the team favored to win will need to win by two or more runs in order to win a run line bet on the favorite. On the other side, the underdog cannot lose by more than one run in order to win the bet. Here’s an example.

Let’s say the Philadelphia Phillies are playing the Atlanta Braves and the Phillies are favored by -1.5 on the run line. If you made a wager on the Phillies, they would need to win the game by at least two runs for your bet to win. If you made a bet on the Braves (+1.5), they could either win the game outright or lose the game by one run and your wager would cash. If the Braves lost by two runs or more and you bet on them at +1.5 on the run line, you would lose.

Unlike a point spread in other sports where you can often “push” or “tie,” is not possible when you make a baseball run line bet using -1.5 or +1.5 because the “hook” (the half run attached to each run line) forbids it.

Totals

Baseballs totals are similar to other sports in that you are making a wager on the total number of runs scored in a game. If a total is set at 8.5 runs, then you can bet that the teams will score more than 8.5 runs or less than 8.5 runs combined.

You can also bet on each team’s team total, which is a wager on if a single team’s score will be over or under the posted line. If the Los Angels Dodgers, for example, are on a roll and scoring a ton of runs, you have the option of betting how many runs only the Dodgers will score in a game. The strategy of betting a team total versus a game total comes in handy if you see a hot offense that is going up against a struggling starting pitcher who has been torched over his last few starts.

Betting the first five innings

A popular part of MLB betting is the ability to make wagers on just the first five innings of a game, which is similar to betting the first half in the NFL or NBA. In most cases, you can find moneyline, run line, and total bets that are designated for only the first five minutes.

Moneyline: first five innings

The moneyline for the first five innings is the same as a standard moneyline wager only that it’s cut down to the first five innings only, not the full game. With the moneyline for the first five innings, you’re simply betting on the team that will be leading  after the first five full innings.

One key difference between betting the first five innings as compared to the full game is that you can push (tie) when betting the first five.

Run line: first five innings

 A run line  for the first five innings is also similar to a standard run line wager, only this time it’s for the first five innings of a game only. Due to the shorter time period of the bet, the run line (the spread) is adjusted and is commonly listed at -.5 for the favorite and +.5 for the underdog. This takes a full run off the favorite or adds a full run to the underdog.

At the end of the first five full innings, if the favorite is winning the game by one run or more, that team wins. If the underdog is winning the game or the game is tied, then the underdog side of the bet wins.

Totals: first five innings

Like game totals, bettors can also wager on the game and team totals over just the first five innings of a baseball team. Like the run line gets adjusted for the shorter length in time, the game and team totals for the first five innings do as well.

Common MLB prop bets

An area of sports betting that is growing in popularity is that of prop bets (short for proposition bets). Prop bets are side wagers placed on something not determined by the final outcome of the game. These are often associated with players in the game and called player props. There are also team props and game props.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common MLB prop bets:

Run in the first inning

This type of bet is simply a wager on if a run be scored in the first inning by either team.

First to score

A wager on which team will score first. When you are interested in this type of bet, it’s key to research the starting pitchers and the top of the lineup for each individual team.

Total hits or runs

A prop bet on the over/under total hits or runs in a game.

Popular MLB player props

Over/under number of hits for a player

A prop bet pertaining to a specific player in which a bettor is wagering if the player will go over or under the posted hit total.

Over/under number of runs for a player

A prop bet pertaining to a specific player in which a bettor is wagering if the player will go over or under the posted run total.

Over/under number of RBIs for a player

A prop bet pertaining to a specific player in which a bettor is wagering if the player will go over or under the posted RBI total.

Hits + runs + RBIs

This is a combination player prop. It is similar to each of the individual player props discussed above, only in this one the total is based on the combination of hits plus runs plus RBIs for a specific player.

Strikeouts per game

This is an MLB player prop bet on how many strikeouts a starting pitcher will have during a game.

MLB futures bets

MLB futures bets are also a popular wager type. This is a bet placed on future results of the entire MLB season, commonly specific to one team. MLB futures bets can provide season-long entertainment and some big paydays if they hit, but keep in mind that these wagers tie up your money for a much longer period of time because they won’t be graded as wins or losses until the end of the season.

Team Futures

With team futures, bettors can wager on which team will win the World Series, AL or NL, divisions, win totals, and more. Win totals are always an entertaining wager to make and oftentimes bettors will bet on more than one team win total. With team win totals, bettors as trying to predict if a team will go over or under a total number of wins.

Individual player futures

Many sportsbooks also accept wagers on futures bet for individual players or player awards, such as who is going to win the MVP or Cy Young. You can also often wager on things like player with the most hits, most strikeouts, or most stolen bases.

MLB live betting

MLB prop bets and futures aren’t the only thing growing in popularity. Live betting or “in-game betting” is getting a lot of traction in the legal U.S. sports betting market and it’s definitely growing as it pertains to MLB betting.

In-game betting in Major League Baseball is when you can make live bets as the game is going on. This is similar to other sports such as football and basketball. You may have a few more options to choose from with live betting, especially in baseball, but the essence of making a bet remains the same.

Because the pace of play in baseball is slower than other sports, it is sometimes easier to make sound decisions in regard to your live bets. Most sportsbooks will offer totals, moneyline, and run lines, but some oddsmakers will offer live prop bets as well. For example, you might have an option to bet on which team will have the most hits in the next inning or if the next batter will hit a home run. When the playoffs start and especially during the World Series, the number of prop bets in general will increase.

Key factors in MLB handicapping

As with any sport, there are certain factors that are sport-specific that can help you become a winning bettor. Below are a handful of the key factors pertaining to MLB handicapping.

Weather

Weather can play a big role in the outcome of a game, specifically if it limits the ability of hitters and pitchers to an extent. Our friends at RotoGrinders have a great section on MLB weather, the RotoGrinders Weather HQ, which includes a detailed weather breakdown for every MLB game. Make sure you check it out.

Lefty vs. righty matchups

Depending on how a team’s lineup is set, the team may have much more success against left-handed pitchers than right-handed pitchers, or vice versa. This is important to consider as a season goes on and the sample size increases. You can do the same for pitching, by paying attention to the pitchers or pitching staffs who have more success against lineups that are made up of more left-handed or right-handed batters.

Home and away splits

Much like other sports, baseball teams tend to play better when they are playing at home. To start, home teams are in a more familiar environment. Teams tend to be more efficient at home and pitchers even tend pitch better at home. Last season, Charlie Blackmon of the Colorado Rockies had a great season, with a batting average of .314, 32 home runs, and 86 RBIs. At home, he led baseball with a .379 batting average, but on the road his average fell to .256.

There are also certain aspects of ballparks that home teams are more experienced with, such as the Green Monster at Fenway Park where the Boston Red Sox Play.

Baseball parks

Some ballparks are known as “hitter parks” and some parks are known to be “pitcher parks.” Coors Field in Colorado is known as a devastating ballpark for pitchers. Some of the more traditional hitter-friendly parks are Rangers Park in Arlington, Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, and Fenway Park in Boston.

A few of the more pitcher- friendly parks are Petco Park in San Diego, Safeco Field in Seattle, and Dodger Stadium in LA. A few different factors can contribute to a ballpark having a pitcher-friendly label, such as climate, height of outfield fences, and how large the ballpark is.

The factors that a ballpark exhibits can often go hand in hand with home-road splits.

Travel days

A team on a long road trip is something to pay attention to with MLB betting. If an East Coast team is traveling out to the West Coast or vice versa, a team’s internal clock may be off for the first few games of the stretch until they adjust to the time change.

Another factor to include in with your handicapping is if it’s the last game of a road trip, often referred to as “a getaway game.” It’s given this label because the road team could have the mindset of just trying to get the game over with to get home and see family after a long trip.

You can also look at the first game back from a long road trip when the home team and their players are just getting back and have some day-to-day family duties or personal issues that they need to handle, or are simply going through a short adjustment period to being back home, in a different time zone, or whatever it may be.

In the end, we aren’t dealing with robots. Professional players have lives just like the rest of the world. Of course, don’t strictly make bets on these reasons, but they are things to consider when doing research and handicapping a game.

Bullpen usage

Researching bullpen usage is very important when breaking down a baseball game for MLB betting. For example, if a team’s starting pitchers have struggled multiple games in a row and were taken out early and the bullpen had to be used for more innings, then this can be problematic. It can pay to watch this closer than normal in the upcoming season because of a new rule implemented by MLB that requires all relief pitchers to pitch to at least three batters or pitch to the end of the half inning. This may not make much of a difference at all, but it’s something to consider as the season moves along.

Home run and strikeout rates

The 2019 season had more home runs than any season in history and strikeouts increased by more than 1,500 from the 2018 season. The home run record for a season that was set in 2017 was smashed by 671 home runs.

Two of the most important stats fans pay attention to are home runs for hitters and the number of strikeouts for pitchers. So, with so many players swinging for the fences, it’s not a coincidence that MLB had the fewest number of stolen bases since 1973. It is clear the way the game is played has changed and unfortunately for the baseball purists we can expect to see more shifting in that direction for the upcoming season.

Betting highlights of the MLB season

The MLB playoffs and the World Series are huge betting times during the MLB season and you can expect sportsbooks to increase the promotions they’re running during these times.

Another important time for MLB betting is Opening Day, which is the start of the MLB season. Opening Day can be important on a league-wide scale, but also as it pertains to specific teams in a state because sportsbooks within a specific state may want to run promotions around that state’s team starting the season.

Some sportsbooks may also offer wagers and promotions around the MLB All-Star Game.

Why bet baseball at legal sportsbooks?

Safety and security are paramount when it comes to legal sportsbooks, and that’s the biggest thing bettors can gain from legal MLB betting. The list of U.S. states with legal sports betting is growing, as you can see in the table above, but you might be asking yourself why you should bet MLB at a legal sportsbook. Here’s why:

Safety and security: As we mentioned, safety and security across the entire betting experience are paramount. When MLB betting at a legal sportsbook, you know you’re going to get a platform that is free of shady business and where your funds are safe, especially when you’re depositing or withdrawing.

Legit banking options: With legal sportsbooks, there is no meeting with Johnny on the corner to settle up or sending money through insecure back channels to someone you’ve never met before or to an offshore sports betting site. Regulated sportsbooks offer several ways to deposit and withdraw funds, and all of these options have been approved by state regulators to be allowed. You can rest assured that your money is safe throughout the entire process.

Promotions: Whether it’s a welcome bonus or a bet boost or something else, legal sportsbooks offer a wide variety of promotions that both new and existing players can take advantage of. With legal sports betting continuing to grow in the U.S., operators are pumping out more promotional dollars in order to attract customers. Take advantage of these offers as best you can because they are great ways to get an edge and build your bankroll.

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