Beginner's Guide to MLB Betting
Major League baseball is one of the largest markets for sports betting in the United States. It is widely considered the best baseball league in the world, boasting the biggest fan bases and stadium attendances, as well as the biggest slate of teams in the North American League. Leading the MLB in 2021, The Los Angeles Dodgers finished the 2021 regular season with 2,804,693 in announced attendance - amounting to 34,626 per game average. As you would guess, such a large fanbase in a stat-filled sport, leads to a huge amount of bets taking place and each year, more and more are becoming part of the action.
If you're new to the world of betting and a first-timer looking to start betting on MLB baseball in particular, then you're in the right place. This guide will give you a brief introduction to Major League Baseball and a deep dive into the most common wagering types, including how to read the odds and a glossary of need-to-know terms.
An Introduction to the MLB:
Major League Baseball is the oldest major professional sports league in the world. As of 2021, 30 teams play in the MLB - split equally between the American League and the National League. There are 29 teams in the United States and just 1 team playing out of Canada - The Toronto Blue Jays.
During the regular season, teams tend to play games five to seven days per week - usually taking Mondays and Thursdays off. The games are split into groups called series, where two teams will face off in a competition of back-to-back games. Each team's season is most commonly made up of three-game series, as well as occasional two- or four-game series. There is currently a three-division structure, where each team plays 19 games against each of its four divisional opponents.
Following the regular season, is the post-season, where 10 teams - consisting of the six divisional champions and four wild card teams - battle it out to become champions of the MLB. Wild card teams are always the two that have the best records in each league other than the division champions. There are 4 stages to the post-season:
- Wild Card Round: Two wild card teams play one game to determine who makes it to the next stage.
- Divisional Round: Two best-of-five-games series - one for the American League and one for the National League.
- League Championships: Two best-of-seven-games series between the winning teams from the Division Series.
- World Series: A best-of-seven-games series between the two winners of the League Championships.
Altogether, there are a total of 162 games for each of the 30 teams, bringing the collective total to 2,430 games played in the regular and post-season. Besides this, there's also an All-Star Game held during a four-day break from the regular-season in mid-July. The sheer amount of baseball games in one year of the MLB, gives bettors seemingly endless wagering opportunities - betting on MLB games has never been easier.
- Chalk – The favoured team in a given match-up.
- Dog – Short for 'underdog' (the team least likely to win).
- Listed Pitchers – The two starting pitchers listed for a game.
- Home Run - a hit that allows the batter to make a complete circuit of the bases and score a run.
- Money Line – Simply betting on who will be the team winning the game, regardless of points.
- Over/Under – The odds makers list their guess at the total scores and you can bet over or under that amount (also known as totals or run lines).
- Push – When your bet is refunded.
- Spread – Used as a margin to handicap the favorite team. MLB game spreads are almost always +/- 1.5. The favorite will be -1.5 and the underdog will be at +1.5.
- Top Half – If you 'bet the top half', you're only betting on the first 5 innings.
Money Line Bets
Perhaps the most popular way to bet on baseball, money-line bets are simply betting on who you think will be the winning team in a game.
Money-line odds will look something like this:
In this example, the Boston Red Sox are the favourites and Chicago are the underdogs. Favourites will always have a minus sign (-) in their odds, which indicates the amount you need to stake to win $100. Dogs on the other hand, will have a plus sign (+), which indicates the amount won for every $100 staked. These are called American odds, but you can opt for decimal (1.30) or fractional (5/1) odds instead.
The odds of '-200' mean that if you bet $100 on the Red Sox you will get back $150 - $50 in winnings, plus your original stake. The '+170' means that if you bet $100 on Chicago, you get $270 back - $170 in winnings, plus your original stake.
Spread Bets: The Runline
The Runline is the MLB's version of a points spread - it is a bet on the margin of victory or loss, measured in runs scored - and is treated like a handicap. As baseball is a very low-scoring sport, the handicap is almost always set to just 1.5 runs.
The Spread/Runline odds will look like this:
Just like Money Line odds, the minus sign (-) indicates the favourite and the plus sign (+) indicates the underdog. The spread of -1.5 means that if you were to bet on the San Francisco Giants, they would need to win by 2 or more runs (greater than 1.5) for you to win your bet. Oppositely, if you bet on the Dodgers at +1.5, you will only win the bet if they lose by one run (less than 1.5), or instead if they win the game outright.
Over/Under or 'Totals bets' are wagers on the combined amount of runs scored by both teams at the end of the game. When making a totals bet, bear in mind that bookmakers consider many external factors when they set the odds - like different ballpark locations and potential weather effects.
Ballparks like Coors Field, famously sees the ball travel farther due to the atmospheric pressure being roughly 20% less than for a park at sea level - this reduces air resistance on the ball and hence, a hit will travel further at Coors Field than other parks.
Here's how the Over/Under Odds will look:
Your job as the bettor, is simply to decide if the game will end with 8 total runs scored or above (in which case you will bet on the over) or less than 7.5 total runs (in which case you will bet on the under).
Top-Half Betting: First Five Innings
Commonly listed as 'F5 Bets' on betting sites, this type of bet is just like a Moneyline except you’re only wagering on the first five innings of a game. This reduces risk brought in after star players make their mark on the game. Therefore, to make this wager, you only need to handicap starting pitchers, with no need to account for the entire pitching staff.
Prop Bets allow you to bet on very specific events in a game. These events are player or team specific, and range from stolen base stats to homeruns to strikeouts.
A few examples of Prop Bets:
- How many bases will Player Y steal?
- How many home runs will Player Z have?
- How many strikeouts will Pitcher A have?
If you're an MLB super-fan or just getting involved in the world of baseball, you have limitless opportunities to cash in as a spectator. There are thousands of bets you can make in a year and with games almost every day of the week in the regular season, you'll never be lost looking for your next wager.
If you're interested in the NFL too and want to learn more about the betting market, go ahead and check out our beginners guide to betting on the NFL here: Beginner's Guide to NFL Betting - RakeTheRake