The newcomer’s guide to betting on baseball

Bettors used to wagering on football and basketball can be confused when they switch over to baseball.

Where’s the point spread? What do you mean do I want to list the pitcher? Why did my total bet get refunded?

Here’s an introduction to baseball betting:

TYPES OF BETS

Money line

This is the most typical baseball bet, and it’s a simple one: Bettors wager on a team to win the game.

There’s no point spread involved, but bettors must pay attention to the odds (money-line price) for each team. A typical $110 bet against the spread pays $100, but a $110 wager on a -200 baseball favorite would pay only $55. Likewise, a $110 wager on a +200 underdog would pay $220, not $100.

Totals

Also commonly called the “over/under,” bettors wager on whether the combined runs in a game from both teams will go over or under the projected total.

The odds on total bets are also typically -110 on both sides, but often either the over or under is “favored” and has a price of -120 with the other side at +100 (or -125 and +105, etc.).

Run line

A version of against the spread betting for baseball lets bettors either lay 1½ runs with the favorite or take 1½ runs with the underdog. Because winning by more than one run is unlikely, laying 1½ runs usually results in a “plus money” price, while taking 1½ runs with the underdog usually means the bettor has to lay a price.

Bettors often choose this option with large favorites to get better odds. For example, the Mets are -200 favorites against the Marlins on the money line, but +100 on the -1½ run line, or the Dodgers are -150 favorites against the Nationals on the money line but +125 on the run line.

First five innings

A version of a first-half bet for football or basketball, bettors wager on which team will be leading after five innings, or whether the game has gone over or under the first-five total.

Other typical game bets

Team totals: An over/under bet just for one team in a game. For example, the total of the Marlins-Mets game is 8, but bettors could also wager on the Marlins to go over or under 3½ or the Mets to go over or under 4½. The odds can be -110 on one side, but usually will be weighted one way or the other.

Will either team score in the first inning?: This self-explanatory prop allows for a quick winner (or loser) for bettors on a given game. Some sportsbooks also offer a prop on which team will score first.

Alternate run lines: In this case, the underdog has to cover the -1½ run line, resulting in a bigger potential payout. For example, the Marlins are +180 underdogs against the Mets on the money line but +300 to cover the -1½ run line. Bettors willing to lay a bigger price can also take the favorite +1½. In this case, the Mets are -200 on the money line but -360 +1½.

Circa Sports is offering -2½ run lines this season. So if a bettor thinks the Dodgers will roll past the Nationals, they can bet Los Angeles at +220 -2½ runs instead of -150 on the money line.

Player prop bets: Some sportsbooks will offer wagers on specific players for certain games. Example: Will the Padres’ Manny Machado hit a home run against the Rangers (no -370/yes +280)? Will Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer have over or under 8½ strikeouts against the Dodgers (under -130/over +100)?

General prop bets: BetMGM offers props on the total number of runs, hits and errors by both teams in a game. For example, Nationals-Dodgers 25½ (under -145).

Futures

Season-long bets are available on teams to win the World Series, either the American League or National League or their divisions. Odds fluctuate throughout the season, but bettors lock in their price whenever they place their wagers.

Some sportsbooks have expanded their menus to include the MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards, as well as the major league leaders in various statistics (home runs, RBIs, pitching wins, etc.). Again, the odds fluctuate throughout the season, but bettors lock in their price whenever they place their wagers.

IMPORTANT CONCEPTS

Pitchers listed or action?

The starting pitcher plays a large role in baseball betting. Bettors at many sportsbooks have the option to “list” the pitcher when placing their bet, meaning that the bet only counts if the listed starting pitcher in fact starts the game.

If there is a change before the first pitch, the bet is refunded. If a bettor chooses “action,” then the bet goes forward even if the pitcher changes before the game, though the odds can be adjusted based on the new starter.

Last year, the South Point and Westgate stopped listing pitchers amid the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic and the increased use of “openers,” or one-inning relievers, to start games. They say this puts baseball more in line with other sports. After all, a football bet is not refunded when the starting quarterback changes later in the week.

Some baseball bettors still prefer the certainty of knowing their bet is on the Dodgers with Clayton Kershaw starting, not just the Dodgers.

Break-even percentages

The point spread serves as the great equalizer in football and basketball, reducing games to roughly an even proposition with -110 odds on each side.

The money-line betting used in baseball is not as simple as deciding, “I think the first-place Dodgers are going to beat the last-place Rockies.”

The price can make the strongest favorite a bad bet or make the worst underdog a good one. It’s important to know the break-even percentages on wagers to help determine whether a bet is a good one.

The break-even percentage on a typical -110 spread bet is 52.4 percent. But that number rises quickly with the price:

Favorites

-120: 54.5 percent

-130: 56.5 percent

-140: 58.3 percent

-150: 60 percent

-200: 66.7 percent

Underdogs

+120: 45.5 percent

+130: 43.5 percent

+140: 41.7 percent

+150: 40 percent

+200: 33.3 percent

So if a bettor thinks the Dodgers have a 63 percent chance of beating the Rockies (37 percent), then the Dodgers are a good bet at -150, but the Rockies are a good bet at +200.

Rules to know

Extra innings count. If the road team scores five runs in the top of the 10th inning, all five runs count against the total.

When are bets official? For full-game total bets and run-line bets, the game must go the full nine innings. If weather shortens the game, total bets are refunded, even if the over already has been clinched. In general, games become official after five innings, and money-line bets still will be paid for a shortened game, as long as it goes five innings.

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