Unlike football betting and basketball betting which utilize a point spread, baseball betting primarily employs a money line. That's a function which intimidates many gamblers but can be a betting asset if played properly.
A money line requires a bettor to pick the winner of the game. That’s it; simple enough, huh? There’s no checking to see if your team covered the spread. If your team wins, so do you. The catch, of course, is that if you bet the favorite, you usually lay more than the customary $110 to win $100 as you would on a football or basketball game.
In fact, there are instances, such as when Phillies ace Roy Halladay faces the lowly Nationals, or Yankees No. 1 starter CC Sabathia takes the mound against a poor team such as the Orioles, where you might have to lay -400 to win $100. On the other hand, if you take the underdog, you can lay $100 to win $300.
So, while sportsbooks can jack up the price on a baseball game, unlike football and basketball, no matter what they do, they have no power to change the ultimate betting result of the game.
Stick With Streaks
Since any team can beat any other team on any given day (there really is no such thing as an “upset” in baseball) the key to successful money line betting is to catch a team on a streak. The mathematical likelihood that one team will notch two consecutive victories against a team of equal ability is 1 in 4 (1 in 2 X 1 in 2). The chances of three straight victories by one team is 1 in 8 (1/2 X 1/2 X 1/2). And the likelihood of four straight wins is 1 in 16 (1/2 X 1/2 X 1/2 X 1/2).
These may seem like daunting odds but teams, even mediocre teams, frequently go on lengthy winning streaks during the regular season. Getting on board is a key to baseball betting success. Washington, which won only 59 games last season, had an eight-game winning streak during 2009.
Philadelphia, which won 93 games during the 2009 regular season and made it to the World Series, enjoyed a winning streak of 10 straight games last year. The Phillies also lost six in a row and nine out of 10 in one span. During that time, it would have been very profitable to be betting on their opponents.
So streaks, both winning and losing, are not uncommon for any team, good or bad. It’s a simple axiom in baseball that, like bananas, wins and losses tend to come in bunches. Winning spawns confidence, clubhouse morale and a more relaxed but focused approach to the game that translates into more victories. Losing erodes confidence, drains morale and creates an atmosphere of tension. Anxiety grows in the dugout and that often leads to more losses on the diamond.
It stands to reason then that a baseball betting fan can do very well anticipating these streaks. Easier said than done, of course. In general, it’s usually more profitable to back a team that’s won two or three in-a-row than it is to hope for a shift in momentum. Keep that in mind before you bet on a team that’s lost two or three straight games.
Totals & Run Lines
While the vast majority of baseball betting is conducted with a money line, there are other ways. We’d be remiss if we didn’t touch on totals and run lines.
Betting on totals asks the bettor to bet on whether the number of combined runs scored by both teams will be over or under a designated number. Over/under betting, which is believed to have begun in 1964, has become a more sophisticated betting practice over the years. Both savvy bettors and wily operators of sportsbooks considering meteorological factors such as wind velocity and direction before any money is exchanged.
Another way to take part in baseball betting is with a run line. The run line is a method of betting where the player lays a run and a half to back the favorite. On the flipside, the player could take a run and a half with the underdog. In effect, the run line is a point spread.
One of the features of the run line is that a bettor can transform a favorite into an underdog. That's providing they're willing to bet that their team wins by more than one run. The Yankees won 22 games in 2009 by just one run. That makes the bet, like much of baseball betting, risky but potentially rewarding.