Every team plays 162 games a season in MLB. There are 32 teams, so there are 2592 games played not including playoffs and World Series games. There are many opportunities to get a wager on an MLB game! The standard is the Money Line wager or the total of the game, but there are yet many other types of wagers and strategies that are necessary. MLB often presents scenarios where it is not feasible to make a wager on a side or pick the winner in a game. This is due to the variance of quality in teams and starting pitchers. Often, there will be a posted Moneyline of -200 or more. This simply means you must wager $200 to win $100. Herein lies the problems of winning MLB wagers for a season. Let’s look a bit deeper.
Opening the 2021 season, the LA Dodgers played the COL Rockies in Colorado. Game 1 was a pitching matchup of Clayton Kershaw and German Marquez. LAD was a -216 FAV. The final score was 5-8L, so they start at -$216. Game 2 had a pitching matchup of Trevor Bauer and Antonio Senzatela, LAD was a -245 FAV. The final score was 11-6w, so they gained $100. This calculation is based on wagering 245 to win $100, and now LAD is -$116. The 3rd game saw a pitching matchup of Walker Buehler and Jon Gray where LAD was -217. The final score was 6-5w so another +$100 for LAD. LAD is now 2-1 on the season yet still -$16. The 4th game and final game of the series was a pitching matchup of Julio Urias and Austin Gomber where LAD was a -205 favorite. The final score was 4-2w and another $100 for LAD, now they are +$94 on the season. LAD is now 3-1 yet only +$84 on the season. The moral of this story is if we wager BIG favorites, a loss is hard to overcome. In this scenario, it took 3 consecutive wins to overcome the 1st defeat and we are still not 1 unit positive. A sound wagering strategy is necessary and it must be combined with utilizing the various types of wagers available to us. It is often said that baseball is a cerebral sport. I would suggest it is cerebral in how it is played, and it is cerebral in how to wager on it. We need to do our homework, or we will not have a successful campaign.
Let’s start by putting in some specific guard rails. First, we should not be wagering any FAV of -150 or more on a regular basis. The simple math is -150 suggests an implied winning percentage of 60%. We must now win 61% of these wagers to make a 1% profit. A standard NFL wager is -110 (52.38%) where the common saying “we just need to win 53% of our wagers to make money” comes from. Now we can’t say that anymore! We need 61% winners. As illustrated in the LAD opening series above, playing -150 favorites “eats” your winnings when they lose, and they are expected to lose 40% of the time! We want to wager on smaller favorites and underdogs.
Underdogs provide plus-money scenarios, and we don’t even need a winning record to be profitable. If we are on the other side of a -150, we would be on the underdog side getting +135. Let’s say that in a 3-game series all -150 for every game the favorite goes 1-2. We would be -$200 while betting on the favorites. If we’re wagering on the underdog, we would be +$170 (+135, +135, -100). The favorite is down 2 units and the dog is up almost 2 units. Big swing of variance here. Thus, we do not want to bet big favorites often! I would also argue wagering big dogs is not a winning formula by itself either. An underdog at +180 requires a winning percentage of 35.71% to break even. We need to expect to lose this eager 65% of the time! If your strategy is to bet on these games, pick your spots wisely. A good mix of small favorites and underdogs is the optimal wagering strategy.
Now let’s look at how we can get into some of these situations where we have been shut out because the favorite is too high. One way to get in on the game is we can bet the total runs scored in the game. This line will have no correlation to the heavy favorite so it will be much nearer the -110 standard wager odds. If you still want to look at the side, we need to shift to the run line as opposed to the money line. The run line now is a point spread line. The favorite will need to cover -1.5 runs and the underdog stay within +1.5 runs. Pay attention to who the home team is. It is commonly referred to as an error to be the home team on the run line. MLB is 9 innings to complete a game. Let’s say the home team is ahead 5-4 going into the 9th inning. Now we’ll say they got all the outs, and the inning is over for the visitors. Because they are not required to hit in the 9th inning as the game cannot be won by the visitors, the game is over and the home wins 5-4 only batting 8 times. The home team is at a disadvantage and as an investor, you need to make sure you don’t get burned by it. The run line can be popular because it dramatically reduces the Moneyline. Let’s go back to the LAD opening series. Game 1 was -216 but -143 on the Moneyline. Game 2 was -245 and -163 on the run line. Game 3 was -217 and -140 on the run line. Lastly, game 4 was -205 and -140 on the run line. Let’s look at the results if we wagered on the run line. The game was a loss, so we start at -143. Game 2 was a win and covered the -1.5 (11-6) so we gain $100 and are now -43. Game 3 was a win (6-5) but we did not cover the -1.5 so it is an against the spread loss! We lose -140 and are now -186. Game 4 was a win (4-2) and cover, so we gain 100 and are now -$86 for the series even though LAD is 3-1. Again, MLB requires a proper strategy to make money. Wagering on the money line was more profitable for this series +$84 than was wagering on the run line -$86 even though we would have paid much too high of odds to do so. Just remember that run lines are spreads and they do come into play. The odds are much cheaper, but the value is not always equal.
Another way to get into these games is the first five innings wagers. These are gaining so much popularity because much of the handicap is based on the starting pitchers and the bullpens are not easy to handicap. We can wager the first five innings on the money line or run line (totals as well) just like a regular game. For this wager type, the game ends after the home team has batted in the 5th inning. The game money line and the first five innings money will be very similar. The run line is vastly different though because we are not tasked with -1.5 runs to cover, we only need -0.5 runs. The run line is good for converting those big favorites and we are wagering on the starting pitcher to be good for 5 innings. Another good understanding is that the home does not get shorted their at-bats. They will bat in the 5th inning, so this is a particularly good spot to look at home favorites that are too large on the money line.
A strategy to employ here is to understand the length expected to pitch and the quality of the starting pitchers. We should not expect to have the bullpen come to save us. We are expecting the starter to pitch the full 5 innings and pitch well if we are on him or poorly if we are against him. Teams with good offenses, and that get length from their starting pitchers are teams that do well in first 5 wagering. Sometimes, we have a good starter but a poor bullpen. This is another spot where a first 5 inning wager can suffice. We can avoid the bad bullpen altogether. Good offensive teams only must be ahead by the end of the 5th inning. If their matchup is good vs the opponent starter, they are a team worth looking into. The only thing to remember when wagering the first 5 innings on the run line, a tie game is a loser for the favorite and a winner for the underdog. The next few charts show results for the teams on the first five innings wagers for 2021. The first one is the team money line. The 2nd one is team totals and the 3rd one is the team on the run line.