On the surface, baseball seems like a very simple game to understand.
The hitter just wants to put the ball in play and safely make his way around the bases to score a run, the pitcher and fielders are trying to prevent him from doing it, and the team with the most runs at the end of nine innings wins. Pretty basic stuff, right?
In reality, however, baseball is far more complicated than that. There’s a lot of strategy and other factors that go into the result of a baseball game, and you need to be aware of them before you start betting on the grand old game.
In this article, we cover five main keys to betting on baseball that any beginner needs to know. With that in mind, we’ve tried to keep things as simple as possible, so if the concepts below seem a bit too basic for you, we recommend you check out our “Baseball Betting Strategy for Experts” (Coming Soon!) article instead.
No position in professional sports impacts the outcome of a game more than the starting pitcher.
The best hitters in Major League Baseball only get 4-5 chances to bat during an average game, and defenders might get their hands on the ball 10 times in a game at the most. Meanwhile, every single play during an MLB contest begins from the pitcher’s mound, and the starters are in the game the majority of the time.
A dominant pitcher is the greatest equalizer in baseball. As the saying goes, good pitching stops good hitting, and even the most lethal of lineups can be quickly brought to their knees by an opposing ace who doesn’t give them many good pitches to hit. At the same time, a mediocre squad can light up the scoreboard if a struggling hurler keeps serving up belt-high fastballs and flat breaking balls for them to crush.
The bottom line is this: if your logic for making a baseball bet is simply because the Yankees are a better team than the Marlins, you’re doing it wrong. Over an entire season, the Yankees are obviously the superior team. But in one individual game, the pitching matchup can balance the scales in what may otherwise be a mismatch. In fact, a weak team will often play with a lot more confidence and intensity when their top pitcher takes to the hill, knowing that this is probably their best chance at a victory for the next five days.
So how do you identify which pitchers are the best to bet on and which ones are ideal candidates to bet against? There are a lot of advanced analytics that bettors have begun to focus much more on when analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of a hurler (we get into these in our baseball betting strategy for experts article), but since this is an article for beginners, we’ll keep it simple by identifying these three things to look at.
This statistic tells you how many earned runs (runs that aren’t the result of an error by the fielders) the pitcher gives up per nine innings.
By looking at the ERA of each starting pitcher, you can get a sense of how many runs their opponent is most likely to score in a game.
The more base runners a pitcher allows, the greater the potential that he gives up runs. A pitcher’s WHIP measures exactly that, informing you of the average number of runners that a pitcher allows per inning via either a hit or a walk.
Home runs account for a lot of the scoring in baseball games these days, so limiting the number of runners that reach base can be the difference between allowing a harmless solo homer and a devastating three-run blast or grand slam. The average pitcher in MLB will have a WHIP around 1.30.
A pitcher’s win-loss record isn’t the perfect way to measure their team’s success when they’re on the mound (for example, a pitcher can leave the game with a lead, then end up without a win if the bullpen gives up the lead in the late innings), but there is still some information we can glean from it.
After all, when you’re betting on the moneyline, you only care about getting the victory, not necessarily how many runs your pitcher gives up. When a pitcher with a strong win-loss record faces a hurler with a poor win-loss record, it makes for a solid moneyline bet as long as the odds aren’t too lopsided.
As we just explained, pitching is by far the biggest and most important variable you have to look at when betting on a baseball game. It’s not uncommon at all to see an offense score 10 runs one day, then get shut out the very next day if the opponents’ starting pitcher is a difficult matchup for them.
ERAs, WHIPs, and win-loss records help you know what to expect from a pitcher in an average game, but they don’t take all of the variables into account. In addition to looking at how pitchers perform against an average lineup, you should also look at their past performance in specific conditions that they’ll face in that day’s game.
Here are three splits to focus on.
One of the little-known things about Major League Baseball parks is that all of the pitching mounds are different, varying by firmness and texture. That, plus having the support of the home fans, may explain why many pitchers tend to perform much better at their home park (where they’re more familiar with the mound) than on the road.
However, you can’t just assume that the home team’s pitcher will have the advantage. Some parks are a better fit for a pitcher’s style (for example, a fly-ball pitcher will have more success in west-coast stadiums where the ball doesn’t fly as far or in parks where the fences are deeper,) and some pitchers just seem to relish the challenge of going into enemy territory and silencing a hostile crowd.
Baseball Reference is one of the sites where you can find a pitcher’s home/road splits. Just look up the pitcher by name, then click on “Splits” in their bio and look under the heading “Home or Away.”
Just like some pitchers can perform much differently whether they’re playing at home or on the road, it’s also common to see dramatic splits in pitchers’ statistics when playing during the day or at night.
Why is that? It’s hard to know for sure. Athletes are creatures of habit, so being taken out of their normal routine (having to pitch in the early afternoon instead of at night) could lead to a subpar performance. Or maybe it’s just a by-product of being a “morning person” or a “night owl,” since science has proven that roughly half of us have strong preferences for certain times of the day.
Whatever the reason, day/night splits of a pitcher are something you need to at least be aware of. For example, the Cubs’ Jon Lester struggled in day games in 2017 (5-4, 5.42 ERA) but was much stronger at night (8-4, 3.59). Again, you can find this type of info at Baseball Reference.
If you aren’t that big of a believer in home/road and day/night splits, that’s fine. Not all pitchers feature a huge disparity in their performance based on where they’re playing or when. And even if they do have big differences in their situational splits, it’s not always easy to put a lot of stock in something unless you can understand the reason for it.
However, you absolutely can’t ignore the splits in pitchers’ statistics when facing right-handed hitters and left-handed hitters. It’s no secret that right-handed pitchers have had an edge against right-handed hitters (and lefties against lefties) since the dawn of time. It’s why we see so many late-inning pitching changes, as managers look to exploit those matchups as much as possible.
The good news here is that you don’t need to look that deep into the stats when making a baseball bet based on lefty/righty splits. After all, this is an article about baseball betting strategy for beginners, so there shouldn’t really be that much research involved!
In order to take advantage of the lefty/righty splits, simply look at which side of the plate the majority of a team’s top hitters bat from. For example, if a team is loaded with right-handed hitters, they’re usually going to fare much better against a left-handed starter but could easily be shut down by an opposing right-hander. Meanwhile, an offense that relies heavily on left-handed power hitters could have a tough time against even the most average of southpaws.
One of the big things that sets baseball apart from other professional sports is that baseball is essentially played every day. While the National Football League generally has a week between games and National Basketball Association and National Hockey League squads have a limited number of back-to-back games on their schedule (never three days in a row), Major League Baseball players go from early April to early October with just 10-15 days off.
That doesn’t leave very much time to mentally reset from the previous day’s result, which is why streaks seem to last longer in baseball than any other sport. The frustration from a late-inning loss the previous night can easily carry over into the following day, and the confidence gained from a few impressive victories often snowballs into a sustained run of success.
Although former Orioles manager Earl Weaver once famously said that “momentum is only as strong as tomorrow’s starting pitcher,” we don’t totally agree. Given the opportunity to bet on a confident team with momentum or a struggling team that seems to be waiting for the next thing to go wrong, we’ll gladly take our chances with the more confident side, especially the longer the streak goes on.
Another thing you need to be aware of if you’re new to baseball betting is the extreme parity of the sport.
When we say parity, we’re not necessarily talking about the end-of-season standings or each team’s ability to win championships. In fact, other than the NBA, Major League Baseball may be the most guilty league when it comes to the same teams being the top contenders year after year. Clubs like the Dodgers, Yankees, and Red Sox simply have more financial resources at their disposal than small-market teams like the Rays and Marlins, giving them a massive competitive advantage over a 162-game season.
But on any given day in Major League Baseball, anything really is possible. Skill can only go so far in a baseball game, and luck ends up determining a lot of the outcomes. Hitters can’t control where a ball goes once it leaves their bat, and the hardest of line drives can result in outs while the softest of bloopers can fall perfectly between the fielders to decide a game.
Never forget that even the worst teams in baseball win about 40% of their games, while the best teams in the sport don’t usually win more than 60% of them. Contrast that to the NBA (where eight teams had a winning percentage lower than .400 in 2017-18) or NFL (11 teams under .400 in 2017, including the 0-16 Browns), and you’ll realize that you should never completely rule out a team’s chances of pulling off an upset in MLB.
For that reason, you should rarely (if ever) lay higher than -200 on a moneyline favorite in Major League Baseball. When odds get that high, there’s usually great value on the underdog. And if you are still convinced that the favorite is the only way to go, you should look at other betting options to reduce your risk (we cover these in the baseball betting strategy for experts article).
We’ll wrap up this baseball betting strategy for beginners article with some advice that is relevant for all sports bettors, but particularly baseball: you have to remain disciplined.
Even the most successful of baseball bettors will endure cold stretches during the long season when it feels like they’ll never win another wager. As much as you can try to handicap a baseball match, a lot of games still come down to good old-fashioned luck. Just like the roulette wheel can land on black for 10 spins in a row or you can lose 10 straight hands in blackjack, there will inevitably be times when nothing goes your way on the baseball field.
When this happens, resist the urge to raise the size of your wagers in an effort to quickly recoup any money you’ve lost during a cold run. In fact, if you can feel yourself getting frustrated, it’s a great idea to take a day or two off from betting baseball and clear your head.
Also, never forget that there are way more games in a Major League Baseball season (2,430) than in any other sport. If your biggest goal in betting is simply to make the games more fun and you aren’t risking significant amounts of money, feel free to wager on as many games as you like. But if you’re going to stand any chance at making money betting on baseball, you need to be disciplined enough to only wager on the games in which you think you’ve actually got a mathematical advantage on the bookmakers.
Betting strategies that work in other sports don’t necessarily apply to baseball. While the New England Patriots, Golden State Warriors, and Washington Capitals essentially go with the same lineup every game, the New York Yankees’ chances of winning will fluctuate greatly from day to day depending on who the pitchers are and other factors.
Before you make any baseball bet, take a good look at the starting pitchers, their strengths and weaknesses, and how they match up with that day’s opponent. Also look to bet on teams who are on a winning streak and playing with confidence, and avoid those who are struggling through a cold streak. Finally, don’t forget that upsets are always possible in baseball (no matter how unlikely they appear) and that there will be ups and downs over a long season.
As long as you keep all of these things in mind, you stand a much better chance of enjoying a profitable baseball betting season. And if you want to take your baseball betting to a new level, we suggest you check out our baseball betting strategy for experts article, which will go much deeper into some of the more advanced concepts used by the most successful baseball bettors in the world!