Of all the sports out there, baseball is widely considered the one in which bettors are the most likely to make money.
However, even if that’s true, there’s nothing easy about turning a profit betting on the diamond. Especially in the modern era, where the availability of information at everyone’s fingertips has actually made it more difficult to find an edge.
In this article, we’ll uncover eight different baseball betting strategies relied on by the most expert of MLB handicappers. Keep in mind that this is some pretty advanced stuff, so if you’re new to baseball betting, or you quickly find that this subject matter is over your head, you might be better off reading our Baseball Betting Strategy for Beginners article first, then making your way back here when you feel more prepared.
Still with us? Great! Let’s dig into some of the more elaborate tricks to the trade that will improve your chances of making money betting on baseball this season.
Long gone are the days when we measured pitchers by their win-loss record and earned run average (ERA), or when we identified the best hitters through batting average and runs batted in.
Today’s most relevant baseball statistics are much more advanced. Most people now judge pitchers by their WHIP (walks + hits per inning pitched, which tells you how many base runners a pitcher is regularly allowing) and their FIP (fielding independent pitching, a stat that estimates what a pitcher’s ERA should be based on their rate of strikeouts, walks, hit batters, and home runs allowed). Meanwhile, the recent emphasis on walks and home runs means that hitters are now heavily evaluated by their on-base percentage (walks + hits/plate appearances), slugging percentage (total bases/at bats) and OPS (on-base percentage + slugging percentage).
But while it’s imperative that you are aware of the advanced statistics we just referenced above, relying on WHIP, FIP and OPS alone won’t give you an edge on the oddsmaker. After all, if you’re using the same stats as everyone else, you’re not really outsmarting anyone. Plus, even those advanced stats can be misleading.
Instead, you should be willing to dig deeper by using statistics that are even more advanced, commonly known as sabermetrics. These concepts can be a little difficult to understand at first, but once you master them, you’ll find that they’re excellent tools when it comes to analyzing past performance and predicting future results.
Here are three sabermetrics to evaluate pitchers that will give you an edge on the bookies.
No stat is a better measure of a pitcher’s true ability than the ratio of his strikeouts to walks. That’s because both strikeouts and walks are completely controlled by the pitcher, unlike hits allowed (which can be affected by the defense behind them).
The greater a pitcher’s ability to record a strikeout, the more likely he can get out of difficult situations without allowing runs. And by limiting the number of walks they hand out, a pitcher forces the opponent to earn their way on base with a hit, reducing the potential of runs allowed in the process.
There’s a lot of luck that goes into getting a hit in a baseball game. Sure, making solid contact enhances your chances, but a screaming line drive directly at a fielder can result in an out, while a broken-bat blooper can fall between several defenders for a hit.
BABIP is a great way to evaluate just how “lucky” or “unlucky” a pitcher has been on the season. Long-term statistics have shown that any time a ball is put in play, there’s approximately a 30% chance that it results in a hit. Therefore, if a pitcher’s BABIP against is significantly higher than .300, it suggests they’ve been very unlucky and that their stats are due to improve in the near future. And if their BABIP against is .200 or lower, it tells you that they’ve been very fortunate so far this season and that their luck is likely to run out soon.
More runs in baseball are being scored via the home run in today’s game than ever before. In 2017, 22 of the 30 teams in Major League Baseball scored at least 40% of their runs on homers, compared to just three teams doing so in 2007.
Other than strikeouts, what’s the best way for a pitcher to limit the home runs he allows? Induce batters to hit the ball on the ground! That’s why groundball/flyball rate is such a valuable statistic when looking at how a pitcher matches up against their next opponent, especially if they’re facing a team that is particularly reliant on the home run ball.
Whenever a team is a big favorite, most baseball bettors will turn to the run line in order to improve their potential payout. Often times, a -200 moneyline favorite will pay close to even money or better on the -1.5 run line (which requires them to win the game by 2 or more runs).
The big problem with taking home favorites on the run line, however, is that the home team doesn’t take its final at-bat if it’s already leading the game through 8.5 innings. And the bigger the favorite, the more likely that they’ll win the game in the first 8.5 innings, meaning that they’re going to have one less at-bat than the opposition.
If you take a road favorite on the run line, however, you’re guaranteed that they’re going to get just as many at-bats as the home team. And you can be sure that the road team will be trying to score as many runs as possible in the top of the ninth, knowing that the home team gets to have the final at-bat.
Wonder why starting pitchers don’t go as deep into games as they used to? There are two main reasons.
First, teams are paying much closer attention to pitch counts, trying to preserve the arms of their multi-million-dollar athletes. Secondly (and most significantly), managers and GMs have finally caught on to a trend that savvy baseball bettors have known about forever: hitters have a big advantage over pitchers when they’re batting against that hurler for the third time in a game.
In a comprehensive study of all MLB games played from 1999-2002, well-known sabermetrician Mitchel Lichtman found that hitters’ wOBA (weighted on-base average, a stat that combines on-base percentage and slugging percentage) increased the second and third time they faced a pitcher in a game.
By the time a hitter takes his third at-bat against a pitcher, he’s familiar with the types of pitches that pitcher is throwing, how his breaking balls are moving, which pitches have been the most effective that day, and the pattern that the pitcher has used against the hitter that day. Also, the pitcher has probably thrown 60-70 pitches by that point, meaning that their fastball might not be as crisp or their curve isn’t quite as sharp.
This explains why the sixth inning (generally when a pitcher starts going through the lineup for the third time) is the second-highest-scoring inning in baseball, trailing only the first inning (when a team’s top hitters face a pitcher who hasn’t quite settled in yet).
This opens up a great opportunity to capitalize on in live betting: bet the Over, especially if the first few innings have been low-scoring. It’s an even better bet if both teams still have their starting pitchers in the game, since both pitchers are then susceptible to the challenges of navigating the opposing lineup for the third time. And even if the managers go to their bullpen at that point, they’re usually bringing in one of their weaker relievers, saving their best arms for high-leverage situations in the later innings.
Whenever a team has a great record in 1-run games, the ensuing narrative is often that they’re a “clutch” squad that “simply knows how to win.” And when a club consistently loses more 1-run affairs than it wins, they’re labeled as a group of chokers who just can’t get things done when it matters.
In reality, however, winning or losing 1-run games is not a skill. It’s generally a product of luck and randomness, which is why studies have shown that teams who thrived in 1-run games one year don’t usually fare very well in close games the next.
It’s also why you shouldn’t focus on win-loss records when you’re betting on MLB futures, such as which team will win a particular division, the American or National League pennant, or the World Series. Instead, you should pay attention to teams’ run differentials, since they are a much truer indicator of future results.
There’s nothing random about beating a team by 5 runs. One lucky bounce didn’t decide the game, and the outcome wouldn’t have been different if one play had gone the other way. So the more consistently a team wins by a wide margin, the less reliant on luck and randomness they are. And the best way to measure how often they win or lose by wide margins is their run differential.
Not convinced? Just look back at the 2016 MLB standings, when 5 of the 6 division winners posted the best run differential in their group. The only team that didn’t? The Texas Rangers, who won the AL East despite scoring just 8 more runs than the opposition that season. And the Rangers were subsequently swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Toronto Blue Jays, a team that was +93 in run differential that year.
Remember, in MLB betting (and in all betting in general), we’re always looking for hidden value. When betting futures, there’s usually great value on teams with mediocre records but solid run differential. Meanwhile, teams with great records but low run differential are likely overrated and should be avoided, especially considering that their luck will probably run out soon.
For all the talk of implementing an electronic strike zone in baseball, we’re not likely to see it anytime soon. ESPN’s K-Zone and other graphics used on television do a good job of telling us if a pitch was a ball or a strike, but MLB commissioner Rob Manfred is extremely reluctant to rely on it completely, and so are the players.
Until robots begin determining balls and strikes, the most important calls in a baseball game will continue to be made by human umpires. That’s a good thing for expert baseball bettors, who can exploit the different interpretations that various human umpires have of the strike zone.
Even though the strike zone in baseball is supposed to be any pitch that crosses home plate between the middle of the hitter’s torso and the bottom of their kneecaps, many umpires are known for having their own definition of what is a strike and what is a ball. Some are reluctant to call any pitch above the waist a strike, while others consider at the knees to be too low. Some insist that the pitch must completely cross the plate, and some will give a couple of extra inches to the inside or outside corner.
Because of this, certain umpires tend to oversee higher-scoring games than others. The more pitches that an umpire is willing to call a strike, the bigger the advantage for the pitchers and the more likely that we’ll see a low-scoring affair. The tighter that the umpire’s strike zone is, the more quality pitches that the hitters will see, increasing the chances of line drives and home runs.
You can find Over/Under splits for all MLB umpires at various websites, whether it’s for the current season or for their entire career (obviously the larger the sample size, the more reliable the statistics are). We don’t suggest basing an Over or Under bet entirely on the man who is behind the plate that day, but you’ll still want to check on who the umpires are before betting on a total. If you’ve handicapped a game and are considering betting the Over, knowing that a hitter-friendly umpire will be working the game can be enough to pull the trigger on the wager, while seeing a pitcher-friendly ump may make you decide to pass on the bet.
Another way that expert baseball bettors find extra value in the betting lines is by factoring the weather into their handicap, especially when betting on totals.
When we say weather, we’re not talking about if it’s rainy or sunny. The game will be delayed or postponed if the rain is coming down too hard and the field conditions become unplayable, and the sunglasses and eye black worn by players generally prevents the sun from being too much of a factor.
No, the weather conditions you need to be most concerned about are temperature and wind. Here’s why.
The hotter the temperature is, the better it is for the offense, increasing the likelihood of lots of runs being scored.
A big reason for that is because the ball travels further in hotter conditions. The more heat and humidity there is in the air, the less dense the air is, limiting the resistance to the ball. That may not sound like much, but 5 extra feet on a fly ball can turn a harmless flyout to the warning track into a game-changing 3-run homer.
Another reason red-hot temperatures favor hitters is because of the toll the heat can take on pitchers. If you’ve ever thrown 30 pitches in an inning or 100 pitches in a game, you’ll already know how gruelling that is on your body. Imagine doing it in high-90s temperatures, and it’s easy to understand how a pitcher might run out of stamina quicker, leading to lower velocity or even more mental mistakes.
The direction that the wind is blowing can also have a profound impact on how high-scoring a baseball game is. If the wind is blowing in towards home plate, would-be home runs might die at the warning track. If the wind is blowing out, it can increase the distance of a fly ball by as much as 40 feet.
There are a couple of factors that can negate or inflate the influence of wind in a baseball game: the style of the pitchers and the stadium in which the game is being played. Pitchers who are ground-ball specialists obviously won’t be affected by the wind blowing out as much as pitchers who regularly give up fly balls. Meanwhile, Chicago’s Wrigley Field and Guaranteed Rate Field see nearly 10% more fly balls result in home runs when the wind is blowing out than when it’s blowing in (no wonder they call Chicago the Windy City), compared to a 2%-5% increase at most other parks.
DailyBaseballData.com is a great resource for weather information about every MLB game on a given day, noting such things as temperature, humidity, chance of precipitation, and wind conditions.
We all know that baseball betting lines are heavily based on that day’s starting pitchers. That’s why one team might be a huge favorite over another today but a big underdog against the same opponent tomorrow.
But now that starting pitchers are consistently working less deep into games (MLB starters averaged 5.5 innings pitched per game in 2017, compared to 6.1 innings per game in 1990), their significance in the outcome has been reduced. More and more games are now being decided by the relievers, making it critical that you know the caliber of the available arms in each team’s bullpen.
Looking at each team’s relief pitching statistics is a good place to start. Baseball Reference, Fangraphs, MLB.com, and various other websites all allow you to filter a team’s pitching statistics down to just their relievers, giving you a sense of how good each team’s bullpen is overall. If you’re not sure that relief pitching is important, note that the top 7 teams in bullpen ERA in 2017 all made the playoffs, while the Rockies (whose pitching stats are always inflated by playing in the high altitude of Coors Field) were the only team with a below-average bullpen ERA to qualify for post-season play.
However, simply knowing the overall quality of each team’s bullpen is just one part of the equation. It’s even more important to know which relief pitchers are available for their teams that night and which ones aren’t. Most clubs won’t use a reliever on three consecutive days, and they’ll be hesitant to use him one day after he threw 30-40 pitches. If that reliever is one of the most relied-on arms in the bullpen (especially if he’s the closer), his team will be at a big disadvantage in the later innings. And if there’s a shortage of available arms in the bullpen, a manager might have to leave his starter in longer than he wants to, even if that starter is getting hit hard.
Look at how often each team has used their relievers in recent action to get a sense of whether those pitchers will be available in that day’s games. You can do that manually by tracking back through boxscores, but an easier way to get this information is by consulting sites such as BaseballPress.com.
Since this is an article about baseball betting strategy for experts, we have to assume that your primary goal in MLB betting is to make money. After all, if you’re going to put in all the work of looking at the sabermetrics, checking the weather, and researching bullpen availabilities, you want to be compensated for your time with a profitable betting season.
With that in mind, this point is critically important: every extra “cent” of value that you can find on the MLB betting lines matters. In fact, consistently being able to get a few extra cents return on every bet you make this season might end up being the difference between a profitable or losing MLB campaign.
If you’ve read any of our articles about betting on other sports such as basketball and football, you probably remember reading something similar about always getting the best lines. However, those point spread sports don’t see nearly as much variance in odds from site to site as we see on baseball moneylines. While -110 juice is a standard price for point spreads and Over/Unders, moneylines are rarely the same across the board. For that reason, it’s not just wise but necessary to have funded accounts at several different betting sites.
For example, let’s say the Yankees are a +112 underdog at 5Dimes, a +114 underdog at BetOnline, and a +109 underdog at Bodog. If you only have an account at Bodog, you’d just take the Yankees at that +109 price and probably wouldn’t think too much of it. But if you had an account at each of those sportsbooks, you could grab the best number of +114 at BetOnline and increase your potential win by 5 cents per dollar wagered.
What’s the big deal about 5 cents per dollar? As a one-off, yeah, it’s really not that big of a deal in the overall scheme of things. But with roughly 100 MLB games scheduled each week from April to October, you’re likely to place hundreds of bets (if not thousands) over the course of a long baseball season. If you’re able to average even 1 extra cent of value per wager by being able to bet at the site offering the best possible odds, it’ll add 5-10 units of profit to your bottom line by the end of the year!
Considering that most professional bettors would be extremely satisfied with a +20 unit baseball betting season, those extra 5-10 units you gained simply by getting the best possible line would get you halfway there. So if you’re serious about making money this baseball season, we strongly recommend you check out our list of the top MLB betting sites and join as many of them as you can.