When asked what he did to pass the time during the winter months when America’s Pastime was on hiatus, baseball legend Rogers Hornsby famously offered the following quip – “I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”
Well folks, the “Ragin’ Rajah” would certainly be celebrating right about now, as Major League Baseball (MLB) is set to begin Spring Training in less than two weeks. Pitchers and catchers have already reported to their Grapefruit and Cactus League training camps, and soon enough Opening Day will arrive to ring in the 2019 regular season.
That means sports bettors will soon have a smorgasbord of baseball wagers to choose from. With the 30 MLB teams playing 162-game schedules, baseball fans will see 2,430 contests play out between now and November.
With so many games on tap, even the most seasoned baseball bettor can be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed. Unlike the weekly Sunday ritual of NFL wagering, or even the sporadic “every other day” rotation of the NBA and NHL, the MLB schedule is a gauntlet for players and bettors alike. You’ll have at least a dozen games on the docket each and every day, for the next six months, and action abounds on every single one of them.
On that note, folks who find themselves shaking off the ring rust of an extended offseason – not to mention the lack of “Hot Stove” free agent signings – may not be entirely comfortable hitting their favorite sportsbook for baseball betting just yet. After all, basketball and hockey are still in full swing, and many people are still nursing their bankrolls back to health after the Super Bowl 53 snoozer.
But as baseball slowly awakes from its annual slumber, any sports bettor worth their salt should be hard at work preparing for the upcoming MLB season.
It always takes the better part of a month for the National and American Leagues to establish their latest hierarchy in the standings, so bettors who study hard during Spring Training have a definitive leg up against the books. And once the All-Star Break rolls around, any insight into how the pennant chase will play out provides a valuable edge when the stakes ratchet up.
To help you get ready for this year’s MLB betting melee, check out the list below to find nine tips for betting on the Grand Old Game and don’t forget to take a look at our top MLB betting sites if you want to be part of this week action:
An oft repeated mantra amongst the baseball punditry states that Spring Training performances are meaningless in the long run.
Every year a potential dark horse contender seems to announce itself to the world, running off prolonged winning streaks and pummeling opponents into submission. And like clockwork, these Spring Training champions wind up stumbling when the real deal rolls around. Anyone who remembers the 2012 Toronto Blue Jays knows exactly what I’m talking about.
That year, the Blue Jays set a new record for Spring Training wins at 24-7, outscoring the other side by 79 runs in the process. The performance seemed to signal the start of a Toronto revival, but when the regular season ended, the Jays were a huge disappointment at 73-89 and fourth-place in the A.L. East.
Stories like this seemingly cement the notion that Spring Training games don’t matter a lick – but as it turns out, 30+ games of preseason results can be quite revealing.
Take a look below to see how the upper echelon of the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues fared during 2018 Spring Training:
Some might say those Spring Training records don’t amount to much, but by the time the regular season was in the books, look at where the top preseason teams wound up.
In the American League, the Boston Red Sox went 108-54 to top the A.L. East, en route to an eventual World Series title. The Houston Astros wound up at 103-59 to claim the A.L. West, while the New York Yankees finished 100-62 to earn a Wild Card berth. And don’t forget about the Cleveland Indians and their 91-71 run to win the A.L. Central.
As for the National League, the Milwaukee Brewers (96-67) and Chicago Cubs (95-68) went 1-2 in the N.L. Central.
All told, of the top-eight finishers from Spring Training, six of them wound up securing a postseason berth when the real games went in the books.
Expanding the scope outward, of the 10 teams in total to reach the playoffs last year, seven of them compiled winning records in Spring Training.
This trend works in reverse too, as bottom-feeders in Spring Training tend to bottom out when the regular season marathon gets underway.
The worst two teams in the Cactus League were the Texas Rangers (8-22) and the Cincinnati Reds (10-19). Lo and behold, the Rangers finished dead last in the A.L. West at 67-95, while the Reds held the same record to sit in the N.L. Central cellar.
Shift your focus to the Grapefruit League and the pattern still holds up, although not to the same degree. The New York Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates were the worst two teams in Florida at 10-8 and 11-19, respectively. Fast forward to the last day of regular season play, and both teams finished 13 games out of first place in their divisions.
You can go back through any season and find similar trendlines involving Spring Training standings and regular season performance.
Of course, you’ll always find the occasional outlier, so don’t take this strategy as tried and true gospel. Last year saw the San Diego Padres (15-10) and Baltimore Orioles (17-12) own third-place in the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues, respectively. But that early success proved to be fool’s gold, as Baltimore put on one of the most abysmal seasons in MLB history at 47-115, and San Diego wasn’t much better at 66-96.
But despite these statistical oddities, strong Spring Training records definitely tend to correlate to regular season success.
That makes sense on several levels, not the least of which is talent always wins out in this game. Stacked lineups like those trotted out by Boston, the Yankees, the Dodgers, and Houston feature superstar talents. Similarly, these teams boast starting rotations and bullpen specialists that the opposition generally can’t keep up with – in a meaningless March game or deep into a tight pennant chase.
Knowing this, pay close attention as the 2019 Spring Training schedule progresses to see which teams are playing “above the rim” – to borrow a basketball analogy. Then, you can back these preseason powerhouses with a few futures bets on division titles or a World Series win, or maybe ride them through a series of daily wagers when the time is right.
And now for something completely different…
While the first tip was based on identifying strong teams using Spring Training standings, this one advises bettors to be away when backing big moneyline favorites – especially those representing major markets.
In the world of NFL betting, sharps have long since realized that certain “public” teams have their odds goosed slightly to compensate. Even when they’re not playing particularly well, the Dallas Cowboys will see their moneyline odds lengthened whenever they’re a favorite, moving from something like (-130) to (-150) as a result. This is based on Dallas’ status as “America’s Team,” a squad with such a strong fan base from coast to coast that they’ll always attract action in droves.
The same goes for the New England Patriots juggernaut, as well as historically popular and successful teams like the Green Bay Packers or Pittsburgh Steelers. Whenever these teams are favored, the bookmakers know they can get away with lengthening their odds just a bit, as the die-hard fans and favorite loyalists can be counted on to wager regardless of the number.
Shifting our focus back to the MLB, I’m betting you can identify the big public favorites without too much heavy mental lifting.
The endless arms race in the A.L. East has produced dozens of World Series titles for the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, and even in their “lovable loser” era, the Chicago Cubs’ national TV appearances on WGN made them a household favorite all over America. Throw in the perpetually contending Los Angeles Dodgers and their dominance over West Coast fan bases, and MLB is home to four main public favorites.
These teams may appear to be great bets at first glance, especially when the loaded Red Sox are rolling ahead of a three-game set against the lowly Rays. But when you factor in the overly juiced odds – a standard price of (-160) on Boston over Tampa Bay can easily be lengthened to (-180) or (-190) depending on your sportsbook of choice – generating consistent profit by backing big moneyline favorites is a tall task indeed.
Using data compiled between the 2005 and 2018 seasons, moneyline favorites have compiled a deceptively impressive record of 6819-3954 – good for a 63.3 percent win rate. That’s all well and good on the surface, but because $100 tickets are only paying back $60 or so on winners, the seemingly sterline W-L record actually produces a total loss of over 187 betting units by season’s end.
Big favorites can still be a great play when the circumstances warrant, don’t get me wrong there. The modern MLB landscape is defined by a few “haves” and dozens of “have nots,” so taking the better team here and there can work wonders.
But avoid blindly taking the big moneyline favorites as a matter of course, because this strategy will only manage to generate a slew of cashed tickets that only add up to a big loss in the long run.
This tip is essentially just the reverse side of our second entry, so we’ll leave this one short and sweet.
If moneyline favorites struggle to generate a profit for MLB bettors, it only stands to reason that taking the other side promises a pretty penny in return.
And using five years’ worth of data, we can see exactly how each of the “big four” major professional leagues stack up in terms of moneyline underdog win rate:
As you can see, underdogs beat the odds on the baseball field more often than they do anywhere else, winning to the tune of over 42 percent. That figure manages to beat out the low-scoring and randomized results offered by pro hockey, while blowing football and basketball out of the water.
Of course, this data doesn’t mean bettors should blindly back MLB dogs either. Just to clarify once and for all, blindly betting any strategy is a surefire recipe for bankroll disaster.
No, this tip is all about targeting moneyline underdogs when the stars align just right.
The table below breaks MLB moneyline dogs down based on various odds ranges, and as you can see, the longer the shot the better:
When you bet on marginal MLB dogs priced at (+100) to (+150), you’ll stand to lose a whopping 83.3 units on average over the long run. Bump the price up to (+151) through (+200) and the news is even worse at over 101 units to the red.
But when you pinpoint MLB dogs of (+201) or higher, the end result trends back towards breakeven. That may not sound like much to write home about, but if you’ll remember, the data above reflects all MLB moneyline dogs over the last five seasons.
You won’t be betting all of them, so by picking and choosing your spots wisely, you can easily turn baseball doormats into dollars with a few well-timed wagers.
Everybody knows how a blizzard or other inclement weather can impact betting during NFL Sunday action.
When the temperatures plummet and the snow starts falling, even the high-flying New England and Kansas City offenses featured in the 2018 AFC Championship game – played amidst a 10-degree cold snap – see game totals lower and point spreads tighten up.
But weather also plays a deceptively significant role when betting on the MLB, which has 24 of 30 teams playing under the elements without the benefit of a retractable roof.
As a spring and summer sport, baseball isn’t beholden to snow or sleet, but rather the wind.
According to the Action Network, when the wind is blowing inward at 5 miles per hour (MPH) or more, the game total UNDER has gone 764-613 for a 55.5 percent win rate over the last decade. That equates to +99.90 units earned and a sweet 6.90 percent return on investment (ROI) rate for folks betting the UNDER on days when the wind is suffocating sluggers.
On the other side of the spectrum, since 2005, games played with winds of 8 mph or more blowing out have seen the OVER go 1,007-889 (53.1 percent) for +80.42 units won and a 4 percent ROI.
If game totals are your specialty, be sure to study the weather forecasts diligently to gain an extra edge whenever the flags are blowing.
Officiating in major sports may be hitting a historical nadir, thanks in large part to the NFL’s incessant bumbling which culminated in the worst missed call in league history.
The NBA has star players openly declaring that the refs “fu#%ing suck,” and the NHL is currently combatting an officiating “crisis.”
But ask any avid baseball fan about the sore subject, and you’ll inevitably hear how MLB umpires are the worst of all.
Due to the highly subjective nature of calling balls and strikes – not to mention close slides by base-stealers and fast-paced plays at the plate – baseball is rife for controversial calls.
Until the robot ump revolution finally takes hold, baseball fans just have to suck it up and deal with the most unpleasant aspect of their favorite sport.
Bettors, on the other hand, can use umpiring trends to their advantage…
You can find Umpire Handicapping database to sort through every ump’s statistical trends and patterns, but here are a few nuggets to whet your appetite:
The name of the game for winning ballclubs is to trot as many aces out to the mound as humanly possible.
When the defending champion Red Sox sent Chris Sale out last season, a win seemed to be as good as gold. The Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw toeing the rubber every fifth day, the Astros rely on Justin Verlander, and the Yankees have Mashiro Tanaka taking the ball when it counts.
Ace pitchers can become the bread and butter for public bettors too, as even their inflated moneyline favorite prices of (-200) and worse aren’t enough to scare folks off a “sure thing.”
The problem is, not all aces are created equal, thanks in large part to home vs. road split disparities.
An ace like Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals is a picture of consistency, no matter where he happens to be hurling on that particular evening. Taking a look at Scherzer’s home/road splits from last season in the table below, you’ll see his performance provides a mirror image:
Contrast that consistency with someone like Tanaka of the Yankees, however, and you’ll see why home/road splits matter so much to informed bettors:
In 2017, despite his clear and evident struggles away from the Bronx, the Yankees’ ace was posted as a road favorite 11 times.
It can be all too easy to take a look up at the betting board, see an ace’s name listed, and take the best pitcher against a bad team. But unless you know the full picture – based on definitive home/road splits like those put up by Tanaka – you can easily find yourself foolishly backing a favorite who should be listed as a dog on the merits alone.
One of my favorite wagers to place on a daily basis over the years involved All-Star slugging first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.
He played eight seasons for the Arizona Diamondbacks, before being traded to the St. Louis Cardinals over the offseason, but during his time in the desert “Goldy” became my own personal goldmine.
Online sportsbooks like Bovada love to spread longshot prop bets based on how a batter will produce in a one-game setting. My favorite bet – which is available on any high-profile hitter for that matter – had Goldschmidt to go OVER (2.5) when it came to combined hits, RBI, and runs scored.
Because hitting a baseball is among the most difficult pursuits in all of sports, this unique prop bet usually offered juicy underdog odds of (+150) or higher. But for a guy like Goldy – who has hit over 20 homers in all six of full seasons, and 30+ on four occasions – all it takes is one swing of the bat to immediately win that wager (a solo homer is good for one hit, one RBI, and one run scored).
Find yourself a go-to slugger and toss a unit on this prop whenever he’s squaring off against an overmatched starter, or one who has poor splits against your chosen offensive hero.
Legendary broadcaster Harry Caray was known for greeting WGN viewers from coast to coast to Cubs baseball by announcing “Hello again, everybody… It’s a bee-yoo-tiful day for baseball.”
And when the Cubbies play under the bright sunlight at Wrigley Field – which they do more than any other MLB team – UNDER backers have a definitive advantage.
Thanks to the reliable northeasterly winds which regularly wash over Wrigley from nearby Lake Michigan during the early months of the season, many Cubs day games wind up as low-scoring affairs.
In fact, over the last decade, day games at Wrigley have produced a 153-87 (63.8 percent) win rate for the UNDER, good for +57.91 units and a 23.2 percent ROI.
But be sure to heed this warning from Illinois state climatologist Jim Angel, who told the Chicago Tribune that winds shift from favoring pitchers to hitters after May:
For the rest of the season, the dominant wind direction is more likely from the south or west, which would more likely favor the batters.
On a final note, the stretched out the schedule with 2,430 games in total means you’ll be betting baseball at a much higher volume than other sports.
That means short-term losing streaks can and will crop up as the year goes on. Variance is a fickle beast for all sports bettors, but in baseball, it plays an even bigger role based on the abundance of available action.
Don’t overreact to streaks, of any variety, and stay the course to achieve the closest thing to the consistency you can reach.
Americans have enjoyed a day at the ballpark for a century and a half now, but the Grand Old Game never seems to get old. And while it’s never been the most popular betting market at the sportsbook, thanks to the immutable nature NFL and NBA marketing, MLB might just offer bettors the most value of all. The action never seems to end thanks to the 162-game schedule, and because underdogs have more than a 42 percent win rate historically, parity rules supreme.
If you’re interested in taking your baseball betting to the next level in 2019 and beyond, be sure to incorporate as many of the nine tips above into your game as possible going forward.