Betting underdogs in sports is usually a leap of faith, especially when you take them on the moneyline instead of the point spread. After all, these teams are underdogs because they’re not expected to win the game, and it can be tough to make a bet when you know that there’s probably a 50% chance or better that you’re not going to win it.
However, the reward of winning underdog bets is more than worth the risk. That’s particularly the case in baseball, where even the worst teams usually win at least 40% of their games. If you’re able to consistently predict when underdogs have a much stronger chance of winning than the odds suggest, you can easily turn a solid profit betting baseball even by just winning half your bets.
But how can you see upsets coming before they happen? Here are 5 easy ways to nail more underdog picks and enjoy a profitable MLB betting season.
Every front office in MLB now considers sabermetrics and other advanced analytics as a better way to predict future performance, and you should as well. With most MLB bettors still relying heavily on surface statistics like pitchers’ ERAs and hitters’ batting averages, you should be able to uncover some hidden value on underdogs if you go a bit deeper inside the numbers to anticipate regression before it happens.
Let’s say a pitcher who has a .500 record in his career and an ERA around 4 gets off to a 7-0 start to the season with an ERA under 2. Most bettors would line up to bet on him in his next start, and the odds to back him will almost certainly be inflated higher than they should be. But if you notice that his advanced analytics suggest those numbers are a mirage and that he’s not really pitching that well, it’s a wise move to take the extra value with the underdog before the inevitable regression takes place.
So what sabermetrics will indicate whether a pitcher is overdue to get rocked or if they’re primed for a great outing? One key stat to measure pitchers is their BABIP, which stands for batting average on balls in play, and is typically between .270 to .300. If a pitcher’s BABIP against is significantly lower than that, it suggests he’s been getting lucky by having balls hit at fielders resulting in outs. And if his BABIP is abnormally high, that pitcher has been a victim of bad luck whose ERA is higher than it actually should be.
Other numbers to look at are WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched), strikeout and walk rates per 9 innings, and ground ball percentages. If a pitcher has a low ERA but is allowing a lot of base runners and not striking many batters out or inducing ground balls, look to back underdogs against him because his success is not going to last. Conversely, if a pitcher has a high ERA, but his sabermetric stats suggest he’s actually pitching pretty well, you’ve got yourself an excellent underdog candidate.
You can find sabermetrics and advanced analytic stats at sites like Fangraphs, Baseball Prospectus, and Baseball-Reference.com.
Another great hidden nugget that lies below teams’ records and pitchers’ ERAs is how extremely different their stats can be when they’re at home or on the road. For whatever reason, some players thrive in their home parks but struggle when they’re in enemy territory, while other players have a tough time performing in front of the home crowd but play at their best as the visitor.
Look at the split statistics of each team’s offense and starting pitcher to see if you notice some trends that don’t appear to be properly factored into the betting line. If you can find a home underdog that plays a lot better in its own stadium than on the road, you might have a pretty good underdog bet on your hands, especially if they’re facing a starting pitcher who doesn’t have good numbers on the road.
Another set of splits that you should look at (once again, you can find this info online for free at sites like Fangraphs) is how pitchers perform against left-handed and right-handed batters, and vice versa. It’s well known that left-handed hitters have an advantage against right-handed pitchers and that right-handed hitters perform better against lefties, so when a team’s lineup is heavy on one side or the other, we often see some extreme stats that can be exploited.
Although the 2017 Tigers finished dead last in the AL Central with a 64-98 record, they were nearly .500 against lefties, going 21-22. Since Detroit was a big underdog in almost every game they played due to their horrible overall record, bettors who realized the Tigers’ OPS against southpaws was more than 100 points higher than it was against righties were able to cash a lot of big tickets backing Detroit in that situation.
In that same year, the eventual World Series champion Astros tore up righties to the tune of an 80-37 record, but they were a mediocre 21-24 against left-handers. Any time you could get an underdog price betting against Houston in 2017, you stood an excellent chance at making some good money.
When you’re picking an underdog to win, half the battle is determining whether the underdog actually believes it can win the game. All of the players in Major League Baseball are professionals who are at the top of their sport, and sometimes a simple thing like confidence can make all the difference.
We see it all the time in sports: every team has an opponent that they just tend to enjoy a lot of success against, whether it even makes sense or not. The Blue Jays have always struggled to win in Tampa Bay, going 72-104 there all-time despite the fact that the Rays were awful for their first decade of existence. Former Astros pitcher Roy Oswalt owned the Reds for most of his career, winning 22 of his first 23 decisions against Cincinnati while posting an ERA of 2.51.
Look for underdogs who have enjoyed a lot of recent success against the team they’re facing. Since baseball teams often play each other 3-4 days in a row before moving on to a different series, the frustration from a loss to an opponent they have trouble beating can easily snowball into the next game, and so can the confidence from pulling out an upset victory.
Also look at how each team has been performing in recent action. Once again, your best chance of winning with an underdog is when that underdog is playing with confidence and their opponent is not. Try to identify dogs who have been playing better than usual over their last 10 games or so, especially if they’re facing a favorite who is in a slump.
With MLB betting lines traditionally based heavily on the starting pitchers, not much attention is given to the relievers. But now that starters are going less and less deep into games as managers look to preserve their pitch counts, the bullpens are playing bigger and bigger roles in determining the outcomes of baseball games.
Try to look beyond the starting pitching matchups and analyze which team might have the edge in the last few innings. The Orioles are a perfect example of a team with horrible starting pitching that makes them an underdog most nights, yet consistently wins half of its games (or more) because their bullpen is so good. If it’s a tie ballgame in the 6th or 7th inning, it’s a great feeling to have a ticket on the underdog when they have the superior relief corps.
Also, take a look to see which relievers are available for each team. If the heavy favorite has used its top 2 relievers to lock down wins in each of the last 3 games, those pitchers probably won’t be available the next night, and they’ll have to turn to their less reliable arms. The underdog will have a big advantage in the later innings as a result, an advantage that won’t be reflected in the full game lines.
One last way to see an underdog victory coming before it happens is by looking at the Vegas MLB odds. You can glean a lot of information about a game simply by seeing what the oddsmakers set the opening line at, as well as by monitoring the betting action on that line and seeing if the odds go up or down.
For example, let’s say the White Sox open as a +150 underdog at the Astros. If you were expecting the Sox to be much larger underdogs (like maybe around +200), that’s your first clue that the oddsmakers think Chicago’s got a pretty good chance of winning. By pricing the underdog lower than most people might expect, the bookmakers know they’re going to get a lot of public action on the favorite, so they must feel pretty confident about the underdog’s chances that night.
As mentioned, make sure you watch the line movement as well, especially right after the odds first come out (BetOnline and 5Dimes usually post betting lines a day in advance of a game and keep them up overnight). Since recreational bettors don’t usually place their bets until a few hours before the game, any action that comes in on the openers is usually “sharp” based on opinions of professional sports bettors. If the line immediately starts going down on the underdog, it means that the pros are seeing a lot of value on the dog, and it’s a strong hint that you should look that way as well.
It’s in our nature to want to bet on the team that has the best chance of winning. But that’s precisely why the best value in MLB betting usually lies with the underdog.
If you’re willing to think outside the box a little bit, you’ll start to recognize some value in the teams that nobody else wants to bet on. Utilizing sabermetrics and advanced stats, looking at various situational splits, factoring in head-to-head and recent histories of both teams, assessing the bullpens, and monitoring the Vegas MLB odds are all ways to see the hidden value in MLB underdogs and help you make more money betting baseball this season.
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