Baseball may have been surpassed by football as America’s true pastime in recent years, but it’s still easily one of the most popular sports in the United States. And it’s growing. More and more countries around the world are beginning to pick up baseball, from Latin America to Asia. The sport has become hugely popular in Japan and South Korea, in particular.
Just how popular?
The baseball season and World Series games don’t draw the television ratings they once did, and your standard Fall Classic contest will draw about 1/8th of the audience that will tune in for the Super Bowl every year. It’s not all about television ratings, of course. During the 2015 season, Major League Baseball sold 73.7 million tickets, which easily trumped every one of the other major American pro sports.
In about ⅓ of the markets around the country that have an MLB team, the highest-rated television programming is typically baseball games. Part of this is because there isn’t a ton on TV during the summer, of course, but it’s still worth noting.
Baseball has continued to grow as technology has enhanced the viewing experience. In years past, you might only be able to catch a limited number of games featuring the local team on your TV. Nowadays, you can watch any game in any market going on at any time if you’re properly equipped with various TV and internet streaming packages. Fans can even watch games from mobile devices if they so choose.
Attendance at baseball games is far higher today than it was when most people think the sport peaked decades ago. Increased ticket prices are a testament to that. It’s simple supply and demand. In 2006, the average Major League Baseball ticket cost $22. Today, that same ticket has increased in price by about 40 percent to $31.
As mentioned previously, baseball is hugely popular outside the United States, too. On opening day of the 2015 season, there were 230 foreign-born players on Major League rosters. That amounts to nearly 27 percent of all players among the 30 clubs in the league. The Dominican Republic led the way in ‘15 with 83 players born outside the USA, followed by Venezuela (65), Cuba (18), Puerto Rico (13) and Canada (9).
Scoring in baseball can be fairly random, so the point spread (“runline” in baseball) typically isn’t the most popular bet. Most standard sportsbooks will set a spread of 1.5 runs on every single game, regardless of pitching matchups, weather concerns or other factors. Trying to predict the exact score of a baseball game can be fairly tricky, which makes betting on the runline something of a crapshoot.
The moneyline is the more preferred method of betting on America’s pastime. On the moneyline, you’re simply betting on which team wins the game. The bookmaker will slap both teams in a game with plus or minus odds, and trying to identify value plays is key. If a game projects to be a toss-up, you may see both teams slapped with -110 odds on the moneyline. If an ace is on the mound for one team against an inferior opponent, you may see a team favored on the moneyline up to the -270 range.
Another popular form of betting on baseball is the implied total, or over/under. The concept here is simple. You’re betting on the number of runs the two teams in the game will combine to score by the time it’s over. Bookmakers set a projected total for every game, and it’s the bettor’s decision to bet on the teams exceeding or failing to meet that total. A game that features one or two dominant starting pitchers may see an implied total as low as six. On the flip side, a game that takes place in a hitter-friendly park or has a couple of bad pitchers on the hill might be up in the 11 or 12 range. If a game is cut short because of weather, the bet will be cancelled.
You may have heard of a parlay in relation to football betting, but you may also do so in baseball. The concept is the same. You have a wager placed on more than one game, and you need to nail every single pick in order to win the parlay. The odds of doing so are quite low, but that obviously means the payout will be huge if you hit on everything. You can bet on the moneyline with one game, multiple games or combine types of bets to your liking.
Baseball also has prop bets. The bookmaker may set a prop like “Total Number of Strikeouts by Clayton Kershaw Today” at 7.5 or so, and you decide whether to hit the over or under on that figure. How many hits a batter will have, how many runs a pitcher will allow and over/under on the total number of runs, hits and errors in a game are popular MLB props.
Baseball also offers a unique bet called the “Grand Salami.” Not every bookmaker offers it, but many books will add together the over/under totals from every game on a given day before the games begin, and the bettor may choose the over/under on the total number of runs scored that day.
If you don’t want to mess with a potentially volatile bullpen ruining your bet, some books also offer “First five innings” bets. This wager only factors in the first five innings of a game. Elite starting pitchers may be more favorable when betting on just the first half of a game, as most tend to pitch deeper than five innings.
Baseball betting has grown increasingly interesting as advancements in statistics have been achieved in recent years. Now, sharp bettors tend to take an analytical approach to betting on baseball using years’ worth of statistical data and numbers. Obviously, being familiar with how the game is played, the weather, the ballpark, and the teams and players themselves is key when deciding whether to bet on a game.
Baseball is unique in that every ballpark is different. Not every yard has the same dimensions, and, as a result, some may be more pitcher- or hitter-friendly. For example, the short fences at Yankee Stadium make it one of the easiest parks in Major League Baseball to hit a home run. On the flip side, the huge outfield and cool air of AT&T Park in San Francisco make it one of the more difficult hitting environments in the majors.
Coors Field in Denver is known as the best hitting setting in the league because of the thin air. Denver is over a mile above sea level, and there’s less air resistance at that elevation. As a result, the ball tends to carry more off the bat than it would at a park at standard elevation. Knowing the tendencies of the ballpark is one of the most important aspects of betting on the game.
It’s also important to identify the strengths and weaknesses of starting pitchers. If a pitcher is particularly vulnerable against left-handed bats and the opposing team is going to roll out a lineup full of lefties, that likely doesn’t bode well for the starter. That pitcher could always still go out and pitch a great game, of course. Baseball has quite a bit of variance, especially compared to a sport like baseball. Still, following statistical trends and history tends to be the smart play. It doesn’t always work out, but you’ll be on the right side of things more often than not.
It’s also important to keep an eye on the weather. A game played in a cold setting tends to have an adverse effect on hitters. The ball doesn’t carry as well when it’s flying through cold air, which is an advantage for pitchers. Conversely, the ball flies when it’s hot out. So, we typically see a surge of offense once the season swings into the summer months. Rain may also cut a starter’s outing short, so be cognizant of potential weather delays and postponements if you’re betting on baseball.
With a betting site, you really want favorable lines, quick payouts and an established and well-respected reputation. For those in the United States and North America, Bovada is the clear-cut top option for betting on baseball. The site ranks high for just about every sport imaginable, and baseball is no exception. In addition to Major League Baseball, they have lines for just about every international league you can think of. TopBet is another good option for those in the western hemisphere. Both of these sites have the qualities bettors are looking for in legitimate bookmakers.
For international bettors, most will be familiar with the likes of bet365 and William Hill. Both are based in the United Kingdom and regulated by the UK Gaming Commission, but they are also accessible to bettors elsewhere in the world. Both have a vast array of baseball betting options, and you really can’t go wrong with either one. Both have excellent reputations and offer lines on just about everything.
As far as betting limits, different sites in different areas set different limits on different sports. Football is the most popular betting sport in the United States, so a site like Bovada is going to have higher betting limits on that sport. The maximum amount a bettor may place on a Major League Baseball moneyline at Bovada is $2,000. Bettors may also put $1,000 on the total or runline. Parlays are capped at $500, and props are a bit lower at Bovada.