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How To Bet On MLB Games: A Betting Guide

Ray Liotta’s disembodied voice once told Kevin Costner, “If you build it, they will come.” At Odds Shark, we say, “If you bet it, you could win.” From spring training to the World Series, you have betting options that could get you some major coin, maybe even that A-Rod money. We’ll show you how to bet on MLB, and how to bet on baseball in general, so you can become the Hank Aaron of MLB wagering.

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Whether you are an experienced bettor or just a casual fan looking to learn how to bet on MLB, baseball presents some unique betting options. The statistics-heavy nature of the sport allows for experts to analyze trends and give great advice and tips to the casual bettor.

How to Read MLB Game Odds

If you are learning how to bet on MLB, the most important first step is learning how to read and gauge MLB odds. In sports betting, whether it’s betting on baseball, hockey, basketball or football, a moneyline bet involves you picking a team to win the game outright. Moneyline odds at your favorite online sportsbook will look something like this:

  • Boston Red Sox -200
  • Chicago White Sox +170

In this scenario, Boston is the favorite and Chicago is the underdog. Faves are always shown with the minus sign (-) and dogs with the plus sign (+). Another thing to note is the odds style.

We use American odds but you have the option to choose Decimal (1.20) or Fractional (1/5) odds. Usually, sports bettors in Europe and Australia use decimals, those in the United Kingdom like fractions, and people in the Americas gravitate toward their namesake odds.

If you were going to bet $100 on the Red Sox, you’d get a payout of $150 – your original money is returned along with your winnings of $50. Conversely, if you were going to gamble on the White Sox, you’d get $270 – your $100 comes back coupled with your loot of $170. To see how much you’d win based on the odds and amount bet, check out our Odds Calculator.

Runline Betting: Covering the Spread (Sort of)

The runline is Major League Baseball’s version of the point spread. Before the game, one team is given the advantage of 1.5 runs to create a more even betting field. The reason the number of runs scored is always set at 1.5 is because baseball is generally a low-scoring sport. Odds will look like this:

  • San Francisco Giants -1.5
  • Los Angeles Dodgers +1.5

For the Giants to cover the runline, they would need to win by two or more runs. For the Dodgers to cover, they would need to win the game outright or not lose by more than one run. For bettors just learning how to bet on baseball, a moneyline bet is often the safest way to ease yourself into the wagering scene, but a runline bet allows you to get more specific with your bets.

First Five Innings: Betting on the Top Half of the Game

During the regular season, especially in April and May, it can take teams time to find their groove. Young players get called up, new managers learn the ropes, seasoned vets can have slow starts, and starting pitchers don’t deliver more than three quality innings, all of which can have a dangerous effect on the final score and your betting strategy. This is where first five innings betting comes in.

Generally called F5 bets on betting sites, this is like a moneyline bet except you’re only betting on the first five innings of a game. To make this wager, you’ll only need to handicap starting pitchers and look into how they perform for five innings. There’s less risk with F5 bets since you don’t have to take the entire pitching staff into consideration, just the starters.

MLB Totals: Betting on the Combined Score

Let’s pretend the New York Yankees are playing the Toronto Blue Jays. Totals odds would appear like so:

  • OVER 7.5
  • UNDER 7.5

Your job as a baseball bettor is to determine whether the combined runs from both teams will be more or less than the oddsmaker’s set number. If you think it’ll be 8 or more, you would take the OVER. If you believe it will be 7 or less, you would take the UNDER.

When bookmakers set the totals, they consider factors like ballparks and potential weather. Locations like Coors Field (where the ball travels farther) and Wrigley Field (where wind is impactful) are taken into account. A bookmaker also looks at the strength of both teams’ bats and the weakness of the pitching staffs. In this scenario, if the Jays are hitting everything that comes their way, but the Bronx Bombers’ arms are throwing heat, the totals will reflect that.

Futures Betting: Wagering on Baseball Championships

In March we may not know which teams will win their divisions but we can bet on it. Futures odds are available on pennant races, the World Series and the major baseball awards that you can bet on before the regular season starts and throughout the year. If you are just learning how to bet on MLB, a futures bet will allow you to stay invested with the success of a player or team throughout the season, and also make some big money if you bet on an underdog who shocks the world.

If you think the Washington Nationals are going to have another stellar year, you can bet them to win the National League. If you think the Detroit Tigers have made enough offseason moves to cement an American League championship, you can make a futures bet on them. You can also bet on who will win the Cy Young and on team win totals.

Prop Bets: Strikes, RBIs and Homers

Prop betting allows you to wager on very specific instances, especially during the playoffs. Props are bets on particular player or team milestones that may not directly influence the outcome of the game like:

  • • How many RBIs will Player X have?
  • • How many bases will Player Y steal?
  • • How many home runs will Player Z have?
  • • How many strikeouts will Pitcher A have?

Parlays: A Bouquet of Bets

Baseball Parlays allow you to bundle your baseball bets. Say that five times fast! You can create a betting slip with more than two bets, potentially netting more money than you would on a single bet.

For those just learning how to bet on MLB, or experimenting with their baseball bets, a parlay can offer some high-risk, high-reward wagering for those interested in more than one game on any given day. It is important to remember that all your picks must hit, otherwise your parlay ticket is a bust like the Montreal Expos. RIP the best team that should have won the 1994 World Series. 

In-Play Odds: Live Betting on Baseball Games

Look for live odds at your online sportsbook of choice to make an in-play bet. Odds will be available for plate appearances, runs, which base a batter will get on, and the number of strikeouts a pitcher will record during any given inning. If a bullpen phenom comes on in the top of the eighth and you think he’ll whiff at least two batters, why not make an in-play bet on him?

What is the Most Effective Betting Strategy?

As former Durham Bulls player Kevin Costner once told Tim Robbins, “Don’t think. You can only hurt the ball club.” We say do the opposite, think about everything. Or let us do the thinking for you with our MLB betting news and analysis.

Moreover, our baseball pages cover everything from ump stats (the men behind the plate can often determine how a game will go), free picks (for those days when you don’t know who/what/where/when to bet), pitchers (who gets run support and who doesn’t) and money standings (each team has a betting value).

We also have offensive and defensive stats, a consensus page (so you can see which side of a matchup the public is heavily betting on) and betting trends.

Betting Against the Public

The public tends to bet on popular teams, favorites, home teams or those with superstar athletes, but the public can be easily misled by the media and is typically wrong more often than not.

The more excited and loaded up the public is on one side of a game, the more likely it is that the “smart” wager is taking the opposite side of the book and fading the public instead.

Want More Betting Tips?

  • • Volume betting leads to increased profits (9.5 times greater than NFL).
  • • Avoid unfair betting odds with parlays and teasers. Stick to individual game bets.
  • • Manage your bankroll. Bet between 1% and 5% of your bankroll per play.
  • • Pay attention to divisional underdogs. Teams within the division play each other more often. They’re more familiar with one another, which levels the playing field a bit.
  • • Shop for the best line. Open multiple accounts at several different sportsbooks.

Now that you know how to bet on baseball, and you’ve put up with our multiple references to Kevin Costner movies – the man has made many films about the sport, it’s not our fault – go forth and make your MLB picks.