How to Read Baseball Odds

by Big Al Staff

How to read baseball odds

Each year, millions of American sports fans find entertainment in a great variety of games throughout the country and beyond.  One of the four major sports in the United States is baseball.  And baseball is bigger in the USA than in any other country.  It might seem like a simple sport at first, but it's home to some of the most well-paid athletes in the world.  And there’s lots of money to be made by baseball bettors, simultaneously.

In Major League Baseball (MLB), 30 teams compete throughout the entire season.  Each team has 162 games on its regular season schedule, so there are a lot of wagering opportunities for bettors.  Beyond that, the game, itself, involves a lot of strategy.  The managers of baseball teams actively shuffle pitching rotations, substitute players, and are entrusted with making decisions on literally every pitch.  It's a sport where anything can happen at any moment.  And that is what makes it popular among gamblers, who try to find an edge through understanding how managers and players operate.

In this betting guide, we'll review all that there is to baseball betting.  With a diverse sport comes a diverse range of bets, yet the most popular bets are fairly similar to other major sports like the NFL and the NBA.

Getting started with MLB betting

When you think of baseball, you will probably imagine a hitter ready to swing his bat against the ball as hard as possible, aiming for that home run.  But after you watch a little baseball, you'll notice the sport is much more complicated than merely hitting home runs.  When betting on MLB, you can make things as simple, or as complicated as you want.  We'll get started with the purest forms of baseball betting, and then move on towards the more complicated wager types.  However, first, we'll dive into reading the odds to give you a proper understanding of the different wager types.

Reading baseball odds
Betting odds come in several shapes and forms.  Sports betting is a global industry, and thus there are various forms of odds.  The main types are the fractional odds, decimal odds, and moneyline odds.  The fractional odds and decimal odds are what one will typically see in the United Kingdom and Europe, while the moneyline odds are the most common type in the United States.  These are the most commonly used odds in baseball betting, as well.  Let’s start with a quick example of a matchup between the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers to explain how these betting odds work:

  • New York Yankees +153
  • Los Angeles Dodgers -168

You can see two teams with either a plus sign or minus sign followed by numbers alongside their names.  The plus sign designates the underdog, while the minus sign indicates the favored team.  In this example, the Yankees are the underdog, while the Dodgers are the favorite.  Thus the oddsmakers think the Dodgers are more likely to win the game.

Calculate your payout with baseball odds
Reading baseball odds is not super tricky as it's similar to other sports using the moneyline odds.  It all comes down to the dollar signs, so let's see how you can calculate your payout when you're wagering on a baseball game.  We'll take the same example as above between the Yankees and the Dodgers:

  • New York Yankees +153
  • Los Angeles Dodgers -168

As mentioned before, we now know the Yankees are the underdog, and the Dodgers are the favorite.  When the final score is in, we know which team wins.  You should understand that the moneyline odds are based on a $100 wager. This brings us to two possible scenarios:

  1. If you bet $100 on the underdog -- the Yankees -- to win the game, and they do, then you would earn $153 on top of your initial stake, which would make your total payout $253
  2. If you bet on the favorite -- the Dodgers -- to win the game, then you need to wager $168 to win $100 on top of your initial stake of $168.  Your total payout would be $268.

This gives you a clear explanation of how the bookmakers create the odds.  And you’re not restricted to betting $100; you can wager any amount you wish.

Moneyline betting
​The moneyline bet is one of the most popular, and one of the easiest bets to understand.  You simply pick which team wins the game.  That means you chose whether the total runs scored by your team is higher than the other team.  The examples we previously used between the Yankees and Dodgers are both examples of moneyline bets.

Over/under betting
The over/under wager is also known as a totals bet.  In this wager type, you look at the total runs scored by both teams combined in the game.  With sports like the NFL or the NBA, totals bets provide a lot of excitement, as many points are scored all the time.  In contrast, the run production in baseball is a lot lower, with most games averaging around nine runs.  When evaluating an over/under line, bettors need to consider anything that could lead to an increase in the total number of runs.  That means researching pitching and hitting matchups, defense, bullpens, and even ballpark factors and weather conditions.  The betting line at BookMaker for Game 1 of the 2019 World Series between the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals looked like this:

  • Over 6.5 (-115)
  • Under 6.5 (-105)

If you though the total number of runs would be seven or more, then you would have selected the over, at -115 odds.  But if you believed there would be six runs or less, then you would have gone with the under, at -105 odds.  That means you would have needed to wager $115 to win $100 on the over, but just $105 to win $100 on the under.  The over/under is a great betting option when you're uncertain about which team will win, but you are confident about the degree of scoring.

Run-line betting
In other sports, like football and basketball, these bets are called point spread bets.  But since there are no “points” in baseball, the term run-line wager is used.  But it’s essentially the same thing.  Typically, you either lay or take 1.5 runs, depending on whether you want to bet on the favorite or the underdog.  Unlike the sports of football or basketball, where the point spread bets reign, the run-line wager is less popular in baseball than the moneyline wager.  Indeed, the run-line wager is a relative newcomer to baseball betting.  Initially, gamblers only had a moneyline option when they wanted to pick the winner.  But oddsmakers created the run-line after they saw how popular point spread betting became in football and basketball.  And the run-line was a means to move the odds closer to pk’em, which worked to increase a sportsbook’s handle, since many gamblers would stay away from games with odds of +/- 200 (or higher).  The run-line wager is fairly straightforward.  You pick a team to cover the run-line, which is generally 1.5 runs, but may be 2 or 2.5 runs, if the talent disparity is extremely high.  To illustrate, let's look at an example of a match between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Pittsburgh Pirates:

  • Milwaukee Brewers -1.5 (+110)
  • Pittsburgh Pirates +1.5 (-135)

The favored team in this run-line wager is Milwaukee, while Pittsburgh is the underdog (notwithstanding the fact that the odds on Milwaukee are +110, while the odds on Pittsburgh are -135).  If the Brewers would win by two (or more) runs, then they would cover the run-line.  But if the Pirates won straight-up, or lost by exactly one run, then they would cover the run-line.

One thing you should understand is that most run-lines (and many point spreads) use half-points in the spread number.  One consequence of this is that a baseball game with a run-line of 1.5 runs cannot end in a tie.  But if the line was two runs, then it could, if the favored team won, say, by score of 5-3.  When a bet ties, gamblers have their stakes returned to them.  All things being equal, sportsbooks prefer to not have wagers end up in a tie, as they would then not earn any vigorish (profit) on the game.

Other types of baseball bets
The moneyline, over/under, and run-line bets are all straight bets, and are all popular among the most baseball bettors.  But, just like all other sports, there are lots of other wagers you can make when it comes to baseball.  We'll take two examples of the most popular bets beyond the straight wagers.

The regular season has almost 2500 games that occur throughout the year.  That means there are a lot of bets you can place, and a lot of money can be made.  If you bet on each game separately -- and you win -- you can earn a nice profit.  But, if you are confident about several matches and really feel like trying your luck, you can place a parlay wager.  That means combining multiple wagers into one bet.  We'll show you an example of how your betting slip might look like when making a parlay bet:

  • Los Angeles Dodgers +140
  • Washington Nationals -1.5 (-110)
  • Atlanta Braves vs. Pittsburgh Pirates Over 7.5 (-110)

Each bet individually would bring in a nice profit, but when you combine these bets, they multiply, and you're in for a real bag of gold.  However, if one of these bets does not win, you lose your entire bet.  That's the risk you're taking with a parlay.

Prop bets
When a new year approaches, it means it's time for new seasons and new winners.  It's the time where bettors start predicting the winning team at the end of the season.  That's where prop betting comes into play.  You could predict the winner of the Super Bowl in the NFL, or the winner of the World Series in baseball. The odds are very appealing as the chances of success are small.  Some other prop bets could be:

  • Pick the winner of the National League
  • Pick the number of strikeouts by a starting pitcher
  • Pick the number of home runs in a game
  • Pick the player to hit the most home runs throughout the regular season
And so on and so forth.  Not all sportsbooks have a wide range of Prop bets, but many online sportsbooks do.  Some of the best props are found at BetAnySports, Bovada and MyBookie.

What sportsbook offers the best baseball odds?

At this point, you know all it takes to start wagering on your favorite baseball games.  You might know the basics of handicapping and how to read the odds, but where do you place your wagers?  You can do so at lots of different sportsbooks.  This ranges from simple brick-and-mortar sportsbooks in Las Vegas to online sportsbooks that offer the possibility to bet on tons of different sports.  Since the competition in the betting industry can be steep, we want to lend you a helping hand with the following factors to consider.  Does the sportsbook have:

  • Competitive odds
  • Your favorite banking methods
  • Welcome and reload bonuses
  • A well-designed and easy-to-use website

When you can tick the boxes above, it's just a matter of trying out several options.  It also doesn't hurt to have multiple accounts.  Indeed, you actually SHOULD have multiple sportsbooks so you can shop around for the best lines.  Our #1-rated sportsbook is BetAnySports, which offers the most favorable odds, including a dime line in baseball, and -105 odds on football and basketball games.  Other great options include BetNow, which not only has a baseball dime line up to -190, but also offers a huge sign-up bonus, and BetOnline, which offers a baseball dime line up to -184.

With that being said, it's time to put on your baseball gloves and start swinging your bat.  Walk up to the betting window, and start your career as a successful bettor!

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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