After the NFL, Major League Baseball (MLB) is neck-and-neck with the NBA as the second most popular sports league in the United States. For decades, massive amounts of illegal/offshore betting has helped spike ratings for MLB and every other sports league. Now, the recent legalization of online sports betting in Michigan and across U.S. will only further fuel fan interest.
If you happen to be relatively new to the MLB betting circuit yourself, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll cover a bevy of related topics here – popular MLB betting markets and terms, different factors to consider when placing a bet, and how to manage your bankroll. We’ll also get into what’s ahead in the COVID-19-abbreviated 2020 MLB season, and some notable offseason moves worth noting.
Some Michigan, MLB history
Baseball has a long history in the state of Michigan that dates all the way back to the 1800s. The Detroit Tigers actually represents the oldest continuous one name, one city franchise in the league. The Tigers didn’t play their first major league season until 1901, but have been entrenched in the state of Michigan for well over a century. The game – and the business – of baseball has changed considerably since then, but the league’s popularity has grown and it remains an integral part of the American sports identity.
Despite full-fledged sports wagering being illegal in the U.S. outside of Nevada until May 2018, massive amounts of money has been wagered on the MLB for decades. We’ve even seen a handful of betting controversies within the league, from the Black Sox Scandal Pete Rose’s banishment from baseball for wagering on his own team. Given how popular baseball betting was then, the emergence of legal online wagering and the growth of technology – wagering can happen within seconds on a mobile device – will help build a new audience for MLB, and keep existing fans looking to test their acumen, and maybe make a few bucks, plugged in. It helps that Michigan sportsbooks are offering dozens of bonuses and promotions.
What’s ahead in 2020
In short… It’s going to be much shorter (60 games in the regular season), and weird. It’ll be very different from the typical season in a few ways – the introduction of the universal DH, scheduling, and the new three batter minimum rule for pitchers. And in yet another effort to speed things up, in extra innings each team will start the inning with a runner on second base, adding yet another new wrinkle.
Fans have been clamoring for the universal DH for years, and it’s finally here — for now at least. The rule change should theoretically lead to some more offense in the National League, with pitchers getting the bats taken out of their hands.
The three batter minimum rule aimed at speeding games up, and gives managers more reason than ever to stagger handedness in the lineup. It doesn’t make bullpen specialists any less valuable, but it creates a whole new line of thinking for managers when they bring a late-inning reliever in – they have to prepare for at least three hitters instead of potentially just one.
It’s no surprise that the MLB schedule was created to try to limit travel during a pandemic, so the schedule is based more on geography than during normal times. Teams will play 60 games each – 40 against their own division and 20 against their geographical interleague counterparts.
The Detroit Tigers will play their 20 games interleague against the NL Central, with the other 40 coming against their AL Central foes. The Tigers will host every NL Central team besides the Pirates, and will travel to each NL Central stadium besides Wrigley Field to face the Cubs.
Because of the serious implications of COVID-19, players were able to opt-out of playing this season, and a handful have exercised that ability. David Price, Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman, Mike Leake as well a handful of umpires are among those who won’t be participating due to health or family concerns.
What’s the “vig” in MLB betting?
You’ve probably heard the terms “vig” and “juice” thrown around when it comes to sports betting. What those terms refer to is the book’s take from each bet placed – it’s basically a fee the book charges you for placing a bet. There’s nothing wrong with this fee given that the sportsbooks are running a business after all, and bear the risk of taking losses, but there is a problem with paying too much. The industry standard rake/vig is 10% on a spread bet (represented as -110), or roughly “20 cents” on both sides of a spread bet.
Popular MLB betting markets
1. Run line
The run line is basically the “point spread” you’ll see in football and basketball contests. The difference is, given the lower scoring in baseball, the “run line” is almost always represented with one team –1.5 runs, and the underdog +1.5 runs.
What this means is that the team favored to win will need to win by two or more runs. On the other side, the underdog cannot lose by more than one run in order to win the bet. But a 1-run loss for the team “getting” 1.5 runs would result in a winner, and likewise a 1-run win for the team favored by 1.5 would deliver a loss to the bettor who took that team on the run line.
This is the simpler way to bet. For moneyline bets, the final score doesn’t matter. You’re just betting straight up which team will win. It could be a 17-1 blowout or 3-2 game that goes to extra innings. Your team just needs to win, baby.
The moneyline is represented by a “price” that might be anywhere from +300 (heavy underdog) to -300 (heavy favorite), but usually the price for both teams is in the 100’s range.
- In a game where the Tigers are playing host to the Royals, the Tigers might be -132 on the moneyline, while the underdog Royals are +116.
- Using these figures, on a $100 bet on the Royals, you would win $116 if Kansas City picks up the W. For the hometown Tigers, you would need to bet $132 to win $100.
3. Player props
Player props tend to be priced a little higher across the industry, closer to 15% (-115) with as much as 20% (-120) in some spots. However, those prices can vary greatly from book to book, as can the prop lines themselves, so it’s very important to shop around.
In the MLB, we’ll commonly see prop bets on strikeouts for starting pitchers, props on whether or not a batter will hit a home run. These bets on individual player statistics/performances can cover pretty much any common category or combination of categories you can think of. But again, those offerings can vary greatly between books.
4. Baseball live betting
Betting that occurs while the game is occurring, also known as in-game betting. The lines and pries will adjust in response to the game’s score and situation.
Like prop bets, live or in-game betting can also come attached with slightly higher rake/vig, but when possible you should be looking for 10% across the board. The lines/odds move during the game in response to the game state.
For example, if the Astros are down three runs in the eighth, they might be +1000 (10 to 1) to win the game. Those that are into daily fantasy sports will love this sort of betting, and player projections are extremely valuable for success in this space.
Bets made on an outcome of a future event. Popular futures bets in the MLB would be :
- AL MVP
- NL Cy Young
- NL Central Champ
- Winner of the World Series
- These can break down to the player level (over/under on seasonal stat totals), such as Pete Alonso home runs
6. First 5 innings
A popular MLB wager/market is the outcome of only the first five innings of a game. This is similar to betting the first half in the NFL or NBA. In most cases, you can find a run line, moneyline and total bets that are designated for only the game’s first five innings.
Because only the first five innings matter here — yes, starting pitchers should factor heavily into your analysis, and the quality of a team’s bullpen matters less.
Moneyline: first 5 innings
With the moneyline for the first 5 innings, you’re betting on the team that will be leading after the first five full innings. What happens in the 6th inning or after doesn’t matter one bit.
One key difference between betting the first five innings versus the full game: you can push (tie) when betting the first five. If the game is tied after five innings, your moneyline bet will be voided and returned.
Run line: first 5 innings
A run line for the first 5 innings is also similar to a standard run line bet, only this time it’s for the first 5 innings of a game only. Due to the shorter time period of the bet, the run line (the spread) is adjusted and is commonly listed at -.5 for the favorite and +.5 for the underdog. This takes a full run off the favorite or adds a full run to the underdog.
7. Over/Under (totals)
The sportsbook will set the total for combined number of runs between two teams in a given matchup. Each team will also have their own run total, which is usually referred to as team totals (perhaps 3.5 or 4).
A common combined total for baseball games is 8.5 runs. Any permutation of runs may get you to the window if you’re betting over: 8-1, 6-3, 5-4, 13-12, you get the idea. Same goes for under.
This refers to the grouping together of multiple bets on a single ticket. Such as Reds, Tigers to win, and Over 8.5 runs in the Angels-Athletics tilt. These bets are generally considered to be poor value, but they do carry higher upside and excitement.
Special MLB betting considerations
We’d be here forever if we tried to cover all the different facets to consider when placing an MLB bet, so let’s cover a few of the key topics.
Lineups: Be ready when starting lineups are confirmed. There are some ways to identify rest days, but it’s hard to project what a manager is going to do with his lineup game in and game out. If a team releases a watered down lineup or is missing a star, there may be some value on the opponent.
Weather: This might be a little surprising to some, but weather can play a major impact on the flight of a baseball. Especially when it comes to totals, staying up on the MLB weather forecasts can be beneficial.
Injuries: Most injuries will already be priced into a line, but things like a pitching change the day of a game can create betting value if you can find the information quickly and act on it.
Crossover between DFS and sports betting
Those with a daily fantasy background have a nice leg up when it comes to MLB betting. Access to accurate projections and monitoring breaking news can provide a massive edge in getting the best number on a moneyline/total bet or finding a bad line on a player prop. Bettors and DFS players are looking at very similar information and advanced statistics in order to make their choices.
Betting lines are thought to have the most value right when they are released, before incoming bets start to move the number. The closing line refers to the line at the time of first pitch.
“Steam” moves can help identify professional betting action, which can be valuable information. When lines move in unusual ways, a reverse-line movement, it’s usually a result of pro action.
If you want to hold onto your money, there is no more important factor to sports betting than bankroll management. It’s a skill every bettor needs to develop quickly, because betting wildly with big portions of your bankroll is likely to leave you broke sooner rather than later. This isn’t limited to those betting big – even those shelling out pocket change should utilize these strategies.
Bettors will first want to figure out what their starting bankroll will be. This should be an amount you’d be willing to lose. This depends on each bettor’s financial situation and comfort level, but it should be an amount you won’t lose any sleep over. Once you land on your bankroll size, your unit size can be established. Most bettors place one unit on a particular bet, although some may wager more on games they see more value in.
It’s generally recommended to bet a certain percentage of your bankroll as your unit size – that number can range from 1-5% and further depending on the bettor. Unit sizes can also change based on how you’re performing. If you’re consistently winning and have built up a bankroll, you may be comfortable upping your unit size to reflect your current standing. A bettor on a losing streak would probably want to cut back on their unit size to ensure they can continue on through the down swing.
More on the Detroit Tigers
The 2019 season wasn’t kind to the Tigers, and they’ve been in the rebuilding stage for the better part of three years. However, that has led to the organization having some strong draft equity which has led to the Tigers having a farm system on the fringe of the top ten in baseball. Detroit finished dead last in baseball in 2019 with a 47-114 record, but that did afford them the ability to draft first in this past draft, snagging 3B Spencer Torkelson. They also picked first overall in 2018, selecting SP Casey Mize.
The Tigers roster outside of Miguel Cabrera didn’t have too many familiar faces on it. Nick Castellanos was shipped to Chicago and some injuries to the pitching staff left them starving for dependable arms in the rotation. The emergence of Matthew Boyd was a bright spot in an otherwise dim season, but he did run into some more home run problems at the tail end of the season and the lack of an offense behind him led to a 9-12 record for the Tigers ace.
Looking ahead to 2020, the Tigers did add some capable MLB bats during free agency along with some upside arms on team-friendly deals. CJ Cron and Jonathan Schoop are both respectable power bats at their positions and should add some much needed pop to the middle of the order. Both players and Cameron Maybin, a familiar face for Tigers fans, were signed to one-year deals.
Those additions should lessen the load on Christin Stewart and Jeimer Candelario who were thrown into the heart of the order last season on a team with little talent. Miguel Cabrera will remain a key cog in the Detroit order with Niko Goodrum looking to build upon the strongest season of his career.
Matthew Boyd will be the team’s ace, with Jordan Zimmermann, Ivan Nova, Daniel Norris and Spencer Turnbull likely to round out the rotation. It’s also possible we see Michael Fulmer play an important role if he’s able to get healthy. All but Ivan Nova are returning players from the 2019 roster – Nova was signed on a friendly $1.5M one-year deal.