The Beginner’s Guide to MLB Sports Betting

Major League Baseball logo displayed on a modern smartphone

Sports betting is a great way to take your love of sports to the next level. Don’t know a moneyline from a runline? Don’t be put off. Our beginner’s guide to MLB betting will have you up and running in no time. It’s never been easier with so many great legal online sports betting options. So let’s get started.

Why bet on Major League Baseball?

baseball in a glove with dollar bills in concept of getting money with bets in baseball


There are three major baseball competitions that you can bet on but our first piece of advice is to stick to the MLB for two reasons. If you’ve been following the MLB for a while you’re more likely to be a successful bettor if you already have a good understanding of the game – this will act as your foundation. Also, the MLB is the best-known baseball contest in the world – involving 30 teams that play 4,860 games each season across the U.S. and Canada. This means there’s a ton of information out there for you to use as you build on your sports betting hobby.

Baseball Bets 101

Moneyline: This is a bet that predicts which team is going to win a particular game. It’s the simplest type of bet to make because you have team A or team B to choose from. When placing your bet, you will see that there is either a plus or minus sign next to a number. A minus means the team is a favorite while a plus puts them as the underdog. So if you’re looking at a -150 favorite, you will have to bet $150 to win $100. But if you wager $100 on the +130 underdogs and they win, your payout will be $130 on top of your $100 bet.

Runline: Also called handicap betting or spreads, this type of bet involves the handicap offered to each team by an online sportsbook (or bookmaker). So if team A’s runline is -1.5 and team B’s is +1.5 (and you wager on team A), they must win that game by two runs or more. If you wager on team B, they can win the game or lose by one run.

Totals: This is the number of runs scored in a game. Before a game, your online sportsbook will offer a number. Your bet will be based on whether more runs will be scored or less.

Futures: These are longer-term bets so you’ll have to wait for a result to hopefully get a payout if you’ve made the right prediction. They’re usually placed on the team you think will win a division or even the World Series, or the player awarded MVP. You can place these wagers at any point in the season as odds change.

Parlays: This is a riskier way of betting for a bigger payout. You place two bets (say one on the over on a game and another on team X winning a game) and increase your payout odds if both hit.

Live Betting: Legal online sports betting sites allow you to wager on any portion of a game. So at any time as the odds change from one minute to the next, you can choose to place any of the types of bets we’ve already talked about.

Player/Game Prop Bets: As you get more comfortable with sports betting, you can start to wager on the statistical outcomes of players. Game Prop Bets include even or odd runs scored, first to score, score in the first inning, and total runs or errors, and so on.

How MLB odds are decided

Sight on the monitor with teletext and betting offer of baseball matchups.


Sports betting odds are set after considering the various factors in a game’s matchup. This includes current statistics and recent form as well as the historical numbers, and professional analysis. Using the latest algorithms and MLB power rankings (how teams perform in various categories), this data is used to generate the odds – so for example -150 (or 50 to 70 percent) for team A and +130 (or 30 to 50 percent) for team B.

Betting curveballs

Pitching scratches, lineup changes, suspended games, and rainouts are all a part of Major League Baseball. So how do these events affect your bets? It’s worth checking the rules set down by your sportsbook, but generally, if a starting pitcher is scratched before the start of the game you’ve bet on, then your bet is canceled. That’s just part of the vagaries of betting. When games are shortened, you will usually find that your betting site has stipulated that a game must last X number of innings for your bet to count. In the case of a suspended game, your bet will typically carry until the game is officially finished.

Getting to grips with baseball betting strategy

If you’re a fan of the grand old game you’ll know that there’s a lot of strategy that goes into a game result and every element of that strategy can be wagered on. It’s really getting to grips with betting strategy that makes sports betting so much more than just gambling. Sure it’s a challenge, especially at first. But it will help to deepen your appreciation of the game and it’s genuinely satisfying when you do come up with a winner. So let’s get started.

Check the lineups

Here’s your starting point. You’ll kick yourself if you place your wager based on the matchup then find out later that two star players were getting the day off. You would have made a different bet if you’d known, right? So use the ton of information at your fingertips and check the lineup to make sure the most productive players are taking to the field, especially on Thursdays and Sundays which traditionally are off days for some players.

The starting pitcher

A baseball in motion with pitcher in background.


A rookie mistake made by many first-time sports bettors is to make a wager based solely on a team’s standings without looking at the pitching lineup. In professional baseball, the biggest influencer in a game is the starting pitcher. No matter how dangerous a lineup may be, they can always be equalized by a dominant pitcher. You’ve seen it often enough – a lackluster team suddenly shows spark when their top pitcher takes to the mound.

So keep in mind as you get to grips with your online sports betting strategy, that in any particular game, no matter where each team is in the standings, the pitching matchup can have the biggest impact on the outcome of a game.

When choosing a pitcher to bet on, start with the statistics but don’t look only at the win-loss record and run average. Take into account: ground ball and home run rates, and strikeout to walk ratio, and things like Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) or Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP). These are the issues that will give you a better understanding of how the player is actually performing on the field. If you want to up the accuracy of your bet, take a look at how a pitcher performed in the past in the same conditions he’ll face in the game you want to bet on. Focus on home/road splits, day/night splits, and lefty/righty splits when facing off against right-handed hitters and left-handed hitters.

An eye on the umpire

When starting out in sports betting, don’t forget to handicap the umpire. They can impact the outcome of a game. For example, if an umpire has a reputation for especially tight strike zones and you’re betting on a pitcher who performs best when he has those large outside corners, then you’ll see why this kind of umpire may hurt your chances.

Keep your betting strategy in perspective

Remember, your strategy will only get you so far when attempting to make winning bets. The statistics can help you make an informed wager but anything can happen in baseball from an unexpected injury to a star pitcher, to a game being decided by the weakest blooper. It’s the reason for the narrow win/loss margin in baseball (the worst teams win about 40 percent of their MLB games and the best almost never take home more than 60 percent of theirs). So don’t be too hard on yourself when you’re having a losing streak. This way you’ll also enjoy your wins more when they come. It’s just the nature of professional baseball. Don’t be tempted to increase the size or frequency of your wagers out of frustration. This is a sure-fire way to ultimately lose on the sports betting lines.

Manage your bankroll

Christian Villanueva 1st baseman of the San Diego Padres playing at Salt River Fields

So we’ve already said that it’s important to bet with your head and not your heart, and keep your strategy in perspective for long term online sports betting success. The same goes for managing your bankroll. It comes down to keeping a cool head and sticking to your bankroll strategy. Deciding on a set system of betting and never deviating from this whether you are winning or losing is key to getting the most out of your hobby.

Most agree that you should select a unit size and stick to this; never spending more than one to five percent of your bankroll on a single bet. While you’re still learning the ropes, try to limit a single bet to between one and two percent of your bankroll.

Taking the next step

So you’ve done your homework. You’re an expert on every aspect of a game. Now it’s time to take the next step and find the best online sportsbook to place your bet. BetMGM can help you make smart wagers whether you’re an online sports betting novice or a sports betting picks pro. We give you great handicapping tools to help you make smart predictions.

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