How to bet on MLB: Run lines, how much pitchers matter and more
By Sam Panayotovich
FOX Sports Betting Analyst
We are approaching the dog days for sports bettors. Football season is long gone, March Madness just ended, and the NBA and NHL seasons will be over soon.
Soon enough, you’ll be dipping your toe into the waters of baseball wagering. It can be a very intimidating plunge, so let’s find some water wings and talk through how to bet on MLB.
The three main ways to bet baseball are the moneyline, total over/under and run line – all of which, of course, are available at FOX Bet, which provides various custom bets and bet boosts as well.
Moneyline bets are pretty straightforward: You play to win the game. More specifically, you place a bet on a team to win the game, straight up.
But to succeed with moneylines, you must understand the importance of the betting juice.
For example, let’s say Team A (-160) is favored at home against Team B. That -160 means you have to risk $16 to win $10. If you like Team B (+150), you risk $10 to win $15. Clearly, you risk more to win less betting on favorites because of the juice, which is a killer.
Let’s say you bet 10 baseball games for 10 bucks each on a -160 favorite each time, and the results split right down the middle. Here's a running tally of how much you'd be up (or down) after each bet in this hypothetical split:
First game: W – +$10 (since we bet $16 to win $10)
Second: W – +$20
Third: L – +$4 (since we lost our $16 wager this time)
Fourth: L – -$12
Fifth: L – -$28
Sixth: W – -$18
Seventh: L – -$34
Eighth: L – -$50
Ninth: W – -$40
Tenth: W – -$30
You went 5-5 but lost 30 bucks because of the juice. Now look what would've happened if you had bet the underdog in those 10 games at +150.
First game: L – -$10 (since we lost our $10 wager)
Second: L – -$20
Third: W – -$5 (since our $10 wager on this game won us $15)
Fourth: W – +$10
Fifth: W – +$25
Sixth: L – +$15
Seventh: W – +$30
Eighth: W – +$45
Ninth: L – +$35
Tenth: L – +$25
You won the exact same number of games, but you’re up money.
The best baseball bettors I know create internal limits on how much juice they’ll drink. I know some who won’t go higher than -125, while others draw the line at -140. Whatever you decide, know that the higher the juice, the more games you have to win to make money on the moneyline.
Up next, baseball totals. Betting totals is a lot less confusing. The sportsbook gives you a tangible number such as 7.5 or 8, which is the total number of runs that will be scored by both teams combined, and you decide "Over" or "Under."
If you bet "Over," you need more runs than the total, and you need fewer if you go "Under." Standard juice is -110 each way on totals, which is what you’re used to in a football or basketball game.
Lastly, there’s the run line. This is similar to the point spread you're used to, but it's more of an advanced wager because you’re essentially creating a spread on the game. If you bet the favorite (-1.5), that team has to win by two runs or more. If you bet the underdog (+1.5), the team can win the game or lose by one.
As you can imagine, the juice gets pretty wacky in run-line wagering. An example run line split is Team A -1.5 (+160) and Team B +1.5 (-200).
Again, that means that if you bet on Team A, you're expecting them to win by two or more runs, and you will win $16 on a $10 bet if they do. Team B, on the other hand, would have to lose by fewer than two runs (including winning outright), but a $10 bet would win you only $5.
Basically, while Team B is the underdog, Team B losing by fewer than two runs is more likely than Team A winning by more than two runs.
You get better bang for your buck laying 1.5 runs, and taking the 1.5 is obviously more expensive. And the run line gives you an opportunity to, say, lay -1.5 runs on a team such as the Dodgers at -115 rather than laying a -250 moneyline.
It gets a little intricate, yes, but minimizing juice is my No. 1 commandment in baseball betting.
Let's take an example from this weekend's slate. My favorite bet on the Friday board is Under 9.5 runs (-105) in Mets-Rockies. I always love to fire "Unders" when Jacob deGrom takes the pill. Offense usually dies when he steps between the lines.
Also, tonight’s total is a little inflated because it’s at Coors Field, where offensive numbers are generally elevated. I ain’t scared. Under.
I want to end this piece by answering a few frequently asked questions about betting baseball to make your life a little easier.
How important are starting pitchers?
A starting pitcher is the most important element of a baseball bet. In fact, when a starter is scratched, the bets get voided.
Are you a big believer in betting trends?
Trends are far from the end-all, be-all. I once uncovered a 13-3 doubleheader trend in Major League Baseball and was very excited to spread the word. Yet a legendary Las Vegas oddsmaker told me, "Trends don’t pay the rent."
Generally, he’s right. However, some trends definitely hold more weight than others. The Chicago White Sox were undefeated against left-handed starters (14-0) in the 2020 regular season, for example.
It wasn’t the largest sample in a COVID-19-shortened season, but how can you argue with 14-0?
How much is home field worth in baseball?
This is certainly a moving target. I’ve argued with bookmakers for years that home-field advantage doesn’t really matter in football and regular-season baseball. Sure, certain pitchers are tremendous at their home parks and horrendous on the road, but most experts would tell you that home field is worth only 10 to 15 cents per dollar to the betting line.
Playoff baseball is an entirely different monster. Home field doubles in value in the postseason, if not more.
Do you love my six-team parlay?
Sam Panayotovich is a sports betting analyst for FOX Sports and NESN. He previously worked for WGN Radio, NBC Sports and VSiN. He'll probably pick against your favorite team. Follow him on Twitter @spshoot.