Baseball still may refer to itself as our national pastime, but let’s be real: Football has long been king in this country, especially among the betting public.
It pains me to say this, but baseball has slid so far off the radar that if you polled male sports fans ages 25 and younger on whether they’d rather watch a nine-inning game on ESPN or a Susan Boyle swimsuit shoot on the Lifetime network, it would probably be close to a 50-50 split.
That said, while it may no longer be popular with the masses, baseball remains a sports bettor’s best friend. Not only does it bridge the huge gap that spans the end of March Madness to the start of the football season, but if you do your homework, the boys of summer can actually fund your bankroll for the fall, winter and spring.
Unfortunately, deadline issues make it unfeasible to issue baseball picks here. However, over the coming weeks, I’m going to provide a baseball-betting guide that should prove useful to those who want to fall back in love with the game—and maybe make a little coin in the process. I’ll start with some general tips, and then as the season unfolds I’ll focus on which teams have “buy” signs on them and which you should look to fade.
(Note: With my two picks last week tied to NBA playoff futures, my bankroll remains at $5,455.)
It’s Pointless: In football and basketball, it’s all about the point spreads. Either you like a favorite to win by a certain margin, or you like an underdog to stay within a specified point range. However, baseball wagering is based on the “money line.” Here’s an example: Let’s say you like the Padres in a particular matchup against the Mets and you’re willing to risk $100. If the line on the game is “Mets -140/Padres +130” and you put $100 on the Padres and they won, you’d collect $130 plus your original $100 wager. The mathematical formula is your wager (in this case 100) multiplied by the odds (1.3, or +130). But if in the same scenario you like the Mets (as a -140 favorite), you’d have to risk $140 to win $100 (100 multiplied by 1.4, or -140). If the Mets won, you’d get back $100 plus your original $140 wager.
My general rule with baseball wagering: Never lay more than -150. At the same time, I always look for value in big underdogs—even those around +200. That’s because the very best baseball team almost always will lose at least 60 of 162 games, and the very worst team almost always will win at least 60 games.
It All Starts With Pitching: Baseball odds are based almost exclusively on starting pitching. So when Yankees ace CC Sabathia is matched up against some rookie from the Royals, the Yankees will be favored in the -300 (or 3-to-1) range, even on the road. So when mapping out a baseball betting strategy on any given day, your first focus always should be on the pitching matchup.
Because starting pitching is so critical, I recommend listing one or both of the starters when making your wager. That way if a guy has to be scratched for any reason and doesn’t pitch, your wager is voided. For instance, if Sabathia gets injured warming up for his start and never takes the mound, your bet is canceled if you listed him as the Yankees’ starting pitcher. If you didn’t list him and he gets scratched, you’re stuck with the bet.
>Lay It on the (Run) Line: One way to back a big favorite and avoid laying hefty money-line odds is to play the game on the run line. In this instance, you’re giving 1½ runs before the first pitch is thrown, so your team must win by at least two runs to cash your ticket. It’s a popular bet because you can pretty much cut the odds in half. Two things to keep in mind here: 1) If your team only wins by a single run, you lose your bet; and 2) if you play a home team on the run line, they don’t get their final at-bat if leading after 8½ innings. Finally, run lines work both ways, meaning you can take an underdog at +1½ runs (so if a big underdog loses by one run, you win).