Understanding Baseball Betting Lines

Key Factors when Handicapping Baseball

To begin our Baseball Betting Guide, we thought the logical place to start was making sure we know how to read, interpret, and understand baseball betting lines. I’m guessing a lot of folks already know how to read the odds, but we’re going to start from the beginning and then dig in deeper.

In other words, we’re going to give you a very thorough review of baseball betting lines from beginning to end. I always feel it’s very important to go into more details than not enough.

The actual concept of betting on baseball is simple enough. You’re basically just betting on a team to win the game or for the total amount of runs to go over or under the total that is set for the game.

Sounds easy enough right? Well, as with anything when it comes to sports betting, it can get a little more complicated and that’s where we’re here to help. So with that, let’s jump right in and learn how to read baseball betting lines.


A Close Look At Baseball Betting Lines

Let’s start off with an example and then we can break it down:

(108)Tampa Bay +140 10o -120
(109)NY Yankees -150

The numbers in parenthesis are simply used to identify the team and game for betting purposes. Next we’ll see that Tampa Bay is +140. Whenever you see a +(plus) by a team, this means they are the underdog.

So in this example TB is a +140 underdog, which means you would risk $100 to win $140. However, you don’t have to wager $100, this is just how the odds are listed in the United States. You can wager any amount that’s allowed by your sportsbook, but the payout would be at +140 odds.

We’re going to skip the “10o -120” for right now and move on to the “NY Yankees -150.” When you see a -(minus) by a team, this means they’re the favorite. In this example, NY is -150.

This means you would have to risk $150 to win $100 if you were to bet on NY. Again though, you can bet any amount that’s allowed by your sportsbook, but the payout will be out -150 odds.

As you can see with baseball betting lines, you’re payout will be less than what you’re risking when betting on the favorite. And just the opposite when betting the underdog, you’re payout will be more than what you’re risking.

I’ll also point out that this line is what’s called a 10 cent line or dime line. This is because of the difference between -150 and +140. The lower the difference, the more advantageous it is for the bettor…it basically means the sportsbook is taking a lower payout.

I would highly suggest that you only use sportsbooks that offer dime lines or less. They aren’t hard to find and we have our recommended sportsbooks that offer these odds.

As I said before, the favorite will always have a – (minus) by it while the underdog will have a + (plus) or nothing by it. Although sometimes you’ll just see a “100” by the name which means the bet is for even money (bet $100 to win $100).

However, the larger the favorite becomes, the bigger the spread between the money line odds. Take a look at this example of a heavy favorite:

San Francisco +250
Arizona -300

The reason for the increase in the spread between the odds is that sportbooks typically only make money when the underdog wins. A sportsbook wants an equal amount of money on both sides to guarantee a profit (obviously this isn’t realistic).

The sportsbook knows they will get plenty of action on the favorite, but they also must get enough money bet on the underdog to cover any potential losses if the favorite wins. Let’s take a look at another example using the same teams above.

Almost all of the time more money is going to be bet on Arizona because they are the heavy favorite. If a sportsbook takes $10,000 worth of bets on Arizona, they hope to receive $3333 ($10,000/the odds on Arizona(-300 or 3)) worth of bets on San Francisco.

If this were the case and Arizona won, then they would take the $3333 that was wagered on San Francisco to pay off the Arizona bettors which would result in a push for the sportsbook. However, if San Francisco won, then they would take the $10,000 from the losing Arizona bettors to pay off $8332 ($3333 x the odds for San Francisco (+250 or 2.5)) to the San Francisco bettors and keep $1668 for a profit.


Baseball Betting Lines – The Total

Let’s go back to our original example and take a look at the “10o -120.” This is what’s called the total or over/under for the game. The total for the TB/NYY game is set at 10.

The “o” is short for over. This means that if you were to bet on the over 10, then you would have to risk $120 (-120) to win $100. Again though, you can risk any amount allowed by your sportsbook, but the payout when betting the over will be -120 odds.

If you were to bet that the total amount of runs scored is going to be less than 10, then the odds would either be +110 or 100 (even money) depending on what types of lines your book gives for totals.


Baseball Betting Lines – The Run Line

The run line is simply a 1.5 run spread that is set for the game. The money line favorite will be favored by 1.5 runs while, the underdog will be given 1.5 runs. Let’s take a look at an example:

Tampa Bay +1.5 -150
NY Yankees -1.5 +130

We can see in this example that the odds for TB +1.5 are -150. In other words, if TB only loses by a run (or wins), then you’ll cash in your bet.

On the other side though, if you take NYY -1.5, then the odds will pay out +130. However, the NYY must win the game by at least 2 runs for you to cash. If they only win by one, then you’ll lose your run line wager.

It’s pretty simple to understand, so don’t make it harder than it has to be. Most people like to bet big home favorites on the run line even though it’s typically a pretty bad run line wager.

Later in our Baseball Betting Guide, we’ll give you some great tips and strategies of how to use the run line to your advantage. For now though, you have a good idea of exactly what it is and what it means.


Baseball Betting Lines Wrap-up

Let’s be honest, it’s pretty darn easy to read the lines so don’t make it difficult on yourself. Now that you know how to read them, let’s get into some detail of how their set, why they move, and how to take advantage of them.

Now that we know how to read baseball betting lines, let’s get into some of the details that can be of benefit to your handicapping. Interpreting and understanding the line is an absolute must if you’re going to be successful at betting baseball.

Now you don’t have to spend all day staring at baseball betting lines and following the changes, but it is important to a have a good grasp of how they’re set and why they’re moving. Baseball is a little bit different than your spread based sports, so you’ll see the money lines move a little more often.

Some of the moves may have substance behind them, while others can be meaningless. What we want to know is how they’re set, what’s driving the movement, and how can we capitalize on it. Let’s take a look at our first question in more detail.


How Are Baseball Betting Lines Set

Baseball betting lines really aren’t set any different than an NFL or NBA line…and it’s not to get an equal amount of action on both teams as most people would have you believe. It’s virtually impossible to do this and the sportsbooks know it.

Sportsbook managers, without a doubt, take sides in the lines they set and that’s why they’re more prone to draw as much square money as they can on “perceived” good teams…in other words, lines definitely get shaded for favorites (typically public teams and “good” teams) in baseball.

The two biggest factors that establish baseball betting lines are starting pitching and overall public perception. There it is again, public perception. Whether it’s good or bad, public perception is deception when it comes to betting baseball (or any sport for that matter).

Any team that is perceived to be good or bad by the public will without a doubt have their line shaded more often than not, thus offering value to the sharp bettor on the other side. The sportsbooks will shade lines as much as they can drawing in public money. However, if they shade it to much, then sharp bettors will pound it.

The initial line that comes out is called a virgin line. It only reflects the oddsmakers/sportsbooks opinion on the game.

However, once that line comes out and is available to bet on, you’ll see very quickly if they’ve set an equitable line because sharp money will cause sportsbooks to adjust it quickly…not much different than the bid/ask on a stock price.

Virgin baseball betting lines will come out the night before, but there are limits on the amount that can be wagered on them, just in case of an inefficient line being set. In the morning, the lines will most likely be adjusted and then opened up for normal limits.


Why Baseball Betting Lines Change

Lines will change because of money being wagered on one team or another. However, it’s not necessarily the amount, it’s also the matter of who is betting it.

Money that is being bet by the public/squares will move the line much slower than a sharp bettor putting money on a side. Public money is usually wagered throughout the day while sharp money is typically bet early in the day or closer to game time (taking advantage of the value that was created throughout the day).

Baseball betting takes up a very small portion of a sportsbooks handle when compared to other professional sports. It’s a fact that baseball is one of the least profitable sports as far as hold percentage…that’s right, the LEAST profitable.

That last sentence is exactly why baseball should be your most important focus when it comes to sports handicapping…more value can be found in baseball than any other professional sport. Because there are so many games and players involved, sportsbooks will make mistakes in the lines they set…and professionals handicappers know this.

OK, let’s stay on track. Of course baseball betting lines can change for other reasons like injuries, weather, trades…etc. However, the majority of the time they change is because of the amount of money being bet as well as who’s betting it. Now that we know how baseball betting lines are set and why they move, let’s take a look at how to take advantage.


How To Follow The Sharp Money (Steam)

Let me first preface this by saying that if this were easy than everybody would be doing it. So don’t think that following line movement will make you rich over night. It’s a fine art and will certainly take time for you to learn the ropes.

The first concept we want to capitalize on is what sides/totals the sharp money is coming in on and then simply follow their lead (as long as there is still value in the line). Again though, this is much easier said than done.

By far the best site for this type of data is Sports Insights. They offer the most accurate information and indicators when it comes to steam and sharp money.

They do charge a monthly subscription (very affordable even for a $50 a game player) that is well worth the cost and I can you assure you that it will more than pay for itself every month. Without a doubt, they provide the most up to date data of where sharp money is being bet.

Now the nice thing about Sports Insights though is they do everything for you. You just sit back and they’ll track all of the information and let you know when to place a bet according to their market indicators…again, this is what you’re paying them to do.

However, you can always go the “do it yourself” route as well, it’ll just take a bit more time. Now you don’t have to sit around all day and stare at line movement, but you do have to keep a pretty good eye on it.

Basically what you’re looking for are large line moves in a very short amount of time…this is a good sign that sharp money was just wagered on that team. Once you see this, and you’re information still justifies the wager i.e. value, then make you’re bet ASAP.

As I said though, following sharp money/steam is a fine art and will take some time to figure out completely. If you don’t have the time, then I’d highly suggest you look into Sports Insights.


Reverse Line Movement

The other concept of that will help us capitalize on line movement is what’s called “reverse line moves.” If you’ve read any of our other Sports Betting Guides (NFL Betting Guide and NBA Betting Guide) then you already know what reverse line movement is and how important it can be.

Reverse line movement occurs when the favored team is receiving the majority of the money, however the line is not adjusting or it’s actually moving the other way. This is the exact opposite of what should be occurring.

Normally, if the majority of money coming in is on the favorite, then the line will continue to be moved up, thus enticing money to be bet on the underdog. Well, with reverse line movement, it’s the exact opposite of what should be happening (kind of like the Twilight Zone).

When you see this type of movement happening, you need to pay attention very closely. When the favorite is receiving the majority of the money, but the line isn’t moving or is going the opposite direction, then it typically means sharp money is coming in on the other side.

With that being the case, you’re best best bet is to take the underdog or at least stay away from the favorite. If you’re handicapping matches up with the underdog, then you have a very nice value bet that you certainly should take advantage of.

Reverse line movement should be something you pay very close attention too since it can be a great tool. Again, Sports Insights has the most accurate, up to date data for tracking reverse line movement (I know I sound like a commercial, but when I find something I truly believe in and I know can help other handicappers, then I get fully behind it).

If you’re more of the hands off type, then Sports Insights will take care of the hard work for you. However, if you have the time on your hands, then I would highly encourage you to follow the lines yourself because you’ll learn a ton.

My favorite site by far if you’re looking for live free odds is Show Me The Odds. Simply go there to download the software and you’ll be set. This will give you a feed for up to date line changes at the biggest online sportsbooks. Pregame also has a pretty nice free live odds service as well.


Baseball Betting Lines – Wrap Up

As I’ve said a million times, we want to be on the same side as the sharps and the sportsbooks. We can do this by following the sharp money as well as reverse line movement. These are two concepts that should be implemented in every baseball handicappers philosophy (I guarantee every professional uses them).

Something that is extremely important (and we’ll touch on in great detail on our Baseball Betting Advice Page) is shopping for the best baseball betting lines available. Lines will vary from sportsbook to sportsbook, so I can’t stress enough how important it is to find the best ones available.

This will save, and make, you a lot of money over time. Line shopping at various sportsbooks is absolutely crucial. But like I said, we’ll talk more about this later.

I hope we’ve helped you understand how to read baseball betting lines, but more importantly, I hope we’ve given you some tips that you can implement everyday to help in becoming a better handicapper. Now that we have the lines down, let’s take a look at how to actually place a baseball bet. As always, best of luck in all your sports betting endeavors.

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