The 2021 Major League Baseball regular season is almost here, and our experts have collaborated for a one-stop shop for all your betting needs.
Josh Appelbaum, Derek Carty and William Hill combine to offer top tips for betting MLB, World Series futures, over/unders they like and a few prop bets to make before Opening Day.
Top 10 tips for betting baseball
Betting on baseball is different from betting on other sports. Unlike football and basketball, baseball is predominantly a moneyline sport, which means you just need to pick which team will win. Bettors also have many more games to choose from compared with other sports, usually with about 15 games per day and about 2,400 throughout the season.
If you’re new to betting baseball or looking for a refresher, here are 10 easy tips to help you turn a profit and avoid some common mistakes.
1. Avoid Big Favorites
The public loves taking favorites. After all, they’re the better team and expected to win. However, books know this bias and shade lines toward popular teams, forcing bettors to lay hefty, overpriced numbers. If you’re constantly laying -200, -250 or -300, you’re assuming big risk with little reward. If you like big favorites, you might be better off taking them on the spread, also known as the run line. For example, instead of betting a favorite -300 on the moneyline, you could bet the team to win by two or more runs on the run line at -1.5 (-140).
2. Lean on Divisional Underdogs
To break even betting on spread and Over/Under sports like football and basketball, you need to win 52.38% of your plays assuming standard -110 juice. One advantage in baseball is that if you avoid big favorites and focus on underdogs, you can win at a sub-50% clip and still turn a profit based on the plus-money payouts (think + 110, + 130 or + 175). However, this doesn’t mean you should bet every dog. The key is focusing on divisional dogs. They perform much better than underdogs playing out of their divisions. This is due to the built-in familiarity. Teams in the same division play each other 19 times per year and know what to expect in terms of an opponent’s scouting report, managerial tendencies and even the stadium. This helps level the playing field and benefits the dog.
3. Target Dogs With High Totals, Favorites With Low Totals and First Fives
When betting on dogs and favorites, pay attention to the corresponding total for the game. If you’re betting on a dog, you want the game to have a high total of 9 or higher. Why? Because when more runs are expected to be scored, it leads to more variance and more upset opportunities, which benefits the dog. On the flip side, low totals of 8 or less are better for favorites because the fewer expected runs scored makes it more likely that they will come from the better team. Also, baseball has its own version of first-half bets called “first fives,” or F5. Maybe you really like a starting pitching matchup but are worried the bullpen could blow it. You could bet a team on the F5 line instead of the full game. Or maybe you like the F5 Under instead of the full-game Under. Always know the options that exist.
4. Monitor Line Movement
The way a line moves can tell you a lot about where the public is and where the sharp money is going. The goal is to bet against the Average Joes who bet based on gut instinct and bias, place yourself on the side of the house (which always wins) and, most importantly, be on the same side as the wise guys who have the respect of the books and win more than they lose. Track how a line moves from open to close. If a line is moving toward a team, that’s a good sign that respected money is in its favor. Reverse line movement is a great indicator of sharp action. This is when the betting line moves away from the popular side and toward the unpopular side. Steam is also important. This is typically when you see a line move 20 cents or more in one direction. Also look out for late moves that happen right before first pitch. That’s when limits are highest and big moves come in.
5. Check the Weather
Weather often gets overlooked, but it shouldn’t -- especially when betting totals. Always check wind direction, wind speed, temperature and humidity. If the wind is blowing out, that helps an Over because it could turn a warning-track fly ball into a first-row home run. On the flip side, wind blowing in benefits Unders. Wind really makes a difference only once it’s 10 mph or more. Wrigley Field is notorious for wind. If it’s howling in or out, that can have a huge effect on the total. Also, hot temperatures and humidity help Overs because the air is less dense and the ball travels farther. Also keep track of juice movement with totals. It will tell you where liability exists and where the next move might go. If a total opens at 8.5 (-110) and moves to 8.5 Under -115, that indicates action on the Under and a possible fall to 8. It’s common to see a total rise or fall a half-run during the day. Try to read the juice and anticipate the next move. Maybe a total opens at 8.5 and you see the Over juice move from -110 to -115 to -120. Before it moves to 9, you jump on the Over 8.5. The final score lands on 9, which means you won your Over while late bettors taking Over 9 pushed.
6. Track Lineups, Starting Pitchers, Umpires and Roofs
Lineups change every day. If you’re putting down your hard-earned money on a game, you need to know who’s in and who’s out. The best way to stay plugged in is by creating a Twitter account and following MLB teams and resources. Wait for lineups to come out, typically in the early afternoon, before betting on a game. Make sure no star players are sitting. Also keep an eye out for starting pitchers being scratched. To avoid the headache of a starting pitcher being scratched, bettors should place wagers with a “listed pitcher” designation instead of “action.” Lastly, know who the plate umpire is that day. Do some research on their tendencies. Some have bigger strike zones, which benefit Unders. Others might favor home or road teams. Also, be aware of domes and closed-roof stadiums. If the roof is closed, it benefits the Under because the ball doesn’t travel as well and the conditions are perfect for the pitcher. Any little edge helps.
7. Don’t Be a Victim of Gambler’s Fallacy
Baseball can be a very streaky sport. It’s not uncommon to see teams win or lose 10 games in a row. One of the biggest mistakes a new bettor can make is assuming a team is due. For example, if a bad team wins a game, the public will automatically fade it the next day, thinking it got lucky and is bound to get back to its losing ways. On the flip side, if a good team loses, a recreational bettor will often bet on it to win the next game, thinking it can’t possibly lose again. However, even bad teams can put together winning streaks, just as good teams can lose a few in a row. Let’s say the mighty Dodgers have dropped the first two games of a three-game set against the Padres. The public would normally hammer the Dodgers in Game 3, thinking they couldn’t possibly get swept. But guess what? They can. The moral of the story: Take each game individually and don’t bet based on what you think is supposed to happen. Let the line movement tell you where the smart money is going.
8. Shop For the Best Line
Sports betting legalization is spreading, and bettors in legal states can choose from dozens of sportsbooks. One mistake new bettors make is betting only through one book. This is a bad idea because you’re forced to take whatever number that book is offering. Instead, make sure you have access to multiple “outs” so you can shop for the best number. It also helps to have a live odds page. Let’s say you want to bet on the Mets as a short home favorite. New York might be -125 at one book but -120 at another. Or maybe you like the Red Sox as a dog, and one book has Boston + 110 and another + 115. Always look to minimize your risk and maximize your reward. Saving 5 cents might not seem like a big deal. But if you extrapolate it over a full season, it can make a big difference.
9. Manage Your Bankroll and Avoid Parlays
Baseball is a volume-heavy sport. So many games every day can be a gift and a curse. On the one hand, you have countless opportunities to maximize your edge. However, it can also be a slippery slope if you end up betting too many games. One way to withstand the ups and downs is through a disciplined, consistent bankroll-management approach called flat betting. This means always risking one unit, regardless of your confidence level, and betting 1% to 5% of your bankroll per play. A good medium is 3%. This will save you from going broke when you’re struggling but also set you up for a positive return on investment when you’re doing well. Also, everyone wants to get rich quickly. Unfortunately, it’s just not realistic. Sports betting is a grind with no shortcut. Many bettors fall into the trap of betting parlays because they want to turn a small amount into a big amount. Parlays are appealing, but they’re dangerous. They provide a huge edge to the house, which is why they are considered the penny slot of betting. There’s nothing wrong with the occasional parlay. But if you’re making it your most common bet type, you’re playing right into the sportsbooks’ hands.
10. Track All Your Bets
This goes for all sports, but especially baseball. Whether you use a notepad, an Excel sheet or an app, track every bet you make. By documenting your plays, you’ll learn a lot about who you are as a bettor. Your eyes will be opened to strengths and weaknesses you never knew you had. Maybe you realize you’re betting too many games per night. Or you’re doing great betting moderate dogs and getting crushed on big favorites. Or you’re winning big with Unders but losing a lot of your Overs. By keeping a running record of your plays, you can better track your performance and use it to your advantage.
World Series value bets
Baseball is back for 2021, and we’ll get a full season this time around. With 162 games on the schedule, we’ll see some teams win 90+ games and maybe even 100+ . While plenty of unknowns still exist, I’ve enlisted the help of my projection systems, THE BAT and THE BAT X, to help us identify some of the best futures bets for the 2021 season.
THE BAT is one of the most widely recognized public projection systems, utilizing advanced sabermetric methodologies like those used in MLB front offices to project player performance.
THE BAT X builds off THE BAT, which primarily uses traditional stats as its input, by incorporating Statcast data for hitters. THE BAT routinely tests as one of the most accurate projection systems available, and THE BAT X tested as the best of 2020, according to a FanGraphs study.
Philadelphia Phillies (35-1)
Across all markets, the Phillies seem to be the good team that is the most undervalued heading into 2021. The NL East will be tough, but it might be for that exact reason that Philly has become something of an afterthought to the Mets and the Braves. Even the Nationals have a higher Vegas win total and World Series odds. The Phillies’ World Series odds are just 15th or so in baseball, but THE BAT projects them for the seventh-most wins in MLB. That’s a significant gap. The Braves and the Mets project for more wins, so the Phils don’t project to make the playoffs in the most likely scenario, but they project for just three fewer wins — and at 35-1, that gap is easily small enough to justify the odds for a legitimately good team.
Milwaukee Brewers (45-1)
The Brewers have just the 20th-best odds to win the World Series this year, but THE BAT projects them for the 10th-most regular-season wins at 85. That also happens to be the most in the NL Central, giving them a clearer path to the playoffs than a similarly talented team like the Phillies. Milwaukee was quite unlucky in 2020, with its star player an excellent microcosm of the team. Christian Yelich finished 2020 with a .343 wOBA after two straight seasons of .400+ . With natural regression, the return of Lorenzo Cain and the additions of Jackie Bradley Jr. and Kolten Wong, this offense should be much better than a year ago. Throw in two ace pitchers with good depth behind them and the second-best bullpen in baseball, and you have a team that should be a low-level contender.
Team win totals
Vegas line: 58.5
THE BAT X projection: 66.9
Recommended bet: Over + 105
Carty: The Pirates are not a good baseball team. They are certainly not the best baseball team. But they are the best bet you can make this year. At 58.5 projected wins, Vegas is saying that not only are the Pirates the worst team in baseball, but they are the worst team in baseball by a lot — five wins worse than the next-worst team. That’s aggressive and probably wrong. THE BAT projects Pittsburgh for 66.9 wins. That’s bad. It’s 95 losses. It’s bottom three in baseball. But bottom three is not the absolute worst, and it is certainly not the absolute worst by five wins. The Pirates were one of the unluckiest offenses in baseball last year — the only hitters who had 100+ plate appearances and did not underperform their xwOBA were Cole Tucker and Jacob Stallings — and that is surely impacting the Vegas line. It’s not sexy to root for the Pirates, but it’s where the value is.
St. Louis Cardinals
Vegas line: 86
THE BAT X projection: 82.7
Recommended bet: Under + 110
Carty: The pro-Cardinals sentiment in betting markets certainly has to do with the perception that they became a lot better with the addition of Nolan Arenado. I say perception because there is a real chance that they’ve acquired merely an above-average hitter as opposed to the stud many think Arenado is. The problem with Arenado is that his power peripherals have been in serious decline for years.
As you can see, he was in about the bottom third of MLB in many of the most relevant Statcast categories last year. Granted, he might have been playing hurt and would be bound to improve a bit if healthy, but leaving Coors Field will not be kind to Arenado. Between the impact of the park and the major red flags, he won’t add as many wins to St. Louis as the betting markets seem to believe. Then add the declining quality of the aging Paul Goldschmidt and consider that, apart from Arenado, Goldschmidt and perhaps Paul DeJong, the Cardinals don’t have a single hitter who projects to be above average. That’s not exactly a recipe for an 86-win team, particularly given the mediocrity of the starting rotation after Jack Flaherty. They do have young players like Harrison Bader, Tyler O’Neill, Dylan Carlson and Daniel Ponce de Leon who could break out and give them upside beyond THE BAT X’s win projection, and Arenado’s defense has shown no signs of decline. But in a mean scenario, the Cardinals’ Vegas total is just too high.
Vegas line: 81.5
THE BAT X projection: 86.1
Recommended bet: Over -116
Carty: The Phillies are just better than Vegas markets think, plain and simple. It might just be that they’ve been overlooked because of the quality of the division, but the Phillies are a good team despite Vegas projecting them at about .500. The Phillies have literally one hitter who is worse than average in their starting lineup. They have a top-five hitter in baseball in Bryce Harper — don’t come at me with your batting average and RBI takes, because they’re bad — and three more in the top 60 in Rhys Hoskins, Andrew McCutchen and J.T. Realmuto. They don’t have a single below-average pitcher in their five-man rotation, and Aaron Nola is one of the top 10 pitchers in baseball. Their bullpen is above average, borderline top 10 in MLB. There is just no logical reason to expect a team with that kind of quality to finish with a below-average record. Bet the Over on the Phillies.
Kansas City Royals
Vegas line: 73.5
THE BAT X projection: 77.4
Recommended bet: Over -110
Carty: The Royals are similar to the Pirates — a bad team that is not as bad as the market thinks — and the Phillies. Like Philadelphia, they have an elite-hitting catcher, which makes a big difference for an offense. While many teams have a guaranteed awful hitter at catcher, a team with a great-hitting catcher doesn’t need to play a .270-.280 wOBA guy for defensive purposes. In fact, the Royals don’t have a single truly bad hitter in their lineup, and though they don’t have a stud, either, they do have six above-average hitters, which is a big number for a team projected for so few wins. Offseason acquisition Andrew Benintendi is a guy on whom THE BAT X is very high relative to traditional projection systems once you incorporate Statcast data, and he still has the pedigree to be quite good. The Royals’ pitching leaves a lot to be desired, but their offense boosts them enough to be a solid Over value here.
Over 73 Wins
Hill: The back-to-back World Series appearances of 2014-15 are a distant memory, but so are the back-to-back 100-loss seasons of 2018-19. The Royals were closer to a .500 team last year, and I suspect that’s the direction they’ll continue to trend. They had a quiet yet, I believe, successful winter. Andrew Benintendi fizzled out in Boston but had some productive stretches there and might benefit from a much more serene setting in K.C. Ervin Santana, Wade Davis, Mike Minor and Carlos Santana also were buy-low acquisitions, and production from any of them can augment a solid young core. Heralded prospect Bobby Witt Jr. is regarded as one of the best young talents in baseball. While many teams are manipulating service time and keeping their best talent in the minors, the Royals let pitching prospects Brady Singer and Kris Bubic marinate in the big leagues last year, earning invaluable experience when the minor-league season was canceled. This team’s upside likely is a flirtation with the last wild-card spot, and though + 5000 to win the division is somewhat tempting, the Royals are probably a cut below the three AL Central teams that made the playoffs last season. Whit Merrifield, Jorge Soler and Adalberto Mondesi are solid bats, and the pitching is beginning to reap the rewards of picking high in the last few drafts. Expect this team to inch closer to the 75- or 80-win range.
Chicago White Sox
Vegas line: 91.5
THE BAT X projection: 77.4
Recommended bet: Under -110
Carty: The White Sox are a fun team. They’re young, they have power and speed and prospects, and they’re fun to root for. That’s why they’re a bad bet. That kind of excitement generally makes a team overrated, and that’s what we see with a projected win total that high. And now they’ve just lost their best hitter, Eloy Jimenez, for most if not all of the regular season. THE BAT’s projected win total dropped from 87.8 to 86.1 after the injury, and while the Vegas line will likely drop as well, THE BAT was still bearish on Chicago even before Jimenez’s injury.
Honorable mention: Nationals Under 84.5
New York Yankees Over 96.5 Wins
Hill: In a short series, this team has plenty of questions about the guys taking the mound on nights Cole doesn’t pitch. A franchise recently valued at nearly $7 billion needs elite pitching yet showed no interest in acquiring 2020 NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer. These are not the George Steinbrenner Yankees, but they still have plenty of ammo to plow through inferior competition during the nightly grind of a regular season. They are simply loaded with power all through the lineup and have quality professional hitters in reserve.
While quality is a question mark when October rolls around, the rotation is stacked with quantity. Domingo German, Jameson Taillon, Corey Kluber and eventually Luis Severino possess great upside, despite all carrying legitimate concerns about durability, as all have missed significant portions of the last few seasons.
The Rays appear to have taken a step back after trading ace Blake Snell and declining the option on Charlie Morton. The Orioles will be lucky to win five of their 19 matchups with Yankees, while the Red Sox and Blue Jays still have holes in their rotations. Futures tickets on the Yankees are dicey and depend on how the Kluber and Taillon experiments go, but this team is a regular-season juggernaut that will probably win over 100 games.
Manny Machado (20-1) to Win NL MVP
Hill: Good news for the Padres: They are perhaps the second-best team in baseball. The bad news: They are clearly the second-best team in the NL West. Still, with a win projection around 95, they will have one of the better teams in baseball. Team success is relevant when looking at individual awards. The MVP is likely to come from a playoff team, and the Padres will almost certainly be one.
Fernando Tatis Jr. is the name most people talk about when they think of the Padres. He’s young, he flips the bat and he often stares at the baseballs he sends into orbit. He is the face of the Padres and possibly on his way to becoming the face of baseball, as he stands out even among an exceptionally talented pool of young players in today’s game. However, at + 800, I don’t see a ton of value. Enter Manny Machado, who put up a mediocre 2019 season after signing a huge contract to become a Padre but bounced back in the condensed ’20 season. Machado was third in the league last year in home runs and RBIs, and he raised his average to over .300 to go along with a .370 on-base percentage. He is in an outstanding lineup, so not only will he be pitched to frequently, he will often be hitting with men on base. Even though he has seemingly been in the league for ages, he is only 28. He is also a superb defender with range and arm strength, something an analytically inclined voter pool will strongly consider. The Padres might be the most exciting team in baseball this summer and will be fun to watch. Getting perhaps their best player at 20-1 is well worth a shot.
Most Regular-Season Home Runs
Eugenio Suarez, Cincinnati Reds (25-1)
Carty: As is often the case with markets like this, finding the best line will be important. I’ve seen Suarez anywhere from + 1500 to + 3500, and while I think he’s a value at any of those prices, you want to get in at the best one you possibly can. Even though THE BAT X (using Statcast data) projects Suarez for four fewer home runs than THE BAT (using just traditional data), it still projects him for the third-most homers in baseball at 38. Mike Trout (42) and Pete Alonso (39) are the only players who project for more. Suarez isn’t a household name, and that’s really the only reason I can think of for the absurd odds on him. He hit 49 home runs in 2019 and finished second, and his 2020 numbers extrapolated to 650 plate appearances would have put him at 42. The dude has power, and he plays in the best park in baseball for home runs.
Mike Moustakas, Cincinnati Reds (80-1)
Carty: Moustakas’ situation is very similar to Suarez’s. He has gotten older and isn’t considered a truly great hitter. He isn’t, in fact, a truly great hitter. But he is a truly great power hitter. It’s his best skill by a lot, and that’s all that matters in this market. He plays in the same elite homer park as Suarez, and THE BAT X projects him tied for the sixth-most homers in MLB alongside Mookie Betts, Juan Soto, Ronald Acuna and Fernando Tatis Jr. Given the 44th-best odds to lead in homers and the 80-1 payout, this bet is so incredibly + EV.
Honorable mention: Mookie Betts (55-1)