Welcome to October. Tuesday marked the unofficial end of summer and beginning of Fall. Football is in full swing, hockey kicks off later this week and the return of pro and college basketball is right around the corner. It’s about to become the busy season for sports bettors. But don’t forget, a full month of MLB playoff betting starts right now.
Baseball is one of the most unique sports to bet on for a variety of reasons. First off, the season is so long and drawn out. There are roughly 15 games per day to bet on for a good six months. This can be a blessing and a curse. For wiseguys who bet baseball every single day, it’s a blessing because there are so many games to choose from and so many opportunities to maximize their edge. The curse can be the sheer number of games at your disposal. You have
to be incredibly disciplined and limit yourself to only the games you have an edge on. If you have too many bets every single night you open yourself up to huge volatility and big roller-coasters bankroll swings. Plus, baseball just isn’t sexy. Many people consider it slow and boring. As a result, a large number of casual bettors avoid baseball entirely. Aside from hockey, it’s the least heavily bet major sport, trailing football and basketball by a wide margin. This means there isn’t a healthy public to bet against most days during the regular season, which limits contrarian value.
However, now is a great time to get back into baseball betting. The postseason is much easier than the regular season to handicap. There are only one or two games per night (compared to 15 during the regular season). And because it’s the playoffs, you see an influx of recreational bettors return to baseball. They may not have bet a single game all regular season but they come out of the woodwork and get down
on exciting playoff games because October baseball is in the air and they want to be a part of it. Maybe they’re a Yankees fan or Dodgers fan and bet on their favorite team just to have some skin in the game and make watching the games more exciting. As a result, the market is flooded with recreational money and the ticket counts sky rocket -- much higher than during the regular season -- leading to an increased edge for contrarian bettors to capitalize on.
The best and easiest edge for betting MLB playoffs is focusing on underdogs. Most playoff teams are evenly matched to begin with, leading to more upset opportunities this time of year. But also the influx of casual money is almost always on the favorite, leading to artificially inflated lines and better payouts for unpopular dogs. For example, the sportsbooks might have a true opener for the Dodgers at -150 and the dog 135. But the books know the public will hammer the Dodgers at home regardless of the price they set (especially with Clayton Kershaw on the mound) so instead they’ll open the line at Dodgers -170. In turn, the dog line moved from 135 to 150. Just like that you got 15 extra cents of payout simply due to public bias and shaded lines.
Since 2005, dogs have gone 15,458-20,950 (42.5%) in the regular season according to Bet Labs Sports. In the postseason they improve to 210-259 (44.8%). This accounts for a 2.1% increase in winning percentage. Your return on investment jumps from -1.7% to 2.3%. Simply put, dogs bark louder in the playoffs. The real key is focusing on home dogs. Although somewhat rare, they’ve gone 61-58 since 2005, winning 11.34 units. A $100 bettor playing each one would be up $1,134.
Another hidden gem is backing teams off a win. Conventional wisdom incorrectly follows the “Zig Zag Theory.” The assumption is that many playoff series are back and forth. And you should bet on whichever team lost the previous game because they are sure to bounce back the next game with a better effort and heightened motivation to get back in the series. This hasn’t been the case historically in the MLB playoffs. In fact, the opposite has been true.
Since 2005, teams coming off a loss in the playoffs have gone 172-183 (48.5%) in the following game, losing 17.32 units. On the flip side, teams off a win have gone 179-171 (51.1%), winning 7.64 units. The ultimate spot has been dogs coming off a win. The public says they got lucky the last game and are bound to regress and lose the next game. But instead they’ve been a smart bet to buy low on, going 86-96 (47.3%) and winning 14.61 units.
Bettors should also target postseason dogs with high totals. High totals benefit dogs because the more expected runs scored leads to more variance, which levels the playing field and results in more upsets. Since 2003, postseason dogs in games in which the total is 8.5 or higher have gone 83-39 (48.3%), winning 20.28 units. If the total is 8 or less, the dog is 127-170 (42.8%), losing 9.49 units.
When it comes to totals, one magic number to remember is 8. When the total is 8 or higher in the playoffs, the under has gone 110-86
(56.1%), winning 17.73 units. But when the total is 7.5 or lower the over has gone 132 -114 (53.7%), winning 13.76 units. In addition to analyzing pitching matchups, bettors should also check the weather and the umpires when betting totals. Wind blowing out can greatly benefit an over while wind blowing in can provide an added edge to the under. And umpires are humans. Some have small strikes zones while others have big strikes zones. Tight strike zones lead to more walks and baserunners, benefitting overs. Bigger strike zones leads to more strikeouts and balls in play, benefiting unders.
You’ll also see some umpires lean toward the home crowd while others favor the road team so they can appear as unbiased.
Remember, in addition to betting individual playoff games you can also bet series prices, props and futures. Here are the latest World Series and Pennant odds entering the 2019 playoffs (via South Point)
World Series odds
American League Pennant
National League Pennant