Basics of MLB Moneyline Odds
Moneylines are generally easy to understand but there are some sports that use them that benefit from more in-depth explanation. Baseball is one such sport and it is very beneficial for the novice to develop an understanding of how MLB moneyline odds are set and what they represent. For some reason, newcomers are often intimidated by MLB moneylines. This might be due to the prevalence of pointspreads in other sports such as NBA basketball and NFL football. The reality is that moneylines are easy to understand once you wrap your head around them. Baseball does have some unique elements that dictate how prices are set but they’re easy to pick up as well.
UNDERSTANDING BASEBALL MONEYLINE ODDS
You’ll find an in-depth introduction to moneyline odds elsewhere on this website but here’s a quick refresher. Moneyline odds—such as used in baseball—are simply one of several ways of expressing the odds in a wagering proposition. Moneylines are almost exclusive to North America, particularly the United States. In fact, many European based sportsbooks refer to moneyline odds as ‘US odds’ or ‘American odds’. In the rest of the world, you’re more likely to see fractional odds or decimal odds. We’ll explain these international odds formats in greater detail elsewhere but the important thing to understand now is that moneyline odds are just one of several ways that the odds of a given outcome can be expressed. It doesn’t matter the format used—the underlying odds are identical as seen in the following examples:
-150 = 2/3 = 1.66
+125 = 5/4 = 2.25
Now we’ll look at a hypothetical MLB baseball matchup and further discuss the moneyline odds:
MILWAUKEE BREWERS +115
ATLANTA BRAVES -135
In this matchup, the Atlanta Braves are a -135 favorite over the Milwaukee Brewers. This means that if you want to bet on the Braves you’ll have to lay -135 for every 100 you want to win. Another way of understanding this: you have to bet $1.35 for every $1.00 you want to win or $135 for every $100 of potential profit.
To bet the underdog Milwaukee Brewers you’ll lay +100 and receive +115 in profit for a winning bet. In other words, $1.00 bet will return $1.15 of profit or $100 wagered will take back $115.
The differential between the price on the favorite and takeback on the underdog is where the sportsbook makes money. In this example, we’ve got a twenty-cent line. The smaller this differential, the better over the long term. The differential in baseball lines is referred to in terms of ‘cents’ with a five cent line (if you can find one) called a ‘nickle line’ and a ten cent line known as a ‘dime line’.
HOW BASEBALL ODDS ARE CALCULATED
The unique nature of baseball doesn’t lend itself to the use of a pointspread for betting. In football, a dominating performance by a team usually shows up on the scoreboard in the form of a victory by a comfortable margin. That isn’t always the case in baseball. You might see an elite pitcher shut down an opponent en route to a 2-0 win. You might also see a potent offense pound out a 10-3 victory. In both cases, one team has dominated but the margin of victory in each game is profoundly different. Most sportsbooks offer run lines in baseball and we’ll discuss these and other bet types elsewhere. That being said, the most common form of baseball betting is the side play on the moneyline.
It is essential to remember that baseball odds valuations are largely driven by each team’s starting pitcher. This is markedly different from football where prices are determined by the overall quality of one team relative to another. In baseball, it’s not uncommon to see a team with a losing record priced as a prohibitive favored simply because they’ve got a quality starter on the mound. One example of recent vintage—during the prime of ‘King’ Felix Hernandez he was one of the best pitchers in the game but his Seattle Mariners teams were usually somewhere between ‘mediocre’ and ‘awful’. No matter how bad the Mariners got, however, you’d usually see Hernandez as a decent sized favorite in most matchups. The opposite is also true—if a winning team is forced due to injury to start a substandard or inexperienced pitcher that will be evident in the betting line.
A secondary consideration in pricing baseball lines—and in handicapping the sport—is the intrinsic quality and current form of a team’s bullpen. Bullpen statistical metrics have grown in significance in recent years to the point that even the novice handicapper should be aware of them. In particular, pay attention to bullpen ERA and batting average against. This information isn’t hard to find and it is definitely factored in to the baseball betting line.
Another factor is situational matchups. Every team is good in certain situations and not so good in others. For example, a team might hit right handed pitching effectively but struggle against lefthanders. There’s a variety of situations worthy of consideration including grass vs. turf, day vs. night and of course righthanders vs. lefthanders.
One component that is typically less important than in other sports is home field advantage. Over the course of the season, most teams have a better record at home than on the road. On a game by game basis, however, home field is of minimal importance. There are exceptions—some general managers will build a lineup based on the unique characteristics of a team’s home field. Some venues are conducive to left handed hitters, power pitchers or some other skill set.