June 15, 2011

TCO has been around a long time and has often given hypothetical odds on something like a team's chances to make the playoffs (for example, I give the Indians about a 20% chance this year despite the fact that they are just 1 game out of first place), but we've never actually explained what those betting lines mean when it comes to wagering on individual baseball games.

If you plan on using a site like Betway or some other method of wagering on a game (for entertainment purposes only of course), here is a quick course on the "pluses" and "minuses" of baseball betting.

Check any paper or website and you'll usually see betting lines like this when it comes to baseball:

It doesn't seem like a lot of information, but it tells you everything you need to know if you want to make a friendly wager on the team to win OR the total score. First let's look at the teams.

The "-130" is listed next to Boston, so that means that Boston is favored. More importantly, that means that you must wager 130 units just to win 100 (or any fraction thereof: 65 to win 50, 10 to win 7.69, etc.). Unlike other sports, picking a baseball winner doesn't involve point spreads (although there are "run lines" which will be covered at a different time). Instead, it costs you more to wager on the favorite and you get a "discount" for betting on the underdog.

In the above example, it's a safe assumption to reduce Boston's number by 10 and change it to a "plus" to calculate your wager if you want to bet on Tampa Bay. In this case, Tampa Bay would likely be a +120 underdog, meaning that you only need to wager 100 units to win 120! Sounds like a great deal, but remember that the odds exist that way because statistics show that the outcome is less likely.

Why isn't the line just +130 for Tampa Bay? That's where the bookmaker makes his profit. That artificial spread of 10 units provides the bookmaker a profit margin, often referred to as a "dimeline." Here's where it gets even harder for the bettor: when there is a heavy favorite, that dimeline is often abandoned and can increase to a 20, 30, even 50 unit spread. If Roy Halladay is pitching against Pittsburgh, Philadelphia might be a -260 favorite, but unfortunately, Pittsburgh is NOT going to be a +250 underdog; they will likely be closer to +220, giving the bookmaker a little more cushion in the unlikely event that a heavy underdog wins and large payouts are required. Basically, the farther away from 100 the betting lines stray, the larger the spread becomes.

Moving on to the next number, the "7.5" refers to the total COMBINED score of both teams. This number is NOT related to the -130 in any way. When you want to wager on a total, you must wager 10% more than you want to win (i.e. 110 units to win 100). Again, that spread creates a profit for the bookmaker. You would then either wager on the "over" if you think 8 or more runs will be scored, or on the "under" if you think 7 or less runs will be scored in the game.

Now that you know the basics of baseball betting, try applying a little strategy: look at the starting pitchers, determine when there is good value on an underdog, and start wagering some pretzels with your friends - for entertainment purposes only of course.