How Baseball Odds Work – Betting MLB Games Properly

Our expert breaks down how baseball betting odds work. We'll show you where to bet baseball and how to read different lines and bet types.

Baseball odds are numbers set by oddsmakers to create a betting market. These odds show what a bookmaker thinks about the outcome of a particular baseball game and allow bets based on that prediction.

Baseball odds are different from the other big pro sports betting markets. Baseball offers a few different ways to wager, and MLB betting requires different kinds of research compared to basketball or football. If you’re wondering, “How do baseball odds work?” then you’ve come to the right place.

In this post, you’ll learn about the common ways baseball odds are displayed, including the money line, the run line, game totals, and other standard baseball bets. Read on to learn how baseball odds work, how to read them, and how to use the information they contain to make better baseball bets.

Plus and Minus Odds

Before getting into the specific betting formats for the baseball market, you need to understand how plus and minus odds work and what they mean.

Underdogs are listed with plus odds. This is a number that begins with a literal plus symbol. Because underdogs are expected to lose, oddsmakers make bets on them more appealing by offering bigger payouts should they succeed. That number listed next to the plus symbol tells you how much you’ll win for every $100 you bet. That means a successful $100 bet on a team listed with +100 odds would result in a $100 payout.

Favorites are listed with minus odds. This is a number that begins with a literal minus symbol. Because favorites are expected to win, oddsmakers limit the payout for a win by offering minus odds. The number listed next to that minus symbol tells you how much you need to wager to win a $100 payout. That means a successful $100 bet on a team listed with -200 odds would result in a $50 payout.

There’s one specific situation in baseball betting in which underdogs get minus odds and favorites get plus odds. For now, just know that this is covered in detail in the Forms of Baseball Odds section below.

“Listed Pitchers” Option

Sportsbooks recognize the value of starting pitching and the impact changes to a game’s starters can have on the game’s expected outcome. Baseball bettors have the unique option of locking in their bet regardless of who starts or pushing a bet to no action in the case of a pitching change.

Books will give you the option of betting on only the listed pitchers for a game, betting on just one listed pitcher, or taking the action regardless of who starts.

If you choose to bet on only the two listed pitchers, and one team makes a change to their starter, your bet will be listed as “no action,” and your wager will be returned to you. The same goes for choosing just one listed pitcher. If he’s pulled for somebody else, then your bet pushes.

Should you place an action bet and one or both pitchers change, the book will change the odds based on the new pitching matchup. You’ll be stuck with whatever new odds are listed, even though you placed your bet at a different number.

Forms of Baseball Odds

Understanding the forms of baseball odds described below will prepare you to place most available MLB bets at US-facing sportsbooks:

The Money Line

Betting on the money line means betting on the overall outcome of a game. Teams are issued different odds based on things like starting pitching, team hitting, and context. Back the winner and you win a payout, as determined by the odds set by the book. Back the loser and you win nothing.

Here’s an example of a real baseball money line from Opening Day of the 2021 season:

Pittsburgh            +190
Chicago Cubs      -210

In baseball odds listings, the visiting team is first, and the home team is last. The Pirates headed into Chicago as underdogs – we know this because of the plus sign. The Cubs are looking to protect their home turf as favorites – we can see that thanks to their minus money. Backing the underdog Pirates here means a chance at a bigger payout in exchange for increased risk. A successful $100 bet on the Pirates would win you a $190 payout. The opposite is true for a bet on the Cubs here – you’d have to put down $210 to win $100 back if Chicago pulls off the expected win.

The Run Line

The run line is baseball’s unique way to bet. It replaces the point spread common in other sports. Baseball is relatively low-scoring. The average NFL score is 20-17; in the NBA it’s more like 102-91. The point is, every other league (except for hockey) scores more points and the games end with a larger margin of victory.

The run line is MLB’s answer to the point spread. It’s just a fixed 1.5-run point spread. The run line forces the favorite to win by at least two runs to payout. It also gives the underdog a 1.5-run cushion; if the underdog wins outright or loses by just one run, the underdog run line bets payout.

Let’s use our example from earlier and show what the run line looked like on Opening Day 2021:

Pittsburgh           +1.5       -120
Chicago Cubs     -1.5        +100

Remember earlier when we pointed out that favorites don’t always get minus money and underdogs don’t always get plus money? The run line flips the script and offers bettors who back the favorite plus odds because the favorite has to win by at least two runs. By the same token, books offer bettors who back the underdog minus odds, since the dog can lose and still beat the run line.

In this example, it will take a $120 bet on the underdog Pirates to beat the run line in order to win a $100 payout, while a successful $100 bet on the favored Cubs to beat the run line will result in a payout of $100.

The Game Total

Oddsmakers make a guess about the final number of runs scored in a game. This guess is the game total. Bettors can bet on the actual game total being higher (over) or lower (under) than the number set by the book.

Generally, bettors on either side get -110 odds, with the extra 10 representing the book’s juice. Sometimes, sportsbooks adjust the odds on game totals in order to encourage betting on a particular side.

Here’s an example from the Opening Day 2021 game:

Pittsburgh            Over 6.5              -115
Chicago Cubs      Under 6.5            -105

Notice that this was a game in which the books adjusted the odds on the game total to change the way money was rolling in. The total was set at 6.5 runs, with the book taking a bigger bite on over bets than under. At -115, you’d win back $86.96 if the game total hit 7 runs or more. A successful under bet (at -105) would pay back $95.24.

In case you’re wondering, the Pirates pulled off the upset on Opening Day 2021, with the final score of Pittsburgh 5, Chicago Cubs 3. That means bets on the underdog and the over won. Remember, the oddsmakers don’t always get it right.

MLB Futures & Props

Futures and props are just jargon for types of exotic bets that go beyond the typical money line, run line, and game total wagers.

A baseball futures bet is any bet on a future outcome. Common baseball futures bets include wagers on the eventual World Series champion and the winner of major league awards like the MVP and the Cy Young. These wagers tend to carry a lot more risk than the traditional three betting formats, and as a result, they offer bigger payouts.

Props are propositions, bets set up by oddsmakers (or other bettors) on specific outcomes other than the eventual final score of the game. Props include things like “Which team will hit the first home run?” and “Will a player on either team hit a triple?” Like futures, these bets carry a lot of risk and promise larger-than-usual payouts.

Baseball Parlays

A parlay is a combined bet. Parlays combine bets on anywhere from two to ten different games. Each bet you add to the parlay increases your potential payout. Every bet on the parlay ticket has to win for the player to earn a payout.

Baseball bettors can parlay money lines, game totals, run lines, and even props and other exotic bets. The purpose of making a parlay bet is to increase your potential payout. While you’ll rarely find payouts more than 2.5 or 3x your wager on standard baseball bets, it’s common to see parlays that would potentially payout 1,000x or more.

Why Do Baseball Odds Change?

Baseball odds change over time for the same reasons that odds change in any other market. However, a big difference is that there’s less time between baseball games than contests in most other professional sports. While baseball odds do change, they change less than football or even NBA odds,

Injuries, changes to rosters, changes to team dynamics, and even league gossip can lead to changes in baseball odds. Changes in the way the betting public is betting can also force books to change lines. You can use these changes in odds to your benefit.

What If the Game Rains Out?

Unlike in football, a little bit of rain is usually enough to delay a baseball game. Rain ruins the infield, makes catching fly balls impossible, reduces available light, and makes every prop in the game (from the bat to the ball) impossibly slippery.

Rainouts aren’t common thanks to modern technology, the increased presence of domed and covered stadiums, and serious grunt work on the part of MLB groundskeepers. Major League Baseball says only about 0.3% of games are canceled due to weather, and that most of these games are simply rescheduled.

Run line and total bets require a baseball game to complete nine innings. Alternatively, eight innings if the home team is winning. However, for moneyline wagers the game must complete five innings on the scheduled game day. It’s a push if the game is tied in extra innings. Rules may vary by sportsbook, so it’s important to check the rules before placing a wager.

Now you know how baseball odds work. You’re probably also eager to go bet on some baseball games. Just remember – sports betting is a grind. While some bets in the baseball market are relatively easy to win, even the best sports bettors in the world don’t win much more than half the time. Understanding how baseball odds work sets you up well to enjoy more baseball bets.

As Yogi Berra said, “Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good, too.”