Five Keys to Finding Underdogs in Major League Baseball Betting

MLB - Betting on Underdogs - Orioles

When done correctly, betting on baseball can be fun and exciting as well as very profitable. Unlike football or basketball where the books can be very tough to beat, baseball offers a sharp bettor a very winnable gamble if they are willing to put in the work. Today we will discuss five key things that should be considered when you are looking for an underdog to bet.

Betting On Underdogs

The reason that Major League Baseball (MLB) betting can be so profitable is because there are going to be opportunities every day where you can bet on underdogs and win! Unlike football and basketball where the best teams win 80%-90% or even in some cases even 100% of their games, baseball has a lot more variance. The worst teams in football can lose every game. In basketball, they can lose upwards of 90% of their games.

In baseball? The worst teams are still going to win about 40% of the time. And on the flipside, the best teams in baseball are only going to win about 60% of their games. I will show you how to figure out when and why to bet on these underdogs and take advantage of all this uncertainty to make a long-term profit. Let’s get started!

#1 Good Team, Bad Starter

My favorite spot to bet on underdogs is in a situation where you have a good overall team that is using a weak starting pitcher. Even the best teams have a weak starter or two in the rotation. So much of an MLB betting line is based on the starting pitching matchup, that many times the much more talented overall team is going to end up being the betting underdog.

This is a great spot where you can bet on the much better team and get paid out more than you bet as they are underdogs. Good teams just find ways to win games where bad teams find ways to lose them. A situation where you have a playoff caliber team like the New York Yankees for example, that are using their fifth starter, against a team like say the Baltimore Orioles that are out of contention, but they have their ace on the mound.

This is a spot where the Orioles, based on the strength of their starter, might be favored, especially at home. I love looking for ways to fade the home team in a spot like this as the strength of the starting pitcher is generally vastly overrated, and I love being in a spot where I get to bet on the better team and be the underdog.

Situations like this one come up daily in MLB betting. If you are consistently betting the more talented overall team as underdogs, you are going to be very profitable long-term. Just remember, betting on the superior overall team is rarely that bad of a move, no matter who is on the opposing mound.

#2 Home/Road Splits

This tip may seem obvious to some of you, but as someone who has run a major Las Vegas sportsbook in the past, I can assure you that it is not. Teams just play better at home. This is obviously not always the case, but the vast majority of teams are going to win more games at home than they do on the road. This is especially true for younger teams or teams that aren’t managed quite as well.

The guys get to sleep in their own beds and not worry about the rigorous travel schedule of today’s modern game. They also get the aid of the hometown fans and maybe a home umpire call or two. In the end, it all adds up to teams winning more at home than many people might think.
We see this a lot with bad teams. Remember, even the worst teams are going to win 40% of their games. And of those wins, the majority are very likely to come at home. Home underdogs are one of my favorite bets. The public just doesn’t give the home team enough credit for just being at home nearly enough.

Every year we see teams that finish the season in dead last place but manage to be above .500 at home. Take advantage of the fact that teams find ways to win at home and position yourself on as many home teams as absolutely possible, especially when you get the opportunity to get dog money.

#3 Huge Underdogs

It used to be when a team was favored in a game they would be -180 or -200. But with the recent explosion of sports betting and the fact that baseball is becoming very hard for the books to show a long-term profit, we have seen some of those numbers get to -300 or even more. It used to be unheard of to see a game at more than -250, now we regularly see games at -330 or higher.

And guess what?

All the action still comes in on the favorite. I know, I know, Clayton Kershaw could never lose to that terrible team. Well guess what, he does lose sometimes and mathematically, laying -350 is just almost never profitable.

Let’s do the math real quick. If you are laying -350 and you bet $100 you get back $28 when your team wins. Let’s say you get to bet this exact game ten times, you always want to look at the long-term profitability on the game and betting it more than once does a great job illustrating this. We can go out on a limb here and say that Kershaw and the Dodgers win 70% of the time.

The greatest regular season team of all time, the 2001 Seattle Mariners won just over 70% of their games on the year. So, even saying that your going to win 70% of the time is very likely a HUGE stretch. But I will give you 70% for argument’s sake. You win seven out of the ten games and guess what? You are a long-term loser.

You bet a total of $1000 dollar on the ten bets. Your team wins $28 dollars the seven times that they win for a total of $196 dollars. When they lose the three games, you lose the entire $100 each time. So, where does that leave you? Down $104 dollars. So even if your side is favored to win this game at a historic pace, you are still a long-term loser.

I am not saying that you should bet on every underdog that is getting +350, but what I am saying is that when the number is that high its more about can they win, not will they win. As you can see, you don’t have to win it very often to show a profit. Baseball variance can be tough to beat, but you want to be on the right side of the math if you are going to show a profit in the long run. Don’t be afraid to take shots on huge dogs, because whether we like to admit it or not, they sometimes do win, and it is very profitable when they do.

#4 Don’t Fall For Hollow Stats

Baseball stats have really evolved over the last twenty or so years. It used to be all about batting average, home runs, wins, and ERA. Then some really smart statisticians figured out that those stats could be so easily manipulated that they weren’t a great way to measure a team or specific player’s true success. Now we have new age stats like wins above replacement (WAR), on-base percentage plus slugging (OPS), and Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP).

I don’t expect you all to be sabermetricians but looking a little deeper than wins and ERA are required if you want to be a winner these days. Make sure that when you are betting against that pitcher with a 2-8 record that he hasn’t actually pitched well and is just a recipient of really bad run support or poor defense. Websites like FanGraphs or Baseball Reference can be treasure troves of information that the general public tends to ignore.

Do Your Homework

Get a great idea of how each of the starting pitchers is really pitching or how well each team is really playing right now. Has it just been a great stretch of run support that is supporting a guy’s great record? Is a team just playing in a very rough patch of the schedule right now? The books know this information and if you are going to bet your hard-earned money so should you.

And if you find a place where the advanced stats tell a different story than the standard stats? Look to take advantage of it. When you can find an underdog starter that is losing more because of bad luck than bad pitching? Take it. Or a team that is hitting the cover off the ball, just right at people? Back them. The advanced stats are advanced for a reason, get to know and understand them the best that you can to help guide you to better decisions.

#5 Hot/Cold Streaks

The sabermetricians from the last tip are very likely to scoff at this next one, but my eyes tell me that baseball is a very streaky game. We see it all the time, a bad team gets red-hot and reels off seven or eight straight wins. Or a great team hits the skids and drops ten out of twelve. When you are looking for a spot to back an underdog, I love finding spots where you can find a weaker team that just happens to be playing very well at the moment, that is playing against a better team that is playing poorly the last week or so.

Baseball is a very emotional game with lots of ups and downs, and sometimes the difference between a winner and a loser is as much about who has that swagger right now and who might have lost just a half a step or is a bit worn down at the moment. Don’t be afraid to step out of the norm to back a red-hot team that is seemingly catching all the breaks and bounces. Just be very careful to recognize when that streak is over. You don’t want to lose back everything you won on the hot streak finding out that it ended a week ago.

Wrap up

So, there you have it. While this is by no means a comprehensive guide to betting underdogs it is somewhere to start that can send you down the right path to long-term profitability. I know a LOT of sharp baseball bettors, and none of them make their money by laying wood every day. You have to find ways to back dogs profitably if you want to end the season in the green. Good luck and happy betting!

Patrick Carter / Author

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