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Betting MLB Underdogs

Baseball Betting Strategy: Betting Underdogs in Toss-Up Games

By Loot, MLB Handicapper,

Baseball is a little unique in the world of American sports betting. It’s the only major sport that doesn’t operate with a point-spread. You have to pick the winner. The teams have different sets of odds in various games. There is a favorite and an underdog. And a lot of the time, it’s understandable why. A team is just better, they have a better pitcher on the mound, or they are at home. They should be favored.

Then you have the other category of games, where a team is favored, but it’s not immediately identifiable why they are favored. The reasons are sort of vague. Maybe the team has a better overall record, they’re at home, or the starter just has more name-recognition against his more obscure counterpart.

In other words, you will stumble upon a ton of games throughout the arduous 162-game season where you are unable to see a real true favorite. But there is a favorite and it’s often a clear one and you can’t figure out why. In situations like that, there can be a lot of upside in picking the underdog. When picking favorites in games you deem to be toss-ups, we’re probably going to lose over the long-run.

There are many things that contribute to making one team a favorite. The problem with habitually betting on those favored teams is that the things that supposedly make them a better team are not always going to surface in a one-game window. You’re betting on one game. A team might have better long-term prospects than another team. Their roster may pack more name-power. Their manager has a better track record. That’s all good and well. It’s just that those things don’t always surface over the course of one random game out of 162.

To further open ourselves up to the idea of taking underdogs in tossup-type games is the dynamic of the league as it applies to wins and losses. We always need to remember we are dealing with a league where the best teams lose 60 or more games a season. And the worst teams are going to win 60 or more games in that same year. There aren’t many leagues in the world where the separation between the best and worst is so small.

It forces us to recalibrate our understanding of what a favorite is in this sport. A favored team is still a very speculative bet. Those teams are going to lose 60 games a year. In other words, the favorites are dropping about in the ballpark of two out of every five games. So what is a favorite really worth in this sport? But we’re not even talking about the huge favorites--just the slight or medium-sized favorites.

It opens up our minds to the possibility of further embracing underdogs. We win more than we bet, so we can be right less than half the time and still come out on the sunny side. This is not meant as an invitation to start blindly betting underdogs. Again, we are always relying on our handicapping to form our wagers. And if our analysis holds up, we should take the better price, which is naturally the underdog.

So when carousing the lines, look for toss-up games. You handicap the game and do all the things you should do--analyze the pitchers, hitters, bullpen, the team’s current state, their recent form, and all that good stuff. If after all of that, you cannot for the life of you determine a favorite, take the underdog (or pass).

Don’t let the posted odds guide your wagering or analysis. Conduct an independent review of the game free of what the posted odds are. Look at the game with a clean slate. Don’t be over-opinionated, where you feel you have to pick a winner. Some of us bettors are geared like that, as if we must have an opinion. In this form of MLB wagering, it’s our lack of an opinion that should guide us, as weird as that may sound.

We are looking for games where we can’t determine who will win. That sounds counter-intuitive, but if we see something as being evenly-matched, but the odds clearly favor one team, that’s an edge for us. If we get paid more than we bet on events where neither team seems more likely to win than their opponent, that is what good value is all about.

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