How to Find Value in MLB Betting

by Thomas Frazier
on September 3, 2017

Betting Major League Baseball can be fun and exciting, and if know what you are doing it can actually be very profitable as well.

Today we are going to go over several things you can do to find value in a Major League game, what value is, and ways to track your successes and failures.

If you can master everything in this article, you will see your ROI (return on investment) skyrocket!

Don’t know what ROI is? Then you are in the right place. Let’s get started!

Value

What is value? Value is where we find our edge when betting. It tells us whether a game is worth betting on and which side to take. I like to use a coin flip example to illustrate value best.

Coin Flip

Let’s say you are betting $1 dollar on a coin flip. You get heads, the other guy gets tails. If you win, he pays you a dollar, if he wins, you pay him a dollar. If you flip this coin 1,000 times, you guys are going to be basically even.

Maybe he is up a little, maybe you are, but that is just variance, neither of you have any “value.” That’s is because it is a fifty-fifty bet and you are getting paid out even money.

Now let’s make a small adjustment to the bet. When you win, you still get paid one dollar, but when he wins you have to pay him two dollars. That is value. If you flip the coin ten times, maybe you will get lucky and win eight out of ten, it happens.

But in the long run, he is gambling with value, and you are not. Finding good value is like a casino running a blackjack game, yes sometimes people win, but in the long-term, the house will always get the money because they are operating with value on their side.

When we are evaluating a game to bet, we will look for as much value as possible. Below I will show you some things to consider when you are looking at a game and how to find the most value.

The Betting Line

The betting line or odds on a game is always going to be the first thing to look at when betting a game. Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers matched up against the White Sox and their depleted lineup?

Seems like free money, right?

And that would be true if there was no such thing as a betting line. On a game like this, we could see a line like Dodgers -375.

That means that you as a bettor would have to bet $375 to win $100. Not as promising as it sounded a minute ago, right? Here’s the thing, the Dodgers will probably still win, right? Right. But that doesn’t mean you are betting with value. As a general rule, laying anything over -250 is going to be a bad bet.

Why you ask? Well, baseball is a sport full of variance. It isn’t like basketball and football where the best teams can win 90% or more of their games. In baseball, our best teams win about 60% of their games, and our worst teams still win about 40%.

That means your “lock” bet isn’t much of a lock, and if we are laying big odds on games, it will be very hard to show a long-term profit.

Let’s take the -375 examples from above to show you long term, how the math works out. The best way to illustrate this is by replaying this same game ten times. Now I know that doesn’t happen in real life but stretching it out shows you where the value comes in to play.

We know from looking at historical numbers that the very best teams are going to win 60% of their games and the worst teams are going to win about 40%. Now we know those records are against all teams and not just the bad ones, so I will give into that argument here and say that the Dodgers are so much better than the White Sox that they are going to win 70% of their games against them in this matchup. Seems great, right? Easy money? You are going to win 70% of the time! Yay! But wait, there is math.

Let’s say I bet $100 on this matchup ten times. When I win, I am getting back a $26 profit at -375. So, I win 70% of the time, that is seven wins at $26 a piece for a total profit of $182.

Not bad, right?

But what about those three times I lose?

I lose the entire $100 all three times. So, if I were to bet this exact matchup ten times, I would show a long-term loss of $118. So much for free money, right? That is because there is almost never any value betting giant favorites like this.

Yes, most of the time your bet is going to win, and this can fool a lot of people into thinking they are “winning” sports bettors. But if you make this bet enough, over the long run you are going to lose.

When you are looking at a game make sure to consider how the line affects your play. Don’t overvalue a team just because you like them in this matchup, a team winning 70% in any specific matchup is almost unheard of. The 2001 Seattle Mariners won more games than any team in history, and they won 71% of their games.

The team you are betting probably is never going to be a 70% favorite in any one game, so don’t trick yourself into thinking they are to justify your bet.

ROI

This is where we get to ROI (return on investment). The best way to think of sports betting is as an investment. You invest a certain amount of money, your bet, and can expect to bring back a certain level of return. As you can see from the example above, winning games have very little to do with showing a profit.
Return of Investment
Many casual bettors like to track their wins and losses, and if they win more than they lose they consider themselves a winning bettor. And I suppose that is true to a point, but baseball betting isn’t about winning, it is about profiting.

The only way to really see how well you are doing is by tracking your return on investment.

The easy way to track ROI is by keeping track of how much you are up or down, and dividing it by your total volume, how much you have bet on all games. More math? Yep.

Let’s say you have made 10 total bets. All $100 dollars each. That means your total investment has been $1,000 (10 bets X $100 per bet= $1,000). After these ten bets, you are up $220 dollars. Now we take your total winnings ($220 dollars) and divide it by your total investment ($1,000) to figure out your average return on investment. $220/$1,000= 22% ROI.

So, it doesn’t really matter if you went 7-3 or 3-7 or 5-5 over the course of those games, your return on investment added up to 22%. That means for each game that you bet $100 dollars you can expect a return of $22 profit. Make sure that you don’t get too wrapped up in ROI until you have a decent sample size. Betting in general, and baseball betting in specific, has a lot of variance, so anything under about a 50-game sample size is too small to really trust your ROI.

If you are a seasoned gambler with thousands of games bet, and are showing a positive ROI of more than 5% you are a strong and winning bettor. People think of sports betting as something they want to make a lot of quick money at, but in the end, it is an investment that needs to hold up over the long run to be a good value proposition.

Many investors would kill for a guaranteed 5% return on investment, so if you are doing 5% or more, then you can consider yourself a savvy investor.

I have seen people do upwards of 20-25% long-term but if anyone promises you higher than that, they are either lying or their sample size just isn’t big enough yet.

Picking a game to bet

This is where the fun comes in. Which game should you target and which side should you take? There are a million factors that can come in to play when selecting a game. Below I will dive into the ones that I value the most when I am looking at a game.

Every bettor is going to come up with their own combination of factors they examine, and there is no secret formula for success. The key here is to make sure we are looking for value and not just betting a game because we are bored and want action or betting a game because our team is playing or we really like a starting pitcher. Go in with a game plan and stick to it.

How good are the teams?

This one seems so obvious that many fail to even address it when selecting a game. How good are the teams that are playing? Most people immediately jump to the starting pitching matchup or look to see which team is at home or which team’s stars are injured and not going to play. But you should always look at how good the teams are first.

Check their record on the season. Once in a while, a team’s record can be deceiving. Maybe they had some key injuries early in the season, maybe they just made a big trade to fill a gap in their lineup. But for the most part, a team’s record is how good they are.

Our eyes can deceive us when looking at a squad, we may be over or undervaluing them, don’t let that happen to you. They are what their record is and unless there is a strong reason to think something major has changed, then stick to it. Great teams find ways to win games and bad teams are always going to find ways to lose them.

What have you done for me lately?

How are they playing right now? This is a big one for baseball. Baseball is a streaky sport filled with winning streaks and losing streaks, and you need to take advantage of them. Taking a look at the team’s last ten games can give you a good idea of how they are playing at the moment.

We see it all the time where a great first place team hits a rough patch and loses eight out of ten. This is going to happen to every good team. Don’t wait too long to react to these struggles. Likewise, we will see the worst of teams win five or six in a row, and there can be lots of value backing a “bad” team that is playing well at the moment.

Home/Road Splits

A teams’ record at home and on the road, can vary greatly. You see this a lot with younger teams, they just can’t seem to win on the road. Or the flipside of the coin where you have a well-managed veteran squad that prides themselves on winning on the road.

I don’t put a crazy emphasis on where the game is being played, but it needs to be considered. The same goes with the ballpark it is being played in. Is it Yankees Stadium with that short porch in right or Fenway with the Green Monster in left? All of this needs to be taken into account.

Starting Pitching Matchup

This is probably the one thing that bettors look at the most, who is on the mound. And for good reason, the starting pitchers are a big factor in what the game’s line will be.
MLB Pitcher
That -375 example from above with Kershaw on the mound can turn into a +150 the next day when it’s a different arm starting the game.

I like to always look one or two levels deeper when checking out the starters. How are they pitching right now? Take a look back at their last 4-5 starts. Are they on top of their game at the moment? Are they struggling to get outs and walking too many people?

Do they pitch well on the road? At home? How are they against lefties? Righties? What does the lineup they are facing look like? Is it all fly ball hitters looking to drive the ball deep with power or is it a slap hitting team that smacks ground balls all over the park?

The one stat that I like to look at the most is WHIP. This is walks plus hits divided by innings pitched. This shows you how often they are allowing runners on base. ERA is great, but there are a lot of factors in play for ERA. WHIP gives you a great snapshot of how often they are getting into trouble.

Maybe they have done a great job stranding runners, but are constantly in trouble. These are the type of pitchers that are bound to have a blowup game. You can only get out of so many jams before you get rocked. I love a spot where I find a good pitcher with a low ERA but a higher WHIP. That is prime pickings for a blowup.

Wrap Up

Now that you have a decent idea of what value is and a couple of things to look at you can start betting a little bit smarter. Make sure to track all of your bets so you can go back and get an honest view of how your bets are performing.

It makes it hard to make adjustments in your betting game if you think you are a winning bettor when in reality you are a long-term loser. Be on the look put for part two of this article where I will go into even more detail on ways to find great value when betting a baseball game.

Thanks for reading and good luck betting your games!
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