Baseball Betting Lines and Odds Explained

MLB Players Making a Play at Home With a Sportsbook Background

While football is currently one of the most ubiquitous American sports, baseball continues to be a huge part of American culture as well.

Despite football’s superior popularity, baseball has more of a historical significance to America. Baseball is thought to be a spin-off of English games like Rounders and Cricket and variations of those games, that were set to become baseball, were being played by the time of the American Revolution.

In 1845, the New York Knickerbocker Baseball Club was formed in New York City. Alexander Joy Cartwright, who worked as a bank clerk and volunteered as a firefighter, helped set up the basic rules that would eventually turn into the game of baseball that we know and love today.

Football on the other hand also originates from traditional British games like soccer and rugby, and like baseball, it has evolved into a different sport than its predecessors.

Football incorporated aspects distinctly separate from those found in soccer and rugby. Differences like blocking, down and distance rules, and line of scrimmage rules all served to separate football from its past and redefine it as an American sport.

Due to the differences in gameplay between football and baseball, much of their betting terminology is presented differently by both in-person and online sportsbooks.

Whether you are a seasoned football bettor looking to branch out, or a baseball fan who has never bet before but wants to spice up his relationship with the game, learning about baseball odds and lines is a necessity.


Before learning any other type of baseball bets, you should learn how moneyline wagering works.

Moneyline wagering is one of the simplest forms of baseball bets and also the most intuitive for any novice gambler to understand. The only barrier will likely be learning about odds and how the payouts can differ between favorites and underdogs.

The most basic part of a moneyline bet is predicting which team will win. Let’s say the Giants are playing the Dodgers in a classic California showdown. The two bitter rivals are facing off, and the Dodger’s ace, Kershaw, is taking the mound against the shimmying Johnny Cueto.

Kershaw’s a tremendous pitcher on a hall of fame track, while Cueto has struggled with injuries and effectiveness ever since signing his huge free-agent deal with the Giants.

You’re sure Kershaw will lead the Dodgers to victory— their hitting and fielding is superior to the Giants as well so it should be a cinch for them to take the Giants down. Placing a bet on the Dodgers to beat the Giants is an example of a moneyline bet.

Unfortunately, it’s not so simple. When you place a bet with a sportsbook, you have to factor in the odds they give you.

MLB Player Christian Yelich at Bat

The stake is the money you put down on the bet. So if you said, “5 bucks on the Dodgers.”, your stake would be $5. How much that bet will payout though, depends on the odds the sportsbook gives you, which is where it gets tricky.

Odds can be positive or negative. Negative odds indicate the favorite and positive odds indicate the underdog.

Bookmakers adjust baseball betting odds so they can make sure they profit off any bet and stay in business. Part of gambling is understanding that books are in it for the profit.

Here’s an example moneyline bet using moneyline, or American-style odds:

  • Dodgers (-150)
  • Giants (+130)

Here, the Dodgers are the heavy favorite while the Giants are the underdog.

So it’s great that you predicted the Dodgers to win. The sportsbook agrees with you though, which makes it harder for you to make money off of the bet, and here’s why.

The Dodgers line of -150 means that you’d have to bet $150 to win $100, while the Giants line of +130 means that you can bet $100 and win $130.

As you can see, there’s less reward to bet on the favorite than there is to bet on the underdog. The heavier the favorite is, the further away the sportsbook will move the odds from 100.

Many bettors prefer to bet on underdogs because you can get a bigger payout with a smaller stake. Learning about how payouts are affected by the sportsbook’s odds is the key to successful moneyline betting.

Run Lines

Run line wagering is baseball’s version of spread betting.

Spread betting is a popular form of football betting and gives you a number the team is expected to win by.

For example, a football game may have a spread of 6.5, where the New York Jets are the favorite and the Tennessee Titans are the underdog.

The Jets must win by at least 7 for a bet on them to payout. If they win by fewer than 7 points, or lose, then you lose the bet on them as well.

A bet on the Titans will payout if they win or if they lose by 7 points or fewer.

Run line betting in baseball is similar to betting on the spread in football. The difference though is that baseball is a much lower scoring game than football, so the numbers need to be adjusted accordingly.

Run line betting uses the same odds as moneyline betting. The key thing to know is run line betting will have one more number than moneyline betting: the run line.

Let’s use an example similar to the one above but with the run line included:

  • Dodgers (+160) -1.5
  • Giants (-140) +1.5

Everything is calculated the same in this bet as in a moneyline bet except now the favorite and underdog are reversed.

Now, you’d have to bet $140 on the Giants to take home $100 and $100 on the Dodgers to take home $160.

MLB Phillies Player

Additionally, you now have to consider the run line when you make this bet. The run line is the final number of the line and is set to 1.5.

With the run line included, the Dodgers now have to win by 2 runs for your bet on them to payout. The Giants can lose by 1 run or win for a bet on the Giants to payout.

Betting on the run line is a useful way to bet if your team is the favorite. If you hate the Giants with a passion but also don’t want to make an underdog bet, you can make a run line bet on the Dodgers instead that will pay out $160 for every $100.

You can also make bets like these if you’re confident the game will be a blowout. If you’re so sure that Kershaw is about to pitch a swell game, or that Cueto is going to get beat by the great Dodger’s offense, a run line bet is a great way to increase your payout when you bet on the Dodgers to win.

Don’t forget this caveat though. If you’re betting on a run line, the game must go the complete 9 innings (or 8.5 innings if the home team wins). If the game is postponed or called early due to rain, the bet will be refunded.

Listed Pitchers

The starting pitcher of the day is a huge factor in a baseball bet, so sportsbooks offer betting options in the event that a starting pitcher changes before game time.

  • You can make a bet on one team against another, regardless of the starting pitcher. Odds can be adjusted by the book if the starting pitcher changes before the game starts.
  • One specified pitcher. You can wager on one of the starting pitchers. If the pitcher you bet on doesn’t start that day, the bet is declared “no action” and refunded.
  • Both specified pitchers. Lastly, you can bet on both starting pitchers. If either of the pitchers fails to make the start, the bet is refunded.

Any starting pitching change before the game begins can result in the odds being adjusted for moneyline or run line bets.

One more caveat: once a pitcher throws 1 pitch, they’re declared the starting pitcher for the day.

One interesting wrinkle to consider with the rule just listed is the usage of the “opener”.

Openers Vs. Starting Pitchers

In 2018, the Rays began a mini-revolution in baseball pitching strategy when they started employing openers to start games.

An opener is a pitcher who will start the game, but only pitch 1 to 2 innings. The opener will then be replaced by the team’s conventional starting pitcher.

The Rays used this strategy to give less effective starting pitchers an advantage by requiring them to only pitch to the opposing team’s batting order twice. Research has shown that pitchers perform worse when facing batters the third time through the order.

An aspiring baseball bettor can take advantage of this strategy though. The sportsbook will register the opener as the starting pitcher since they threw the first pitch. The real starting pitcher in an opener-started game will be the second pitcher though.

You can place a bet while considering the second pitcher to be the true starter. Using this pitcher evaluation strategy is a great way to make a value bet in a game started by an opener.


Do you prefer moneyline bets or run line bets? Let us know in the comments.