A Guide to Betting on Baseball Totals

Baseball Glove with Money and a Baseball on Left and a Man Holding a Book While Thinking on Right

Betting on baseball totals means betting on whether the combined run total in a game will be higher or lower than a number set by an oddsmaker. Winning and losing are irrelevant – all that matters is the combined score of both teams.

This post represents a brief guide to MLB totals betting, offering insight for bettors interested in getting into baseball over/under wagering.

MLB Totals Basics

Totals bets are sometimes called over/unders or O/U. A bet on the over means you think the total will exceed the oddsmaker’s number; a bet on the under means you think the total will fall short of that number.

A game total, sometimes referred to as a betting total to distinguish it from the actual game total, can occasionally result in a push result. Obviously, game totals that end in a half point can’t result in a tie, since there’s no way to score a half point in baseball.

Different books will have different betting totals for the same game. This may seem like it represents an arbitrage opportunity, but the vigs on the over and under are adjusted to price the different, preventing most forms of middling.

For example, you may find the following totals at two different books:

Sportsbook A

Rays O 6.5 -130
Yankees U 6.5 +110

Sportsbook B

Rays O 7.5 -105
Yankees U 7.5 -115

Book A will let you bet over 6.5 runs (meaning the total has to be 7 or higher), but you’ll have to bet $130 to win $100. Sportsbook B asks you to bet over 7.5 runs (meaning the total has to be 8 or higher) but with better vig ($105 to win $100) to compensate for the extra run.

Much of the art in baseball totals betting lies in making good decisions in situations like this. Do you take the risk and bet over 7.5 in exchange for a potentially larger payout? The answer to that question comes down to personal betting style.

Understand Key MLB Game Totals Numbers

Here are the five most common game totals going back 25 years:

  • 7 – 11.15% of all game totals (3,561 games)
  • 9 – 10.33% of all game totals (3,301 games)
  • 5 – 9.55% of all game totals (3,052 games)
  • 8 – 7.8% of all game totals (2,492 games)
  • 11 – 7.67% of all game totals (2,452 games)

Of note, four of the five most common totals are odd numbers. Also, there’s a big drop-off in frequency between totals of 5 and 8, which means the most common total (7 runs) is about 1.5 times as common as the fifth-most common total (11 runs).

People Sitting at Casino Sportsbook, Three Dollar Bills Spread Out

If this chart makes it seem like most of the action in-game totals take place in the numbers 7 and 11, it’s actually a little worse than that. A little more than 50% of all baseball games end with actual totals between 6 and 11. That makes for a tight betting market.

Stick to Odd Numbers

Baseball game totals are more likely to be odd numbers than even. This is true mainly because baseball games cannot end in a tie result.

Combined with the fact that one-run wins are by far the most common result in the sport, it’s easy to see why totals bettors favor odd number game totals results.

Looking all the way back to the 1998 season, actual totals of 7 have occurred during 12.4% of all games with betting totals of 6.5, 7, and 7.5, while actual totals of 8 occur during only about 7% of all games with betting totals of 7.5, 8, and 8.5.

Understanding MLB Total Push Rates

One way to make smarter choices on baseball totals is to understand push rates – how often do totals bets push?

One truth to bet by is that whole number game totals push more often than half-point totals.

For example, going back to the 1998 season, about 13.5% of games with a betting total of 7 landed on exactly 7 runs. No other totals number produces push results at this high a rate – 8.2% of betting totals of 8 ended in a push, as did 10.8% of betting total of 9, and 6.7% of betting totals of 10.

A Sportsbook with Multiple Monitors Showing Games

All told, about 9% of MLB whole number game totals between 7 and 11 end in a push result. Looking at only betting totals between 7.5 and 11.5 (not the whole number totals, just the ones including half points), about 8.5% produced push results going back to the 1998 season.

Lots of MLB totals bettors stick to totals with half-point numbers for the simple reason that they’re statistically less likely to push.

Higher Game Totals Lead to Fewer Push Results

Higher betting totals come with a wider distribution of actual game totals results. In layman’s terms, the chance of any specific actual game total decreases the higher the actual total grows. As the game’s betting total increases, the chance that the game will end in a push result gets smaller.

Remembering that odd totals happen more than even ones, understand that 12.4% of relevant games (games with a betting total between 6.5 and 7.5) land on an actual total of 7 while just 10.3% of relevant games land on an actual total of 9. Just 6.5% of relevant games end on an actual total of 10.

The higher you go on the ladder, the less likely a game is to land on that number.

Determine MLB Game Totals Value

Let’s look at total of 6.5 to 7.5 to work out the values of half-runs 6.5-7 and 7-7.5. This will help determine the value of totals offered at different sportsbooks and make the more profitable wager.

If 13.5% of games will land on an actual total of 7 (based on push rates described above), then it’s fair to assume that 43.25% of games will go over and 43.25% of games will go under. This means that betting over and under represent equal value.

Think of it in chart form for simplicity’s sake:

  • 1-6 runs scored = 43.25% probability
  • 7 runs scored = 13.5% probability
  • 8+ runs scored = 43.25% probability

In this example, betting over 6.5 has a 56.75% chance of winning – the sum of the chances of the total being 7 or 8+. If you translate this to money line odds, 56.75% equals -131 odds. That means the half-run around a total of 7 is worth about $0.31 on the money line.

Sportsbook Booths and TVs

How can bettors use this to their advantage when betting baseball totals? The fair value for our three totals is as follow:

  • Over 6.5 = -151
  • Over 7 = -120
  • Over 7.5 = +111

You can extrapolate this out in either direction by building your own spreadsheet for different game totals. The value in translating totals odds into money line amounts is that it helps you pick the most advantageous bet in a crowded field of over/under lines.

Making an Informed MLB Game Totals Bet

Let’s imagine game totals lines from two different sportsbooks again, with a different example:

Sportsbook A

Giants O 7 -130
Dodgers U 7 +110

Sportsbook B

Giants O 7.5 -105
Dodgers U 7.5 -115

If you want to bet the over, you’re looking at laying less vig by taking over 7.5 at -105 relative to taking the over 7 at -130. However, it isn’t worth the risk for the $0.25 you save on the vig. You know that because you know the half-run increase from 7 to 7.5 runs is wroth $0.31. Taking the over 7 at -130 is a better value than over 7.5 at -105.

If you want to bet the under, you should definitely bet under 7.5 at -115. The 7 itself is worth $0.31, so taking the under 7 at +110 is equivalent to taking under 7.5 at -121.

Our Conclusion

The most important things to remember when dipping your toe into MLB game totals are the push rate, the fact that odd game totals are way more likely than even ones, and the trend that as the betting total increases, you face a reduced push chance.

Calculating odds based on the money lines helps lots of bettors new to game totals work out advantageous over/under betting situations.