Investing Strictly on the Winner: How to Read a Mlb Line

April 26, 2009

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HRI Sports asked:

NCAA brackets are easy to understand, pick a winner and hope your team comes in. Understanding Vegas and the NFL is also easy, pick a team to stay within or win by ‘x’ amount of points and you are golden. But baseball (and hockey, NASCAR, tennis and more) is a bit more complicated. To profit off these sports, you primarily wager on what is called a Money Line. So, what Is the Money Line? Like the point spread you see in the NFL, the money line is used to equal out the attractiveness of the favorite and the underdog for the typical bettor.

Money line results are decided by an event’s straight-up winner, without regard to any point spread, since there is no point spread. Odds makers set the money line so that more money must be risked on the favorite (the expected winner) and less money on the underdog in an effort to balance the willingness of bettors to back the respective sides of a contest. Many things go into a money line, which makes for another great article. However, in terms of the average bettor’s concern, the money line allows you to profit more when you feel strong about an underdog’s chances of winning. In more private circles, money lines are the equivalent to a team winning ‘straight up’, meaning without run/point help.

So why use this money line system instead of a point spread? If a point spread were used with baseball, the smallest amount a line could be moved would be a ½ run, which would be much more significant than a ½-point move in basketball or football. Using a point spread in baseball would not allow an evening of the action with the necessary precision, so rather, a money line is used.

So, how do you read a money line? It’s actually quite simple. Let’s take a line SD (-115) @ TB (+104). This was an actual recent MLB line during interleague play. To bet the favorite, the San Diego Padres, an investor would have to wager $115 to win $100, while a bet on the Devil Rays would only require a $100 to win $104. The numbers scale appropriately based on your actual wager amount. However, the line is always based on amounts of $100 for listing purposes.

Every $115 bet on the Padres nets a $100 profit if they win (plus the return of the $115 risked). If the Devil Rays pull off the upset, $100 bet on the underdog would profit $104 (plus the return of the $100 risked).

Keep in mind that sportsbooks only make a commission (also known as juice or vigorish) when the favorite loses. In this example, if the Padres were to lose the game, the book pays off $104 to underdog bettors while collecting $115 from favorite bettors, for an $11 profit.

If the Padres win as expected, favorite bettors collect $100 while dog bettors lose $100 – resulting in zero profit for the sportsbook. The bigger the favorite, the less likely the underdog will win (and the less likely the book will collect their commission). To compensate for making a profit less often, offshore sportsbooks increase the spread between the favorite’s lay price and the underdog’s payoff, making their commission bigger when the longshot underdog does win. This is why comparing online sportsboook odds with Vegas odds will often show a difference.

As with most things, the more you learn, the more you need to know. Now that you can read a MLB line, other questions come into play. Is it more profitable to wager online or offline? What does the +- 1.5 mean? Are money lines more profitable when offered in other sports than point spreads? Any good handicapper should be able to freely answer these questions for you. So get in there, search around and start profiting today. Major League Baseball and money line wagers can work wonders on your profit margin in your sports investing portfolio! By the way, the Padres won this game, 7-1.


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