Betting on Baseball: MLB Totals


Everyone loves a high-scoring MLB game, where players rack up hit after hit and pitchers are coming and going in one after another; purely to watch another run or two cross the plate before retiring back to the dugout temporarily defeated.

On the other hand, watching a dominant pitcher or two shut down the opposing lineups is a display of control and near perfection that cannot truly be equaled in another sport. However, the player is not solely interested in watching a great game, there are more important things going through their mind. 

The real question is, which type of game will the next one be? Will the run line resemble that of a stale football game or will both teams’ bats fall mostly silent all night? Markets for MLB run totals poises this exact question to sports bettors.

One of the most popular bets in baseball especially for sharp bettors. It will almost always be listed on the main line on any sports betting line alongside the moneyline and the handicap bets. In this article we discuss how totals bets are created, analyse facts and variations and provide tips to help you make better wagers on MLB totals.

About MLB Totals

When you are betting on run totals in the MLB, or baseball in general, you are doing the exact same as with over/under betting in the NFL. The bookmaker here offers the player an opportunity to determine whether the total number of runs between two teams will be higher or lower than the given number.

Like any bet, there are certain strategies and things to understand about this market before making these wagers.  

The most important starting point here is that each possible number of total runs has a certain “frequency”, or how often the total final score of any given game will be that number. For the NFL, the magic number is usually around 45.

Statistics taken from hundreds of thousands of MLB games give an important insight that can be used when betting on baseball run totals. Unfortunately, the chart actually may turn some people off from making such wagers. 

This is because between ten different numbers, the change in their frequency is extremely minimal.  The number four has the lowest frequency only appearing in about 4.8% of games, while the number with the highest frequency (seven) only appears in 11.3% of games.

When you factor in the other eight numbers in between, there is not really a lot of variance to help the bettor. 


Below is a chart displaying the probability of the total runs being from three to 12.

( Three runs: 6.17%; Four runs: 4.8%; Five runs: 9.51%; Six runs: 7.2%; Seven runs: 11.3%; Eight runs: 7.65%; Nine runs: 10.3%; Ten runs: 6.55%; 11 runs: 7.65%; 12 runs: 4.9%;...)

  



Basically, when betting on totals you will have an average of around eight percent for the numbers three through twelve. It is impossible to finish an MLB game as a tie, so the odd numbers will naturally have a higher frequency than the evens.

This is of some importance, as the odd numbers are usually at least two percentage points higher than their even counterparts. 

When we are talking about betting over or under a specific number however, this does not factor in quite as much, as there will be odd numbers on both sides of the provided number.  I am guessing that most players reading this are not interested in playing a game of roulette when picking the MLB totals.

That means in order to become a successful bettor with run totals, the player will need to focus on a few key factors going into each game.

How MLB Totals Are Set

There is not a typical straightforward answer to how bookmakers set their MLB totals. Every bookmaker will have different opinions and methods for how to do this. Odds are done on a one-time basis, meaning that they will be determined by factors in that particular game.

There are a few general factors though, that bookmakers take into consideration when doing this. With baseball and the MLB, some things are necessary for all bookmakers to look at, at least if they are hoping to make a profit. 

Even though MLB games cannot end in a tie, betting on the totals can still tie the bookmaker. When this occurs, it is called a ‘push’. This is bad for the bookmaker in a couple of ways. First, he will have to refund the player’s stake back to them.

However, the bookmaker will also have to forfeit his margin on the bet. The margin is a built-in profit for the bookmaker that is present in every market. It is the direct reason why bets are not 50-50 even when the chances of each outcome are completely equal. 

To combat this, many bookmakers will add a fraction of a whole number onto the total number to completely eliminate the possibility of a push. The number seven for instance, would read as 7.5 in the line. There is no way to tie bookmakers with this addition, so you will either win or lose your bet. However, some sportsbooks still allow players to make totals bets on whole numbers as well.

The .5 makes a massive difference when it comes to baseball totals. Since games cannot end in a draw, if there is a tie in the game you and the bookmaker both know that at least one more run will  need to be added.

The .5 makes a massive difference when it comes to baseball totals. Since games cannot end in a draw, if there is a tie in the game you and the bookmaker both know that at least one more run will  need to be added.

If you are given a whole number like seven or nine (the most common totals) to bet on then even if you don’t win the bet there is a good chance the total will at least land on that number, earning you a full refund. Not too bad.

However, the .5 added on to these numbers takes that high chance of a push and eliminates it. Now it is necessary for you to get the over/under pick exactly right. And there’s a good chance if you lose that .5 is the reason.

Finally, the most important thing bookmakers will look when setting the odds is which way the majority of the public are betting. Sportsbooks will normally have around -110 on both the over and under in the line.

The oddsmakers know that the amount of betting on each side however will likely not be equal. There will be an option that looks more likely or that the public are more inclined to take for whatever reason. 

Sportsbooks will need to pay attention to which way the bets are going so they can appropriately adjust their odds. Most MLB run totals bets will be equal, with odds of -110 on both sides.

Remember, sportsbooks do not need an equal number of bets on both sides, they simply need to make sure that no matter how many bets are made the payout amount in the event of either the over or under winning will still make them a profit. 

Therefore, the odds will be changed to represent the number of people betting one way but more importantly the volume of bets. If 70% of all money wagered on a single market is on the over, than the odds will continually shrink while the odds on the under will rise.

By observing totals odds on different games, we can see that money bet on MLB totals in usually divided equally on both the under and the over options. 

Making Your Bet

The player will want to look for essentially the same thing as the bookmaker. However, to get a true advantage one must look further than the one setting the odds. One of the things to look at is the umpire for a particular game.

Knowing who the umpire is will give you a clearer understanding of what to expect in terms of some other statistics. The decisions umpires make play a consistent, integral part of the game. Larger strike zones can lead to more strikeouts and less walks for the opposing team. 

Another quick statistic the player can look at is the stadium the game will be played in. Some stadiums are notorious havens for home runs while others overwhelmingly support pitchers.

The top stadium in the MLB for home runs in 2016 was Yankee Stadium in New York averaging about 1.37 home runs a game. The Rockies’ Coors Field is also a well-known difficulty for pitchers.

By the same token the Giants’ AT&T Park averaged only .70 home runs a game. This is pertinent for obvious reasons when looking at run totals and these ballpark spots will rarely change throughout different seasons. 


Below is a chart displaying the MLB stadiums with the highest and lowest average of runs scored, home runs, hits in the year 2019.  

Highest: 

MLB Stadiums

Avg. Runs Scored

Avg. Home Runs

Avg. Hits

Coors Field (Colorado Rockies)

1,394

1,266

1,300

Global Life Park (Texas Rangers)

1,245

1,602

1,142

Comerica Park (Detroit Tigers)

1,107

1,086

1,111

Nationals Park (Washington Nationals)

1,101

1,267

1,097

Oriole Park at Camden Yards (Baltimore Orioles)

1,088

1,262

1063


A rate higher than one favors the hitters, whereas below one favors the pitchers. 

Lowest: 


MLB Stadiums

Avg. Runs Scored

Avg. Home Runs

Avg. Hits

Oracle Park (San Francisco Giants)

0,798

0,691

0,941

Yankee Stadium (New York Yankees)

0,816

0,865

0,880

Petco Park (San Diego Padres)

0,860

0,871

0,908

Oakland Coliseum (Oakland Athletics)

0,887

0,854

0,954

Citi Field (Ney York Mets)

0,891

1,000

0,889


Among the other things that players can look at include the teams’ lineup strength and the weather. The weather can affect the score of a baseball game in multiple. In general, baseballs will travel further in warm weather than in cold due to a lower density.

If windy weather is present, it is important to check the direction its blowing. Wind blowing out means that both the pitcher is throwing against the wind and that balls hit will travel further.

Wind blowing in will keep more balls inside the ballpark, giving the defensive team an advantage. The weather should not be the end all be all statistic for a totals bet, but they can certainly help the player to add or subtract a couple of runs from your expected total. 

When looking at which number is the standard for your bet, the first factor the player must look at is the quality of pitchers that will be starting the game for each team. This is probably the first place anyone looks when making most bets on an MLB game.

The pitchers are the most important aspect of a baseball game behind the catchers. If two dominant pitchers are competing against each other than it is likely that the game will feature fewer runs.

Even one ace on the mound is expected to lead to fewer hits and just as importantly, fewer walks for the opposing team. Also, a stronger, more dominant pitcher will likely last more innings on average than a pitcher who is not as good.

It is largely up in the air how a reliever will do. Of course, some are better than others, but it can be hard for even the best relievers to get called into a game and shut down a confident lineup after a bad showing from the starter. 

Another thing players should be readily able to do is to read the line and figure out which way the majority of the public are betting. Players, like bookmakers, should pay attention the way the majority is betting. SportsInsights was able to track bets made on the moneyline and totals from seven popular sites dating back to 2005.

After analyzing approximately 30,000 games, they were able to determine that public betting does not move the lines due to a low volume of bets placed on run totals. However, in extreme cases advantages can be found. 

Players should be ready to use this when the opportunity arises. When there are less than 20% of of the public backing an over or under, that is the time for the player to strike.

Players should be ready to use this when the opportunity arises. When there are less than 20% of of the public backing an over or under, that is the time for the player to strike. Out of all the plays made in this situation, fading when more than 80% of the public has taken one of the options has led to a win rate higher than 50% for both overs and under.

When 15% or more take one option, the win rate for fading the public and betting on the under was more than 55%. Important to note that this method is directly affected by the volume of bets on a particular market, meaning this strategy will work even better with different, more popular bets. 

Conclusion

Totals bets in the MLB are a solid route to take even with just a basic understanding of America’s national pastime. That being said, the better a player is able to understand the mechanics behind these markets and what drives them the more successful they will be over the long run.

Like any other markets put forward by bookmakers, there are many factors that go into both creating them and finding appealing ones.

By learning to find major statistics like starting pitchers and lineup strength and combining them with a keen eye for spotting trends in the odds, you should be able to add MLB totals betting to your lineup in no time!