Pitchers like Stephen Strasburg often command expensive moneylines, but they are often out of the game by the seventh inning. Betting on the first five innings ensures that you get the most out of them. (Photo credit: MissChatter / Foter / CC BY)
The great advantage of making your baseball picks on the first five innings (the first half in MLB odds) is that your fate is in the hands of the two starting pitchers.
This means you can safely ignore other, more random factors, such as the benches and both bullpens.
Three advantages of first five innings baseball betting
1. Magnify Your Edge
First, if you have the advantage in the first five innings you can have a larger advantage than you would have in the entire game, because the situation in which you have that edge is magnified. If the MLB odds are in error, chances are that those later innings are minimizing that error, assuming the error does not originate from the bullpen.
The second half also introduces random elements out of your control that can cost you the win. Close games and blowouts have different dynamics late in the game. Wind conditions can change, there are substitutions and double switches. Early in the game, you can look at a known lineup against a known opponent and not worry about the rest of the game causing interference with the result of your baseball picks.
This is not unique to baseball betting. If you know that a team is likely to dominate the early going, especially the opening five minutes in basketball or the early game plan in football, you can often get a far larger advantage by betting on the first half or first quarter of the game before things get randomized and teams adjust.
2. Secondary Betting Markets
The second advantage is the benefit that always comes when you target a secondary betting market rather than a principal game line. As with other secondary MLB odds like alternate runlines and team totals, you get to focus on the first half line and study it.
In fact, you are probably giving far more thought to the line you’re thinking about betting than the sportsbook does when putting the MLB odds up. The sportsbook will be applying a formula and hoping it is close enough, but they can’t afford to deal an abnormal line until someone bets.
This lets you find opportunities where the first half line does not follow the moneyline or total for the game the way it normally should. Unlike runlines, there can be little question such differences exist. The big unknown is which ones are important and how much each of them is worth.
3. Starting Pitching vs. Bullpens
The biggest factor is the starting pitcher versus the bullpens. If you have a strong bullpen, that helps you only in the second half, whereas a strong starter is mostly good for the first half.
When you see a particularly strong pitcher starting with a poor bullpen or vice versa, that’s a great time to look at doing baseball betting on the first half. Knowing how to properly compensate for this could allow a disciplined bettor to benefit in both directions. He could bet into seemingly fair MLB odds when he has the advantage, and could safely take value when the lines have moved too far.
Of course, to do any of this you need a guide for what first half lines are supposed to be when betting baseball. Having five innings instead of nine reduces the edge of the better team. In exchange for that, they get the benefits of their usually stronger starter and the small mathematical edge that comes from ties.
The net result is that favourites for the game tend to be slightly smaller favorites for the first five innings. This effect remains small until about -150 (1.67) and gets sizable by -200 (1.50). It does not seem to matter whether the home or road team is the favorite.
Totals for the first half are trickier because in baseball betting, numbers are created anything but equal. The fact that 7 and 7.5 are almost as different as 7.5 and 8.5 makes it hard to give an accurate rule of thumb to translate a game total into a first half total.
The later innings of the game tend to be lower scoring on average than the first five, and there are only four of them (plus extra innings), so more than half the runs will likely come from the first five innings. The result of this is that the first half total will be slightly more than half of the total for the game, once all numbers are adjusted to smooth out all irregularities.
Two other rules to follow
Even if you raise your expected winning percentage by doing baseball betting on the first five innings, there are a couple things you need to do in order to maximize your profits:
1. Get Good Numbers Quickly
As with all conversions, the best way to get good numbers quickly is to write down the MLB odds sportsbooks offer on a variety of baseball games. You can then use these historical lines as a guide to future games. You can even use this technique to learn about the market’s perception of a particular team.
For example, by analyzing the first half lines traded at a sportsbook like Pinnacle Sports over two days, you can quickly gain an amazingly accurate ranking of the respective bullpens in MLB.
As usual, the usefulness of a line comes down to how well you understand it and what a good number would be; whether it lets you bet on what you like and against what you dislike, what the limit is and how thin it is being dealt (where thin means lower juice/commission).
2. Always Play at Best Price
As with many other betting lines, Pinnacle Sports will often have the best MLB odds on both sides of the equation. With lines worth up to 50% better value than other sportsbooks, Pinnacle Sports deals both first half sides and totals at -105 (bet $105 to win $100) instead of the usual -110 (bet $110 to win $100) available at other sportsbooks.
Most bettors have learned that betting the main game line is the way to obtain the best MLB odds. While this is true at a traditional ‘full juice’ sportsbook, at a low commission bookmaker like Pinnacle Sports, whatever you are looking to bet, the chances are that you can find a good number. In addition to overnight lines, players at Pinnacle Sports now have a moneyline, a total, two runlines, two team totals and a first half moneyline and total to choose from, all at low juice.
In fact, you can do even better by line shopping at other sportsbooks when Pinnacle Sports puts up a unique number and other lines reflect that. Maximizing your use of all the resources available to find the best odds will pay dividends every bet you make.
As long as you’re playing for no more than a few thousand dollars and choose the line you bet carefully, it is one of the easiest ways that any player can increase their potential winnings substantially, by simply playing at the best available price.