When betting baseball, look for prices that are close to even money

May 24, 2011 3:00 AM

April and May means that many novice sports bettors may look at the matchups and lean toward ace pitchers and lay the big price. But let me say four words to you:

Do not do it.

Baseball is unique from football and basketball in that there is no point spread. Instead you bet merely on which team will win the game and this translates into a money-line wager.

When betting baseball, most professional handicappers look for prices that are close to even money (for example, -120, -135 favorites or +105, +130 underdogs). Bettors will also play totals where, like NFL and NBA, there is a point spread set on each game and the line is usually minus-110 OVER or UNDER.

The reason is simple: You need to pay serious attention to money-management when wagering on sports. You may like to bet on Jon Lester, Roy Halladay and C.C. Sabathia because they win a lot, but you end up laying roughly three dollars for every one you hope to win.

Over the long haul, you are very likely to lose money.

This is why you rarely find professional handicappers giving out ace pitchers that are priced as a $2 or more favorite.

Betting the big favorites on a regular basis is dangerous and there is little value in it. Think about the value: You have to win 2 out of every 3 of those wagers just to break even. That is roughly a 66% winning percentage to stay afloat, or in the case of Halladay at –275, an even higher percentage.

Over the long haul, your bankroll will get wiped out.

There are so many factors that can come into play in baseball. For example, the wind could be blowing out, making both starting pitchers vulnerable to a lot of runs and a lot of pitches.

This could mean that your ace would throw 100 pitches in five innings. If that is the case, he would be prone to tire around the 100-pitch mark, and/or the game would be turned over the bullpen, something you hadn’t counted on.

All of a sudden the game is in the relief pitcher’s hands, rather than the staff ace that you were counting on to go 8 innings.

Also, a team may fall apart defensively. A couple of ill-timed errors with two outs and two men on base via walks, and you are down 3-0. You had not factored in the errors, only the great starting pitcher.

Recently Halladay was a -300 favorite at home against the Pirates (as he should have been). He pitched great, too, allowing two runs in a complete game, but lost 2-1 as the Phillies mustered only six hits and committed three errors.

Halladay logged 132 pitches, the most in the majors this season and the second-highest pitch count of his career. Justin Verlander has been outstanding this season, even throwing a no-hitter. Yet, the Tigers started 3-5 in his first eight starts – all as chalk!

Another factor is that in the first half of the baseball season, lines are often set on what the pitcher did last year, not the current season.

Boston won the whole thing in 2007, went to the ALCS in 2008 and expected to have a powerhouse all around team in 2011, yet there have been numerous problems during a .500 start. The Red Sox will likely get better, but the point is, you can’t go on last year’s stats from these starters.

What if the starting pitcher gets injured or there is a rain delay and the big favorite pitcher only goes 3 innings? If this was known before the game started, you probably wouldn’t have taken the big price.

In baseball, look for spots with big dogs rather than the big favorites. The percentages are in your favor.