This article is part of our MLB Picks series.
Joe Sheehan's Best MLB Bets for 2023: MLB Win Totals, Props, and Predictions
Season-long prop betting has exploded in variety and popularity since the repeal of PASPA in 2018. Apps have, literally, hundreds of markets offering thousands of bets, from the vanilla -- odds to win the World Series -- to the rocky road. I can bet over or under a hit total for dozens of players, bet the league leader in a bunch of categories, bet whether a player will have a four-homer game.
DraftKings has a couple of options that intrigued me. They offer exacta and trifecta betting on the order of each division standings. I looked through them, and I didn't see value for my predicted order in any division. This gets back to what I wrote about being in line with the market numbers on so many teams.
What I did like was what I'll call the "long tail" options. DraftKings offers bets on ranges of wins, five per team in bands of six, with "over X" and "under Y" at the extremes. For example, the Tigers:
80 or more wins +425
74-79 wins +330
68-73 wins +265
62-67 wins +350
61 or fewer wins +400
The extremes are what I want to focus on here. Those are the highest odds -- and really for futures, as a recreational bettor, you're aiming for the higher payoff if you're locking up money for six months -- and where you can use The Price is Right rules to get value. That last bet, "X or fewer," is like betting $1 when you think all the other players have bid too high.
In more practical baseball terms, it's where you can bet on collapse risk, the chance that teams will fall apart in season, as teams like the Nationals and Reds did a year ago. Betting the Yankees under 93.5 wins at -115 is a reasonable play. Betting them under 85.5 wins at +300 is betting that their team age and thin pitching will cost them dearly. I've been quantifying the ranges of teams in the team capsules, and thinking of my predictions in those terms. With that in mind, here are my favorite range, or alt-total, bets.
NYY under 85.5 +300
PHI under 79.5 +370
WAS under 51.5 +500
CHC under 68.5 +390
OAK under 51.5 +500
TOR over 100.5 +600
LAA over 90.5 +390
CHW over 92.5 +500
ARZ over 84.5 +550
KCR over 78.5 +390
TBR over 97.5 +650
DraftKings also lets you pick a team's exact finishing position in its division. What I'm looking for here is either places where I differ from the market, or where the team is on something of an island in its division. I see three bets worth making. The first two;
SFG to finish fourth +300
BOS to finish fourth +185
The third doesn't quite fit either category, but the odds are high enough to get me interested:
KCR to finish third +475
One of my favorite gambling books is The Smart Money, by Michael Konik, in which the author tells the story of serving as a beard -- betting the sharp's money -- for legend/felon Billy Walters. It's a fun, breezy read, though without much of a happy ending. There are scenes in the book that have Konik running back and forth across the Strip, back when you could do that more easily, to find the best number for a bet.
Now, there's no need to dodge cars or even break a sweat, as you can see the lines for every wager from multiple bookmakers while sitting on your couch. This creates middle and scalp opportunities for even the most lazy among us.
For example, both DraftKings and FanDuel have props up on a couple dozen players' home-run totals. With each site taking different bets, they've moved their numbers differently, and with a day to go before the season begins, gaps have emerged.
At DraftKings, for example, Matt Olson is lined at 35.5 home runs. at FanDuel, he is lined at 32.5. If you bet the under at DraftKings, and the over at FanDuel, you would be risking the vig only. If Olson hits more than 35 or fewer than 33 home runs, you lose one bet and win the other. If he hits 33, 34, or 35 home runs, you win both bets.
It's not a perfect freeroll. You're laying -120 on the first bet and -113 on the second, so you're risking up to $20 to win $200 on a three-homer range.
You can find these mismatches all over the landscape if you have the time and bankroll for it, and in advance of the 2024 season, we'll try to do so. For today, with time an issue, here are the four players for whom DraftKings and FanDuel are at least three homers apart:
Player DK FD Effective Bet
Julio Rodriguez 30.5 (-120) 27.5 (-113) $20 to win $200
Matt Olson 35.5 (-120) 32.5 (-113) $20 to win $200
Rafael Devers 31.5 (-120) 28.5 (-113) $20 to win $200
Shohei Ohtani 35.5 (-120) 32.5 (-120) $20 to win $200
The above tactic is middling, where you are looking to land in between two numbers and make about 10-to-1 on your bet without much risk. Another popular tactic is scalping, where you find opposite sides of a bet where the odds are different enough to guarantee a profit no matter the outcome. This is not easy to do given how much vig the legal U.S. operators charge. It does appear that Circa, which is the current leader in the sports-betting market, has -105 lines on baseball, so if you're in Nevada, Colorado, or Iowa, go crazy.
Looking over Thursday's Opening Day slate, I can't find a spot to scalp among DK, FD, and Caesars on the game lines or totals, so let me make up an example. With games that are nearly toss-ups, you might be able to find plus-money on both teams. The Blue Jays could be +101 over the Yankees at one site, and the Yankees +101 over the Jays at another. $100 bet on each underdog would guarantee a $1 win. It's not the most exciting way to play, but if you can find a guaranteed .5% return every day, you won't need this Newsletter.
Similarly, if less common, a total might be over 8.5 (+105) at one shop, and under 8.5 (+105) at another. There's no outcome that doesn't leave you with $5 more in your pocket. That's a 2.5% return, just for clicking some buttons.
We're not going to be doing a lot of that in this space. This is designed for baseball fans who enjoy betting coverage, rather than the pros with the time, tech, and bankroll to exploit half-percent edges all day long. If I were 22 years old, though...
Thursday is Opening Day, a rare Thursday with 15 games scheduled. While 15-game weekday slates will usually be where the Gaming newsletter eats, you won't hear from me in this feed until possibly Monday, as I work on the rest of the Season Preview and then sleep for 76 hours once it's done. Enjoy the 12 hours of ballgames!
Sheehan Newsletter Gaming is a subscription product of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, which has been covering baseball since 2010. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus who has written for everyone this side of Cat Fancy since 1996. You can subscribe to the newsletter for one year for $79.95 using your PayPal account or major credit card.