Throughout the 2019 season, and with the expansion of legal sports betting in the United States, we will check in on some Rays-centric betting tips for upcoming games and series, and look at bigger trends in the sports betting world, writ large.
I must emphasize that this column is most meant for fun. I am by no means an expert, and if you know anyone who has a gambling problem, please contact Gamblers Anonymous. Never bet more than you can afford, and sports betting isn’t for everyone.
However, for those who are excited to sports bet responsibly, hopefully we’ll give you some good tips and tricks every couple weeks. Here’s the introduction to the series.
In the “Opener” of our series, we looked at the large-scale movements of the sports gambling scene, and today we’ll try to help with some terminology, some mechanics, and also give out a hopeful winner at the very end.
One of the most intimidating parts of getting into sports betting is that it can often feel as though there is an entirely new language to learn. It’s not really that bad, though. Based on what sort of background knowledge you’re coming in with, 5-10 key terms can set you well on your way to making some entry-level sports bets.
First off, while I will define some of those terms in just a second, I would suggest that if you’re interested in fully learning the language of sports betting, start listening to some sports betting podcasts. Like any language, hearing the words, in context, over and over, is the best way to learn. Bang the Book has an excellent baseball-centric sports betting podcast that comes out a couple times a week, and SportsMemo does at least one baseball-centric episode a week. Against All Odds doesn’t cover baseball quite as regularly, but a lot of sports betting terms apply across sports, and Against All Odds is one of the more popular sports betting podcasts (I’m not as much of a fan because of the perpetual anti-PC rants the hosts go on, but that might be right up your alley!).
Now that you’ve gone and downloaded those podcasts (I assume), let’s do some brief vocab work:
Sportsbook: The company through which you make your sports bets, i.e. DraftKings, PointsBet, or FanDuel. There are tons and tons of them out there, and it’s best to at least glance through them before placing a bet to make sure you have the best possible odds.
Odds: General term referring to the point spread or moneyline figures set by the sportsbook that will determine how much money you will collect if your bet is a winner.
Moneyline: A bet that simply involves picking the winner of the game. When looking at a moneyline ticket (a potential bet), the odds will look like this (here’s Tuesday night’s Rays-Yankees game):
Tampa Bay Rays (+130) @ New York Yankees (-150)
Somewhat counter-intuitively, a plus sign behind a team’s name means they are the underdog, while a minus sign means they are the favorite. What the numbers end up doing is determining how much you will collect on a potential bet. Say you want to bet $1 that the Rays will win tonight’s game. If the Rays lose, you simply lose your dollar; however, if the Rays win, you get your dollar back, plus you get $1.30, for a total of $2.30. That number comes from the +130 odds that the Rays got. The math there is simple.
It gets a little trickier with favorites. Say you want to actually bet the Yankees to win tonight (an emotional hedge, so to speak). If you put $1 on the Yankees, and they end up winning, you get your dollar back again, but you only win $0.67 for a total of $1.67, because of the -150 odds. (The math is a lot trickier here, but there are plenty of betting calculators online, and every sportsbook will show you your potential winnings before you submit your bet anyway.)
Point Spread: This is the other most popular kind of bet. It relies on the predicted margin of victory set by sportsbook before you place your bet. In baseball, the point spread is almost always 1.5 runs (in football, there is far more variance because of the higher score). One team will be favored by 1.5 runs, with a +/- number following showing the payout for a bet on that side. For example, in Tuesday night’s road game against the Yankees, New York is favored, so the point spread looks as such:
Tampa Bay Rays (+1.5 -160) @ New York Yankees (-1.5 +135)
The -1.5 after the Yankees name means that in order to win that point spread bet, not only do the Yankees need to win, but they need to win by more than 1.5 runs. On the flip side, if you bet the Rays, that bet will collect if the Rays win, or if they lose by just one run, because that will mean the Yankees didn’t cover that 1.5 run spread that was set for this bet.
The “-160” and “+135” after the point spread function in the same way as our moneyline odds. a +135 bet will pay $1.35 on $1, while a -160 bet will pay just $0.63 on $1.
Over/under: For baseball games, this is the total set by the sportsbook for runs in the game. Oftentimes, this figure will range from about 6.5 (perhaps a Madison Bumgarner-Clayton Kershaw matchup in the Bay) to 11.5 (a pair of nobodys starting in Coors Field). This bet is straight forward, it will look like this:
Tampa Bay Rays @ New York Yankees O10 (-109) U10 (-112)
The “O” means you think the two teams will score more than 10 runs combined in the game; the “U” means you think the two teams will score less than 10 runs combined in the game. For over/unders, if the run total lands exactly on the set line, it’s a push, you get your money back. The -109 and -112 function in the same way we have noted throughout this article.
Vig/Juice: This may be one step past what an entry level sports bettors needs to know, but I want to bring it up for two reasons. First, any eagle-eyed readers out there will notice that in both of our examples, if you bet both the favorite and the underdogs, you would not net out at a $0 profit/loss. That’s because the sportsbooks have a built in commission that they take off each bet. Typically it is around 10% (this is why “even odds” are actually often -110, not +100), and it’s why sports betting is such a dangerous game to play. Not only do you have to win more often than not (which is difficult enough given the coin flip nature of sports), but you have to win enough to top that commission that the sportsbooks are taking. It’s just another example of why potential sports bettors need to be extra careful not to get in over their head, and it is likely best treated as a fun way to spend a couple bucks.
With that in mind, let’s give you a few ways to spend a couple bucks for Tuesday night’s Rays-Yankees game.
This Week in Rays Betting
In the introductory article, the pick I handed out was: Rays +270 to win the first inning. Alas, the Rays were held off the board, before winning the second inning. Decent process, bad result. 0-1-0 on the season now.
For Tuesday, I’m suggesting: Tampa Bay Rays @ New York Yankees Under 10 (-112)
The Rays offense against lefties is below league-average (98 wRC+), and it has floundered particularly of late, with the Angels series really highlighting the need for a right-handed power bat in the Rays lineup.
On the flip side of things, the Rays will give the ball to Ryne Stanek to open, and he’s been amazing in that role, with a 1.71 ERA over 31.2 innings as an Opener this season. After that, they will hand off to Ryan Yarbrough, who has looked like a new man since his demotion to Triple-A. In 31.2 innings of his own since making it back to the bigs, he has a 4.26 ERA that is far more in line with his overall season FIP/xFIP (4.25/4.51) than the ugly 8.10 ERA he had before being sent down.
The Yankee lineup is a scary one, but Yarbrough has been outstanding at limiting hard contact, with an average exit velocity allowed of 84.8 mph, second-best in all of baseball among pitchers with as many balls in play. Limiting hard contact against a lineup like the Yankees in a venue like Yankee Stadium is essential.
Both bullpens should be fresh, as well, with the Rays using only Jake Faria and Adam Kolarek on Monday (neither are currently big weapons for the Rays), while Masahiro Tanaka gave the Yankees pen an entire day off thanks to the complete game shutout in the first game of the series. Given the overall strength of each bullpen, even if Happ and Yarbs are a bit shaky, those last few innings should see plenty of zeros.
When it comes to betting the over on run totals, I like to make sure that I see the official lineup before placing the bet, because there could be a big bat missing in the lineup. When I’m betting an under that I am confident about, however, I will place the bet earlier because there’s no “extra” bat that can magically appear in the lineup, but if there is a big bat missing, there’s the potential for the line to shift, maybe even dropping to 9.5 or just getting worse odds overall.
It’s a good sign for the under today that some books have the line at 9.5 instead of 10, so I’ll be grabbing that 10 number while I still can (DraftKings has 10; Points Bet has 9.5; FanDuel hasn’t released a line yet).