MLB odds: How did oddsmakers adjust to unprecedented 60-game baseball season?

Frank Schwab
·4 min read

For anyone who has been anxious to bet on American team sports again, one tweet by BetMGM this week was a beautiful sight.

If there are no cancelations beforehand, Major League Baseball will open up July 23. The NHL and NBA will restart about a week later.

Sportsbooks were just as happy as bettors to post numbers on familiar games like MLB and NBA.

“It was nice for us to post something that wasn’t overseas soccer or Russian ping-pong players,” said Jeff Stoneback, director of trading operations for MGM Resorts International.

Now that Major League Baseball has set plans for a 60-game season, BetMGM had to repost its future bets including season win totals. There were more factors than ever before.

How were MLB win totals set?

The changes in win totals started somewhere obvious: dividing the initial win totals set this past winter by 2.7. That’s the ratio going from a 162-game season to 60.

For most teams, there wasn’t much more adjustment. The Washington Nationals’ win total in March was 89.5. Divide that by 2.7 and you get a little more than 33; the Nationals’ current win total at BetMGM is 33.5. But it also allowed the sportsbooks a mulligan of sorts, to reevaluate lines that got a majority of action on one side.

“We could see how teams were perceived,” Stoneback said. “If you got a lot of money on the Cardinals, you might jump up the Cardinals a bit. In a way, you knew what the public would do.”

But the truth is, it’s a big challenge for oddsmakers to factor in all the variables. All of this is a first for them too. Schedules will be a big deal with teams only facing opponents within their division or the same geographic division in the other league. A team like the Miami Marlins will play a very tough schedule, facing good teams from the NL East and AL East. Stoneback brought up the example of his favorite team, the Seattle Mariners, who went 1-18 against the Houston Astros last season.

“They get to play the Astros a much higher percentage of the time this season,” Stoneback said. “That’s another factor, who they’re playing.”

Still, MLB win totals didn’t deviate much from the original line adjusted for a 60-game schedule. Maybe that means an advantage for bettors, because 60 games should produce some odd results. Those who can figure out which teams will be affected for better or worse could have a nice edge.

The last game that counted for MLB was last October, when the Nationals beat the Astros in Game 7 of the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
The last game that counted for MLB was last October, when the Nationals beat the Astros in Game 7 of the World Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Many variables in play for MLB bets

While injuries are always a factor in future bets, it seems like a bigger consideration this season because positive tests for coronavirus will force players out of the lineup.

Already some MLB players are opting out of the season, like Colorado Rockies outfielder Ian Desmond and Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. Whether it is win totals, championship futures or individual player awards, future bets will be at the whims of a virus.

“It’s not normal,” Stoneback said. “You’re always gambling but you’re really gambling on whether you’ll have the same team you bet on.”

Aside from all the other factors, simply reducing the season to 60 games could produce unexpected results. The San Diego Padres might have very little chance to win the NL West in a normal season, but perhaps they get hot for a month and upset the Los Angeles Dodgers in a short season. Sportsbooks are already expecting some random results.

“Oh yeah, definitely,” Stoneback said. “Baseball is a very streaky sport. You have a 6, 7, 8-game losing streak, that’s huge in a 60-game season.”

At least baseball fans can look over lines and dream about hitting the Los Angeles Dodgers to win the World Series at +350, Pete Alonso to lead MLB in homers at +1000 or the Houston Astros to go under 34.5 wins. But all the win totals come with an important disclaimer during these uncertain days: Must play 60 regular-season games for action.