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Five Innings Sports Betting Strategy (MLB)

by January 14, 2020
Jacob deGrom

The sport of baseball has been heavily scrutinized in recent years. Home run rates are astronomically high, yet so are strikeout rates. Starting pitching is seemingly devalued in the age of the bullpen and specialized relievers. Sign stealing has potentially clouded the purity of the game. Also, year after year there seems to be talk of implementing rules to aid in speeding the game up. This last point may be the biggest cause of bettors not willing to bet on baseball. If the games are too long, some are reluctant to watch a four-hour game just to see if their bet cashes. 

For those bettors looking for other options, we offer a look at the Five Innings Bet. Thus, we will focus on how to strategize for profit potential when betting on five innings outcomes in baseball.

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Five Innings Bet Strategy

Just like the other major sports, oddsmakers will offer money lines in baseball. This is where a bettor would choose which side they believe will win the game outright. In addition, there are full game over/unders as well as a myriad of props one can wager on. A Five Innings Bet will have many of the same choices that a full game bet would have. The exception is these bets culminate after five innings, as opposed to having to wait for the full nine. 

Here are some tips to think about when making a five innings wager, as well as advantages for betting on a shortened game.

Take Bullpens out of the Equation

Millions of bettors have experienced the frustration of losing a bet on a team that was winning, only to see the bullpen blow a late lead. In today’s day and age of baseball, starting pitchers are working deep into the game less and less. This a result of managers eschewing their starter for a bevy of high-powered arms in the bullpen. Certain starting pitchers like Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, and Stephen Strasburg are seen as the “workhorses” of their staff. However, deGrom, Scherzer, and Strasburg all averaged 6.4, 6.4, and 6.3 innings pitched per game respectively. That means each of their bullpens are responsible for an average of at least six outs in their starts. 

In wagering on a five-inning line, this typically takes the bullpens away from factoring into the game. In a case like Jacob deGrom’s Cy Young campaign, he made 32 starts in 2019. He failed to last through five innings in just two of these starts. Thus, if a bettor wagered on the five-inning line in deGrom’s starts, it was deGrom’s pitching ability they were betting on for the most part, not some relievers that they did not account for. 

Further stats about deGrom’s starts reveal more telling information. In 204 innings, he allowed just 59 runs. In 81 innings in relief of his starts, the Mets bullpen allowed 77 runs. Thus, whether one bet on Jacob deGrom in five innings lines or against him, at least a bettor in theory would be able to more accurately assess what would take place. This is opposed to the randomness of a bullpen who allowed more runs than deGrom in 40% of the innings.

Another quick example is that of the Washington Nationals. The Nationals starting pitchers as a whole had a 3.53 ERA during the regular season. Their bullpen was historically bad, averaging a 5.66 ERA amongst all relievers. Bettors who do their research on the disparities in ERA between starting pitchers and relievers can find big advantages in terms of betting five-inning lines as opposed to full games.   

In general, bettors would be wise to remember this general rule: starting pitching is usually better than relief pitching. This makes sense, considering starters are asked to get the majority of the outs in a game. The best bullpen ERA from any team in 2019 was 3.66 (Tampa Bay Rays). That ERA would rank just fifth compared to the ERA of all starting staffs.

Look for Disparities in Odds Between Five-Inning Lines and Full Game Lines

Typically, the money line odds for a team to win the full game vs. winning the first five innings are not vastly different. For example, if the New York Mets were -200 to win a game that deGrom was starting, they may be anywhere from -190 to -240 to win the first five innings. Thus, bettors could take into account statistics like bullpen ERA vs. that of the starting pitcher. Or, one could find value in looking at a pitcher’s numbers and how they differ the second or third time through the lineup.

In most cases, the over/under on a five-inning line is half of what the full game total is. Therefore, a game that had an over/under of eight would have a five-inning over/under of four. If bullpens are taken out of the equation, there is potentially big value on one side or the other of the total. In addition, if a home team is winning a game after the top of the 9th inning, there is no need for them to bat in the bottom half. Thus, that is three fewer outs from which to potentially score runs. Bettors should be aware that this idea would never factor into a five-inning line, as both teams would bat for an equal amount of outs.

Analyze First Inning ERA’s of Pitchers and Early Game Run-Prevention

A popular prop offered in most baseball games is will there or won’t there be a run scored in the first inning. Because of this, the ERA’s of pitchers in the first inning has become a prominent statistic. There are certain pitchers who do not start games well. Maybe as a visiting pitcher it takes them time to adjust to the mound. Whatever the reason, with research there is a clear delineation of some pitchers of what parts of the game do they perform their best or worst. As a five innings bettor, if one found that a pitcher tends to struggle in the first inning, the over on a five innings play would present value especially if the total was half of what the full game line was set at.

Through different seasons, there are often interesting studies revealed on run-scoring and run prevention. For example, Fangraphs produced a study in July of last season analyzing the trends of first-inning and early-game scoring. There were interesting findings, such as the Dodgers were third in overall run prevention, but ranked just 19th in first inning run-prevention. Other studies like the Washington Post published in 2017 took a look at all 377,340 baseball games played up to that point and looked for trends in run-scoring. They found that the first inning is the most likely inning for a run to be scored. More recently, the likelihood of runs being scored in the eighth and ninth innings has dropped considerably. This is likely a function of the new age of baseball and an abundance of specialized closers. 

In a five-inning bet, the first inning accounts for just 20% of the betting action. However, these are important trends as the first inning could dictate how the rest of the five innings plays out.

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Mike Spector is a featured writer at BettingPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeSpector01.

Baseball, Strategy