Major League Baseball betting - specifically Over/Under betting - could see a shift in results compared to recent years with news that MLB is modifying the ball heading into the 2021 season.
According to a story by The Athletic, the baseball’s construction will be altered slightly in essence to deaden the ball. That has savvy MLB total bettors on high alert after watching record numbers of home runs the past two seasons.
Will deadening the ball result in the dip in dingers that MLB is looking for and in turn drop scoring slightly, creating a boon in Unders?
We dig into some MLB betting stats and talk to oddsmakers about how this could factor into betting baseball totals in 2021.
Betting the old ball
Major League Baseball won't admit that they juiced the old ball (rather pointing to inconsistent seams), but the proof is in the pudding... or the pop.
Starting in 2016 there was a spike in home runs like never before. Prior to 2016, there had been only one season in Major League history with a home run rate of 1.15 (average HR hit by teams per game) or higher. It has happened every year since 2016, peaking in 2019 at 1.39.
In short, the Top 4 dinger-friendly seasons in baseball history have been in four of the last five years, and 2020 was on pace to make it five of six.
Those big flys boosted scoring in that span, with MLB games seeing an average of 8.96 total runs per game in 2016 and jumping to 9.3 combined runs per contest in 2020 - an average of 9.224 runs per game in that five-year stretch compared to just 8.436 collective runs an outing in the five years prior (2011-2015).
So did all those extra home runs produce a windfall for MLB Over bettors?
The short answer is no. Sportsbooks are incredibly good at setting MLB totals and while there may have been surges of scoring and Over results, those were promptly snuffed out as books adjusted their data. The Over/Under numbers are typically set late the night before or early the day before games, so books are able to adjust to ebbs and flows quite rapidly.
In fact, despite the explosion of home runs the Under has been a slightly better bet in baseball, cashing 50.7 percent of the time since 2016 with just 11 teams returning money on the Over during that span.
Betting the new ball
In early laboratory tests, the new "dead" ball is said to travel one to two feet shorter when hit over 375 feet, according to MLB which is changing the core and the weight (2.8 grams less) of the 2021 version of the Rawlings ball. So just how much is that one or two feet less going to influence the way sportsbooks set MLB Over/Under totals?
Phil Gray, head of trading operations at Canadian-based sportsbook Sports Interaction, says baseball fans shouldn't expect any sort of knee-jerk reaction from oddsmakers on MLB totals anytime soon.
“Certainly, we would need to some historical data, I would think, before you’d see any major change,” Gray told Covers. “I would like to see at least a full season of data at the minimum.”
According to Gray, baseball odds, more than any other sport, move on early action. MLB totals generally move early in the morning when they get bet into by the statistic-based bettors, whose opinions are held in high regard by bookmakers. That obviously makes MLB totals a very fluid market.
Home run futures
One place MLB bettors might want to take a look at is the preseason player prop markets, particularly individual player home run totals.
According to The Athletic report, changes to the ball could result in a five percent dip in home runs in 2021 and will be like, “adding five feet of outfield walls to every wall in the big leagues.”
With no historical data for books or bettors to go on, this change could open up value on taking the Under when it comes to home run totals for the majors' biggest bats.
Effect on pitchers
While home runs are way up since 2016, it needs to be noted that hitting mentalities have drastically shifted in Major League Baseball and that's also led to an uptick in strikeouts for opposing pitchers.
The "swing for the fences" mentality is more prevalent than ever, and because of that there were new highs in strikeout rate (SO per team per game) every year from 2008 to 2019. The 2020 MLB campaign boasted a strikeout rate of 8.68 per game - the second-highest mark in baseball history, down from a peak of 8.81 in 2019.
The biggest change to the new 2021 ball that could impact pitchers is the decrease in weight while keeping the ball the same size. This could decrease a pitcher's velocity, although MLB believes otherwise.
The use of humidors, which prevents the balls from drying out and becoming harder, in select ballparks may also play a role in pitcher/ball performance this upcoming schedule. There are five teams currently using humidors to store baseballs (Colorado, Arizona, Seattle, Boston, and the New York Mets) and five more will start in 2021 (those teams were not disclosed).
If the new ball does have a noticeable impact on scoring - and therefore MLB totals - early in the spring, baseball bettors will want to be quick to react to that shift, as bookies will be just as swift to adjust their Over/Under numbers. As always, no matter the make of the ball, betting the best number is the smartest approach to totals.
“If you do like totals though, whatever side, get them very early," says Gray.
Where Can I Bet on MLB?
You can bet on MLB odds at many online and casino sportsbooks, including MLB moneylines, run lines, Over/Under totals, and prop bets. Head over to our best-suggested sportsbooks for the top spots to bet on MLB odds in your area.