The 2023 MLB season begins on Thursday, and considering all the new baseball rule changes that will likely increase offensive production, prop bettors are in a very advantageous position early in the season.
Whether you’re an everyday player prop bettor or a recreational wagerer looking for MLB prop betting tips, simplifying the handicapping process and knowing what to look for (and what not to waste your time on) is critical.
I’m introducing a very practical checklist of things bettors should be looking at when it comes to getting down on MLB player props. Information is always key and we shouldn’t limit ourselves to this list, but with so much to look at, this is a very simple process for analyzing what can be a very overwhelming process with all of the markets.
I’ll be breaking down the process into five areas with the acronym MOPPS: Matchup, Opportunity, Production, Price, and Setting.
We’re looking at the opposing matchup to our prop bet, so:
- For offensive props: Doing our homework on the opposing pitcher, as well as the bullpen.
- For pitching props: The entire opposing lineup.
The starting pitcher matchup is certainly priced into the odds of props (hits, total bases, runs, etc.) but not so much with the bullpen. If bettors know that the opposing reliever group is injured, overworked, or just a weak unit altogether — and a batter might see two (or possibly three) at-bats against those lesser arms, there might be more value in the given MLB odds.
Earlier in the season, with pitch limits being a thing as starters continue to fully stretch out, batters could easily see the majority of their ABs vs. the opposing bullpen, so the best time for bettors to take advantage of some weaker bullpens in betting offensive props is in April.
FanGraphs has the best bullpen depth chart and one prop bettors should get familiar with. Relievers don’t usually pitch on three straight days, or after a big outing, so knowing who is available in relief is also very important.
When betting pitcher props, knowing the opposing lineup critical as any day off for a regular hitter is an edge for the pitcher. The overall handedness of the lineup (e.g. is it righty-heavy or mostly left-handed hitters) is also important, especially with pitchers who struggle vs. hitters of the opposite side of the plate.
Team strikeout rates are great to look at for K props... but those are priced in. What might not be, however, is how many pitches teams take per at-bat, as a team that sees a lot of pitches is great a driving up pitch counts — and creating fewer batters for the pitcher to face.
Batting lineups are usually released an hour before game time and there is a small window where bettors can beat the books to certain markets if there are some significant lineup changes.
With the new rule changes, stolen base props will be a popular prop played this season. When we apply the matchup criteria to this market, we want to see how many stolen bases are given up by the pitcher and the success rate of the catcher in throwing out runners. In my opinion, looking at the stolen-base matchup is more important than the independent production of the runner. Big value can be found in handicapping SBs this way.
Most SP stolen bases against in 2022
*Fedde currently plays in the KBO, Minor is currently a free agent
There are many ways to look at the opposing matchup in baseball player props, and not all of them are stat driven. The best value is always finding what’s not priced into the lines and with player props, that sometimes means looking at the matchup a little differently than the people projecting the odds.
On the metric side of things, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant have everything you need to develop a better and more accurate matchup rating when it comes to individual player matchups.
They say the best ability is availability and that holds true in MLB prop betting.
Opportunity isn’t just getting into the lineup; for hitters, it’s all about getting to the plate as much as possible.
More plate appearances mean more chances at production and that’s the easiest thing bettors can project with a little leg work. If you can find out that a batter is moving up the lineup before the books adjust his prop lines/prices you’ll be sitting with a play that holds plus expected value (+EV) as the prices to these props are based heavily on PAs.
For example, if a guy that regularly bats No. 8 in the order suddenly moves to the second spot in a lineup, that could mean 25% more at-bats.
The easiest way bettors can take advantage of this small edge is with platoon players. There are plenty of left-handed-hitting batters that play mostly vs. right-handed pitching and vice versa. These platoon players might hit near the top of the order one day and at the bottom the next, depending on the opposing SP. These usually aren’t big-name players either, meaning less efficient markets.
FanGraphs again is a fantastic resource here, with their projected lineups vs. LHP and RHP pitching.
“Opportunity is one of the most important (but perhaps one of the most overlooked) aspects of being a successful prop bettor,” says Derek Carty, creator of THE BAT X, one of the industry's premier daily projections for MLB outputs. “So often people put most of their focus on talent without considering an opportunity. Sure, talent is more fun to evaluate, but maybe it’s with a rookie and that rookie's team is going to hold him to 80 pitches, which will make it hard to reach an aggressively priced prop.”
Carty says that you have to consider everything, but notes that a strong pitch count (or plate appearance, for hitters) projection will often highlight an inefficiency in the market.
With pitching props, opportunity means pitch counts and if you can project how many pitches a starter is going to have, you will be staring down closing line value more often than not. Sometimes this information is made public by managers and beat writers: Actively search it out — especially early in the season when pitch limits are the norm.
In baseball, the opportunity is simple: The more guys play in a given game... the better.
Production can be one of the hardest parts of prop betting and where bettors can get into trouble sometimes.
We, as bettors, have issues with looking at small sample sizes and projecting results off that. Perspective is always important and matchups are valuable, but there’s a reason books very seldom change pricing on props based on the production over small sample sizes.
It’s an issue with prop bettors not just in baseball, but all sports.
“I don’t originate in baseball props, but you can find overreactions [from bettors] off of short sample sizes, such as this player went Over four games in a row,” explains Hitman, a professional bettor who makes his living betting NFL props. “Each game is a unique circumstance and matchups/injuries change. In the NFL, a second-string receiver could go Over his total four games in a row... but maybe it’s with a backup quarterback who targets him more than the starter.”
The lesson here is, to step back from small sample sizes and look at the production (or lack thereof) prospectively:
- How was the output generated?
- Was it with unique situations?
- Is it repeatable at this rate?
- Is the output directly related to an opportunity adjustment, rather than what you believe to be a mispriced line?
It’s a long season: Don’t overreact to small sample sizes — the books don’t and there’s usually a reason for that.
Pricing can be categorized in a couple of ways with baseball prop betting.
It can be viewed in markets with long odds, such as home runs and stolen bases, static totals that fluctuate in price, like total bases and hits, or it can be on cumulative markets such as innings pitched and total strikeouts.
With the explosion of prop betting over the last five years, books like DraftKings, FanDuel, and bet365 are offering more prop markets than ever and that could be in bettors’ favor, especially early and with lower-stake wagerers.
“Sportsbooks are at a disadvantage when setting props because there are so many options they must make lines for,” says professional handicapper Adam Chernoff. “That is why the limits for betting props are lower than full games. But because of the options, bettors can make it easy on themselves by researching what coaches, players, and team reporters have to say in press conferences."
"Follow the teams, learn the tendencies, and watch for the quotes that stand out — and bet on that.”
As Adam alluded to, nothing is more important than information. Any bettor can beat the books to pertinent info that can influence the odds.
We can also help our cases by learning what the odds are implying — especially with cumulative markets like strikeouts and innings pitched, where you can use those numbers against your own possible projections.
For example, if Pitcher A is paying -140 on his Over 4.5 strikeouts, that’s implying roughly 4.61 strikeouts. We get that number by knowing the book is offering -120 per side (some books have better margins) and that -120 is implying a 50% chance of winning (so exactly 4.5 strikeouts).
Then we adjust off of that baseline: If you’re expecting a higher pitch count, and therefore output in the range of 5.00 Ks, you’ve generated a projected price of around -210.
In baseball prop betting, the more you can compare your projected numbers and odds against the books, the better off you’ll be. But always try to quantify production and not just bet on a great matchup — because all of that will be priced in.
Our goal as bettors is to always get ahead of the market and find what isn’t priced into a line.
Weather and park factors are some of the best edges the betting public can use to their advantage... and some of the easiest information we can find.
The wind is always a huge factor and double-digit winds can certainly drive totals up (or down) a full run, but humidity and weather are also very important factors to consider — especially early in the season.
“I always push the impact of park and weather to the fore, in particular at the beginning of the season in cold weather environments,” answers John Laghezza, MLB writer for The Athletic and baseball fantasy savant, when asked how much weight he puts into environmental factors when looking at single-game production.
Here are some simple truths in terms of weather:
- Cold weather suppresses hitting. Over the last six seasons, the league average OPS is 0.712 in April, or 30 points lower than the league average in August.
- High humidity helps the ball carry further. Humidity actually makes the air less dense and should be tracked just as much as temperature.
- Winds blowing in might be the least priced-in form of weather adjustment by books and has been profitable with the Under in nearly every season over the last 15 years.
- Ideal hitting conditions are high heat and high humidity with the wind blowing out.
- The least optimal hitting conditions are low temperatures, low humidity, and winds blowing in.
Bettors should also familiarize themselves with the new park changes heading into the season. Some parks have moved fences back/up or changed the heights of the boundaries. Last year, Camden Yards went from arguably the best home run park to the Bottom 5, thanks to adjustments to the fences.
Where the games are played is of equal importance when projecting outputs in baseball. Also, don’t be afraid to use those park factors and apply them to pitching markets, as well.
“The most undervalued part of matchups to me is easily the hitting environment,” continues Laghezza. “As important as it is to identify which hitters will barrel, I want to make sure those barrels occur in optimal hitting environments."
"For example, more than 60% of all barrels in Cincinnati went for home runs in 2022 as opposed to Detroit, where that number was all the way down to 34.8%."
The setting of a game is one of the more overlooked aspects of baseball handicapping for newer bettors but, as you see, is one of the most important factors in daily baseball projections. A great resource for updated park factors is available from Fantasy Pros.
Everyone has a different handicapping process. It will never be an exact science but there are some simple things that new — and even veteran — bettors can do to hopefully leave themselves with the better number before first pitch.
How you weigh each criterion into your handicap is ultimately up to you, but make sure you're weighing the right things, what’s important, and what might not be priced into the odds. Information is key in prop betting and markets are reactionary. Be the one to move the line.