How has COVID-19 Affected MLB Betting Trends?

How has COVID-19 Affected MLB Betting Trends?
Image by skeeze from Pixabay

Thanks to the huge shadow cast by the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 MLB season has been like no other in the league’s history. The standard 162-game season has been reduced to 60, teams are only playing local opponents to reduce travel, a whole host of new rules have been introduced, and games are being played without crowds.

All of this has culminated in perhaps the strangest MLB season ever, which has in turn impacted the way bettors wager on the sport. As we reach the halfway point of the season, we take a look at some of the main betting trends to have emerged so far.

Reduced hits encourage betting the under

This season’s unusually low BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of.276 — down from .298 in 2019 — has hugely altered where the money lies in baseball betting. For reference, the standard BABIP is around 300, and never fell below .293 between 1993 and 2019. Runs per game (4.51) have also dropped by over 0.3 since last year.

There have been several theories explaining these figures, one being that the suspension of spring training, in addition to a long hiatus and short summer camp, has left batters “ill-prepared to time big league pitching”. Another is that the performance of fielders has improved due to “reduced distraction” in the absence of fans. All in all, this has made betting the under a particularly enticing prospect. As noted by Sports Intel: “Over/unders are calculated on the number of runs scored by both teams in a contest” with bettors then wagering on whether the final score will have a higher or lower number of runs than this figure. With batters struggling to acclimatize to the return of baseball, betting on a lower total seems to have been the way to go in the season to date.

The Tigers and the Orioles prove profitable

The Tigers and the Orioles were two of the worst teams in the 2019 season, with the AL East and Central sides finishing bottom of their leagues. Yet, the 2020 season has seen them upset all the odds, with both now in with a chance at an exciting playoff race, thanks to the increased number of postseason spots available, the allocation having expanded from 10 to 16 teams. The Tigers and the Orioles are the only teams outside the postseason positions who are within three games of reaching that status.

Both have recorded impressive results this season, like the Tigers’ demolition of the Pittsburgh Pirates (hitting four home runs in the first inning for the first time since 1974), and the Orioles’ six-game winning streak. This impressive upturn has made both teams profitable from a betting point of view. Neither were backed by bookmakers at the start of the season, and had long odds for winning games and reaching the playoffs — according to CBS Sports, the Tigers and the Orioles were given a 2.1% and 0.9% chance of qualifying for the postseason. As such, anyone that had a flutter on them could be looking at a pretty decent payoff come the end of the regular season. 

Betting has been disrupted by postponed games

The MLB restart has been blighted by a series of postponements. Remarkably, by the 22nd August just five of the 32 days of play passed without a team needing to be quarantined for coronavirus, leading to almost 40 games being postponed. The most significant outbreaks of the virus impacted the Marlins and the Cardinals, who had 20 and 13 team members, respectively, testing positive.

However, this disruption isn’t exclusively down to COVID-19. Various American sports leagues, including the MLB, suspended a number of games in the wake of players conducting a wildcat strike against police brutality and social injustice in the wake of Jacob Blake’s shooting. All of this has led to an unprecedented number of redundant bets, as most sportsbooks require games to be played on their stated date for a wager to stand. That said, the majority of people who’ve made bets on these games have been refunded, but the situation is like nothing the league has ever seen before.