Sports Betting

On-base percentage is a key stat to consider when betting on MLB. Here’s why.

In Major League Baseball, team on-base percentage is arguably the single best indicator for evaluating offense. You can’t score runs by making outs!

Analytics has always emphasized this stat (or more intense variations that incorporate all the different ways a hitter can get on base). Though fans love the long ball, there’s historically a better correlation between on-base percentage and run production than there is for slugging percentage. Baserunners are required fuel for a run-scoring engine.

It naturally follows that bettors should study this stat if they want to make smart bets. Too many baseball bettors fall into the trap of trying to bet who’s hot or fade who’s cold, while hoping to catch a streak along the way. Focus on skill sets, not imaginary team “temperatures.”

Among the offensive benefits of a high on-base percentage…

Hitting stats improve with runners on base. Opposing defenses must use their first baseman to hold any runner on first, creating more space for batted balls to sneak through the infield. Some pitchers implode with multiple runners on. So far in 2019, Major League batting averages are about 10 points higher with runners on than with the bases empty, while on-base percentages are about 20 points higher. In short, getting on base makes it easier for the next guy to also get on base.

Pitch counts for opposing hurlers rise more quickly when hitters are working counts to draw walks or otherwise cause trouble. The sooner you knock a starting pitcher out of the game, the sooner you get to face typically more vulnerable middle relievers.

With home runs flying out of ballparks at breakneck pace in 2019, any walk or hit in front of a dinger magnifies its value. It’s easier to win games with two-run and three-run homers than it is with solo shots.

Many statistical websites allow you to monitor team and individual player on-base percentages on a daily basis. Whenever an offensive star has to sit for an injury or rest, spend some time comparing his on-base percentage to that of his replacement. You might notice something important that the market is missing.

No single betting strategy will work all the time in any sport. But, these are good rules of thumb for baseball bettors…

Bet on offenses with high on-base percentages, particularly against vulnerable pitchers. They will give you a chance to win big. They’ll also give you a chance to rally from behind against poor bullpens.

Fade teams with low on-base percentages, particularly against elite pitchers. These teams will struggle to put runs on the board, and will be bullied by contenders with elite rotations and bullpens.

Look at Overs whenever two teams with high on-base percentages are facing each other, particularly in good hitters’ parks if the starting pitchers aren’t aces. The market can have problems pricing “cocktails” where many influences align.

Look at Unders whenever two teams with poor on-base percentages are facing each other, particularly in good pitchers’ parks.

Don’t worry about “hot” or “cold” teams. Learn the difference between good and bad offenses.

Other Notes

Top contenders to win the World Series will be featured twice on national TV this weekend in head-to-head action. Be sure to watch the Cleveland Indians visit the Houston Astros in possible playoff previews (Saturday, FS1, 3 p.m., and Sunday, ESPN, 6 p.m.).

Houston enters the weekend atop the MLB futures board globally (priced around 5/2 to win the American League, 5/1 to win the World Series). Cleveland is a longer shot (commonly 6/1 to win the AL, 14/1 to win the World Series). Even if you don’t bet those games, scout them for future betting possibilities.

Another TV attraction, the surprising New York Mets host the Milwaukee Brewers (Saturday, FS1, 6 p.m.).

A basketball follow-up…Thursday, VSiN discussed NBA championship hopes for the Milwaukee Bucks. When Game One of their second round series with the Boston Celtics (Sunday, ABC, noon) went on the board, the Bucks were a sturdy 8-point favorite. That’s a lot of respect for such a young team.

That number suggests games in Boston will be near pick-em. Should Milwaukee advance, it would likely be home court favorites of at least -4 vs. Toronto, or -6 vs. Philadelphia.

The Raptors and Sixers open their second round series Saturday. Toronto went on the board globally as a favorite of -5.5 points. The Sixers will be short favorites in Philadelphia.

Jeff Fogle writes the daily VSiN newsletter. Sign up at