Keys to Betting MLB Spring Training Games
Take the Lines With a Grain of Salt
While live Major League Baseball action is “technically” back this Friday when the Texas Rangers take on the Kansas City Royals and the Seattle Mariners face the San Diego Padres, it’s far from the real stuff. Spring Training — split between the Cactus League in Arizona and Grapefruit League in Florida — is a fun month-plus of low-stakes baseball but it barely resembles regular season games, less so than the preseason contests of any of the other major professional sports do.
That’s why betting on MLB Spring Training games is so difficult. It looks like regular season baseball — you can flip on a random game and likely see a star on the mound or at the plate — and sounds like regular season baseball but, when you dive a little deeper, it couldn’t be further from the real thing. Accordingly, before you jump right into betting on the first American professional baseball games since the Houston Astros beat the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series, it’s important to remember a few key things.
Let’s go through the major points to watch out for:
World Baseball Classic’s Effect On Rosters
This one is unique to 2023 Spring Training. For the first time since 2017, the World Baseball Classic is taking place this spring. It starts on March 8th and will continue until March 21st, right in the middle of Spring Training. While many pitchers — especially those eligible for Team USA — are sitting out of the WBC, there are tons of star position players participating, from Mike Trout and Mookie Betts to Carlos Correa and Manny Machado.
Players that are set to be in the WBC will miss at least two weeks of Spring Training games, leaving some teams — the Mets are a good example, as they’ll be without their entire starting infield — to play undermanned. WBC participation shouldn’t make much of a difference in terms of MLB preseason odds but it will play a huge role in terms of who gets at-bats and innings for certain teams in the spring. Before betting on games in the middle of March, be sure to factor in who is available (and who isn’t).
Home/Road Splits (Especially In Florida)
Usually, home teams have a distinct advantage in regular season MLB games so the fact that home teams have an edge in the spring isn’t too surprising. But, Spring Training — particularly games in the Grapefruit League — take that to a different level. In Florida, where teams may need to bus for an hour or longer to road games, teams like to have lineup and rotation of regulars playing at home when possible. If a starter is going to pitch three innings, teams prefer to have those innings tossed in their home facilities and players like to avoid having to go from West Palm Beach up to Clearwater if possible.
So, when betting on MLB Spring Training, it’s usually a good idea to focus on the home team unless a particularly favorable pitching matchup entices you to take the visitor. Considering that players rarely play the entire game in spring, it’s not a major edge to exploit but it’s something worth considering. You’re typically not going to see the Yankees bring their entire lineup contingent to Lakeland to play the Detroit Tigers at 1:10pm on a Tuesday afternoon.
Days Off, Limited Stint’s and Split Squad Games
The MLB schedule is just as jam-packed in the spring as it is during the regular season with teams mostly playing everyday. Of course, you’re not going to see teams’ regulars play five or six days in a row and, even if they do play a few consecutive games, only expect them to play a couple of innings.
The limited exposure of batters and pitchers in the spring — batters usually won’t get more than two (early on) or three (later in spring) at-bats and starters won’t pitch more than three or four innings maximum — makes it so that a team’s lineup in the 9th inning won’t look like the team’s lineup did in the 1st inning. In for the established Major Leaguers will be Double-A guys just trying to make a good impression, so be ready for the variability that comes with such lineup turnover.
It’s tough to use that to your advantage, per se, but it could be smart to grab any plus-value wherever you can because the idea of a Spring Training “favorite” is a misnomer.
Be Ready For a Tie (And Some Other Weird Stuff)
The final major point to keep in mind when betting on MLB Spring Training is that some critical baseball rules are very different from the regular season. For example, in Spring Training, game endings are somewhat flexible. If a game is tied after nine innings, the respective teams’ managers can just decide to call the game and have it end in a tie or they can mutually agree to keep playing — often if they have extra pitchers who need some work. You won’t see that in the regular season.
Also, because Spring Training is MLB’s exhibition campaign, it’s where the league likes to try out some new rules before incorporating them into the regular season. In 2023, there are a ton of big changes being tried out in the spring. These include the pitch clock — 15 seconds with no one on base and 20 seconds with runners on base — as well as significantly larger bases and limited pickoff attempts for pitchers (which could bump up stolen bases). Baseball’s new shift rules — teams need to position two infielders on each side of second base — will also be in place for the first time.
What does all of that mean? Well, it’s tough to tell before the first pitch of spring is actually thrown. We do know that while it’s not easy to predict individual Spring Training games – if you track gameday roster changes and hunt for good odds, Spring Training can be a great place to find betting value. Just don’t be upset if you find a non-roster invitee pinch-hitting for Mike Trout with the game on the line.
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