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Ultimate MLB 2021 Season Betting Guide: Strategy, Tips & Picks

Adam Thompson for Bookies.com

Adam Thompson  | 12 mins

Ultimate MLB 2021 Season Betting Guide: Strategy, Tips & Picks

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The 2020 MLB season was unlike any other. The global pandemic forced a nearly four-month postponement of Opening Day. Once action finally began, fans weren’t allowed. Just 60 regular-season games were scheduled. The World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Bays was played in Texas.

The playoffs were expanded from 10 teams to 16. There was even a designated hitter in the National League.

As with the rest of the world, MLB hopes to regain a sense of normalcy in 2021. A full 162-game schedule is in place. Fans will be allowed in stadiums, to an extent. Playoffs are back to 10 teams. The DH for NL games is kaput.

Betting on baseball presented challenges in 2020; will 2021 be a return to normal there as well? Here’s how you should approach the unknowns of the 2021 MLB season, plus some MLB futures picks to lock in before Opening Day.

MLB Betting Strategy for the 2021 Season

Strong Start Important

It was stressed in the 60-game 2020 season that teams getting off to a slow start would be in big trouble. That proved to be the case. Of the 16 teams that qualified for the postseason, 13 teams were already in a “playoff position” after just three weeks; only the Blue Jays in the AL (who took the No. 8 seed) and the Padres (No. 4) and Reds (No. 8) in the NL bucked the trend.

Of course, the MLB season is typically a six-month battle of attrition. But a strong start has been the key, regardless. In 2019 and 2018, the top four teams in the AL after one month were the four teams that ultimate advanced to the AL Divisional Series. For whatever reason, the NL has been less steady. In 2020, six of the eight playoff teams had quick starts. In 2019 and 2018, just two of the four teams in the NLDS were in a playoff spot one month in.

Strategy: Take a look at the standings at or around April 30. There is a strong likelihood the eventual playoff teams are already near the top of the heap. Especially in the American League.

RELATED: MLB Betting Storylines Every Bettor Needs To Know

No Fans = Bigger Home-Field Advantage

Ultimate MLB 2021 Season Betting Guide: Strategy, Tips & Picks 1

Over the last nine seasons prior to 2020, the average home team has finished either 43-37 (53.8%) or 42-38 (52.5%). With no fans in the stands in 2020, that trend changed — in favor of the home team. Home squads averaged a 16-13 record, a 55.1% mark that would equate to a 44-36 record. That’s the best mark since 2010, when home teams went 45-35 (55%).

Fans will be allowed in MLB stadiums this season, but how many is variable by team and determined by local governments. There won’t be any sellouts immediately; a 30% capacity is the initial common goal by most teams.

Strategy: Less pressure to perform in front of adoring fans? More upheaval for road teams? Perhaps a little of both. It’s tough to know for sure. However, until fans can come and go as they please, perhaps a continued uptick in home team success.

Relivers Now Rule

For years, the trend to handling pitching staffs has been headed toward analytics rather than going with the “hot hand.” The 2020 season took that to an entirely new level. The average start in 2020 lasted just 4.8 innings — under the five-inning threshold for a starter to earn a win.

Average start length

  • 2015: 5.81
  • 2016: 5.65
  • 2017: 5.51
  • 2018: 5.36
  • 2019: 5.19
  • 2020: 4.80

Bullpens have become more and more important in the modern game. While 2020 may have been a bit of an anomaly, with a shortened spring training and regular season, the trend isn’t likely to completely bounce back. The proof is in the standings.

TeamBullpen RankRecord/Playoffs
Athletics 136-24/Yes
Braves 435-25/Yes
White Sox735-25/Yes

The Cubs were the only division winner to not rank in the top six of bullpens. They ranked 13th — but they were No. 2 in average starter length. Teams can overcome subpar bullpens, but the trending landscape favors relievers.

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Inconclusive Results

After a one-year experiment to use the designated hitter in the NL, the Senior Circuit will go back to its old ways and put the pitcher in the batting order. What did having a DH in the NL prove about runs? Essentially, not much.

NL teams averaged 4.7 runs per game, compared to the AL average of 4.57. The lines were slightly skewed because the top offenses were NL. The Dodgers and Braves scored 24 and 23 more runs than any other team, and the Padres were third. Regardless, it marked the first time in 45 years the NL tallied more runs than the AL.

But the discrepancy seemingly had more to do with strategy and less the additional hitter. That’s because the NL didn’t go up; the AL went down. In 2019, NL teams scored 4.78 runs per game in 2019, the AL was at 4.88. The 4.83 rpg marked the highest in MLB history.

  • 2020: 4.65
  • 2019: 4.83
  • 2018: 4.45
  • 2017: 4.65
  • 2016: 4.48
  • 2015: 4.25
  • 2014: 4.07
  • 2013: 4.17

Despite that, nine teams showed a profit betting Overs, the most since 2015.

  • 2020: 9 teams
  • 2019: 6 teams
  • 2018: 1 team
  • 2017: 7 teams
  • 2016: 7 teams

Strategy: Take a wait-and-see approach when it comes to totals. More teams hit Overs despite fewer runs scored. It’s likely due to the all-or-nothing hitting style of most teams — more home runs, more strikeouts — and a more-aggressive use of relievers in strategic situations.

Ultimate MLB 2021 Season Betting Guide: Strategy, Tips & Picks 2

How to Make 2021 MLB Futures Picks

Check out the Bookies.com MLB futures page, which not only has the lines on World Series winner, Most Valuable Player and Cy Young awards, it has more fringe futures including Rookie of the Year, player to hit the most home runs and American League East winner.

Bookies.com doesn’t just post odds from one site, it posts the odds from many of the top online sportsbooks in your state, so you know where to find the best odds in the market. As always, Bookies.com only recommends legal online sportsbooks, taking the worry out of which of the many options available are legit and worthy of your money.

2 Picks To Win the AL Pennant

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays lineup is going to score runs. The pitching is the concern, but they addressed it in the offseason, led by former Padres star closer Kirby Yates. There are question marks in the rotation, but Nate Pearson is a high-upside guy and they have solid Nos. 1 and 2 starters. If the Yankees injury issues return, as they have in recent years, Toronto is the team poised to get a playoff berth. The AL is up for grabs.

Oakland Athletics

The A’s get lost in the AL shuffle, but they’ve been to the playoffs three straight seasons, and that was despite a decline in production from their top players in 2020. They reshuffled their roster and had an offensive overhaul (which is a good thing), and the core is still there. New additions SS Elvis Andrus and closer Trevor Rosenthal can help the A’s win the AL West again.

3 Picks To Win the NL Pennant

Los Angeles Dodgers

It’s a long season and this odds are very low. However, the Dodgers were absolutely dominant last season, and they actually improved in the offseason. Wagering on the Dodgers now can be considered a hedge bet on other flyers. If L.A. isn’t at least in the NLCS, it would be a shock.

Atlanta Braves

The Braves ranked No. 2 in MLB in runs, homers and average, but just 15th in pitching, thanks to a depth-starved rotation. The offense should be just as good, while the staff gets a boost from Mike Soroka, who missed most of 2020, and young star Ian Anderson (1.95 ERA in six starts).

St. Louis Cardinals

The NL is a top-heavy league; there are 3-4 loaded favorites and all the other teams are going to struggle to compete in a playoff series vs. the powerhouses. The Cardinals are on the fringe, and their track record forces us to take them seriously. The addition of Nolan Arenado offers a boost to an offense that really needed it. The top-10 pitching staff is a year older, a year better and deeper. If the Cards can get through the balanced NL Central, they have the pieces to make a run.

World Series Bets To Consider

Los Angeles Dodgers

In 2020, the Dodgers ranked No. 1 in home runs and runs scored and No. 1 in team ERA. They then went out and added reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer (David Price also returns after his 2020 opt-out). The offense should be just as good.

Atlanta Braves

The Padres, Braves and Mets are considered the top challengers to the Dodgers in the NL. Of those, Atlanta offers the best value. They have an offense to rival the one in L.A., and the front of the rotation that is young but has the potential to hang in a best-of-7 series.

Minnesota Twins

The Twins won the competitive AL Central thanks to a top-10 pitching roster. They had a strong offseason adding shortstop Andrelton Simmons and re-signing DH Nelson Cruz, and bolstering the bullpen, headlined by All-Star closer Alex Colome from the rival White Sox. Without a clear-cut favorite in the AL, the Twins are poised to be in real contention. If they get to the World Series, they have the makeup to compete with the NL winner.

What Kind Of MLB Bets Can I Make In 2021?

While football and basketball are the two most popular sports to bet on in the U.S., MLB betting is king of summer and growing in popularity year-in and year-out. Every game is available at sportsbooks, as are futures markets.

Individual Game Betting

Moneyline: Moneyline is a straightforward bet that involves picking the winner. It’s the most-popular format in MLB betting. The odds vary based on the strength of the favorite and the size of the underdog.

Run Line: The run line is similar to the point spread used in football or basketball, except that it’s always set at 1.5 runs. It gives the underdog team +1.5 runs, while putting the favorite at -1.5, and helps even the odds of the two teams.

First five innings: This bet pretends the game is only five innings long. It essentially eliminates the bullpen from the situation, so bettors can focus on the starting pitchers and their matchups against the opposing bats.

Over/Under: This is a bet on the Over or Under of total runs scored in a game, projected by the sportsbooks. It works similar to the Over/Under in total points of football and basketball games.

Futures Betting

MLB futures bets are available year-round and include team and player bets. Examples of team futures include World Series champion and American League and National League Championship Series. Individual MLB prop bets include the National League and American League Most Valuable Player and Cy Young season-ending awards, as well as stats leaders such as home runs, stolen bases and strikeouts.

Prop Bets

Prop bets involve picking events happening inside a specific game. Examples include how many strikeouts Jacob deGrom will have on a given evening, or how many hits Mike Trout has in the Angels’ game that night.

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2021 MLB Betting FAQs

When Does The 2021 Baseball Season Start?

All 30 teams are in action for 2021 Opening Day, set for April 1.

When Will The 2021 MLB Playoffs Start?

The MLB Playoffs format is scheduled to return to its regular 10-team format after a 16-team field in 2020. However, MLB hasn’t officially locked in the format, keeping open the possibility of keeping 16 teams. The 2021 regular season ends Oct. 3.

Who Is Favored To Win the 2021 World Series?

The defending champion Los Angeles Dodgers are strong favorites to repeat as World Series champions. The New York Yankees aren’t far behind, with the San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox following in World Series Futures.

Where Can I Bet On MLB Games Online?

Every game in the MLB Playoffs and regular season will be available for wagering. If you are in a state with legal sports betting, Bookies.com has you covered with a variety of markets and some of the best MLB picks out there. Bookies.com only recommends legal sports betting siters, so there is no worry about which of the many available options are legitimate.

About the Author

Adam Thompson for Bookies.com
Adam Thompson
NFL writer and expert Adam Thompson joined Bookies.com in 2019 after a successful run as senior handicapper for SportsLine and CBSSports.com. He's long been established as one of the nation's premier handicappers, specializing in the NFL where he's hit on more than 60% over the past three years. Adam's NBA, PGA and horse racing picks have also produced major winners over the last 12 months. His customized NFL and NBA odds for players and teams have been picked up by hundreds of websites over the past year.