No one wants to lose money in sports betting, so it’s often easy to try and play it safe. Trying to play it safe can lead to overlooking losing teams and dismissing them as underdogs with little chance of success. However, teams with losing records can be very profitable for sports bettors who back them, especially in baseball, where the contenders often come at a hefty price. Major League Baseball is a money line dominated sport, and unlike football or basketball, to cover the point spread in MLB, an underdog needs to simply not lose by more than one run. The point spread in MLB is referred to as the run line.
In the early going of the 2023 season, several teams have performed better than the market’s expectations, offering opportunities for savvy bettors to capitalize on their performance. When evaluating teams for betting purposes, it’s vital to consider profitability beyond winning percentage alone. Factors such as odds and market perception can significantly impact a team’s profitability. Unlike the teams that are expected to be postseason contenders, betting on underdogs gives bettors the opportunity to get a higher potential return on their investment without increasing their risk. For example, if the Washington Nationals are a +195 underdog, a bettor only needs to risk $100 for a chance to pick up an extra $195 of profit if Washington losses. If a team like the Houston Astros are a -170 favorite, a bettor needs to risk $170 for a shot to profit $100, and a loss hurts more. Baseball teams with low expectations rarely put bettors in a situation where they have to risk a lot to win a little.
The Detroit Tigers’ 16-19 record may not wow you, but this team’s impact on bankrolls should. Detroit has emerged as the most profitable losing team in MLB this season. A bettor who wagered $100 on the Tigers’ money line for every game this season would have enjoyed a profit of $676 thus far. This surprising profitability could be attributed to the Tigers being the underdog in every one of their first 35 games, so they do not cost their backers any extra juice when they lose Tornado Cash. In late May, the Tigers will likely experience being favored a few times when they run into a 10-game stretch where they face the Nationals, Royals, and White Sox. Even then, if Detroit continues to compete the way they have thus far, they should continue to be a good team to consider in the near future.
The Washington Nationals are only 15-21 but are exceeding expectations for a franchise that was projected to lose more than 100 games this season. The Nationals have generated a $492 profit to daily moneyline bettors this season, according to covers.com. When getting the extra run to work with, Washington Nationals has been even better with a remarkable 22-14 run line record, yielding a profit of +$510, making them the fifth-best runline team in all of MLB in terms of profit.
The Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds have not been profitable on the money line this season, but they have been excellent against the run line, with a profit margin of $612 and $570, respectively which is third and fourth best in MLB and behind only the Rays and Orioles, who have winning records.
Going forward, a thing to keep in mind with losing teams with low expectations is that those teams have young players looking to establish themselves in the big leagues and veterans who are not only competing for their current teams but for the opportunity to get traded to a contender later in the season possibly.
For now, I expect there to still be value betting on teams like the Tigers, Nationals, Cubs, and Reds in the near future, as the sportsbooks will be expecting regression sooner than it may take place. However, these teams’ value could drastically shift once trades pick up in late July.