Should You Fade the Public When Betting MLB Totals?

It’s widely known that the public loves to root for the league’s best teams and high-scoring offenses. As a result, the majority of wagers are placed on favorites and overs. Since oddsmakers can easily predict this behavior, sportsbooks react by shading their lines and forcing public bettors to lay extra points when betting on favorites and overs. That’s why most of our contrarian strategies find value by taking mispriced underdogs and unders.

For anybody unfamiliar with Sports Insights, we track public betting percentages from seven major offshore sportsbooks: 5Dimes, BetDSI, BetUs, Carib, GTBets, SIA, and Sportsbook.com. These betting trends reflect real bets placed by real bettors, as opposed to other websites that use “consensus” numbers. By including both sharp and square sportsbooks, our betting percentages accurately reflect which teams the public is backing across the marketplace.

Since 2005, we have tracked the majority of moneyline bets (at least 51% of tickets) on the favorite in 79.9% of regular season baseball games. Over that same period, the majority of public bettors have taken the over in 75.8% of regular season games. Although the majority of bettors are slightly more likely to take the favorite than the over, it’s worth noting that these bet types are not created equal.

Most totals have roughly -110 juice on each side, but bettors often have to lay massive numbers to take the favorite. Sportsbooks don’t necessarily need 50/50 action to balance their book when dealing with a mammoth moneyline — they need to balance their liability. If 40% of the money is taking a +200 underdog and 60% of the money is taking their opponent at -240, sportsbooks would actually pay out more if the underdog comes through. In other words, it’s slightly tougher to gauge liability on the moneyline as opposed to the total, but it’s clear that public bettors love taking overs just as much as they love taking favorites.

Prior to the start of every season, we release a series of betting against the public articles which discuss the optimal thresholds for fading the public. Using the public betting percentages from our contributing sportsbooks, I analyzed nearly 30,000 games from our historical database to break down the sweet spot for contrarian betting. Unfortunately, that same strategy can’t be applied to betting totals except in the cases of extremely one-sided public betting.

Public Betting Under Record Win Rate Units Won/Lost Over Record Win Rate Units Won/Lost
<50% 10,604-10,323 50.7% -221.46 3,395-3,486 49.3% -103.07
<40% 7,072-7,007 50.2% -205.66 1,264-1,308 49.1% -37.64
<35% 5,130-5,151 49.9% -178.58 619-595 51.0% +31.67
<30% 3,289-3,314 49.8% -107.75 248-237 51.1% +14.57
<25% 1,723-1,755 49.5% -58.89 74-75 49.7% +0.79
<20% 673-655 50.7% +14.15 16-14 53.3% +2.47
<15% 157-124 55.9% +33.72 2-3 40.0% -0.86

As you can see, it’s not profitable to fade the public until we examine totals receiving less than 20% of tickets. That’s because the value derived from betting against the public is directly correlated with the volume of bets being placed, and there’s roughly three times more money wagered on the moneyline as opposed to the total.

“Totals aren’t too far behind the moneylines in terms of tickets, but because we have higher limits for the moneylines they don’t come close in that regard,” confirmed Scott Cooley, a spokesman for the market-setting Bookmaker.eu. “Totals are still a sharper market for sure, but the public is still very involved.” Even tough the ticket counts are similar for moneyline and totals, public money won’t have a tremendous impact on line movement based on the lower limits.

Contrarian bettors can realize added value by exploiting moneylines that have been artificially inflated based on public betting, however, most sportsbooks don’t take enough public money on totals to justify any line movement. Instead of adjusting their totals based on public money, they allow their sharpest bettors to shape the number. That means you’re not going to find and value unless you’re targeting games with extreme levels of one-sided public betting and limited sharp involvement.

Although strictly betting against the public isn’t highly profitable when betting MLB totals, there are several strategies that have produced winning results. In the past, we have discussed how underdogs have performed better in divisional games as the familiarity between the team’s levels the playing field, which disproportionately benefits the team getting plus money. That same philosophy can be applied to contrarian unders. Since 2005, unders getting less than 20% of tickets have gone 333-287 (53.7%) in divisional games and 340-368 (48.0%) in all other games.

Weather is another major consideration for anybody betting on MLB totals, as the wind speed and direction can greatly affect the total. As a basic example, the under has gone 930-754 (55.2%) when the wind is blowing in and 732-584 (55.6%) when the wind is blowing in at 5 miles per hour or faster. That’s one reason we have prioritized reliable weather reports as part of our Sportsbook Insider subscription.

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Betting against the public is usually an effective strategy, but the comparative lack of volume limits the value on MLB totals. There’s been solid value fading the public when at least 85% of tickets have been placed on the over, but it’s extremely rare to find that type of one-sided public betting. That said, it’s clear that public money can affect the total at this threshold.

In games where at least 85% of bettors have taken the over, the total has decreased on 24 occasions, remained unchanged on 158 occasions, and increased on 99 occasions. Not surprisingly, the return on investment (ROI) is -16.2% when the total drops, +11.3% when the total remains unchanged and +20.0% when the total increases.

Public money plays a larger role in baseball than it does in most other sports based on the sheer volume of games. When sharp bettors aren’t involved, sportsbooks will adjust their numbers if there’s a significant exposure on one side. There’s far less money wagered on the total than there is on the moneyline, but you can extract value in games with extremely one-sided public betting. That said, bettors can likely realize greater profits by capitalizing on weather patterns and other historically profitable trends.

The only plays we endorse are Best Bets, and those are available exclusively to Sportsbook Insider Pro subscribers. This season our MLB Best Bets have gone 67-64 (+11.2 units) on moneyline plays and 43-28 (+10.6 units) on total plays. Sign up for an extended 6-day Pro trial for these winning picks in addition to real-time odds, public betting trends, money percentages, steam moves, reverse line movement alerts, contrarian plays, breaking injury alerts, lineup notifications, and much more.

Have any questions for the staff at Sports Insights? Utilize our live chat to speak with a customer service representative or e-mail us at help@sportsinsights.com.

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David Solar

David Solar is the Content Manager at Sports Insights. He specializes in sports betting analytics and creating data-driven betting systems. He can be reached directly at david@sportsinsights.com or on twitter at @TheDavidSolar.

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