When people think about betting on baseball, they usually consider the moneyline or, less frequently, the runline. There is another option that is far less often considered, but which can be useful in some circumstances – the 5 inning bet, also known as the first half bet. This simply is a line that is set based on the outcome of the first five innings of a game. It’s not a bet that you would likely want to use all the time, but once you understand them you can find creative ways to make the most of them. Here are three strengths and three weaknesses of 5 inning bets:
Starters only – The single biggest factor in baseball handicapping is the starting pitching. Handicappers are always looking for pitching mismatches which give one team a large advantage over the other. Starters often don’t last more than six or seven innings these days, though – even if they have a good day – so the bullpens are usually a bigger factor in games than handicappers would often like. We can assess the starting pitchers from every possible angle, but until we see which pitcher is called from the bullpen by the manager we have no way of knowing who is going to be pitching next, and because we don’t know we certainly can’t effectively handicap how they are going to perform. The 5 inning bet takes the bullpen out of consideration for all but the ugliest starts. Beyond that, most starters are not only still pitching through the first five innings, but they are still able to pitch pretty close to full form unless they have had a really bad day. First half bets, then, are a great way to be able to capitalize on a mismatch in pitching matchups. If there is a mismatch the difference will typically be reflected to an extent in the first half lines, but often the amount of adjustment that the oddsmakers make is less than the edge that a strong pitcher has, so there is still an edge to be had.
Less active market – There are few things that handicappers enjoy more than a market that isn’t heavily bet. A prepared handicapper knows where they would like the lines to be in order to get value. In a heavily bet market the odds quickly adjust if they aren’t totally accurate, so bettors have to be fast to take advantage of mistakes or soft lines. When a market is lightly bet, though, the adjustments will be very slow and it will be much easier to find lines that can be exploited. Also, if a market is lightly bet then there is less of an incentive for oddsmakers to spend the time to make perfect lines, so mistakes are far more common.
Know the lineups – Strategic lineup changes can be very frustrating later in games – especially in the National League. Often part of your handicapping will be how a particular player matches up offensively or defensively against an opponent, but you’ll watch the game only to see your player get pulled later in the game for a pinch hitter or to position the pitcher in the batting order. Most of those changes happen after the fifth inning, though, so by betting on the first half you can be reasonably sure that the batting order you think you are betting on is going to be the batting order that actually plays.
Can diminish edge for favorites – As a general rule, the better a team is the more advantage they have over their opponents as the game goes along. A strong team will have better starting pitching than a weaker team, but also likely a better batting lineup, better defense, and a better bullpen. The more baseball that is played, then, the more opportunities the good team will have to exert their advantage and take or add to their lead. Playing over a shorter time span, then, can make it easier for an outmatched team to compete, and that can lead to handsome underdog payoffs.
No significance of the fifth inning – If you are betting on the better team in a game and they are trailing heading into the last couple innings then you know that they are going to work hard for the win. They’ll be putting their best relievers in to keep the opponent off the scoreboard, and they’ll be working hard at the plate and taking risks to make something happen offensively. The fifth inning, on the other hand, is just another inning in the game. Teams aren’t likely to work hard to take a lead after five if they are trailing heading into the fifth, so you don’t have as much of a chance of overcoming an early misstep with this bet.
Less margin for error – If you have bet a lot of baseball you know that you regularly win games despite the fact that they went absolutely nothing like you expected. You might pick a game because your starter has a massive edge only to find that your guy implodes and the opposing pitcher has the start of his life. Things can look dire and you have all but given up only to see the opponent’s bullpen through the game away. When you are betting on the first five innings there is far less of a chance that a lucky break will save you from early misfortune.