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A Beginner’s Guide to Major League Baseball

Major League Baseball, or MLB, is easily the biggest baseball league in the world and it has a growing number of followers in the UK. If you have recently become interested in baseball and you are trying to decipher the MLB, then you are in the right place. This brief guide will take you through all you need to know so that you can follow it with ease.

MLB Basics

Slightly confusingly, the MLB actually consists of two leagues, the American and the National. Each of the leagues has fifteen teams and three divisions, and a commissioner chosen by the owners of thirty teams runs the league.

The MLB season consists of 162 games and the upcoming season will last from 31 March 2022 to 2 October 2022. The vast majority of the games are played within a team’s league (i.e. the American or the National), but there is also interleague play, most of which takes place in the middle third of the season.

As mentioned, each league has three divisions, East, Central and West. At the end of the season, the winners of each division advance to the league division championship playoff round together with a wild card team (the team with the best record from the remaining teams). The winners from the divisional series then meet in the league championship series and the winners of that series go on to the World Series.

The World Series is the championship series of games. It is a best of seven playoff and the winners receive the Commissioner’s Trophy.

Basic Baseball Rules

At this point, it is worth quickly recapping the rules of baseball. They are not complicated, but if you want to start following the sport, it is essential that you understand them.

An MLB game takes place on a diamond-shaped playing field. The four corners of the diamond are the home plate, and first, second, and third bases. The area closest to the bases is called the infield while the area beyond is the outfield.

There is a raised area in the middle of the infield called the pitcher’s mound and this is where the pitcher stands when they throw (pitch) the ball to the batter. There are also a couple of foul lines; one goes from the home plate to the outfield via the first base, and the other goes from the home plate to the outfield via the third base.

The game itself takes place between two teams, each of nine players, and each team has nine innings. The innings are split in half with the visiting team going first, at the ‘top’, and the home team second, at the ‘bottom’.

The aim is simply to be the team that scores the most runs by the end of the ninth inning and win the game. If the scores are level, then an extra inning can be played.

The game begins with a pitcher throwing an overhand ball to the batter whose job it is to hit the ball into the field. A point, or run, is scored by a player hitting the ball and running around the four bases counter-clockwise before a player from the opposing team is able to get them out. A run can be completed in stages or all at once. It is up to the player to judge how many bases they think they can reach without getting out. A player is called ‘safe’ if they reach the base before the ball.

As soon as a batter hits the ball, they are referred to as a runner. Once a runner has reached a base, they can remain safe on it until the next hitter comes along.

If a batter hits a ball and it is caught directly, then the batter is out. The same is true if the ball is thrown to the first base before the batter reaches it. A batter is also out if they fail to hit the ball in three pitches, which is often called ‘out on strikes’.

A runner can also become a ‘tagout’ if one of the opposing players touches the runner with the ball or with a glove with the ball in it. Once the batting team has three players out, the teams switch, i.e. the other team bats and the first team fields.

The players on the defensive team (the fielders) are distributed around the field. One player, the catcher, is directly behind the batter and must catch the ball if it is not hit. There are also infielders known as basemen on the first, second and third base, while the shortstop player covers the area between second and third base. There are also three outfielders, the centre fielder and the right and left fielders.

Those are the basic rules. There are of course some more, but if you have understood the above, then you should have no problem following MLB games.

MLB Player Statistics

When you start reading about MLB players and listening to commentary during the games, you will find that there is a great deal of terminology and statistics involved. It is important to know what the different terms mean so that you fully understand what is being said. This becomes even more important if you plan to start betting on the games.

  • At-Bats: This is the number of times a player has been up to the plate and achieved one of the following, a hit, a strikeout, reaching on an error, fielder’s choice.
  • Batting Average:This is a measurement of what percentage of a player’s at-bats result in base hits (safely reaching at least the first base).
  • Run: This is simply the number of times a batter reaches home plate.
  • Runs Batted In (RBIs):This is a measurement of the total number of runs a batter produces from his at-bats not including any runs scored as result of mistakes from the fielding team. A batter is given an RBI when he gets a hit (including home runs). There are various other circumstances in which a batter will receive an RBI. For example, if the batter bats a base hit that allows a teammate on a higher base to reach home and therefore score a run.
  • Hits: This is the number of times that a batter reaches at least first base in their at bat. It does not count as a hit if the batter reaches first base on an error or fielder’s choice. An error is when the fielder misplayed the ball and allowed the batter to reach base. A fielder’s choice is when an offensive player allowed the batter to reach first base as a result of attempting to put out a different runner in play, e.g. the fielder attempts to put out a player heading to third base rather than the batter heading to first.
  • Home Run:When a batter safely makes it round all the bases and back home from one hit of the ball.
  • On-Base Percentage (OBP):This is a measurement of how often a batter reaches a base. It is roughly equal to times on base divided by plate appearances. It does not include errors and fielder’s choice but it does include hits, walks, and a batter being hit by pitch.
  • Slugging Average:This is an effective measurement of a batter’s real abilities. It is calculated by the total bases divided by the number of at-bats. The OBP is added to this to determine the on-base plus slugging (OPS).
  • Strikeouts: This is the number of times a batter fails to hit the ball three times and is therefore out.

These statistics can take a bit of time to understand, but it is definitely worth making the effort. They allow you to quickly assess individual players, which is invaluable when placing bets.

MLB Ballparks

If you regularly watch sports such as football or rugby, then you are used to seeing standardised pitches. One of the quirks of baseball is that each stadium, or ballpark, is different. While the diamond-shaped field is of a standardised size, the dimensions of the field are distinct to each ballpark.

The challenge of playing at different ballparks often forces players to adapt their game to the location. It also means that some ballparks have become known for their quirky features. For example, the Tropicana Field where the Tampa Bay Rays play is home to a 10,000-gallon fish tank with 30 cownose rays in it. While the fish tank is unlikely to affect players, there are fields that have random hills in them and other features that the players need to be aware of. As such, if you are planning on becoming a true MLB fan, it is worth taking the time to study the ballparks.

The next MLB season starts in just a few weeks. Hopefully now you have all the information you need to be able to follow every game, and with a bit of luck, you can also use this knowledge to place many successful bets.

You will find numerous MLB betting markets at Sports. However, we must stress that we only encourage responsible gambling and we urge anyone who thinks they may have a gambling problem to seek help from an organisation such as GambleAware.

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