There are some aspects of baseball betting that can be difficult for novices to grasp but that can make a huge difference in results. One of the most important of those is the distinction between “action” and “listed pitcher” bets.  Check our betting glossary for more terms you might be unfamiliar with.

When I place a bet on a game with at a betting site, the book provides the names of the announced starting pitchers for each team. This is vital information because pitching can be the most easily graspable single factor separating victory from defeat — and a won bet from a lost one.

Unfortunately, it’s also a fact of life that teams change starting pitchers all the time. Often they do this with only a cursory, last-minute announcement. Sports books have people to watch the wires for these changes and adjust the odds on the spot. But ordinary bettors won’t be aware of the changes until it’s too late to adjust their bet.

These sudden changes can spoil a thoughtful bettor’s day. Imagine putting money on the Nationals with Max Scherzer scheduled to start, only to tune into the game and find that some guy who’s nowhere near as good as Scherzer is starting instead. So how do I avoid having what looked like a sure thing on paper suddenly turn into a sure loss?

That’s where the difference between action and listed pitcher bets comes in. An “action” bet is just backing one team with no reference to the pitching at all. If I make my Nationals bet action, then my bet goes through even if the Nats decide to replace Scherzer with a beer vendor from the stands.

Action bets have the advantage of simplicity. But I don’t want to play it simple when it’s my hard-earned money on the line. It doesn’t take a lot of research to figure out which pitchers are better, who’s hot and who’s struggling, and where the smart money — my money — should be going.

“Listed pitcher” bets are a way to protect myself against changes that might invalidate my research. It means that my bet goes through if, and only if, both of the originally announced starting pitchers actually start. If either of them are pulled before the game starts, the bet is canceled and the book will refund my money.

Many books also give the option of making the bet conditional on only a single pitcher. So, for instance, if I’m betting on a Dodgers-Reds game I might want to be sure that Clayton Kershaw starts for the Dodgers, but I don’t care who the Reds put up. This is often referred to as betting “on” if I make it conditional on the pitcher for the team I’m backing, or “against” if I’m basing my bet on the other team’s pitcher.

Note that if I’m betting run line or over/under instead of just win/lose, listed pitchers always applies. These sort of bets are never considered action.

For MLB handicapping, listed pitchers is the smart way, and should be the only way, to go. I will always be looking at pitchers to help guide my bets and spot opportunities for profitable upsets, and listing pitchers helps protect me against the unforeseen. Action bets are for the lazy, the uninformed, and suckers, and I’m none of those.

Want to know more about handicapping pitchers?  Our guide has the broad strokes.  We also look at bullpens, short rest, and young arms.