MLB Run Line Betting
by Trevor Whenham - 03/30/2007
If you ask most people what they know about betting baseball, their knowledge will usually end with the money line. That's the most common -- and for many the most profitable -- means of wagering on the game for the largest percentage of casual bettors. It's easy to understand and fairly easy to find value when betting the traditional way. If you limit yourself to just looking at the money line, however, then you are leaving potential profit on the table. The run line isn't ideal in most situations, but there are circumstances in which betting the run line is the best way to maximize your profit.
The run line is somewhat like a point spread, but the actual spread is fixed at 1.5 runs. When you are betting the run line, then, you are betting that the favorite will win by two or more runs, or that the underdogs will either win or only lose by one run. Clearly, that means that you get a much better price betting the favorite on the run line than you do on the money line, while you have to sacrifice profit for an extra cushion when it comes to the underdog.
As with any betting tool, the ways you can use the run line to your advantage is really only limited by your imagination. Here's a look at several scenarios where it may make sense.
1) Improving favorites. Sometimes your handicapping can lead you to a favorite that you are confident is going to win, but which doesn't justify the heavy price you would have to pay. It's hard to justify a -200 price even if you think a team is clearly the best. The run line can help. By accepting that your favorite will have to win by at least two runs you can get a much better price. If a team is offensively productive and matches up well then the extra two runs may not be a concern.
When looking at the run line here or anywhere else, it's important to understand the difference between a team at home and on the road. A favorite that is on the road always gets nine at-bats, so they have plenty of chances to add the runs you need to have a winning bet. A team that is ahead while at home, on the other hand, doesn't get that ninth at bat, and has one less chance than the road team to score runs. That can make it harder to score the runs the favorite needs, and that increased difficulty is reflected in the price. A -200 favorite might be reduced as low as -105 on the run line when it is at home, but only -130 when on the road. As a general rule, the home team will be 25 or 30 cents higher than the same team would be on the road. The difference is higher when the total for the game is higher. The cost and value need to be balanced in each game you play.
2) A cushion for underdogs. In many cases your handicapping will lead you to believe that an underdog has a decent chance to win, but your confidence may not be complete enough to make a money line bet. About 28 percent of all games are won by just one run. By adding in the ability to lose by one run and still win your bet, then, you are giving yourself a significantly higher chance of winning. That cushion comes at a cost, but you may find it worthwhile if a team is a very heavy underdog, or if the new price still reflects reasonable value in your mind. After all, winning at a lower price is better than losing at a higher price. This can be especially attractive in some cases when a heavy favorite is involved. The public may heavily bet on the favorite and that could cause the price to rise and create extra value on the underdog.
3) Hedging a favorite. It can be a difficult balance sometimes - the thought of getting a better price makes the run line attractive, but watching your team win by just one run can be incredibly aggravating. Using the run line and the money line in partnership can improve the price from the money line alone while mitigating some of the risk of the run line. Instead of betting, say, $100 on the run line, you could divide between both bets. Let's say that you have found a -130 road favorite that you like, but not enough to lay that price. You could bet the run line at -1.5 +120, but then you're in trouble if your team wins by one. Instead, you could bet $60 on the moneyline and $40 on the run line. On a full $100 run line bet you would have a profit of $120. By splitting your bets you are limiting yourself to a profit of $94 if your team wins by two or more runs. On the other hand, you earn a profit of $6 instead of a loss of $100 if your team wins by just one run. If you had bet the $100 entirely on the moneyline then your profit would have been $77 regardless of how many runs your team won by. The sacrifice of potential profit for decreased risk may be attractive for some bettors and in some circumstances.