Betting the MLB Runline: Expert Advice and Wagering Tips
Winning a game in a professional sports league of any kind can be difficult for even the best teams. Very few teams have gone through a season undefeated (only NFL Teams), and even then, not every win is as easy as teams hoped they would be -- even the margin of victory is sometimes too close for comfort. Unfortunately for bettors, teams don't care how they win or by how many runs, goals or points, as long as they win the game. Baseball is no different, and the betting options on a baseball game are limited to a certain extent. Sure, there are a bunch of prop bets that you can wager on, but prop bets usually burn your bankroll. The most popular way to wager on a baseball game is on the moneyline . However, if you are thinking about betting on a really good team vs a really bad team, be prepared to lay upwards of -300 just to win $100.
For most bettors, laying that kind of juice is simply out of the question. And so instead of playing the moneyline, bettors opt for something called the 'runline'. This is the MLB equivalent of the point spread in football. The favorite will lay (usually) a run-and-a-half, and you could possibly get it for plus-money with teams that are a small to medium favorite or for around -110 to -130 for teams that are heavily favorite (think -250 and upwards).
How Does the Runline Work?
The runline will almost always stay at 1.5, with the 2.0 or 2.5 lines reserved for the biggest mismatches - think 2018 Red Sox (108-54) versus the last place Baltimore Orioles (47-115).
The problem with the runline is that despite betting on the favorite and avoiding the huge -220 price tag, the runline is often time priced at even-money or worse. Baseball is the kind of sport where teams tend to score runs in bunches, and a win by more than two runs is very common. If you are an underdog bettor, it is not all that uncommon for the underdog to offer a return well under even money.
Example of the Runline
Sticking with the above example, if the Orioles were hosting the Boston Red Sox the money line would probably look something like this:
Boston (-330), Toronto (+225)
If you wanted to avoid laying the -330 price with the Red Sox, many bettors would take them on the runline, which would offer up a price tag anywhere between -110 and -135. Let's say for argument's sake, the Sox were laying -180 on the moneyline, then you could grab them at -1.5 for around EVEN money or +110-ish.
Boston -1.5 (-135), Baltimore +1.5 (+110)
The dramatic difference in odds makes the runline betting option attractive to bettors who have put in the time to study the history between the two teams, the trends, and stats.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Betting the Runline
The runline can be an attractive option in situations where the bettor feels the favorite has a significant edge. The runline allows you to avoid paying the high price tag and getting a small return on your investment. By taking on the additional risk of the runline, the value is prominent and the return on your investment is much better. The runline bet can also be an attractive bet as a way to exploit a starting pitcher or a weaker lineup that has some injuries to its key players.
The problem when betting the runline on the favorite is the home field disadvantage. The home team is not obligated to bat in the bottom of the ninth, so that one less at bat oftentimes leads to a one-run win after the away team bats in the top of the ninth inning. There are cases where the home team is trailing by one heading into the bottom of the ninth, and they proceed to hit a three-run home run and win the game by two runs, thus covering the -1.5-spread. These are rare cases, but they do happen from time to time.
Should I Take the Runs or Lay the Runs?
Much like every other sport, there are betting strategies that bettors use to try and maximize their edge over the sportsbook. Some bettors think taking the +1.5 runs is the better strategy, while others think laying the -1.5 with the favorite and receiving plus money is the way to go.
From my experience in this industry, I've grown to believe that taking the +1.5 runs is the better strategy for a couple of reasons. The first reason being you have that extra run of insurance. Approximately 30 percent of MLB games end up being one-run games. Most people I've talked to are shocked that it's that high, but with parity starting to become relevant again in the Majors, this should number could increase. Another reason I tend to side on the "take the runs" side is because the home team is the favorite in the majority of the games played. Because of this, and the fact that home-field advantage in the majors currently sits around 58 percent success rate, the bottom of the ninth is oftentimes skipped and the game ends after the top half of the ninth. If you have the home team leading by one heading into the ninth, unless there is a blown save, the -1.5-run line bet is toast. It's all about taking advantage of the limited edge you have over the sportsbook.
Another aspect that entices me to side with the +1.5 strategy is the totals. Whenever you see a low total such as 7.5 or 8, you must think to yourself how many possible ways there are for eight runs to be scored. The favorite will likely be the home team, so unless they win 2-0, 3-0, 4-0, 5-0, 6-0, 7-0, 3-1, 4-1, 5-1, 6-1, 4-2, or 5-2, the +1.5-run line is the best bet. (books don't give out free money on betting overs). On the contrary, games with a higher total have a much wider range of possible score combinations that can help the favorite cover the -1.5-run line.
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