MLB Run Line Betting
by Matt Foust - 05/14/2008
We're almost a month and a half into the baseball season and now is a good time to examine MLB run line betting. In order to do that it might be best to explain exactly what that is for those of you who are not familiar with the idea.
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If you're new to baseball betting you might be slightly confused when you examine a game line. Baseball lines will definitely look different to you if you're only familiar with football and basketball betting. "Where's the spread?" you might ask and, well, there isn't one - not a true one anyway.
Baseball betting presents the bettor with a few different options, though. As with other sports betting, baseball bettors can pick an outright winner (i.e. money line betting), they can also make a play on a game total, and they can even put down a bet on a team's total runs. None of these wagers, however, involve a spread.
What baseball betting does offer, and it's rather unique, is a combination of the money line and a game spread. This is called the run line and it is always set at -1.5 or +1.5.
Here's an example of how it works: you put $100 down on the Chicago Cubs on the run line at -1.5, +145 against the Cincinnati Reds. Here you are risking $100 to win $145. The Cubs must beat the Reds by two or more runs, hence the 1.5 spread, for you to profit on this bet. Now let's look at it the other way, you drop your cash on the Reds at +1.5, -165. In this situation you are risking $165 for every $100 bet and the Reds must either beat the Cubs or finish within one run for this wager to be a winner.
Now that we've got the basics of run line betting out of the way we need answer the next question you're asking: "Why in the heck would I want to do this"? If you're familiar with baseball money lines you probably already know the answer.
In order for sports books to make money they need to have a fairly equal distribution of cash on both teams. They accomplish this by increasing the odds when bettors start dumping all their money on a particular team.
The 2007 post All-Star break New York Yankees are a good illustration of this tactic. It was not uncommon to see Yankee odds at -175, -190, or -220. This gave bettors a good incentive to lay some dough on the Yankee opposition, which frequently saw odds of +160, +180, or even +200 in some cases.
The run line gives bettors an excellent alternative to these kinds of odds. For example, if a person believes the Yankees are going to be a winner, but doesn't feel comfortable putting down on a -220 bet they could turn to the run line and receive much better odds in exchange for a -1.5 spread. In a situation where a team is a -175 on the money line, they might be a +135 on the run line.
Keep in mind this is not to be done on a whim. Not only does your team need to win the game; they need to win it by at least two runs. That can sound daunting and, frankly, it scares many bettors away. However, there can be great value in the run line - you just need to find the right matchup before risking any coin.
Again, I'll turn to the Yankees as an example of run line value. In 2007 home division games if New York won the game, 76 percent of the time they won it by two or more runs. Against Tampa Bay the Yankees increased that percentage to 90 percent.
As with any baseball betting one must always be mindful of starting pitching. However, it can be even more critical when searching for value in potential run line bets.
Earlier this season Philadelphia lefty Cole Hamels made a home start against the Cubs. The Phillies had won seven of their last 10 versus Chicago at home, and that coupled with the fact that Hamels had also won seven of his last 10 home starts led to some pretty nasty odds on the money line for Philadelphia bettors - nasty enough that many bettors probably stayed away. This would have been a perfect opportunity for them to jump on the run line.
The Phillies were a great run line value at -1.5, +135. Why? Well, in Hamels first two seasons Philadelphia had won 60 percent of his starts and 67 percent of his home starts. And if the Phillies won when Hamels started, they won by two or more runs 88 percent of the time. Hamels also dominated the Cubs in two 2007 appearances, allowing just three earned runs in 15 innings of work. The Phillies won both of those games by an average of four runs.
So, while at first glance the run line may seem a little scary it can in fact be a baseball bettor's best friend on occasion. Just be mindful to find the right matchup and remember that while baseball trends often carry over from season to season, each season will present its own unique developments and sometimes vanquish historical precedent.