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Runline Betting: Pick Your Spots Carefully by Jeremy Martin
Runlines are a relatively new concept in baseball wagering and they have been increasing in popularity among baseball bettors as individuals have become more comfortable with the concept in recent years, according to industry experts.
While straight bets in baseball involve handicapping against a moneyline, runline bets incorporate elements of the moneyline and the point spread. When bookmakers post odds for a runline, the moneyline favorite in a match-up will be listed at -1.5 runs with the juice reduced and the moneyline underdog will get the extra 1.5 runs at steeper odds.
Every bookmaker will agree that the most fashionable form of runline betting involves taking a big favorite down to a manageable price by opting to lay the extra 1.5 runs. This is a popular option of the recreational bettor who doesn't want to lay -300 on the Yankees (for example) on a particular day when they are at home and facing an inferior opponent. The common opinion is that the big favorites will win by a landslide and that the extra 1.5 runs is worth the risk because the price is much more attractive.
Experts say, however, that this may not be the best strategy when playing the runline. There are a surprisingly high amount of one-run games in Major League Baseball. As of this writing, even the top teams in the league have played in a high percentage of one-run games. The Yankees, currently the best team in baseball, have played in 20 one-run games (27 percent of all games played). Minnesota, the American League Central leader, has played in 22 one-run games (30 percent). San Francisco, currently tops in the National League West, has played 26 one-run games (34 percent). In fact, none of the current division leaders have played in less than 20 one-run games.
It is true that the good teams find ways to win, but many of those games are often closer than many of the public runline bettors would likely realize. "Over the last three years, I think (the number of one-run games) has consistently been between 25 and 27 percent," said Rob Gillespie, president of BoDog Sportsbook and Casino.
Another problem that the public faces when laying the 1.5 runs is that the home team is often favored in baseball and, therefore, often the team laying the runs for the runline. If the home team is ahead by the bottom of the ninth inning, the game is over and there is no opportunity to score additional runs. This prevents many bettors who are laying the 1.5 from cashing their tickets in one-run games. Additionally, if the game goes into the bottom of the ninth or extra innings with the home team behind, the runline bettor who is laying the points is left without many options of winning his or her bet. At this point a bettor is hoping for a home run with men on base as the only hope of cashing in.
Another potential problem with betting the runline favorite is that the bookmakers know that most of the action is going to come in on that side so they will adjust the moneyline accordingly. Some call this shading and Gillespie calls it "line management," but the fact of the matter is that these numbers are often skewed in the houses' favor.
When adding all of these factors together it becomes evident that there isn't much value in taking big favorites on the runline.
"You don't see the sharp (bettors) laying the (1.5 runs) very much," said Gillespie. "They realize that there is more value frequently in that -300 line than most people think."
On the flip side, there are certain situations when taking the 1.5 runs can be a good play. According to Tony Sinisi, odds director for Las Vegas Sports Consultants, professional bettors almost exclusively play this angle in baseball (or they stay away from runlines altogether).
"Traditionally, (the professional bettors) are looking to take (the 1.5 runs) with the two-to-one (underdog); where you are getting (1.5 runs) and you are getting money," he said. "That, through the years, has been an automatic take with the 'wiseguys.'"
When formulating runline odds, oddsmakers pay close attention to both the moneyline and 'total' on a particular game. Most bookmakers have a standard formula they use that computes the runline numbers according to the moneyline and the over/under number for a game.
"You are going to base that runline off the number that you made for the game and the total," added Sinisi. "The total is very important when you are making the runline. Basically, when you have (the moneyline and total numbers set) the runline falls into place. The higher the total, the less value you have for the (+1.5 runs). The 1.5 certainly has more value with a total of seven than it does with a total of 12."
Despite the potential for profits from the astute handicapper, it appears that runlines are big moneymakers for the books.
"This year runlines also have been a lot worse for bettors," concluded Gillespie. "We are holding a little over 8 percent on runlines and if that's the case and guys are only losing 3 percent on moneylines, it's not very hard to figure out where they are going to be playing more."
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