by Simon Noble - 4/20/2006
With Major League Baseball in full swing, there are many wagering options available to the savvy player. One that is often overlooked is the run line bet, which is the MLB equivalent of an NFL 1.5 point spread. While nearly every player, professional or otherwise knows what the '3' in the NFL is worth, far fewer understand the value of the '1.5' in baseball.
Consider a typical match-up between Boston and Tampa Bay, which may look something like this:
|Tampa Bay Devil Rays||+1.5 -101||+202||OVER 10 -107|
|Boston Red Sox||-1.5 -109||-220||UNDER 10 -103|
An unsophisticated bettor might jump on Boston -1.5 (-109). His reasoning is simple, Boston is a good team and I'd rather lay -109 than -220 on the game.
A more knowledgeable bettor would realize that Boston is a public team and that the public likes playing the favorite on the run line to 'save juice'. Following the age old adage 'fade the public', he can blindly play these types of match-ups - the underdogs on the run line against public teams - and possibly grind out a small profit.
An educated bettor would also know that only Pinnacle Sportsbook offers a 10-cent run line that offers up to 50% better value than the industry-standard 20-cent run line. By making run line plays at Pinnacle Sportsbetting, the smarter player will almost always get the best price.
The most informed sharp and professional players will not only look for the value of the reduced juice lines at Pinnacle Sports, but will apply an additional level of analysis. Using the same type of research done for NFL point spreads, these professionals know what the spread is worth in MLB. First, they look at the market price to see what it 'suggests' that 1.5 runs is worth.
A sharp player will convert the game moneyline and run line to a percentage chance of winning. In this match-up, the no-vig moneyline for Boston is (-220-202)/2 = -422/2 = -212. This suggests Boston will win (212/312) * 100 or 67.9% of the time.
Similarly, the no-vig run line price is -105 for Boston which is again calculated as (-109-101)/2 = -210/2 = -105. This suggests that the wager Boston -1.5 on the run line will win (105/205) * 100 = 51.2% of the time.
The market 'believes' Tampa Bay will lose by exactly 1 run 16.7% of the time (67.9-51.2). The sharp player knows that in the AL, large favorites with totals in that range have won by exactly 1 about 18% of the time over the past 8 years. When the market price and historical price differ, it suggests that either the Tampa Bay run line (+1.5 -101), Boston moneyline (-220) or both have value. A 1% error isn't enough to make a professional pull the trigger on a play, but it's a starting point in their analysis.
How often does a run line favorite win by exactly one run? This is actually a very complicated question that every sportsbook posting early openers must address. Pinnacle Sports book uses a simple conversion chart that uses the moneyline and the game total to give a run line price. While not perfect, it gets us fairly close to the right price (and sharp players betting overnight lines get it in shape for us relatively inexpensively).
The most important factor for determining a fair price on a run line is whether the home team is favored and the visitor is getting +1.5 runs. Home teams win several more 1-run games than visiting teams. The reason for this is simply that games end anytime the home team has a lead entering the bottom of the ninth inning.
If the game is tied at the end of 9 innings, there's only a 7% chance the home team will win by more than 1 run. On the other hand, a visiting team that scores 1 run will usually attempt to continue scoring to build up a cushion. This one difference makes a huge difference in pricing - all told, home teams win 1-run games about 17% of the time, while the visitors manage to win by 1-run just 11% of the time.
Another important factor when pricing a run line is the game total. The lower the total, the more likely a game will end as a 1-run game for the favorite. While a game total in no way guarantees that many runs will be scored, it's a pretty good indicator of how much offense there will be in a game.
For example a contest between strong pitching teams may have a game total of 7 runs. Assuming the home team wins and only 7 runs are scored, there are only four possible scores: 4-3; 5-2; 6-1 and 7-0. On the other hand, if 11 runs are scored, there are six possible winning scores for the home team: 11-0; 10-1; 9-2; 8-3; 7-4 and 6-5 - there are 50% more ways for the home team to win. Oddly enough, these lower-totaled games see home teams win by 1 run nearly 50% more often than games with totals above 11.
Another vital factor to consider is how heavily a team is favored. Teams that are heavily favored are more likely to win by exactly 1 than a team closer to Pick'em. This is almost counter-intuitive because one expects good teams to blow out weaker teams. On the flip-side, a team has to win the game before it can win by exactly one. The numbers don't lie and there is more value playing the run line against large favorites.
To get an edge against the linesmakers at sportsbooks, you should also take a look at the relief pitching for both teams. If the game is close after 5-6 innings, the bullpens will come in to play, making +1.5 runs more valuable. Similarly, laying 1.5 runs, you'd want the opposing team to have a weak pen. Understanding this angle can give you a winning edge, especially against opening numbers.
This column hopefully gave you a better understanding of what goes into making a run line. You can 'wing it' based on 'feel' and set a number subjectively by considering the factors mentioned in this column. Or you can do some data crunching to create your own run line conversion chart. A diligent programmer with some experience in data mining could tackle this in a reasonable amount of time. The information is readily available on the Internet to create this, or solve nearly any numbers problem in MLB betting.
A point worth remembering is that successful handicappers usually have some skill at this and most groups of professional bettors have at least one 'number cruncher' among them who didn't muck around at the back of the class and paid attention in school during math lessons.