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Run Line Betting Strategy (MLB)

by January 15, 2020

As sports betting popularizes around the country, more and more people are taking part in wagering on their favorite sports. By now, many bettors are familiar with the lines in sports like basketball and football. These sports offer money lines and over/unders as well as the traditional spread for each game. Newcomers to baseball betting might not be aware that the same three options are offered in that sport as well.

The run line is baseball’s equivalent of a spread that you would see in other leagues like the NFL or NBA. Though alternate lines may be offered, the traditional run line in every baseball game is 1.5 runs. Thus, the favorite would always be listed as -1.5 meaning they would have to win by two or more runs. In this article, we offer a breakdown of run line betting, why sportsbooks offer it, and how bettors can profit from it.

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Why Do Sportsbooks Offer It?
Sportsbooks offer the run line betting option in baseball for a variety of reasons. One, it associates them with the most popular sports to bet on (football, basketball) in the sense that the spread is something that can be factored into a baseball game. In addition, it levels the playing field of certain odds and makes some sides more attractive to bettors. For example, the favorite in a baseball game may have money line odds of -150 to win outright. However, if a bettor backed that team on the run line and took them -1.5 runs, one may find odds of +150 or better in that case. run lines in general offer more affordable prices, thus making it more likely that a bettor would risk their money on it.

Strategies for Betting the Run Line

Factor in the Home Team Disadvantage
When betting on the run line, be wary of laying -1.5 runs with the home team. As the nature of baseball goes, if the home team is winning after the top of the ninth inning, they do not get to bat in the bottom half. Thus, the visiting team has 27 outs to score runs, while the home team only had 24. Furthermore, if a game goes to extra innings, there is only a seven percent chance the home team will win by more than one run. That is because the only scenario in which they would win by two or more runs is to have runners on base, then hit a walk-off home run. However, road teams in this situation are far likelier to win by more than one run. They are motivated not to stop at a one-run lead and will try to score as much as possible to build a cushion.

Because of the ninth inning and extra-inning “dilemmas” for home team backers, home teams win several more one-run games than visiting teams. Home teams win one-run games 17% of the time, while visitors win one-run games just 11% of the time. Thus, if one is backing a home team favorite at -1.5 runs, one must be sure they will jump out to a big lead early.

Totals Can Be a Good Predictor of Run Lines
When analyzing what teams offer value with the run line, one should look at the game’s over/under. The total is a good indicator of how much offense oddsmakers believe there will be in a game. Typically, the lower the total, the more likely it is to be a one-run game. Games with lower totals see home teams win by one run 50% more often than games with totals above 11. 

Take a look at the mathematical outcomes if a game totaled seven runs. A team could either win 4-3, 5-2, 6-1, or 7-0. In a game that totaled 11 runs, a team could win 11-0, 10-1, 9-2, 8-3, 7-4, or 6-5. In this situation, there are 50% more outcomes with a higher scoring game than a lower one. Thus, if a bettor predicted a game to be lower scoring, there would be more value taking the underdog with +1.5 runs than the favorite with -1.5 runs.

Favorites vs. Underdogs
Similarly to analyzing totals to make predictions on the run line, bettors would be wise to see how the odds on the run line compare to the money line. If a bettor thinks a game will be close, getting 1.5 runs becomes more valuable. In general, taking the +1.5 runs on underdogs is a more profitable long-term strategy than betting favorites -1.5 runs. Sharps will usually take the +1.5 if they bet on games. Baseball is a game where even the best teams lose upwards of 60-70 games outright. Even if they win 100 games, they were likely underdogs in some or were one-run winners in quite a few.

Bettors should also factor in the strength of a team’s bullpen when wagering on the run line. One should look to oppose weaker bullpens, as their relief pitching is likelier to allow valuable runs in late innings.

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Mike Spector is a featured writer at BettingPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeSpector01.

Baseball, Betting Tips, Strategy