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How To Bet On Baseball Run Lines


What are the keys to profitable betting on MLB run lines? In this article we discuss five errors bettors make when betting on baseball run lines.

What is the best baseball betting strategy for betting on MLB run lines? How does betting baseball run lines differ from betting head to head baseball moneylines? In this article we look at five errors bettors make when betting on baseball run lines, helping you to enhance your baseball run line picks and your overall chances in betting baseball run lines.

Many years ago, in an effort to boost interest in baseball betting, bookmakers began offering “run line” options as an alternative to pure head to head baseball betting. Bookmakers wanted higher annual profits, and a way to bring in income during the quieter summer months. What is a baseball run line? A run line in baseball is creating a handicap of 1 run, typically displayed as either -1.5 or +1.5. If you bet on the -1.5 handicap, then the team you have bet on needs to win by at least 2 runs (I.e more than 1.5 runs), while if you bet on the +1.5 run line, your team needs to either win the game outright or lose by no more than 1 run (I.e less than 1.5 runs).

It had been known for decades that the wagering public in the United States preferred using pointspreads in American football (NFL and college) and basketball; but shied away from the complexities created by a 10-cent, 15-cent, or 20-cent moneylines offered in baseball. Most importantly, “squares” preferred betting favourites in all sports, and the short odds offered on favourites in head to head baseball betting markets discouraged that practice. Many American bettors who had no qualms laying seven points in a basketball game, or two touchdowns in a football game, weren’t interested in risking $180 to win $100 on a baseball team. That seemed too expensive for bettors used to odds of 1.90 for a NFL or NBA handicap bet. Casual bettors don’t see “points” as money. Casual bettors were taking the summer off instead of betting baseball.

Baseball run lines allowed bookmakers to create the illusion that favourites were suddenly affordable. Bettors wouldn’t touch odds of 1.50 or 1.30 for a favourite. But, they loved the chance to lay -1.5 runs at lines near odds of 1.90. Squares always assumed favourites were going to win their games easily. This was a steal! They now had a reason to bet year round!

It was, and still is a steal…for the bookmakers. The true value of a run has been underestimated by the public, many of whom continue to take the worst of it by misplaying run line options. Let’s run through five common mistakes made when betting on baseball run lines.

#1 – Don't Bet Too Many Games

Run lines weren’t created as a “better” option for bettors because bookmakers decided they wanted to give away free money. Run lines generally offer worse betting value than regular moneylines do. They were designed to trick bettors into making mistakes. Some sharp bettors would argue that betting these options in the first place is a mistake. Certainly, making them the focal point of your attack is difficult indeed unless you have complex modelling capabilities that accurate assess how often victory margins will be two runs or more.

If you are new to run lines, and constantly find yourself tempted to bet a lot of them, you’re making a big mistake. You haven’t thought through the math for true run value and true blowout victory percentages. If a casino lowered its payouts on natural 21’s in blackjack, you wouldn’t play more hands at their tables. If its hotel prices went up, you wouldn’t get a second room.

#2 – Don't Bet Favourites Just Because They're Favourites

It’s become a litmus test to separate “squares” from “sharps.” If you hear somebody saying that they’re going to bet a big favourite on the run line because they don’t want to take short priced odds in the head to head market, then you know you’re listening to a “square” who’s about to take the worst of it because of statistical ignorance.

Laying -1.5 runs at cheaper prices is not a shortcut to success. It’s a shortcut for sportsbooks to get your money faster. One-run results are more common than casual bettors realise. Giving that run to sportsbooks is a “hidden” vigorish that jumps out to punish them all the time.

The danger for many newcomers is that they’ll often win by big scoreboard margins when things go their way. If you imagine dominance…then win 7-2…you develop delusions of grandeur about your ability to predict dominance. Percentage-wise, short priced favourites get that way because its’ a mix of 7-2 and 4-3 type games grouped in with a few losses that create the high winning expectation. Blowouts trick bad bettors into making future mistakes.

#3 – Don't Bet “Hot” Pitchers

Another litmus test for separating squares from sharps involve how they see statistics. Public bettors tend to look at recent statistics as a way to “rate” pitchers. They don’t look at overall skill sets. They either look at the last three starts, the last month, or season-to-date numbers in a way that will give them “permission” to bet on a favourite. Professional bettors are focused on what’s most likely to be coming up in the future. Often that means understanding that hurlers who have been performing over their heads are about to fall back to earth.

You can see already how this bites bettors who want to lay -1.5 runs. They’re jumping on guys just as they’re about to return to normalcy (or worse). They’re taking the worst of the pricing, and the worst of the timing!

If you evaluate pitchers by skill sets (run prevention, hit prevention, strikeout rate, etc…), then you won’t fall into the trap of letting recent form sway your assessments. Otherwise:

- If a pitcher has had a few big outings, you’ll be laying -1.5 runs with him when he crashes.

- If a pitcher has had a stronger than expected month, you’ll be laying -1.5 runs with him as regression sends him back to his norms over the next month.

- If a pitcher has a stronger than expected first three months, you’ll be laying -1.5 runs with him repeatedly because his season-to-date stats will continue to create illusions as he regresses over the second half.

Through all that…there will be “tease” pitchers who will trick you into thinking you can outsmart the market. The market knows that, over time pitches will perform to their skill sets. And, the market is draining money from your bankroll because you don’t know it.

#4 – Don't Ignore “Value of a Run” Influences from Park Effects

Casual bettors are still largely ignorant of the impact that various ballparks have on scoring production. The last thing anyone should want to do is lay -1.5 runs in a pitcher’s park where 2-1, 3-2, and 4-3 results are common.

#5 – Don't Shy Away From “Inferior” Teams

Thus far we’ve mostly talked about why betting on favourites is so dumb. The other side of that coin is that bettors don’t even consider the increased value they might get from taking +1.5 runs. To the degree value pops up with run line propositions, it’s more likely to come in this area.

Squares tend to think that underdogs are going to lose, so “taking +1.5 runs” just means that they’re hoping the team loses by exactly one run. They see it as trying to thread a needle. Betting on a favourite comes with the assumption that the superior team is going to win easily “like they’re supposed to.” Taking the inferior team at +1.5 runs is hoping you win the lottery. Again, misconceptions about the reality of baseball create a strategic mistake.


To this point, we’ve only been talking about what not to do. Are there any baseball betting strategies that can work on run lines? The following general principles are behind the strategies that we’ve seen work for some bettors.

- Take +1.5 runs in scoring environments where runs are going to be most scarce.

- Lay -1.5 runs in scoring environments where runs are going to be most plentiful.

Scarce resources are valuable. You don’t want to “give” the sportsbooks an extra run by laying -1.5 in a low scoring environment. You want to take +1.5 in projected pitcher’s duels, or in ballpark/weather environments that inhibit scoring.

Plentiful resources are cheap. It’s less dangerous to lay -1.5 runs in great hitting environments when scoreboard results are likely to skew to wider margins. Even competitive games can end 6-4 or 7-5 in high scoring environments, and one big scoring inning all by itself can virtually win the bet for you in what’s destined to be a blowout.

Again, this isn’t a market that’s full of holes. Opening lines sharpened by early betting tend to reflect the influences of ballparks, weather, and even some home plate umpires. It’s a mistake betting into that market unless you know what you’re doing…and conservatively, responsibly emphasising the real value of runs.