Run Line Baseball Betting Strategy

We touch on run lines in our MLB betting primer article, but the betting market deserves a closer look. That’s what we aim to do in this article. Feel free to visit the above link for a refresher on the basics of run lines, and then head back over here for a more in-depth analysis and understanding how to profit from using MLB run line strategy when placing bets on MLB baseball.

Run line betting in baseball almost mimics NFL spread betting which is the most popular type of NFL football betting. The line for baseball run lines is 1.5 and you will be able to bet on the favored team to win by 2 runs or more. On the flip side, you can place a bet on the underdog team to lose by 1 run or to win the game.

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MLB Run Line Betting – Explained

We’re going to use a primary example of an MLB betting market to dissect the implied lines:

MLB Team

MLB Run Line

MLB Moneyline

Baltimore Orioles

+1.5 (-105)

+190

New York Yankees

-1.5 (-115)

-210

In the above example, the Orioles are facing the Yankees at Yankee Stadium. New York is a heavy favorite on the moneyline at -210 odds to win. Many amateur bettors will look at the moneyline and decide that -210 is too high of a price to pay for the Yankees and opt to lay -1.5 with the run line instead. This isn’t necessarily a poor wager by default, but since the Yankees are a team that is often heavily wagered on by the public, there may be some value in bettors betting the opposite side.

First, however, we can convert the moneyline odds in this example, assuming that this market is near-efficient. The no-vig moneyline for New York in this example is (-210-190)/2 = -200. The implied probability or odds to win on -200 bet is 66.76%. The market thinks that the Yankees will win this game about 67% of the time.

We can also calculate the no-vig price of the Yankees’ run line in the same way. The price is (-115-105)/2 = -110. The no-vig probability on a -110 bet, the standard juice for all markets at most sportsbooks is 52.38%. This means the market thinks that New York will win by 1.5 runs more than a little over more than half the time.

MLB Implied Runs

Using these above-implied probabilities, we can calculate the that the betting market is telling us that they think Baltimore will lose by exactly 1 run (66.76-52.38) 14.38 % of the time. What can we do with this information do you ask?

Well, historically, about 30% of MLB games end with a one-run difference between the two teams. That’s a considerable percentage. One that is likely higher those most MLB bettors realize. However, there are other factors to consider, such as which team is playing at home, the total, and if the game is played in the American League or National League. Using the above example, bettors would have a massive advantage on the market if we used the 30% figure.

According to Pinnacle Sports, which cited their data in 2012, AL favorites in games with high totals are decided by one run 18% of the time. Using that data, we have a distinct advantage, of about 3.60% (18-14.38=3.62%). Assuming that the market is efficient, we can bet with a distinct advantage on the Yankee’s moneyline and the Orioles’ run line +1.5.

MLB Run Line Strategies

It’s easy to calculate your edge based on historical averages, but unless you have thousands of games of data and years of opening and closing lines, the historical percentages may not be entirely accurate. The betting market also adjusts to sharp bettors who are hitting run line markets hard. You’re rarely going to find situations where you have more than a few percentages in advantage, so it’s vital that your calculations of the baseball betting run lines are correct.

Totals Are Important In MLB Run Lines

The MLB total might not seem important when calculating your edge on run lines, but they are essential to consider when determining your edge. Bookmaker totals aren’t always going to be accurate after the final inning, but they’re the best estimate on the planet on how much scoring will go between two baseball teams.

Historically, the smaller the total, the more likely it will be a one-run game. For instance, a game with a total of seven runs can only end so many ways if a total of seven runs are scored. The favorite will usually also be the home team, so that narrows the scoring combination even further. On the flip side, if the oddsmaker’s total is larger, say 9-10 runs, the possible combinations of final scores become a lot wider. Even if we filter the results to wins for a home team that is favored, there’s still a whole host of winning score lines that we don’t have to dodge when the total is at seven points.

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Role Of “Home Favorites” In Baseball Run Lines

Building on the above example, our number one goal when looking for +EV run lines should be looking for games with low totals and home favorites laying -1.5 runs. The reason for this is the structure of an MLB baseball game.

Since home teams will bat last, if these teams have a lead at the bottom of the ninth inning, the game will simply end. Home teams typically win one-run games about 18% of the time while visiting clubs win by a single run at a rate of about 11%. Another consideration should be how much heavily a team is favored. Teams that are heavy favorites win by one run more often than teams that are closely matched. This certainly goes against conventional wisdom but is historically accurate.

The Bullpen Factor In MLB Baseball

Researching relief pitching or the bullpens of both teams is one of the aspects of baseball betting that seemingly no amateur bettors bother to research. That’s probably why they are amateurs and most likely losing sports bettors. Keeping an eye on bullpen usage, the skill of each bullpen, and how they might match up with opposing batters late in the game is an area that you may even know something that the oddsmakers do not.

If you suspect that a starter won’t make it many innings or is on a pitch count, the bullpens of said team will come heavily into play. If you’re laying -1.5 runs, you want to look for a strong bullpen and/or one that is well rested. On the flip side, if you have bet +1.5 runs, look to target poor bullpens and/or ones that have pitched a lot of innings lately to take an advantage in your betting.

In Closing – MLB Run Line Baseball Betting Strategy

Hopefully, this article helped you understand a little more about the makings of run line markets. The math utilized in the above article will help you calculate your edge, but keep in mind that sportsbooks regularly adjust, and historical numbers may not be indicative of the future. If you aim to take run line betting seriously and betting high stakes, it’s vital that you are calculating your edges with elite accuracy.