There’s no such thing as points in baseball – teams score runs. A run means a run around all four bases. The earliest home runs were inside-the-park jobs, involving a lot more baserunning ability than bat strength.
Run lines and points spreads are similar, but different in a few important ways. This post will clarify what exactly an MLB run line is, explain how it works, and then I’ll share seven powerful tricks to help you bet using baseball’s unique run line system.
How do Baseball Run Lines Work?
The first thing you’ll notice about baseball run lines is that they’re almost always the same for every game.
The average combined score in an MLB game (going back to 2013) is 8.33 runs. That’s about 1/3 the average score of an NFL game during that same period, and about 1/14th the total score in a typical NBA game. Baseball is a low-scoring game, with each run equal to just one point, unlike football and basketball, each of which has options for scoring multiple points with a single offensive event.
You’ll rarely find a baseball run line that isn’t +/- 1.5. That means on an MLB run line bet that a winning team has to win by two runs – also, if a team loses by just one run, they’ve beat the run line.
Here’s an example of a typical baseball betting line that includes the run line and money line odds:
- Seattle Mariners +1.5 (-160) +117
- Los Angeles Angels -1.5 (+135) -140
Here, we see that the Mariners are visiting LA as underdogs. A bet on Seattle on the money line would pay off $117 for every $100 wagered. A money line bet on LA would pay out $100 for every $140 laid out.
The run line tells us that the Mariners need to lose by less than two runs or win outright to cover, and a successful bet on Seattle to cover pays out $100 for every $160 bet. Conversely, we see that LA needs to win by at least two runs, and a winning bet on LA would pay out $135 for every $100 laid out.
It’s important to consider the two bets distinctly from one another – though, as I’ll show you later in the post, you can also use this to your advantage as a bettor.
The tricks below will help you maximize potential profits when betting on run lines in pro baseball.
7 Tricks for Betting on MLB Run Lines
There’s a significant amount of parity in terms of team performance against the run line – during the 2021 MLB season, just nine teams covered the run line enough to be consistently profitable. There’s also a big correlation between performance against the run line and performance overall.
If you’re familiar with point spread bets in the NFL or the NBA, understanding run line bets in baseball won’t be that difficult.
#1. Bet on the Right Run Lines
It’s easy to see which games Vegas thinks will be close – the closer the two teams are to even odds, the more likely that game is to end with a narrow margin of victory. That situation heavily favors run line underdogs, who don’t have to win to cover, just lose by a single run.
Something like 30% of all MLB games are decided by a single run, meaning a little under one-third of all pro baseball games will favor the run line underdog. Learning to identify and then bet on the run line dog in this situation is the first step in any MLB run line betting strategy.
This means taking Colorado at home against San Francisco because the Giants and Rockies are both getting (-110) odds, while the Rockies are the run line underdog and only need to come within a point of winning to pay off.
#2. Move the Run Line
Baseball isn’t football – there are no teasers or pleasers to help you move a point.
But using a little bit of MLB betting tomfoolery, you can effectively move the run line on a favorite from -1.5 to -1. That would mean a win if the team won by a single run, rather than the typical two runs required.
Now, you haven’t literally moved the run line from -1.5 to -1, but you effectively have.
If your team wins by more than one run, your money line bet wins, and your run line loses, meaning you break even. If your team wins by two or more runs, you win both bets.
#3. Read the Game Totals Line for Tips
The first thing I do when I’m looking for good MLB run lines is look for game totals that are likely to produce one- or two-run final scores. I like this method because it doesn’t take much time and helps me filter an otherwise confusing slate of contests into a shorter list of potential run line bets.
I also like game totals of eight and nine, though I think seven is still by far my favorite source of potential run line wager opportunities.
#4. Fall in Love With Home Underdogs
I don’t want to get into the psychology behind taking a home underdog. Home-field advantage is a real thing in baseball, and historically speaking, underdogs perform better at home than away.
I’ll often combine this with the game totals analysis strategy – home dogs in games expected to produce seven or nine total runs are a pretty consistent winner, slightly profitable over the long run in most seasons.
#5. Don’t Over – or Undervalue Pitching
The betting public is obsessed with starting pitching, to the point where the two teams’ starters are sometimes the only roster information available on a betting board.
Starting pitchers in baseball are the most overvalued single position in all of sports, even more than a starting QB or goalie. It’s rare that a team is an underdog when they start their ace – that alone should make you wary of the value of starting pitching.
I often find value in run line bets by looking for big-name pitchers beloved by the betting public and fading him when it makes sense. I’ll take a home dog facing their opponents’ ace at +1.5 most of the time, depending on the game total and other game conditions.
#6. Take +1.5 on Losing Teams
Statistically speaking, teams on short losing streaks (we’re talking between one and three losses only) are ideal for underdog run line wagers. You’re getting the best possible price because the betting public and even the big oddsmakers overlook these teams.
You’ll still get the same +1.5 run line for a team on a losing streak, but it will no doubt pay out much better than the same team without the streak in place. That’s what we call value.
#7. Lay the Points in High-Scoring Situations
In baseball, higher-scoring games tend to be more likely to end as blowouts. You’re less likely to have a 10-9 result in a 19-run game than something like 15-4 or 12-7. Obviously, this means the smart money in potentially high-scoring games is on the -1.5 favorites.
There’s only four in total. But compare that to a run total of 13, which has seven different combinations. Only one of the seven combos that lead to a run total of 13 come within a two-run margin. That makes those games much tougher for run line bettors.
Baseball’s fixed spread handicap of +/- 1.5 makes it unique from other sports flexible spread systems. It poses a challenge to new bettors used to traditional point spreads. With a little practice and with a few of the above tricks in place, baseball run line bets can be a meaningful part of any MLB betting strategy.