7 Tricks for Betting the Baseball Run Line

MLB Quick Tips Baseball Strategy

Don’t call baseball’s run line a point spread.

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.

In baseball
Bettors use the term run line (sometimes runline) to refer to the kind of bet other sports call point spreads. Run lines require the winner to clear a certain margin of victory and reward losing teams so long as that team comes within a certain number of points of winning.

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.

Please Note:
The similarity between the names run line and money line are confusing to some bettors, especially people new to the MLB betting market. For that reason, you’ll sometimes see books refer to the run line as the “spread” to differentiate it from the money 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.

Read a few run lines and compare them to the money lines:
You’ll see there’s sometimes a strange relationship between the two numbers. The run line still produces a favorite and an underdog, but books shift their odds due to the 1.5-run adjustment. That’s why money line favorites often get +160 odds like an underdog. It’s that much tougher to win by two runs in baseball, a favored team can payout like a dog. On the other hand, a money line underdog taking +1.5 points often pays out with a minus number like a favorite. It’s that much easier to come within 1.5 runs of the winner, books have to make that adjustment.

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.

That is to say:
Good teams tend to cover the run line, and bad teams tend not to. These tricks are designed to help bettors in what’s generally considered a tight market.

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.

You also won’t have a lot of luck calling up the oddsmaker and asking nicely for a half-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.

Here’s how you do it.
First, you identify the favorite you like at -1 instead of -1.5. Then you place a money line bet that pays out more than the size of your bet on the run line. Bet half of your money on the -1.5-run line favorite, and the other half on your favorite on the money line.

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.

Please Note:
A game total of seven runs is a good indicator of the potential run line value. Think about it – if 30% of games are decided by a single run and knowing how rare an MLB blowout game is – the most likely outcome in a seven-run baseball game is 4-3. Taking the +1.5 dog in a game that could go 4-3 makes good sense.

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 look for home underdogs valued at between +220 and -110.

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.

Remember
The Gambler’s Fallacy applies here – just because a team lost a couple of times in a row doesn’t mean they’re suddenly destined to lose forever. In fact, streaks are so short in baseball, you may consider a team on a three-game losing streak to be “due” for a win, and you may not be all that wrong statistically speaking.

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.

Earlier, I talked about the potential run totals that lead to a 7-run game.

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.

Conclusion

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.

Sub Categories:
Rex Hoffman / Author

Rex Hoffman is a passionate sports writer, with over five years of experience covering sports journalism in line with the Vegas betting landscape. His favorite subjects include football, basketball, and baseball. As a Las Vegas resident, he enjoys finding an edge against the local sportsbooks and aims to share his extensive knowledge with both beginners and experienced bettors. Rex also dabbles in horse racing wagering and enjoys typical casino fare like blackjack and poker in his spare time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.