Betting the Run Line in Baseball
It’s no surprise that baseball betting is a growing market for legal sportsbooks in Tennessee and elsewhere. While the state of Tennessee doesn’t yet have an MLB team to bet on, it is home to five minor league teams (Chattanooga, Knoxville, Jackson, Memphis and Nashville) that develop future major league talent.
While there is major interest in bringing an expansion MLB team to the state, baseball fans in Tennessee can currently root for nearby teams like the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals.
Baseball betting also has some unique features. You can bet on MLB teams to win, on total runs scored in the game, on teams to be ahead after the first five innings, on players to hit a home run, and more.
One of the most exciting ways to bet baseball might be via the run line. Below we’ll explain what exactly the run line is, how to bet it and why it’s worthy of your time and interest.
What is the run line in baseball betting?
Betting the run line is similar to betting on a point spread in a football or basketball game. It allows bettors to wager on whether they think the favorite will win the game by two or more runs, or whether the underdog will either win the game or lose the game by only one run.
Betting the run line offers a better payout if you think the favorite can win the game by more than a run. It also offers you a one-run cushion if you think the underdog has a good chance to win the game but ends up losing a heartbreaker.
|New York Mets||-125||-1.5 (+155)|
|Atlanta Braves||+105||+1.5 (-175)|
In the above example, the Mets are slight favorites to win the game on the moneyline. A $125 bet would be needed to win $100 in profit. However, if you think the Mets win rather easily, a more worthwhile bet might be the Mets on the run line.
If you bet the Mets on the run line, your $100 bet would win you a profit of $155. If the Mets only win by one run, you lose your MLB run line bet.
On the flip side, if you think the Braves will keep the game close and have a good chance to win, you can bet them on the moneyline at +105, where a $100 dollar bet earns you $105 in profit. If the Braves end up losing a hard-fought game by a run, your moneyline bet would lose. If you bet the Braves +1.5, a $175 wager would be needed to profit $100.
You’re laying more juice, but a one-run loss is a winning ticket rather than a losing ticket. Another example of run line betting is below:
|Los Angeles Dodgers||-300||-1.5 (-160)|
|Pittsburgh Pirates||+260||+1.5 (+140)|
In this example, the Dodgers — the current World Series champions— are going against one of the worst teams in MLB, the Pittsburgh Pirates. It is hard to stomach the idea of betting $300 to win $100 if you think the Dodgers are going to win the game.
If you think it’ll be an easy win for Los Angeles, it’s much easier to bet $160 to win $100 and hope they win the game by two or more runs. On the other hand, baseball has a lot of variance, so betting on the Pirates to keep the game close at +140 could also be an attractive option. You get plus-money on your bet, and you get a free run.
Why is the run line always -1.5 or +1.5?
If you’re normally betting NFL football spreads or NBA basketball spreads, you’re probably used to seeing the spread change based on the talent disparity between the two teams. A matchup between two even teams comes with a spread of three points or lower in football, while a game between a bottom dweller and an elite team could produce a spread of 14 to 17 points.
In baseball run line betting, the spread is almost always 1.5. Why does the spread never change?
There is more variance in baseball than other sports. In 2019, the top winning percentage in football belonged to Baltimore, which won 87.5% of its games, and the worst winning percentage (Cincinnati) had wins in 12.5% of its games. In the 2019 MLB season, the Houston Astros, the top team, only won 66% of the time, while the Detroit Tigers, the worst team in baseball, still won 29.2% of their games.
In addition, there is much less scoring in baseball. Football totals range from the low 40s through the upper 50s. Basketball totals can range from 190 points to 240 points. Baseball totals range from seven to 11 runs usually, with park factors and weather playing a major role. The spread is lower to adjust for the lower scoring in the sport.
There are some times when the run line is 2.5 instead of 1.5. It’s very rare, often reserved for when an elite team has an ace starting pitcher on the mound against a bad team with a below-average starting pitcher.
What’s the difference between the run line and moneyline?
If you bet a team on the moneyline, you are betting on that team to simply win the game. It doesn’t matter if it wins by 10 runs or if it wins by only one run. Your bet is a winner and the amount you win doesn’t change.
The moneyline odds are calculated based on the probability of the team to win a certain game. If a team has a moneyline of -150, it’s implied it has a 60% chance to win the game.
Betting the run line is equivalent to betting on a team to cover a spread. You are saying, I think the favored team wins the game even if you take 1.5 runs away from it. Or if you bet the underdog, you are saying, if I add 1.5 runs to this team, it will win the game.
Run lines come at better odds for favorites and worse odds for underdogs. This is common sense, as winning by at least two runs is harder than simply winning a game. On the flip side, losing a game by one or winning a game is more likely than just winning a game.
Is it better to bet the run line or moneyline?
Both moneyline bets and run line bets have their pros and cons.
If you bet the moneyline, you only have to worry about your team winning. It’s a weird feeling when the team you bet on wins the game, but you lost your run line bet because your team didn’t win by enough. It goes against everything we’ve learned as sports fans.
If you bet on the favorite to win on the moneyline, you’ll have to risk more money. For example, if a team is -150 to win, you’d have to risk $150 to win $100. If you bet the favorite on the run line instead, you’d have to risk less money up front and would get a better payout if that team wins.
Betting on favorites, the moneyline is more likely to win but the run line pays out better. The opposite is true if you are betting on underdogs. The moneyline is less likely to win, but pays out better than betting the underdog +1.5 on the run line.
It’s up to you to decide if you’d rather place a bet that has a lesser chance of winning in exchange for a better payout, or if you want to place a safer bet for a lower potential payout.
Can a run line bet push?
A traditional run line bet in baseball will never push. The half run (-1.5) is called a “hook” in the gambling industry. When a total or spread has the hook attached to it, a push is impossible.
There are variations of run lines where the spread is a whole number. For example, betting a team -1. If that team wins the game by one, you get your money refunded (a push). If it loses the game, you lose your bet. If it wins the game by two runs or more, you win your bet. There can also be alternate run lines of -2 available. The same rules apply to those.
Does the five-inning rule affect run line bets?
In cases of inclement weather, baseball games can be deemed “official” games once the visiting team has made 15 outs (five innings) and the home team is leading, or once the home team has made 15 outs, regardless of the score.
In the event that a game you wagered on has been shortened, only your moneyline bets will be valid. All totals, team total and run line bets are refunded. This is because a shortened game unfairly affects the bettor. It takes away scoring opportunities for teams to score more runs to push a game over the total. It also takes away the opportunity for a team to score more runs to cover the run line.
Can I bet run line parlays?
Yes, you can parlay multiple run lines. A parlay bet means that you pick two or more bets and combine them into one bet. All of the bets must win individually in order for you to win your bet. If even one of your individual bets loses, your whole bet loses. Parlays are harder to win, so they offer increased odds and higher payouts.
Check the rules of the sportsbook you are betting at to see if there is a maximum number of legs you can include in your parlay, or if there’s a maximum number of underdogs you can include in your bet. Almost all online sportsbooks will allow you to parlay baseball run lines.
Can you bet on the run line live while games are in progress?
Yes, you can bet the run line after the game has already started. However, the betting odds and lines will change based on what is happening in the game. For example, if the Mets are leading the Braves 4-0 in the sixth inning, the live run line would be -3.5 or -4.5 rather than the traditional -1.5. This is because the Mets already have a four-run lead.
Most times, when betting the run line live, you’ll see a spread right around what the score differential is in the game currently. In the above example, Mets -3.5 might be a -150 favorite since they are already up by four runs. On the other hand, the live line might be -4.5 as a +150 underdog.
They would become an underdog in this situation because they would need to increase their lead from the time of the bet until the end of the game.
Does the run line change for the playoffs and World Series?
The run line itself does not change much in the playoffs. For the most part, the spread will remain at either -1.5 or +1.5. What will change is the amount of juice on these lines.
During the regular season, you will see a lot of good teams playing against a lot of bad teams. In those games, the run line might become a sizable underdog. In the playoffs, there are usually no bad teams. Therefore, games are expected to be closer in score, and you will get better run line odds.
You will not have to lay -160 on a run line much in the playoffs. For the most part, betting the favorite to cover the run line in the playoffs should be a plus-money bet. That’s not always the case in the regular season.
Baseball run line betting systems
There are betting systems for almost every kind of bet, and the run line is no different. Different bettors attack each type of bet differently.
One common run line betting system is to bet teams getting +1.5 runs on the run line at plus money. The reason for this is simple. If you’re an underdog trying to keep the game within two runs, you are most likely a bad team playing against a good team. The public loves betting on good teams, and going against the public can be a good way to be contrarian.
Another run line betting system is to bet on teams to cover the +1.5 runs in games with low over/under totals. The logic behind this is simple. If a game is projected to be low-scoring, runs will be at a premium, and the likelihood of a team winning by only one run is much higher compared to a game where there are a lot of runs expected.
What other sports have spreads similar to the run line?
Hockey has basically the same exact thing as the run line. In hockey betting, it’s called the puck line. The strategy is almost identical as — much like baseball — hockey is a sport with a lot of randomness and variance each night with low scoring games for the most part.
Soccer betting has similar spreads in games that are expected to be more one-sided. In a soccer game with two even teams, there won’t be a -1.5 spread. However, if there’s a game where two teams are clearly a bit mismatched, there will be lines similar to the baseball run line.
For example, a soccer game between Spain and Italy won’t feature a spread larger than 0.5. But if Spain played a lesser opponent like Kazakhstan, the sportsbooks would offer a spread to help attract bets on the game.