Betting the Run Line in Major League Baseball
This article is designed to present information regarding wagering on the Run Line in Major League Baseball. Over 20,000 Major League baseball games played since 1989 have formed the data base used for this study. It takes a great deal of time to go through all of the data and analyze what has happened and we shall be presenting the data to you in segments over the next few weeks, including results broken down by price range.
We begin with an Overview of Run Line betting.
Unlike football and basketball in which pointspreads are used to determine the winners and losers of wagers, baseball has historically been a sport in which bettors merely wager on which team will win the game. As the perceived difference between two competing teams grows, money line odds are used to ‘equalize’ the chances of a bettor showing a profit over the long run. Two evenly matched teams will be involved in a ‘pick em’ game. In Sports Books that feature a “ten cents line” you would lay $105 to win $100 on the team you think will win the game. A team that is more moderately favored might be priced as a -140 favorite in which case you would wager $140 to win $100. If you bet on the opponent, the Underdog, you would wager $100 to win $130. As the price of the favorite rises, the ‘spread’ between the favorite and underdog prices also increases. For example, a -200 Favorite often returns +180 on the Underdog.
Run Line wagering attempts to introduce the pointspread element found in basketball and football wagering to a very limited degree. The Run Line wager involves the laying or taking of one and a half runs with a corresponding adjustment in the price. When you wager on a Favorite and lay the run and half you are wagering that the Favorite will win by two runs or more. A wager on the Underdog at plus a run and a half means that you are wagering on the Underdog to either win the game straight up or lose the game by exactly one run. Obviously you do not have tie games in baseball.
The price adjustments in run line wagering depend upon whether the favored team is at home or on the road. A larger adjustment occurs for Home Favorites since they will often only get at bats in 8 innings if they have the lead after the visiting team hits in the ninth. If the home team trails or is tied in the middle of the ninth inning the odds that they will win the game by more than one run are greatly reduced since it would take a multiple run home run to win by at least two runs since the game would normally end after the go ahead run crosses home plate in the event of any run producing event other than a home run. The road team will ALWAYS bat in the top of the ninth inning regardless of the score so it is easier for the road team to win by more than a run in tight ballgames. In the ninth inning and in extra innings there is no limit on the number of runs the road team can score — they continue to bat until there are three outs.
A typical example of how the price adjustment works is as follows. A Home Favorite of – 125 often is transformed into an Underdog of roughly + 145 when laying the run and a half, a spread of 70 cents. The corresponding Road Underdog, priced at + 115 straight, is often a Favorite of – 165 when getting the plus run and a half, a spread of 80 cents. If the roles were reversed, a Road Favorite of – 125 would be priced at + 120 when laying the run and a half, a spread of just 45 cents. The corresponding Home Underdog, priced straight at + 115, would be a Favorite of about – 140 when taking the run and a half, a spread of 55 cents.
It is our contention that playing the Run Line and converting a Favorite into an Underdog makes great sense but doing the reverse, taking the run and half with the underdog, is not efficient. Consider the following —
The ONLY way you are hurt when you lay the run and a half and convert a Favorite into an Underdog is when that Favorite WINS BY EXACTLY ONE RUN! In all other situations you are benefitted. When the Favorite wins by 2 runs or more, thereby covering the Run Line, you WIN MORE than if you just played the game straight. You win as if you had played on an Underdog (+ 145 vs. + 100 in the Home Favorite example above or + 120 vs. + 100 in the Road Favorite example). If that Favorite should lose the game you would LOSE LESS than by playing straight (- 100 vs. – 125 in the case of our Home and Road Favorites in our above example). Only when the Favorite wins by exactly one run are you hurt by playing the run line. In such an instance the straight bettor wins while the bettor who laid the run and a half loses.
Conversely, the ONLY way you are helped by taking the runs and a half is when your team LOSES BY EXACTLY ONE RUN. In all other situations straight plays on Underdogs are more beneficial. When your Underdog loses, as they are expected to do, you LOSE MORE by taking the run and a half (-$165 in the case of our Road Underdog above or – $120 in the case of our Home Underdog) than by playing the team straight (lose just $100). When that team pulls the upset and wins you WIN LESS by taking the run and a half since you would normally be getting, for example, + $115 on a straight wager but are getting just + $100 when taking the run and a half. When the team loses by exactly 1 run the straight bettor loses while the bettor who played the plus a run and a half wins.
The central questions to be asked and answered are “How often do Favorites win by exactly 1 Run?” and “How often do Favorites win by 2 Runs or more”?
We have studied the results of over 20,000 Major League Baseball games and in the next few weeks we shall be presenting data that looks into these questions and the many sub-questions. But for starters let’s share with you the following data that shows, by percentage, just how often the four possible scenarios have historically broken out for both Home Favorites and Road Favorites
Percentage of games which produce
the following Result . . HOME FAVORITES ROAD FAVORITES
————————— ———- ————
Win by 2 Runs or More 39.1 % 43.6 %
Win by Exactly 1 Run 18.4 % 11.6 %
Lose by Exactly 1 Run 11.0 % 16.4 %
Lose by 2 Runs or More 31.5 % 28.5 %
Note that we have split the losses into groups of exactly 1 run and more than 1 run. There really is no need for this distinction since a loss is a loss is a loss when it comes to playing the Favorite. Only the 1 Run win has significance. What we want to show is that although between 28% and 30% of all games are decided by 1 run, ONLY those in which the FAVORITE WINS BY 1 RUN have an impact of the result of betting the Run Line!