For many years, the only available bets on a single baseball game were the money line and over/under totals. That changed a few years ago, and it altered the way many play the game today.
Run-line betting in baseball mimics NFL spread betting, which is the most popular type of football wager. Oddsmakers vary the betting line in football to try and even out the wagers on the favorite and underdog. In run-line betting, the betting line or "spread" is almost always fixed at 1.5 runs.
The purpose of this wager is to make the huge favorite more attractive to gamblers with better odds if that team wins by more than one run.
Run-Line Betting Explained
Are you ready to take a swing at the run line?
Put simply, you either wager on a team to win by two or more runs or you bet on a team to either win outright or lose by just a single run.
On the money line, the Red Sox (-130) are favored to win the game over the Yankees (+110). Since bettors are at a disadvantage by taking the favorite, oddsmakers install a positive return. In our run-line example, the Red Sox are -1.5 runs (+120) and the Yankees are +1.5 runs (-140).
If you bet $100 on the Red Sox, you would make a profit of $120 if they won the game by two or more runs. If they lost the game outright or won by exactly one run, you would lose your $100 wager. If you bet $100 on the Yankees, you would have to put up $140 on the run-line bet to earn a profit of $100. This wager will win if New York wins outright or if it loses by exactly one run.
In other words, if you think the Red Sox are going to win in a rout, you should play Boston on the run line, since it offers better odds (-130 money line versus +120 run line). If you think the Yankees are going to win the game, you should play New York on the money line, since it offers better odds (+110 money line versus -140 run line).
When wagering on the run line, the game must go the full nine innings or 8.5 innings if the home team is ahead to have action.
Run-Line Betting Tips
Major League Baseball games are decided by one run about 30 per cent of the time. Just because a team is heavily favored against a weaker opponent, it doesn't mean the favorite is going to win by a bunch of runs. Let’s run through some common mistakes made when betting on baseball run lines.
• Don't just bet the favorite all the time: The Houston Astros were favored in most of their 162 games in 2018. And why not? The defending World Series champions posted back-to-back 100-win seasons.
The Astros went 103-59, meaning bettors won almost 64 per cent of the time betting on Houston straight up. But the champs were also 24-24 in one-run games and 85-79 on the run line, meaning bettors who played the Astros on this bet won almost 52 per cent of the time.
Or, how about the Cleveland Indians, who won the Central Division. The Indians posted a 91-71 record (.562) — the eighth best record in baseball. Their run-line record? They ranked 29th at 75-89 (.457).
Obviously, the Indians may have been a good bet on the money line, but the run line was a different story.
• Don't ignore teams with losing records: Smart bettors and professional gamblers will seldom give odds greater than -140 when betting on baseball and they always look for a reason to bet the underdog. If you bet nothing but underdogs you can win less than half of your bets and still come out ahead in the long run because the odds are always better than even money.
Cincinnati Reds' fans suffered through a long summer as the Central Division team in the NL finished the season at 67-95 (.414). And yet, if you bet on the last-place Reds in every game this year, you likely made money as they posted an 88-74 record (.543) on the run line.
• Don't ignore all the statistics: In each game, there are more stats posted on the starting pitchers than any other position combined. But betting on the ace of the staff is not always the best strategy.
More questions need to be asked. Is one particular team on a streak? What is the record against today's opponent? Is this a pitcher- or hitter-friendly park?
The answers to these questions can help a gambler decide whether it's going to be a tight game and likely a one-run outcome.
• Don't bet on too many games: In 2018, the Baltimore Orioles were the worst team on the run line at 68-94 (.420), while the Tampa Bay Rays were the best at 92-70 (.568). Betting on more and more games decreases your odds of making a profit since it's almost a 50-50 proposition for all 32 teams to win on the run line.
The more games you play, the more likely you are going to make mistakes. A better strategy would be to pick one or two games and stick with those decisions. Picking a winner is hard enough. Picking four or five winners will just eat at your bankroll.
Where to Bet on the Run Line
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal law banning sports gambling in May 2018, opening the door for state lawmakers to legalize sports betting.
Some jurisdictions are coming on board quickly, others are still debating regulations within their governments. Sports betting was already allowed in Nevada, Delaware, Oregon and Montana. Others that are now up and running include New Jersey, Mississippi, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.