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Running Men:Betting Baseball's Run Line

Betting Major League Baseball can be profitable. It’s a game that produces valuable trends and relatively frequent streaks. The trends can be turned into profits and the streaks can be bet blindly on the money line. I say blindly because if you hop on every team’s winning or losing streak after three games, you can only lose one bet should the streaking team reverse trend in game four, but you can win an indefinite number of wagers if the team goes on a tear. Sure, each individual bet is a distinct event, but baseball teams on winning streaks are usually devoid of locker room problems, and are healthy and confident. Conversely, after a team loses three or more times, the players are often short-tempered in the clubhouse, may not be at peak playing condition and are competing without supreme confidence.

Another way to improve your baseball betting results is through the run line. Typically, the run line adds 1.5 runs to the underdog (+1.5) and subtracts 1.5 runs from the favorite (-1.5). In essence you are combining a spread (+/- 1.5 runs) with a money line.

For example, let’s use Toronto (Halladay starting) against Anaheim (Lackey on the hill), a game played on May 18. The “regular” line at was visiting Toronto–131 with the Angels being +121 on the take back. This means if you bet $13.10 on Toronto and they won, you would profit by $10 if the Blue Jays were successful. If you bet Anaheim, you would’ve attempted to win $1.21 for every $1 you wagered. A win by any amount of runs decides the “regular” line bet. When betting the run line, you either take or give up 1.5 runs in addition to selecting a team. So, using the Halladay/Lackey match-up, the run line was -1.5 and +125 on Toronto, and +1.5 and -145 on Anaheim.

Is the run line a smart bet? It can be. My advice is to use it as a tool that may provide you with a good spot occasionally.

The Big Favorite

In the above example, note the greater spread between the two sides on the run line. The “regular” line offers bettors a 10-cent difference (dime-line) while the run line bettor must play into a 20-cent line. In general, we always want to bet into the lowest vigorish, and the spread on the run line is often higher than on the regular line. However, as the price on the regular line soars on big favorites, the spread on the run line shrinks in relative terms. Look at what the wagering line might look like when the Red Sox visit the Royals:

Red Sox (Boston)Schilling -270 -1.5 (-135) Over 8 (-110)

Royals (Kansas City)Wood +225 +1.5 (+115) Under 8 (-110)

The Red Sox would be a better bet (vigorish wise) on the run line. An important consideration is the bettors’ deathblow when betting the favorite on the run line–winning by exactly one run. An away favorite will win by one run approximately 12 percent of the time in this scenario (home favorites will win by one run approximately 18 percent of the time). I will risk the one-run win to lay a drastically reduced price and get the more advantageous 20-cent line if I love the Sox in this spot. Note I will get my full nine at bets. That’s not a given when you bet a home favorite on the run line.

Logic comes into play when betting the run line.

The more runs that figure to cross the plate in a game, the more likely one team will win by more than one run. For example, when the Colorado Rockies entertain, I often jump on the run line. Coors Field, situated in Denver at an elevation of 5,200 feet (the 20th row in the upper deck is painted purple to signify a height of precisely one mile above sea level), has been a hitter’s paradise since opening day in 1995. The thin air increases runs scored by approximately 50 percent. On the opposite side of the spectrum, it’s relatively hard to score runs when playing in San Diego’s PetCo Park.

Even more important than location, if one team is far superior to the other, the probability that the game will end on a two or more run margin is increased.

Of course, the lines maker realizes team strength and ballpark propensities must be calculated into his odds. But, similar to when we make any wager, we are looking for overlooked factors that make his line beatable. Our advantage is he must put out lines on almost all the action while we can choose the best games and most efficient ways to bet.

Munzer’s Main Money Maker

Over the years, I have been successful playing the underdog visitor getting 1.5 runs in a game where I calculate less than eight runs will be scored. While I use my own figures to forecast total runs, you can simply use the projected total betting line. The strengths of the two teams are usually reflected in the spread, but the fact that I will win a huge percentage of the time that my visiting squad goes into the ninth inning trailing by one run seems to be the variable that pushes me into the lifetime win column with these wagers.

Incorporating the run line into your betting arsenal gives you greater options and a way of reducing our enemy, the vigorish, when betting big favorites.

By Lee Munzer.
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