Sports Betting Stats

MLB Betting - Runlines Part 1

Although many bettors only bet the money-line in baseball, betting the run-line (also known as the handicap) can offer better value in some cases. Bettors have historically avoided the run-line markets for several reasons: the inability of the player to comparison shop money-lines versus run-lines; the high 'juice' or commission often carried by run-lines; and the double margins attached to run-lines (-110, bet $110 to win $100 on both sides at pick'em versus -105, bet $105 to win $100). The key to success with run-lines is being able to make the proper conversion to a money-line equivalent so as to use simple price comparison to find the best value.

Our first piece of advice: If you only have access to one dime line (-105/-105) and one standard run-line (-110/-110), and nothing else to go by, never bet the run-line. Stick to the money-line.

However, even rough guidelines can be enough to uncover value in run-line markets.

Some basic statistics: In baseball, the home team wins by one run about 17% of the time, and the road team wins by one run a little over 10% of the time. This disparity is due to the fact that in the bottom of the ninth or later inning, the game is immediately over when the home team is ahead by one run. This turns a lot of games into one-run wins, which in turn makes that one run extremely valuable. That run gains even more value when the total is low, which makes it much harder to win by more than one run. Conversely, that run is less valuable for high totals. The value of the run also varies slightly depending on the money-line for the game.

Do other factors count? For some time, we here at have been debating whether other factors can have a substantial impact on these probabilities. Even when you have a good model for run-lines under standard conditions, this is still a very hard problem to analyze. Common sense, though, says that a strong closer would increase your chance of winning by one, a poor bullpen would tend to reduce the chance. Similarly, teams with power and a tendency to put up crooked numbers would blow out more than the normal share of opponents, which teams that focus on small ball would sacrifice blowouts to get the runs that matter.

In fact, this debate is not just going on within - it's going on all around the baseball world. 'Sabermetricians' like the ones at Baseball Prospectus argue that Pythagoras is king and that all that matters is runs scored and runs prevented; they contend there's no such thing as a team that excels at winning close games, or even one that tends to wind up in more of them than usual. On the other hand, old school baseball guys talk about the pressure of hitting and pitching in the clutch, and how some teams can get the job done while others don't.

Most of the time though, the market thinks the sabermetricians are right. A run-line can bend, but it almost never breaks. Beyond a certain point, there will usually be bettors happy to correct it on the theory that any potential abnormalities are small enough to not be worth worrying about. Yet, there's no doubt that while they are likely small, such effects do exist. And all things being equal, it's worth your while to take advantage of them.

Study run-lines: It's extremely important to get a sense of how run-lines are priced to see if a new line offers value. Even studying one day's worth of's lines will give you a handle on how run-line prices change as a function of the game money-line and total. Our bettors will do the work for you - they sharpen our lines, and you can use those sharp lines to sharpen your own tactics. In addition, by expanding your range of market choices by comparison shopping both run-lines and money-lines at every book, you can substantially improve your expectations. A sharp baseball bettor can find ways to capitalize on any form of handicapping that is even slightly better than random.

The importance of low commission markets or 'reduced juice':'s reduced juice makes our run-lines a worthwhile way to bet. Instead of the normal -105 (1.95) for money-lines and -110 (1.91) for run-lines, only charges -104 (1.96) for money-lines and -105 (1.95) for run-lines. With favourites on run-lines often being in the -160 range or even higher, the effective juice charged will frequently end up being lower than the money-line juice or commission. (Use the multi-way calculator at to carry out juice calculations.) Because the low juice both allows and forces to refine its run-lines, one can often take advantage of the so-call 'Pinnacle lean'. If someone is offering a better price than, there's a good chance value is there, if you like the team. For example, if Team A +1.5 runs (-105) was offered at and available five cents cheaper at +1.5 runs (+100 or even money) elsewhere, more often than not Team A represents value.

That does it for the basics of baseball run-lines. Next week, we'll delve into tactics that allow you to exploit these values further.

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