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Mar 29, 2018
Mar 29, 2018

MLB Run Line baseball betting strategy

Learn the basics of a Run Line baseball betting strategy

How to convert odds into probability

How often does a run line favourite win by exactly one run?

MLB Run Line baseball betting strategy
The Run Line bet is the MLB equivalent of an NFL 1.5 point spread. While nearly every bettor, professional or otherwise, knows what the “3″ is worth when betting on the NFL, far fewer understand the value of the “1.5″ in baseball betting.

Consider a typical match-up between Boston and Tampa Bay, which may look something like this:

Team Run Line odds (Decimal) Money Line odds (Decimal) Total odds (Decimal)
Tampa Bay Rays +1.5 -101 (1.99) +202 (3.02) OVER 10 -107 (1.93)
Boston Red Sox -1.5 -109 (1.92) -220 (1.45) UNDER 10 -103 (1.97)

Betting smart on MLB Run Lines

An unsophisticated bettor who doesn't know how to bet on basbeall might jump on Boston -1.5 (1.92). The reasoning for this is simple, Boston is a good team and -1.5 appears to offer better value than the Money Line odds at 1.45.

A more knowledgeable bettor would realise that Boston is a public team and that the public likes playing the favourite on the Run Line to reduce how much they pay in terms of a bookmaker's margin. Following the age old adage ‘fade the public’, it is possible to blindly play these types of match-ups – the underdogs on the Run Line against public teams – and grind out a small profit.

An educated bettor would also know that only Pinnacle offers a reduced margin on Run Line betting compared to the industry-standard. By betting on the Run Line at Pinnacle, the sharper bettors will almost always get the best price. Read our simple guide How to calculate betting margins to make sure you know what your bookmaker is charging you.

The most informed sharp and professional bettors will not only look for the value of the reduced margin at Pinnacle, they will apply an additional level of analysis. Using the same type of research done for an NFL spread betting strategy, these professionals know what the spread is worth in MLB. First, they look at the market price to see what it ‘suggests’ that 1.5 runs is worth.

How to convert odds into probability

At a basic level, bettors will convert the game Money Line and Run Line into a percentage chance of winning.

Converting odds into probability:

Probability perecentage = (risk / return) x 100

However, sharp bettors will calculate the "no margin" odds as a means to see if there is value in a bet. This is done by subtracting the odds from one another and dividing by the number of potential outcomes. So, using the example above:

Boston Red Sox "no margin" Money Line American odds:

(-220-202)/2 = -422/2 = -211

We can now apply the aformentioned probability formula which suggests Boston will win (211/311) x 100 or 67.84% of the time.

Similarly, the no margin Run Line price is -105 for Boston which is again calculated as (-109-101)/2 = -210/2 = -105. This suggests that the wager Boston -1.5 on the Run Line will win (105/205) x 100 = 51.2% of the time.

The market ‘believes’ Tampa Bay will lose by exactly 1 run 16.7% of the time (67.9-51.2). Sharp bettors will know that in the MLB, large favorites with totals in that range have won by exactly 1 about 18% of the time over the past 8 years.

When the market price and historical price differ, it suggests that either the Tampa Bay Run Line (+1.5 -101), Boston Money Line (-220) or both have value. A 1% error might not be enough to make that bet, but it’s a starting point in terms of analysis.

If you want to apply these formulas to Decimal odds - calculate the bookmaker's margin first:

(1/1.92) + (1/1.99) = 1.022 or 102.2% = 2.2% vig


Then get the fair probability by running the risk / return calculation without the vig:

1/1.91 = 0.5208 x (100 - 2.2) = 51%

How often does a Run Line favorite win by exactly one run?

This is actually a very complicated question that every sportsbook posting early lines must address. Pinnacle uses a simple conversion chart that uses the Money Line and the game Total to give a Run Line price. While not perfect, it gets us fairly close to the right price (and sharp players betting overnight lines get it in shape for us relatively inexpensively).

Home teams win several more 1-run games than visiting teams, simply because a game ends anytime the home team has a lead entering the bottom of the 9th inning.

The most important factor for determining a fair price on a Run Line is whether the home team is favoured and the visitor is getting +1.5 runs. Home teams win several more 1-run games than visiting teams. The reason for this is simply that games end anytime the home team has a lead entering the bottom of the ninth inning.

If the game is tied at the end of nine innings, there’s only a 7% chance the home team will win by more than one run. On the other hand, a visiting team that scores one run will usually attempt to continue scoring to build up a cushion. This one difference makes a huge difference in pricing – all told, home teams win one-run games about 17% of the time, while the visitors manage to win by one-run just 11% of the time.

Game total

Another important factor when pricing a Run Line is the game Total. The lower the Total, the more likely a game will end as a one-run game for the favourite. While a game Total in no way guarantees that many runs will be scored, it’s a pretty good indicator of how much offense there will be in a game.

For example, a contest between strong pitching teams may have a game Total of seven runs. Assuming the home team wins and only seven runs are scored, there are only four possible scores: 4-3; 5-2; 6-1 and 7-0. On the other hand, if 11 runs are scored, there are six possible winning scores for the home team: 11-0; 10-1; 9-2; 8-3; 7-4 and 6-5 – there are 50% more ways for the home team to win. Oddly enough, these lower-totaled games see home teams win by one run nearly 50% more often than games with totals above 11.

Heavily favoured teams

Another vital factor to consider is how heavily a team is favoured. Teams that are heavily favoured are more likely to win by exactly one rub than a team closer to Pick’em. This is almost counter-intuitive because one expects good teams to blow out weaker teams. On the flip-side, a team has to win the game before it can win by exactly one. The numbers don’t lie and there is more value playing the Run Line against large favorites.

If a game is close after 5-6 innings, the bullpens will come in to play, making +1.5 runs more valuable.

To get an edge against the bookmaker, you should also take a look at the relief pitching for both teams. If the game is close after 5-6 innings, the bullpens will come in to play, making +1.5 runs more valuable. Similarly, laying 1.5 runs, you’d want the opposing team to have a weak bullpen. Understanding this angle can give you a winning edge, especially against opening numbers.

This should have given you a better understanding of Run Line betting. You can ‘wing it’ based on ‘feel’ and set a number subjectively by considering the factors the majority of bettors will look at. Alternatively, you can analyse the data and create your own Run Line conversion chart.

A diligent programmer with some experience in data mining could tackle this in a reasonable amount of time. The information is readily available on the Internet to create this, or solve nearly any numbers problem in MLB betting.

A point worth remembering is that successful handicappers usually have some skill at this and most groups of professional bettors have at least one ‘number cruncher’ among them who didn’t muck around at the back of the class and paid attention in school during math lessons.

Now that you are armed with the basics, go straight to First half baseball betting strategies to find out how to find profitable betting opportunites in the first five innings, courtesy of Pinnacle!

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