Each season I spend a few columns discussing the concept of betting the run line in baseball which, in many respects, is akin to the way football and basketball are bet.
Rather than using a traditional point spread that will vary as wagers come in on each side, baseball uses a set “point spread” of a run and a half, adjusting the attached money line as money is wagered on each side of the run line.
In future columns I will note historical data concerning the run line from a long term perspective in addition to medium and short term along with presenting data on which teams are doing the best in terms of run line results this season. As for this week, let’s establish the basics of the Money Line wager.
In wagering on the run line the bettor has two options – to lay the run and a half with the favored team or to take it with the underdog.
In most instances laying the 1.5 will convert a favorite into a dog whereas taking the 1.5 creates the opposite effect.
For example, last Sunday night St Louis was a -140 favorite against Pittsburgh on the regular “straight” money line. The takeback on the Pirates was +130. On the run line, however, the Cardinals would return +140 if you laid the 1.5 and St Louis won by at least 2. If you wanted a little insurance on Pittsburgh you could have bet the Pirates at +1.5 but would have had to lay -160.
Often run lines will involve a 20 cents spread initially rather than the straight Money Line 10 cents spread but this will vary at different Sports Books. Thus, a “straight” play on St. Louis would have risked $140 to win $100 while run line bettors would have risked $100 to win $140. Those who wagered on Pittsburgh would have risked $100 to win $130 in straight wagers but would have risked $160 to win $100 by playing the run line and taking the 1.
There are three possible outcomes that determine the fate of the wagers and illustrate the difference in each.
The first possible outcome has St Louis winning the game by 2 runs or more. With this result those who bet the Cardinals “straight” won 100 for each 140 risked while their run line backers won 140 for each 100 risked.
The second possible outcome has Pittsburgh winning the game by any number of runs. Bettors who played the straight money line wager won 130 for each 100 risked on the Pirates or won 100 for each 160 risked by taking the 1.5 as both bets won.
The third possible outcome is the one in which the run line result comes into play in determining winning and losing wagers. That is when the favored team wins by exactly one run. Thus if St Louis won Sunday’s game by a single run those who bet the Cardinals straight won 100 for every 140 risked but run line bettors lost 100 for each 140 they were in position to win if the Cards won by 2 runs or more.
Road teams are guaranteed to bat in the top of the ninth inning and can score an unlimited number of runs in an extra inning whereas home teams do not bat in the bottom of the ninth if leading and, in the absence of an extra inning multiple run “walkoff” home run will win extra inning games by a single run. Thus, the adjustment from straight wagers to run line wagers will vary.
The only situation in which taking the 1.5 turns out better than playing the underdog straight is when the underdog loses by exactly one run. Concurrently, the only situation in which laying the 1.5 turns out worse than just playing the favorite straight is when the favorite wins by exactly 1.
Here’s a look at three weekend series that will lead into the second major milepost of the season, next Tuesday’s July Fourth holiday.
Colorado at Arizona: Although the Dodgers have taken over first place in the NL West, Arizona and Colorado control the two Wild Cards as we near the mathematical midpoint of the season. Through Sunday Arizona trailed the Dodgers by 2.5 games but had a 2 game lead over Colorado for the first Wild Card. The Rockies held a solid 7.5 game lead over the Cubs for the season Wild Card. The road team has won 5 of the 9 games played between the Diamondbacks and Rockies this season.
Despite the high scoring nature of these teams and their home ballparks only 3 of their games have gone OVER thetTotal with 6 staying UNDER. Their games have produced an average of just 9.6 combined runs. In fact, Arizona is allowing just 3.8 runs per game, second only to the Dodgers (3.5). Colorado is slightly better than average, allowing 4.6 rpg. The fundamentals still favor both teams’ bats but let’s see how the linesmaker sets Totals in this series. Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray lead the Arizona rotation with Zack Godley also pitching very well. Each has an ERA of 3.14 or better with WHIPs of 1.17 or lower. Most significantly each is averaging at least 6.3 innings per start.
No Colorado starter is averaging even 6.0 innings per start and no starter has better than average stats. Arizona also rates the edge in the bullpen. Arizona can be played in starts by Godley, Greinke or Ray if favored by -140 or less whereas it would require at least +150 or more to back the Rockies against that trio. Colorado may be played as underdogs of any price not facing that trio if the Rockies start Germain Marquez or Tyler Chatwood. The three earlier games in Arizona had totals of 9, 9 and 8.5. With scoring up overall this season use a total of 10 as a guide, looking to play UNDER 10.5 or higher and OVER 9.5 or lower.
NY Yankees at Houston: These teams played 4 games at Yankee Stadium in mid-May when the Yankees were looking like the main challenger to Houston for best team in the AL. Entering the series the Yanks were 21-10 with their starting pitching, expected to be a major weakness, actually being a strength. The offense was potent, led by Rookie-of-the-year frontrunner Aaron Judge. Houston took 3 of the 4 games which started the Yankees on a slide that has seen the Bronx Bombers go 19-23 since the start of that series.
Houston has been outstanding all season and entered this week with baseball’s best record, 52-25. Ace Dallas Keuchel is now expected to be out through the All Star break but number two starter, Lance McCullers Jr, returned last weekend. There is a significant drop off beyond that duo which suggests the Yankees can be played as underdogs of +115 or more not facing McCullers and that Houston can be played at -150 or less against any Yankees starter.
The series handicaps as high scoring and the teams did average 10.3 runs per game in that May series which produced 2 OVERS and 2 UNDERS. The Yankees trio of Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Severino and Michael Pineda have combined for 29 OVER, 14 UNDER and 1 PUSH in their combined 44 starts. Look to play OVER 8.5 or less throughout the series.
Atlanta at Oakland: The lone interleague series this weekend involves a pair of teams in rebuilding mode. Atlanta started this week 36-39, a pace which is slightly ahead of their expected Seasons Win Total of76. At 34-42 Oakland is on a pace to fall about 2 games short of their projection of 74 wins. Both offenses have been pretty close to MLB average but, as is often the case with rebuilding teams, the pitching has been a major problem.
The Braves and Athletics are each allowing more than 5.1 runs per game. Neither rotation has an ace or any starter averaging 6.3 innings per start or more. Both offenses have been productive in stretches and that suggests the best approach to this series may be to consider playing OVER Totals of 8.5 or lower in any matchup. Atlanta’s R A Dickey is the only starter on either staff whose starts have produced a winning record of more than one game above .500.
The Braves are 9-6 in Dickey’s starts. As a result of this overall lack of success for any starter the underdog should present the best values throughout this series which points to playing either team as an underdog of +120 or greater.