Run line doesn’t always favor home team

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It may come as a surprise to many, but one quarter of the 2019 baseball season is complete as teams have averaged 40 games played from their 162 game schedule.

We are still two weeks away from the traditional first milepost of the season, Memorial Day, when we can better assess the long term prospects of teams that got off to unusually strong or sluggish starts.

In wrapping up our discussion of wagering on the run line it is worth noting that the long term results over the past 30 seasons are pretty much in line with the results over a shorter time frame such as the past five seasons. My study looked at results in games in which one team was favored by -110 or more, making them the clear favorite and the team that almost always would be laying, rather than taking, the run and a half.

Because of the nature of baseball that holds if the home team is leading after the road team bats in the top of the ninth inning the home team does not bat in the bottom of that inning. That scenario often results in the home team winning by exactly one run which also limits the chances for home team to win by more than one run in games that go into extra innings.

Hence a home team favorite laying the run and a half will be priced more attractively than would a similarly priced road favorite. That road favorite can score as many runs as possible in an extra inning and is assured of getting a full nine innings of at bats, making it easier for a road favorite to cover the minus run and a half than a home favorite.

Slightly under 30 percent of all games have been decided by exactly one run but it is important to know that a significant portion of those one-run games are won outright by the underdog. In such cases the plus a run and a half was not needed and the bettor taking the run and a half collects less than the bettor who just played that underdog straight.

Alluding to the impact of home favorites vs. road favorites, about 61 percent of the games decided by exactly one run in which the home team is favored are won by the home team. That percentage drops to just 44 percent for the percentage of games won by the road favorite in games in which the road team is favored. Those percentages might suggest that one-run games occur quite often and that perhaps the run and a half comes into play more frequently than it actually does.

But that is not the case at all. The above cited 60 and 44 percent win rates relate only to games decided by exactly one run. A full analysis requires a look at all games played, not just games decided by a single run.

Recall that the only time the run and a half comes into play is when the favored team wins by exactly one run. In the case of games in which the home team is favored the home team wins by exactly one run just over 17 percent of the time which means that in 83 percent of such games the home favorite either wins by two runs or more or loses outright.

In games involving road favorites, that road favorite wins by exactly one run slightly over 12 percent of the time. In 88 percent of such games the road favorite either wins by two runs or more or loses outright.

Here are thoughts on three weekend series.

Brewers at Braves: Both teams are projected to be playoff contenders and meet for the first time this season.

For Atlanta the pitchers worth backing are veteran Julio Teheran and young Mike Soroka. Either can be played as an underdog or if favored by -125 or less against any Milwaukee starter. The only starter pitching well for the Brewers has been Zach Davies who can be played as an underdog against other then Teheran or Soroka.

But the play worth considering in a Davies start would be the under. The under has cashed in all eight of his starts and Davies has done his part, pitching to a 1.54 ERA and 1.22 WHIP. Otherwise, aside from starts from Soroka or Davies, look for this to be a high scoring series with a preferred total of 8.5 or lower to play the over.

Astros at Red Sox: These contenders are meeting for the first time since the Red Sox eliminated Houston in last season’s ALCS.

After starting slowly this season, both teams are playing their best baseball of the season. Through Monday, Houston had the best runs differential of any team at plus 76 which is 19 better than second best Tampa Bay.

After early season struggles, Boston ace starter Chris Sale has been at the top of his game in recent starts and will be Boston’s best spot for a play on them in this series. Back Sale straight at -150 or less or laying the run and a half if priced higher. The exception would be if Sale faces Justin Verlander in which case the preferred play would be under a total of 7.5 or higher with perhaps the better play under 3.5 or higher for the first five innings. If Velander or Gerrit Cole face a Boston hurler other than Sale, look to back the Astros if laying no more than -135. In matchups involving starts by other than Boston’s Sale or Houston’s Verlander or Cole look to play over totals of 9 or lower.

Cardinals at Rangers: At 22-19 St Louis is one of four teams in the NL Central above .500. The 17-21 Rangers are one of four teams below .500 in the AL West.

Texas has gotten terrible starting pitching all season with one exception. Veteran lefty Mike Minor has made eight starts and of any of the six Texas starters who have made at least two starts is the only one with an ERA below 5.45 (2.68) and with a WHIP below 1.49 (1.04). This suggests that the only game in which the Rangers can be backed would be in a start by Minor, even if favored by up to -130.

Do keep in mind, however, that the Rangers are just 3-5 in Minor’s starts and backers of him are down 1.5 units for the season. Otherwise the preference will be to look to either backing the Cardinals or playing the over. St Louis starters worth backing include Miles Mikolas and Adam Wainwright, but only against other than Minor and if priced at -125 or less.

In games not started by Minor the preferred plays will be on over totals of 9 or lower.

About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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