Run line may be way to bet MLB

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I’ve remarked in the past how wagering on baseball is significantly different from wagering on football or basketball. That significant difference is that whereas football and basketball rely mostly on the point spread, wagering on baseball mostly involves the money line.

For the less experienced bettors, that difference is best explained by noting that the vast majority of basketball and football wagering involves betting on the team to cover the point spread rather than just winning the game straight up on the field. In baseball, the bet is on which team will win the game with the price involved varying according to the chances the oddsmakers give to each team’s chances of winning, converting those percentages to a dollar amount.

For example, if the oddsmakers assign a team a 60 percent chance of winning a baseball game that percentage converts to a money line price of -150. A team given a chance of winning two games in three (66.7 percent) would convert into a price of -200.

Of course there are overlaps in those sports. It has become a much larger part of many bettor’s strategies to wager on the money line in both basketball and football.

At the same time baseball offers something akin to a point spread with run line wagering. In the most common and traditional form of run line wagering the bettor either lays a run and a half with the favorite or takes a run and a half with the underdog. In the former case the favored team must win by two runs or more for the bettor to cash his wager. In the latter case the underdog must either win the game outright or lose by exactly one run.

The run line has become a very popular wager over the past decade and in many instances allows you to get paid of as an underdog despite making a bet on the favorite.

As an example take Tuesday night’s game between Arizona and the New York Yankees. The pitching matchup between the Yanks’ C C Sabathia and the Diamondbacks’ Zack Greinke had Arizona as a -130 favorite on the standard money line to win the game by any margin. But if you wanted to lay the run and a half and look for Arizona to win by at least two runs the price for that wager would be Arizona +155.

In some situations where there are heavily priced favorites laying the run and a half reduced that price significantly by adding in the proviso that your team must not just win the game but must win by at least two runs.

There has long been a debate among professional bettors as to the value of taking the run and a half vs. laying the run and a half. Each argument has valid support that often depends on your concept of value, the underlying math and your risk profile.

Over the next couple of weeks I will delve more deeply into this issue as I have in past seasons, beginning next week with a review of the key concepts involved along with some historical data to provide some perspective as to how often that extra run comes into play.

As to my own biases, I have traditionally been an advocate of laying the run and a half, especially when it converts a favorite into an underdog in terms of price. That’s not to say that I am not in favor of taking the run and a half but rather that it goes against one of my basic concepts which holds that there is just one situation in which taking the run and a half is preferable to playing the underdog straight.

Conversely, there is only one situation in which laying the run and a half is worse than just playing the favored team straight up. Longtime readers of my columns probably know that situation but for all readers it’s from this point that I shall continue next week.

Here are thought on three series this weekend.

Cardinals at Cubs: These longtime rivals meet for the first time this season with the Cardinals having enjoyed a better opening month than the Cubs. St Louis has shown a more consistent offense home vs. road whereas the Cubs have been much more productive on the road (6.5 rpg) than at home (4.2 rpg).

On talent, the Cubs have the better pitching although both Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks have struggled thus far. St Louis has not really had any starter who has been effective, including Jack Flaherty who was thought to be the up-and-coming staff ace.

Because of the Cardinals’ weakness on the mound the Cubs should improve their home stats at the plate. Consider over totals of 9 or lower in all matchups except in a start by the Cubs’ Cole Hamels. The veteran lefty pitched very well last season after being acquired in a trade with Texas and has continued that solid performance this  season. He is the only starter in either rotation who is averaging more than 6 innings per start (6.3). Hamels may be backed as a favorite of -150 or less in a straight play over any Cardinals starter. The other Chicago starter that can be backed is another veteran, Jon Lester, but only if priced at -130 or less. St Louis can be backed as a favorite of -115 or less if facing Darvish or Hendricks or if underdogs of +140 or more against other than Hamels.

Twins at Yankees: The Yankees return home following what had been a very successful road trip that ended with a two-game midweek series at Arizona. Minnesota is off a four- game home series against Houston. The Twins will be playing on an eighth straight day in the series opener whereas the Yanks will have been idle on both Monday and Thursday.

New York continues to not just make do but actually excel with a makeshift lineup consisting mainly of minor leagues to their inordinately high number of injuries that have sidelined many regulars, including sluggers Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. Minnesota has quietly complied the second best record in all off baseball. The Twins’ 17-9 mark through Monday trails only Tampa Bay’s 19-9 start.

Both teams have gotten steady if not spectacular starting pitching with New York’s highly regarded bullpen faring generally well but not yet at the high level that had been expected. The Yankees will be solid favorites throughout the three-game series. The best spot for the Twins will be if Jose Berrios gets a start, in which case Minnesota can be backed as an underdog of any price.

Veteran Jake Odorizzi can be backed, but only if getting +160 or more. The Yankees’ best starters have been James Paxton, Domingo German and CC Sabathia. Any of that trio can be backed if favored by -150 or less against other than Berrios.

Keep in mind that the price on the Yankees may be less than we are accustomed to seeing due to those many missing starters in the lineup. Both teams have been pretty much Totals neutral thus far which suggests using a Total of 8.5 as the dividing point, looking to play over on Totals or 8 or lower and under on Totals of 9 or higher.

Athletics at Pirates: Both teams have struggled over the first month of the season and each was below .500 through Monday. Pittsburgh can be considered the greater disappointment as their offense has been anemic, averaging just 3.2 runs per game both at home and on the road. The Pirates’ pitching has performed well with all five starters putting up respectable stats with just Chris Archer struggling to some extent.

Oakland has not gotten very good starting pitching and the offense has been barely average. Yet there’s been a stark contrast between home and road performance as the A’s have averaged just 4.1 runs per game at home vs. 5.5 rpg on the road.

These profiles suggest the under may be the way to best approach this series. Oakland’s road bats will face a much better quality of pitching than they’ve seen elsewhere on the road while the weaker pitching staff will face one of baseball’s least productive lineups. Given that, look to play under Totals of 8.5 or higher. Pittsburgh will be the preferred side to play when laying -125 or less against any Oakland starter while the best spots for the A’s will be when getting +150 or more.

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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