Pros and cons of baseball's run line

Jun 30, 2009 5:10 PM
by Huey Mahl, GT Archives |

Start with the right odds for the 1½ runs

The reason I love baseball betting is because the major quote on a side is based on the money line (odds). This is dictated by the fact that baseball games are relatively low scoring and hardly adaptable to point-spreads like we find in hoops and foots. In bases if your team wins outright, you win.

That is, unless you’re on the run line. Some diehards from the spread wars post a run line in baseball! It’s pretty standard in Nevada sports books, a plus or minus 1½ run line, but the odds that accompany the line can vary.

Because it’s a small line, it’s a very deceiving proposition. It appears most attractive, especially for the favorite bettors. The fact that when you can get dog prices on your favorite (at minus 1½ runs), when you ask your favorite to win by two or more runs!

A few years ago, I did some extensive research on baseball scores, and surprisingly found that 51 percent of all games were decided by one run. So it’s about a 50/50 chance that all games, favorite or dogs, home and away, will end in a one-run difference. That’s quite significant.

On the dog side, the run line doesn’t appear as attractive pricewise, but at plus 1½ runs, your dog can win outright or lose by only one run, and you still win your bet. Of course, most of the time, you are laying the price, and your payoff is less than even money.

Therefore, most of the action on the run line is on the favorite, and understandably so. (Why lay minus 1.80 when you can get plus 1.10 and give up a run and a half?) The bookmakers have juggled their quotes based on empirical evidence, and come up with run line quotes based on a 20-cent line. So the vigorish will vary between 4.55 percent to 2.33 percent (see chart).

The money line favorite quotes in the left column can apply to what you see on any line, whether it be 5-, 10-, 15- or 20-cent straddle. Run line version is generally made from the favorite’s line base, because that’s where the action is.

Notice that the favorites home-run line quote (at minus 1½ runs) is generally made by adding plus .90-cents to the money line quote. (Minus 2.00 becomes minus 1.10, etc.) The favorite’s road quote (right column) likewise only adds plus 50-cents to the money line quote.

This seeming inconsistency accounts for the advantage of the home team. That’s because they bat last in the bottom of the ninth or overtime innings. Most often when the home team leads by one run, the game is over, or the bottom half is not played at all. This accounts for the predominance of one-run finishes.

These run line opening quotes are merely a guideline for the bookie. He may adjust it up or down depending on the circumstances. Action will also move the line, but not necessarily the money line. Each line is autonomous, in separate pools, and moves on their own action.

Particular teams or ballparks can also cause run line adjustments. As an example when the wind blows out at Wrigley Field, the Cubs are likely to have a high scoring game, and one-run margins are less likely. Conversely, low scores (and one-run differences) are more likely in the Astrodome with its faraway fences, etc.

Dog prices (on the 20-cent line) are easily determined from the home-or-road favorite run line prices on the table, if the favorite price is a plus, then add plus .20 to the price and change the sign for dog’s price at plus 1½ runs (plus 1.40 favorite is minus 1.60 dog). If favorite price is a minus 1, then subtract minus .20 from the price and change the sign again (minus 1.30 favorite is plus 1.10 dog). Remember, no price number is less than 1.00 (even), it bounces up.

Deviation of the basic run line is not that mysterious. If you can remember "90-cents-home, 50-cents-road, and 20-cents-dog," You can look at any money line and do a pretty good run line in your own noggin.