The spread in football and basketball are easy concepts to grasp. A line is set with the intent of equalizing the two teams. Bettors then choose a side, with the corresponding odds typically anywhere from -110 to -120. The spread in baseball — also known as the “run line” — isn’t so simple.
The run line is always fixed at +/- 1.5 due to the low-scoring nature of the game. As such, the prices can vary significantly relative to the moneyline on both the plus and minus. Laying -1.5 requires the favorite to win by two or more runs, while taking the +1.5 requires the underdog to either win outright or lose by exactly one run.
While run lines are certainly not as popular as moneylines or totals for baseball bettors, there are a number of strategies and angles employed by sharp bettors.
The first tenet to remember when looking at run lines is to avoid confirmation bias. Bettors who like a team tend to believe they will win easily. In reality, more than 28% of MLB games have been decided by a single run over the past 10 years, which is to say blindly laying the 1.5 runs is a surefire bank buster.
The second tenet to take into consideration is to avoid being roped into betting a favorite on the run line because it “provides more value.” This is not universally true. Sometimes that is the case. Sometimes it isn’t. Value stands alone as being true in and of itself, regardless of the price.
That’s not to say there aren’t some value spots to target for run line bets. Among them:
Bet against home underdogs off a loss of 5+ runs
Home underdogs are traditionally perceived as value plays. According to that line of thinking, teams off a big loss that are being offered at plus money at home will be desperate to bounce back. They may be desperate, but they are also overvalued by the market. Fading teams on the run line in that spot has netted a profit of 2.8% over the past 10 years. That rises to 3.9% when the road favorite is off a win.
Bet home favorites of -150 or shorter off a win of 4+ runs
Big home favorites can be bet at the run line off a win of two-plus runs, but the angle really becomes profitable when they are off a victory of four or more — a spot that nets a profit of 4.4%. The strategy essentially revolves around targeting teams in a groove that are fresh off a decisive win, and betting that they’ll do the same again when installed as big home favorites.
Bet against big underdogs
Laying the -1.5 on the favorite in matchups involving underdogs of at least +200 on the moneyline has tended to be profitable. Bettors have made 3.4% when fading those big underdogs on the run line in the past decade — and that profit rises to 5.9% when the big underdog is off a win of two or more runs.
All statistics taken from the Killer Sports databases (www.killersports.com)