Betting strategies on baseball: Why not to bet the run line


If you’re like many new baseball bettors, you’re excited about all the possibilities, but you’re not comfortable laying the moneyline prices you see on big favorites. 

In football or basketball, you deal with 11/10 on point spreads (risking $11 for every $10 you’re trying to win). That’s true whether the favorite is -4 points, -8 points or -15 points. In baseball, if you see a big favorite you want to bet on, you may have to risk $22 or more just to win $10, or risk $10 win a measly $4.50 on that same favorite. 

One option brings a high level of risk you’re not comfortable taking. The other brings back such a low return that it’s barely any fun to win. 

In this uncomfortable mental state, too many novice baseball gamblers consider the run line. Sportsbooks offer an alternative to using moneylines that allows you to lay -1.5 runs when betting a favorite for less perceived vigorish. That -220 favorite to win the game straight up might be -1.5 runs at -120 (risk $12 to win $10.) 

It’s easy to talk yourself into a blowout scenario for the team you want to take. The team wouldn’t be favored by that much if it weren’t the much better team. All it needs to do is win by two or more runs. And, heck, if it loses outright, you saved yourself a lot of money! Why lose $22 when you can lose only $12?

This approach has many problems. First and foremost, sportsbooks don’t offer alternatives that are better for you. They offer alternatives that are better for them. The value of the run you’re giving up is significant. It’s a form of vigorish in itself. If you ever hear a pundit say they’re laying -1.5 runs to “lower the juice,” you should tune them out for good. They didn’t “lower” the juice. They actually inflated the juice by turning much of it into a valuable run.  

Secondly, many bettors lured to this approach are looking at home favorites. Home favorites won’t bat in the ninth inning if they’re ahead after 8.5 innings. You will be giving up 11% of your offensive innings in these games! That’s a “run vigorish” and an “inning vigorish” sportsbooks are charging for the honor of feeling better about your bet. 

Also worth remembering, teams often resort to “one-run strategies” late in close games. They’re not trying to explode for a big inning. They’ll sacrifice outs by way of bunts or fly balls to advance what could be the game-winning tally. It’s OK with them if they win 3-2 or 5-4. Those favorites could care less about your bet.

In future baseball discussions, we’ll talk about strategies in which laying -1.5 runs might be justified. For now, you should avoid any urges you may have to “outsmart sportsbooks” with this proposition. The cost is usually too high.

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