MLB Handicapping - Run Line Betting

Jay examines that statistics behind betting the run line in Major League baseball with insights for the 2nd half of the MLB season.

Run Line Betting and Stats to Evaluate

The MLB All-Star Game is July 11 at Marlins Park in Miami, and teams have just past the halfway point of the 162 game regular season schedule. Scoring is up and so too are home runs. The month of June produced a new single-month home run record of 1,070. Balls are flying out of the park at a record pace of 1.26 home runs per game. That's up from 1.16 HR's per game last season, which was the third-highest in MLB history. As scoring increases, so too does the number of games decided by two or more runs. The sports books have taken notice and are posting higher totals with increased vig.

Home run rates tend to increase as the season progresses, not decrease. As the weather warms up, we can expect to see even more home runs and scoring. As teams expand their rosters in September and more young and inexperienced pitchers get called up, scoring should only continue.

Runline report: 2017 season - 74.2% All games thru June, decided by 2 or more runs (8 years average 70%).

Over the past eight years, MLB games have been consistently decided by two or more runs 70% of the time. Over the past decade, home teams have won 1-run games about 17% of the time, while road teams win by exactly 1-run approximately 11% of the time.

Yet this year, just over 74% of all MLB games have been decided by 2 or more runs, which is up fairly significantly from the 70% average. Last week, 74 of 97 games (76.3%) were decided by 2 or more runs. Thus far in July, a remarkable 53 of 68 games (77.9%) have been decided by 2 or more runs.

It may seem easy to lay a 2-1 favorite (-200) at the sports book, which wins approximately 67% of the time. But we're seeing more small and mid-range favorites winning on the run line at a plus price more often. Instead of laying -140 on a mid range favorite of interest, you may really like the match-ups on the mound or fade a pitcher on the decline, allowing you to take back a plus-price of +150 or more.

MLB run line betting tipsUnderstanding the calculations and chances of winning are important, but digging into the match-ups and underlying stats can tilt the edge in your favor against the bookmaker if you're looking to turn favorites into plus-price winners betting the runline.

The LA Dodgers and Houston Astros are leading the National and American League in wins by a significant margin. They also lead the majors in run differential. Both teams have 58 wins heading into the final weekend before the All-Star break. Those two teams will provide little value in the betting market moving forward, but bettors will no doubt continue to bet them as big favorites, and also take a shot on the run line to reduce risk. The Dodgers have been a favorite in 21 straight games leading into the All-Star break, and a greater than -200 favorite (2-1) in 13 of those games. Los Angeles won 9 of those games by 2 or more runs. The Astros have only been favored by -200 or greater two times in their last 40 games.

Calculating a team like the LA Dodgers as a -220 favorite is as follows. The no-vig moneyline is (-220-202)/2 = -422/2 = -211. This suggests the Dodgers will win (211/312) * 100 or 67.9% of the time.

Similarly, the no-vig run line price is -105 for Los Angeles, which is again calculated as (-109-101)/2 = -210/2 = -105. This suggests that the wager on the Dodgers -1.5 on the run line will win (105/205) * 100 = 51.2% of the time.

Major League Baseball may be a league of parity overall, with a majority of teams winning between 40% and 60% of their games. But two teams are dominating with the Astros 58 wins and.674 winning percentage the only team in the American League playing above .600 baseball. Houston leads MLB in hitting (.287). No teams in the AL are winning less than 40% of their games. In the National League, the Dodgers 58 wins and .667 winning percentage is joined by the Arizona Diamondbacks 52 wins and .605 winning percentage. Those two teams lead the Majors in pitching with the lowest ERA's. The Dodgers just swept the Diamondbacks in Los Angeles, winning the third game of the series with 4 runs in the bottom of the 9th to win 5-4. The Phillies (28 wins, .333) and Giants (34 wins, .391) are the only teams in baseball playing below .400 ball. By season's end, nearly 90% of teams will win between 40% and 60% of their games.

The Astros, Diamondbacks and Dodgers also lead the Majors in profit, with each team producing over 15 units in the pocket. So bettors are not going to slow down in their support of betting these teams, but know for certain you'll be paying a tax by the sports books when laying a price on these teams. The return on the runline may not be as great, but isolating favorable pitching matchups, schedule situations and hitting advantages including ballpark factors may allow you to turn a profit.

Run line bettors are going against the slight house edge, but you can reduce some bankroll risk by betting the runline and not laying a big price. However, you must still find the most favorable match-ups and form both on the mound and at the plate, and whether home or on the road while recognizing those teams splits and ballpark factors.

Starting pitching is the most important match-up and has the greatest impact on the betting line posted by the sports books. Clearly you'll pay a premium and lay bigger prices on the elite pitchers. Thus, finding overrated pitchers to fade can be just one way to profit by betting the runline. However, you must dig deeper and 'under the hood' when evaluating the stats, as looking at just ERA's and winning records by a pitcher are a sure fire way to get your bankroll beaten by the bookmaker. Current form, xERA, FIP, ground ball/flyball/line drive profiles and ballpark factors are just some of the stats to evaluate. Opposing batting lineups and match-ups, and of course a teams bullpen strength are all part of the puzzle when evaluating pitching, performance and profiles. Nothing frustrates a bettor more than handicapping a game correctly, betting a run line, and then watching the bullpen blow a 6-3 lead in the late innings. Thus, 5-inning wagers become another viable option and opens up other betting opportunities when you start digging deep into pitching profiles and stats that can have a greater impact on performance.

In the end, always look for value when betting baseball. But by isolating match-ups and pitching profiles, including many less heralded quality starters, you'll identify and uncover ways to reduce risk and cash more plus price winners by betting the runline.

FairwayJay is a leading national sports handicapper and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful analysts. Read more great insights from Jay here and follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay

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