In the last issue, we covered the math involved in betting moneylines. This week I want to follow up with an explanation of runlines and a little information on how the two line types compare. Again, some of this material was in a similar column last year but I feel it is important enough to roll out every year.
First, I want to quickly follow up on a couple of points from my recent columns on baseball. I received several emails asking if there are any downsides to betting baseball in response to all my reasons why baseball is a good bet. The general theme of the letters seemed to indicate that bettors think baseball is too unpredictable (some of the letters commented on the Yankees losing three in a row to the Rangers). While I readily agree that the best baseball teams only win 60-65% of the time compared with 80% for NBA and NFL teams and 90-100% for college sports, don’t forget that when betting baseball on the moneyline there are no spreads to take into account. In fact, the teams with the highest win percentage in other sports typically are around .500 (or even worse) when the spread is taken into account because public bettors inflate their prices. However, in those sports you are only laying -110. My point here is that comparing just win percentages Straight-up or against-the-spread between baseball and the other major sports doesn’t work very well. You need to examine each game as an individual and if you think the chances of the team covering exceed the break-even point, make the bet. If not, move on to the next game.
Another follow up point to last week’s column can be summed up perfectly in the following quote from an email I received from Jason D. of Texas last year. I’ve used calculations like you did in your article for years. The only flaw is this: the math doesn’t work for 1 game or 10 games or 100 games. A large statistical sample is needed. It is inexact so the average bettor will take a few of these plays and start off 3-7 or 4-6 and say you don’t know what you are talking about. What these players don’t understand is you are looking for value and even though you lost a particular bet it is still considered a good bet and you would bet the same bet over and over again given the same circumstances. Well said Jason and thanks for the email. I can’t stress this enough and that is why money-management is important – betting sports is a marathon, not a sprint.
Now, lets talk about runlines. Experienced bettors can skip this next section but for those of you unfamiliar with runlines, here is a quick primer. A runline is baseball’s version of a pointspread. In football and basketball pointspreads the odds (which affect payout) are usually at a standard of -110 and the spread itself (which affects win/loss) is typically moved to balance action. In baseball, the spread itself is fixed at -1.5 runs and the attached odds are changed to balance action. I am often asked why the spread is always -1.5 runs and the answer is simple. Baseball games cannot end in a tie so a spread of -.5 would have no impact and spread of -1 would result in a push a large portion of the time (174 of the 655, or almost 27%, of MLB games this year, through May 19th have been decided by 1 run. The percentage is a little lower in the AL and a little higher in the NL). By making the runline -1.5 runs, the favorite team is forced to win by 2 runs and some real intrigue is added to the wager. When wagering runlines, both listed pitchers must start (you do not have the option like you do with the moneyline) and the game must go 8.5 innings (9 innings if tied or the visitors are ahead).
Here is an example to illustrate further. In basketball, if the Lakers were -1.5 (-110) favorites and there was a lot of action on them, the line would be moved to -2 (-110) and then -2.5 (-110) in an effort to get bettors to play the other team. However, in baseball if the Dodgers were a -1.5 (-110) favorite and were taking action the line would be moved to -1.5 (-115) and then -1.5 (-120) to balance action.
Thus, the only time there is a difference in outcome between the runline and moneyline on any game is when the favorite team wins by exactly 1 run. In exchange for the extra risk involved in wagering on a runline favorite, bettors are rewarded with a much better payout. There is no formula for converting runlines and moneylines as it depends on the teams involved but the difference typically ranges from 70 to 140 cents, with the difference growing as the moneyline gets high. Thus a -260 favorite on the moneyline would typically have a runline of -1.5 (-120) to -1.5 (-160) while a -120 favorite on the moneyline might have a runline of -1.5 (+150) to -1.5 (+170).
Betting the dog on the runline has the opposite effect – you win more often (the 1-run losses), but you win less money than you would have betting the moneyline when the team you are betting on wins outright. The key is to find the right opportunity to use both types of lines and thus giving you another weapon to fight the bookmakers with. Again, I am not advocating runlines or moneylines, favorites or underdogs, etc. as each has their place in a bettor’s arsenal.
There are a couple of situations where players/handicappers like to use runlines more than average. First we see lots of runline action on the favorites in big spreads. Why bet Mike Mussina and the Yankees at -300 when you can bet them at -1.5 (-160) if you expect them to win by 5? However, if you think it will be a tight game then maybe the moneyline is better. This is where a team’s record in 1-run games is important. This data is readily available to bettors but when I ask about a team’s record in 1-run games, most people don’t know. As examples, how many of you would have guessed that the Cardinals are just 2-11 in 1-run games or that the Devil Rays (8-6) are better than the Oakland A’s (5-7) and Minnesota (4-6). However, I am sure Mets fans could tell you they have a losing record (3-11) in 1-run games! For the record, the Angels have played the fewest (7) and the Dodgers have played the most (17). These records can be found in the Expanded Standings at ESPN.com.
The other scenario we see occasionally is a player trying to lock in a profit by betting both the favorite on the runline and the underdog on the moneyline in the same game. For example, lets look at today’s Marlins/Expos game. The Expos are -1.5 (+120) on the runline and the Marlins are +160 on the moneyline. Betting $100 on both teams would guarantee a profit ($20 or $60) as long as the Expos don’t win by a single run (that would result in a loss of $200). This is a risky set of wagers and not one I have ever used personally but when used properly it can add to your bankroll as I have seen players profit by using it. Maybe look for teams that don’t have many 1-run games.
From the House point-of-view, we earn a higher percentage on runline wagers (around 4%) than we do on moneylines (2-3%) but this is due in large part to the use of a true dime line for moneylines and a 20-cent spread for runlines. Handle on runlines is growing faster than handle on moneylines. In 2001 our ratio of action was $5.70 in wagering on baseball moneylines for every $1.00 in runlines. Last year that dropped to $4.08 and this year it is only $3.80. What makes that growth even more remarkable is that we have seen a large growth in our moneyline wagering as we moved from a 20-cent line to a graduated dime line last year and to a true dime line this year. I look for the ratio to continue to drop as runlines become more popular with the average bettor.
I’ll be back in two weeks with a look back at the NHL and NBA playoffs.
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