How Run Line Betting Works

Key points

Along with the moneyline and total, the run line is one of the standard betting options you’ll see for baseball games at online sportsbooks. It’s similar to a point spread bet in basketball or football, but there are some differences as well. Let’s take a look at the key aspects.

What is the run line? 

For MLB games, the run line is part of the main listings at legal online sportsbooks.

Example of how run line betting worksThe team with a negative run line (-1.5) is the favorite, while the team at +1.5 is the underdog. In the above example, the New York Mets are 1.5-run favorites over the Washington Nationals.

When betting on the run line, you have two choices: bet on the favorite to win by more than the line, or on the underdog to lose by less or win by any score. For this game, the Mets need to win by two or more for run line bets on them to win.

Meanwhile, bettors on the Nationals side get the victory if Washington keeps the margin to one run or pulls off the win.

Is the run line always the same for MLB games?

At legal online sportsbooks, the standard MLB run line is 1.5. This is one of the aforementioned variances from the point spread for other sports. While a spread can range from low single digits into high double digits, the run line is typically always the same.

As a result, run line bettors have to be even more diligent than normal when picking their spots. For a lower-scoring sport like baseball, a differential of two runs is pretty significant, while one-run games aren’t out of the ordinary.

When viewing an upcoming slate of games, you should see a run line of 1.5 across the board. Top sportsbooks will also offer alternate run lines. We’ll cover what you need to know about them in a bit.

How run line odds work

For standard basketball and football point spread bets, the odds start right around -110 on both sides. The numbers may fluctuate slightly from there in response to betting action, but they generally remain in a pretty tight range.

The run line is different. Let’s take a look at the odds for three MLB run lines:

Example of how run lines work

The odds on the run line often are positive odds on the side that’s giving up the 1.5 runs. Meanwhile, it’s usually negative odds on the side that’s getting the runs.

No matter which way the odds are going, the side that’s giving up the runs is the favorite to win the game. That’ll line up with what you see on the moneyline bets, but the team that’s the underdog may be favored to cover the run line, at least as far as the odds are concerned.

As a result, betting on the run line can be a little confusing and tricky when you’re starting out. Beyond just trying to decide which team you think will cover, you also need to fully understand what the odds are telling you.

Run line betting examples 

In the example below, the Houston Astros are 1.5-run favorites over the Washington Nationals.

If you bet on Houston minus the runs, the Astros will need to win by two or more to cover. A 7-5 victory gets it done, but a 4-3 win does not. For Washington bettors, the goal is a one-run loss or an outright victory.

For returns, a winning $100 bet on the Astros at odds of +105 would pay a profit of $105. The same bet on Washington at odds of -125 has a profit potential of $80. For comparison, the story would be different if we bet on the moneyline, where a bet on the underdog Nationals has a higher potential profit.

What are alternate run lines?  

If you’re not interested in the main run line, there are other options at most online sportsbooks. Alternate run lines provide bettors with more say over the number, albeit with corresponding shifts in the odds.

Example of alternate run lines

In short, you get to move the run line based on your comfort level. If you take on more risk by giving up more runs, then the potential return rises. When you provide yourself with extra protection in the form of more runs, then the opposite happens.

For a general rule, the more dramatic the move, the bigger the shift that you’ll see in the odds. While the potential is there for lucrative returns by betting on alternates, the fact remains that you still have to make the right call no matter where you set the bar.

What’s the better bet — moneyline or run line?  

As with many betting decisions, there’s no one answer that fits every situation. It’s best to treat each game on its own and make the call from there. In some cases, the moneyline will clearly be the better choice, and in other cases not.

There will also be games when it makes sense to pass on both as you don’t see an advantage either way.

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