The majority of MLB wagers are placed on the moneyline and total but, in certain situations, bettors may gravitate towards the runline. Many casual or recreational bettors may be unfamiliar with the runline, but it’s comparable to spread betting in other sports. Instead of taking one team to win straight up, bettors can essentially wager on whether the game will be decided by at least two runs.
A runline favorite would be listed at -1.5, meaning that they would need to win by at least two runs to pay out. Conversely, an underdog would be listed at +1.5 and would need to either win straight up or lose by exactly one run for their bet to cash. The juice varies greatly from game to game, but many bettors like taking runline favorites in order to maximize their payout. For example, a -225 moneyline favorite may be listed at -1.5 (-105) on the runline. This trend is particularly pronounced when examining huge favorites.
Since many bettors don’t like to take prohibitive favorites on the moneyline, they’ll often turn to the runline as a cheaper alternative. Bettors believe taking the runline allows them to back the league’s best teams and top pitchers without jeopardizing a significant chunk of their bankroll. This theory is often utilized without any statistical evidence, so I wanted to see whether it was actually more profitable to take large favorites on the runline as opposed to the moneyline.
The table below displays the results since the start of the 2007 regular season.
|ML Range||Record (ML)||Units (ML)||ROI (ML)||Record (RL)||Units (RL)||ROI (RL)|
|-150 or higher||5177-2992 (63.4%)||-117.02||-1.4%||3764-4405 (46.1%)||-161.68||-2.0%|
|-175 or higher||2578-1323 (66.1%)||-67.17||-1.7%||1915-1984 (49.1%)||-52.92||-1.4%|
|-200 or higher||1311-576 (69.5%)||-6.67||-0.4%||986-901 (52.3%)||-3.20||-0.2%|
|-225 or higher||680-261 (72.3%)||+8.20||+0.9%||523-418 (55.6%)||+21.76||+2.3%|
|-250 or higher||324-126 (72.0%)||-8.45||-1.9%||261-189 (58.0%)||+16.44||+3.7%|
|-275 or higher||144-53 (73.1%)||-4.89||-2.5%||115-82 (58.4%)||+2.86||+1.5%|
|-300 or higher||65-28 (69.9%)||-7.86||-8.4%||50-43 (53.8%)||-7.87||-8.5%|
It’s tough to define what constitutes a large favorite, but you can see that it has been more profitable to back large favorites on the runline at nearly early single data point. It’s also surprising that favorites of -225 or greater have actually produced a positive return on investment (ROI) over the past decade.
According to Scott Cooley, a spokesman for the market-setting Bookmaker.eu, around ten percent of an average MLB handle will come from runline betting. It’s not a very popular bet type, but the volume definitely increases in games involving huge favorites. “If the squares don’t want to lay the big juice they usually opt for the runline,” stated Cooley. “They love when they can get plus money on a sizeable favorite when expecting a blowout.”
These numbers are confirmed by our public betting trends. Since 2007, favorites of -225 or greater have gone 523-418 (55.6%) on the runline. In that 941 game sample, the majority of wagers were placed on the favorite 932 (99.0%) times, at least 70% of runline wagers were placed on the favorite 892 (94.8%) times, and at least 80% of runline wagers were placed on the favorite 750 (79.7%) times. This is one strategy where public bettors have fared quite well.
It’s worth noting that most of these huge favorites have been home teams, but it’s been far more profitable taking large road favorites on the runline. That makes sense considering that home teams will receive at least three fewer at-bats if they’re winning entering the ninth inning. As an example, let’s look at the performance of -200 favorites or greater. Since 2007, favorites fitting that criteria have gone 880-836 (-19.3 units) at home and 106-65 (+16.1 units) on the road.
Over the last ten seasons, favorites have gone 13,929-10,372 (57.3%) straight up and 10,320-13,979 (42.5%) on the runline. There are slightly more moneyline results since the runline isn’t graded when the game is shortened due to rain, but you can see that 14.8% of favorites have won by exactly one run. It’s also worth noting that some sources have propagated the myth that there are more one-run games in the National League than there are in the American League, but that hasn’t been the case.
At Sports Insights, we rarely recommend taking large moneyline favorites and most of our contrarian strategies focus on fading these chalky teams. That said, it has been profitable taking large favorites on the runline, but only when they’re on the road and guaranteed their final at-bat. I wouldn’t recommend taking large favorites on the runline, but it’s been a superior strategy to taking them on the moneyline.