The mass majority of bets that are made in MLB games either come on the mlb moneyline or on the mlb total. Some, particularly those that are more or less just recreational bettors, wager on a lot of favorites on the run-line at -1.5. However, is this a sucker bet? And more importantly, is the +1.5 bet one of the best that you’ll find in sports? Surprisingly, I believe that to absolutely be the case.
How Do Run-Lines Work?
Our MLB Run-Lines Explanation gives a more detailed analysis about MLB run-lines than this, but I’ll go ahead and recap before we begin. The premise behind the +1.5 bet is that there are two ways to win. The team that you are betting on could win the game, or they could lose by a single run. What’s important to remember is that betting a road team at +1.5 can be particularly valuable due to the fact that the home team will always end up with fewer outs recorded than the road team in a game that the hosts win. Save for walk-off hit scenarios, the road team will end up with three more outs to their credit than the home team, and most often, the visitors end up getting 27 outs to work with (9 innings), whereas the home team would get just 24.
The downside to this, of course, is the price that you have to pay to get that run and a half on your side.
Tampa Bay Rays (+100)
Boston Red Sox (-120)
Tampa Bay Rays +1.5 (-180)
Boston Red Sox -1.5 (+160)
Using our Odds Converter, we can easily see that the Rays would need to win this example game exactly 50% of the time to break even on the moneyline, and they would need to win at +1.5 64.3% of the time to make money. The Red Sox would need to win the game 54.6% of the time to make money for bettors, and they would only need to win by two runs or more 38.5% of the time to turn a profit.
Frequency of One-Run Games
The overlay here almost seems to be too good to be true for the -1.5 bettor. It would almost have to seem like a given that if a team wins a game outright 54.6% of the time, it would surely win by at least two runs at least 38.5% of the time. However, a prudent bettor will dig a bit deeper into the stats and see that perhaps that isn’t truly the case. Below, you’ll see just how many one-run games teams averages playing per year in the majors.
2012: 46.5 Games (28.7%)
2011: 50.1 Games (30.9%)
2010: 48.8 Games (30.1%)
2009: 43.7 Games (27.0%)
Going back through the last 20 years of baseball, you’ll see that the 27.0% of games ending as one-run games is as low as you will see in a season, while the 30.9% of games ending as one-run games is high as you will see. The league average since 1990 is 47.8 games per year or 29.5% of all games.
Right off the bat, you’ll see that 29.5% of all games are lost by teams that are laying -1.5. Of course, a percentage of those games are lost by the favored team, and those games would have ended in losses regardless of whether or not you laid the run-line or the moneyline. Since 1990, home favorites have lost 11.0% of their games by exactly one run, whereas road favorites have lost 16.4% of their games by exactly one run.
Let’s go back to our example of the Red Sox and the Rays. If 70.5% of all games are going to be multi-run games, and we know that Boston -1.5 is going to be a losing bet the remainder of the time, in order to turn a profit, the Sox would have to win by two runs or more in 54.6% of all other games. On the flip side, we know that Tampa Bay would be a winner 29.5% of the time thanks to one-run games, and it would have to win the game outright just 49.4% of all other games to be profitable. If you remember correctly, the Rays would need to simply win the game 50.0% of the time to turn a profit.
In this example, betting Tampa Bay +1.5 at -180 would actually be more beneficial than betting Tampa Bay on the moneyline at +100 since.
American League vs. National League & Watching Totals
History will tell you that there are more one-run games in the National League than there are in the American League. This boosts the value of the +1.5 just a tad bit higher in NL games. The average National League team since 2009 has played 47.8 one-run games per year, while the average American League team in that same stretch has averaged 46.7 one-run games per year. It might not seem like a heck of a lot, but the difference is definitely notable. This means that 29.51% of all NL games have finished as one-run affairs, while 28.83% of all AL games have been decided by a single run.
The reason for this is simple. In the National League, teams don’t have the benefit of a designated hitter. Pitchers, for the most part, can’t hit the baseball, and as a result, there are a few outs that are easier to get in the NL than in the AL.
Going hand in hand with this are totals. If a game has an over/under of just 6.5, as we frequently see in some of the games featuring NL West teams, there is a great possibility to see a one-run game due to the lack of runs scored. If the total is 11.5 like we see sometimes in the AL East and the AL West, there are more chances to score runs, thus more chances to win by multiple runs.
In the 2012 season, it shouldn’t be considered all that much of a surprise that the Seattle Mariners played 53 one-run games. They had the fewest total runs per game average in the American League at 7.84. The Los Angeles Angels had one of the higher total runs per game in the AL at 9.05, and they played the fewest one-run games in the league with 36.
In the National League, where scoring was down an average of 0.38 runs per game, the Los Angeles Dodgers had the lowest average score per game with 7.62 runs per game. They also played in 56 one-run games, well above the mean of 47.8. The Colorado Rockies played to an average of 10.17 runs per game, and they only played 41 one-run games.
As always with sports betting, be very aware of the prices that you are paying for run-lines. In that example listed above where Tampa Bay was +100 and Boston was -120, you could have very easily found the Rays at +108 or the Red Sox at -116. The run-lines are no exception. My studies showed that the best run-line price on Tampa Bay was actually -168, while the best run-line price I found on Boston was indeed that +160 figure. Sportsbooks tend to vary greatly, especially with their run-line prices, and finding the best price at that +1.5 number could be humongous. In this example, the Rays +1.5 (-168) would only have to win 62.7% of the time, as opposed to the 64.3% of the time that they would have to win at +1.5 (-180). These little numbers don’t seem significant, but a professional sports bettor knows that this small 1.6% difference could often times be the difference between winning and losing in the long run.