Learn How to Make Smart Baseball Run Line Bets

Run lines are baseball's version of the point spread, most commonly set as a 1.5-run spread. Here's how you read and bet MLB run line odds.

Jason Logan: Senior Betting Analyst at Covers
Jason Logan • Senior Betting Analyst
Mar 13, 2024 • 08:25 ET • 4 min read
Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna in MLB action.
Photo By - USA Today Images

Baseball run line betting is MLB’s version of the point spread, with oddsmakers setting a handicap for either side and bettors wagering on whether or not the team will cover that number.

However, baseball betting run line odds come with a catch, and you need to understand the pricing on those run lines before making bets. We’re here to help you learn how to make smart baseball bets.

MLB run line betting system

While moneyline odds are the most common way to wager on baseball (betting on the outright winner), MLB run line betting is very popular, especially when dealing with bigger favorites.

With close to 30% of all MLB games decided by one run, run line spreads will be 1.5 runs, with the team favored to win getting a run line of -1.5 and the underdog at +1.5 runs.

That means that for the favorite to cover the -1.5 run line and win the bet, it has to win the game by two or more runs, and the underdog has to lose by less than two runs or win the game outright to cover the +1.5.

How does run line betting work?

The example below shows that the Toronto Blue Jays are -1.5 run line favorites over the Boston Red Sox as +1.5 run line underdogs. That means that Toronto must win by two or more runs to cover the run line while Boston has to lose by less than two or win outright to cover.

Team Odds
Red Sox Boston Red Sox +1.5 (-160)
Blue Jays Toronto Blue Jays -1.5 (+160)

Vig or juice: The cost of placing a bet

Betting the baseball run line odds can be confusing because the team set as the run line favorite often carries a higher risk. After all, it must win by two or more runs and therefore returns a higher payout than the underdog, which has lower risk due to that 1.5-run handicap. 

In our previous example, Toronto’s run line is -1.5 and the price of that bet – also known as juice or vig – is +160. Due to Toronto having to not only win but win by two runs to cover the run line, its juice is paying out $1.60 for every $1 staked or $160 on a $100 bet.

Boston has a +1.5 run line, with the vig at -160. Due to Boston having that +1.5-run cushion, the juice is paying out $1.00 for every $1.60 staked or bet $160 to win $100.

Run line juice/vig can vary depending on the strength of the two teams and the implied probability for the game. 

A strong team with a high percentage to win outright could have a run line of -1.5, but that bet could also come with a high cost, as we’ve seen big favorites with -1.5 run line priced at -200 or higher and +1.5 underdogs returning +180 or more.

Run line movement

Bookmakers will constantly adjust those run line prices to balance the handle (total amount of money bet on a game) on either side to limit liability. A sportsbook with an even handle on both teams guarantees a profit regardless of the final result.

For example, suppose the Blue Jays run line of -1.5 opens at +160 and takes most of the betting money on the run line odds. In that case, bookmakers could move the vig down (perhaps to +150) while adjusting the Res Sox' +1.5 vig (moving to -150). This move entices bettors to wager on the side with the smaller percentage of the handle, spreading the overall game handle between the two teams.

Whatever run line odds you place your bet at are the odds you bet is graded on, regardless of where the moneylines may move before the game starts. If you bet $100 on Blue Jays -1.5 (+160) earlier in the day and the price moves to +150 in the hours before start time, your wager will be graded and paid out at the +160 vig that was available at the time of your bet. 

MLB run line tips, strategies, and advice

Here are some simple MLB run line betting tips, strategies, and advice to keep in mind when wagering on baseball action. 

Bet run lines as a moneyline alternative Bet run lines as a moneyline alternative

Due to the lower payouts, many new baseball bettors will shy away from high-priced MLB moneyline favorites. The run line offers a good alternative with additional risk, which promises a better payout.

If you feel strongly about a big favorite, opt for the -1.5 run line instead of laying the hefty outright odds. Use our odds calculator to compare payouts and probability between moneyline and run lines.

Read teams’ run line records Read teams’ run line records

Because sportsbooks price run line favorites like underdogs and run line dogs like favorites, just looking into a team’s record versus the run line doesn’t tell the whole story. A team with a good record as a run line underdog may only be returning a handful of profits due to the high vig on those +1.5 spreads. 

Instead, look at units won as a run line favorite or underdog before putting weight into any team’s run line record. You can find run line units won on individual MLB team pages and our MLB Team Money stats page.

Shop Around for the best run line odds Shop Around for the best run line odds

Like all MLB odds, run lines are fluid and move as bets come in at sportsbooks. Different operators will have different run line prices, so it’s best to have multiple accounts and shop around for the best odds for your opinion.

View run line odds from the biggest and best sportsbooks in your area on our MLB odds comparison page.

Research before you bet Research before you bet

Just like researching moneyline bets, run line bettors will want to dig into the starting pitchers, batting lineups, home/away splits, injuries, and weather when sizing up that day’s baseball run line betting options. You can find all this information in our in-depth MLB matchups, including run line records and returns. Also be sure to look for free MLB picks to help you make your betting decisions.

MLB Run Line Betting FAQs

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