Ah, the time has come for baseball to be back. I do not know anything else in the midwest that says, “baseball is right around the corner,” better than looking out my window to 30 degrees and snow on the ground. The offseason has been a strange one and there are still many big name free agents yet to sign. Derek Jeter ruined the Marlins, the Yankees are their old spending selves, and we should be in for another great season. The young talent in the league is as exciting as ever, while the number of top teams that can all compete for a title leaves the season open for any possibility.
by Zachary Feldman – Wannamakeabet Staff Writer
Baseball has always had it’s history of parity. Teams expected to be fringe playoff contenders can win the World Series any season, but this year seems to be different. There are seven teams that are in the top tier of clear world series contenders, but as baseball goes, there are a few more that can surprise us and win that immortalized last game of the season.
It is just spring training for now, obviously, but that does not mean there is nothing to bet on (I do not bet spring training, but be my guest if you are into it). Futures for teams, divisions, playoffs, World Series, are all available to waste our time with. Follow me (or just skip right to the picks) as I take a deep dive into the best way to bet season futures for teams, and where better to start than the grand prize: World Series winner.
World Series Odds:
As I alluded to, there is a clear divide in teams this season so let’s break down the odds by tier.
Tier 1: Contenders
Red Sox +1000
Nationals +1000 all odds according to sportsbook.ag as of 3/8
These seven teams make up 86.65% implied probability of winning the World Series (overall there is more than 100%, that is the basis of books making money) and provide an interesting look at one way to make money. If you believe that only one of these seven teams will win the World Series than placing a wager on all of these teams can lock in a profit. There is 13.15% unaccounted for in implied odds for these teams together, meaning if you wager the implied probability of each team as a percent of your total wager you will lock in a return on investment of 13.15%.
*If you know how to use implied probability, skip the next paragraph.
Math lesson time. For those who do not know what implied probability is, it is the percent chance given by what the odds are. The Astros are +550 meaning they are 5.5/1 (10/2) which is the same as saying, “for every 1 time they win the World Series, they will not win 5.5 times”. This means their win percentage, implied by their odds, would be equivalent to 1 over 6.5 or 15.38%. If you do this for all seven of those teams and risk the respective percentage of your total risk on each team, then you will see a profit of 13.15%.
Okay now that we’re done with math let’s look which of these teams are the best value to bet individually. Starting off as tied for the best odds to win are the two finalists from last season, Astros and Dodgers. These are two teams that I will be looking to fade in season futures and early season betting. The Cubs last season were the first team to make the playoffs after capturing the title since the Cardinals won in 2011 and went to the playoffs in 2012. The north-siders were also the first team to win their division after the World Series since the Diamondbacks did it all the way back in 2002. Crazy. The public perception of these teams after a fantastic season makes it seem as if they are unstoppable, but in reality, their odds are just worse for us bettors due to recency bias.
The Cubs really stand out to me. With the additions of Jose Quintana (for a full season) and Yu Darvish, the experience of winning, a full season of Ian Happ, Albert Almora, and skinny Kyle Schwarber, they seem like the best team in the entire MLB in my eyes. A lineup that should produce a ton of runs up and down, four legitimate starters that can carry a postseason run, a manager who knows how to get the best out of players, versatility and depth of players, the Cubs have it all. They were a five-hundred ball club in the first half of the season and got bounced by the Dodgers in the NLCS, so it seems as if they are not getting the type of love they usually get. Their second half was fantastic last year and they seem to be even better heading into this season.
The Yankees made the splash of the offseason, and by multiple metrics actually underperformed last season. Their bullpen is the deepest we may have ever seen, and they are also stacked with young, powerful talent. Aaron Boone is a mystery – though personally I like him and think he will do great – and the health of some players is also a major factor. The pitchers are all questionable. Tanaka’s elbow is a time bomb. Sabathia will turn 38 this season. Jordan Montgomery has never pitched a full season. Sonny Gray is short – which has historically not worked as well for the long haul but he is solid. Luis Severino broke out last year and is really exciting, but will he continue it? They are obviously a great team but their questions marks provide a little bit of doubt that I do not think is factored into their price accurately.
The Nationals are the team I am most concerned about of this group. Bryce Harper has had a plethora of stories about where he might go to next year, and the majority seem to be not in Washington. Trea Turner and Adam Eaton will be back and hopefully most of the season. Daniel Murphy and Eaton are both questionable to start the year, and both were due to knee surgeries. The pitching also has a high variability as Strasburg has dealt with a myriad of injuries throughout his career, Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark are question marks in terms of what version of themselves show up, and A.J. Cole will be a full time starter for them.
The Red Sox finally signed the perfect fit in J.D. Martinez. This lineup is looking like one of the best in the league with Martinez solidifying a power spot. Eduardo Nunez and Rafael Devers will be with the team for a full year, Xander Bogaerts has worked on a new swing to increase power and was playing hurt all of last year, and Hanley Ramirez seemed to get in shape. The outfield defense is arguably the best in the majors with Jackie Bradley, Andrew Benintendi, and Mookie Betts all being high quality defenders. The Red Sox are being overshadowed by their rival Yankees which has placed them with the worst (tied) odds of the top tier, despite having some of the most talent on their team. However, they have the greatest chance of playing a must win Wild Card game which decreases their chances relatively.
The Indians did some incredible things last year but look slightly different coming into this season. Carlos Santana is replaced by Yonder Alonso and Danny Salazar is already hurt. Okay maybe they look the same. Tito is one of the best managers in the game, they will have the easiest division to win, and also have the experience of getting to the World Series. There’s not much to say. They are good. They lost a few bullpen pieces and have health questions every year. They are a well coached talented team that is capable of being the best team in the league as we have seen these past few years.
My favorite pick from this group: Cubs +700
Tier 2: Dark Horses
There is not as much to say about these teams. The drop off is obvious and the odds show it. One thing to consider is that these teams are not expected to win their respective divisions. This means they may have to play in a one-game Wild Card Series. This decreases their chances greatly as they will face a fairly evenly matched team, and if successful, will have to go to the home of the best team in their league.
The Cardinals gave up outfielders Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk, but brought in Marcell Ozuna. They are not quite the Cardinals of old where you can pencil them into the playoffs and forget about them. Mike Matheny is set in his ways and I personally hate his managing. The team has talent, but it is not top tier.
The Angels made moves this offseason. Shohei Ohtani, Ian Kinsler, and Zack Cozart were their three big prize acquisitions. They have the best up-the-middle defense in the MLB and will need to pick up a pitcher or two at the deadline (unless there are no injuries and Ohtani is good), but the amount of talent on this team is high. The lack the pitching depth for the playoffs is my main concern, but the offense has a chance to be elite and they have the best player in the league.
The Twins are a really interesting team to me. They got extremely lucky the first half of 2017 but then actually played well the second half and found themselves in the last wild card spot last year. The acquisitions of Logan Morrison and Jake Odorizzi will help, but they still need pitching all around. They do not seem to be a team that can last all the way until November, but they do have a shot.
The Brewers are one of the public’s favorite teams, but they are a team I will fade all year. The amount of upside that players reached last season seems to not be repeatable, and they already have injury questions. Zach Davies is questionable to start the season and Jimmy Nelson may be out until the All-Star break while recovering from shoulder surgery. The Yelich and Cain additions are good, but they will have to count on Travis Shaw, Eric Thames, Corey Knebel, and Chase Anderson to repeat their breakout seasons, a tall order.
The Giants went “all in” this offseason and picked up two franchise players in Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria. Both players seem to be past their primes and Longoria was actually a below average offensive threat last season (wRC+ of 96 where 100 is average). The team is old, but should be a good defensive team. I will look towards in season odds to see if they are legit, instead of counting on it before the season.
The Mets are obvious. The pitching staff is one of the most talented in baseball when healthy and may be able to survive injuries this season with the pickup of Jason Vargas, return of Zack Wheeler, and possibilities that Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman stay in the majors for the majority of 2018. Todd Frazier and Jay Bruce will help solidify the middle of the order, while Jeurys Familia, A.J. Ramos and Anthony Swarzak will carry the load for a potentially top tier bullpen. Any team with a new manager always has extra upside, but also extra uncertainty.
The Diamondbacks are an interesting one to me. They have the worst odds of any team in this tier – tied with Mets – but were one of the best teams in baseball last year. Even looking at the first half of the season, before trading for J.D. Martinez, the Diamondbacks were seventh in runs scored and second in runs allowed across both leagues. They bring back the same rotation, add Steven Souza Jr. and Brad Boxberger, swap Alex Avila in for Welington Castillo (a downgrade), but should look very similar. The humidor being added into Chase Field does not concern me for the team overall, both teams will be affected in each individual game. Tied for fifth in most pythagorean wins last season, Arizona is a team I may look towards for value this season.
My favorite picks from this group: Diamondbacks +3500, Mets +3500, Angels +2500
Tier 3: The Inbetweeners
Blue Jays +3500
These are the teams that are not quite in the mix, but are too good to tank – I mean “develop players”. There are players that can win MVPs, hit for massive power, and win fantasy leagues. Unfortunately, that’s where the buck stops with this trio. They should produce stats that look nice, but are just a little too far off right now. Have crazier things happened? Sure. But I’m not jumping on any bandwagons here.
My favorite pick from this group (if I have to pick one): Rockies +5500
Tier 4: Everyone Else
There’s no need to talk about any of the other teams in terms of World Series for this season. There are a few teams that are intriguing for the future and may take a big step forward, but nothing more than that, most likely.
Okay, the big one is out of the way. We looked into multiple teams, let’s take that and turn it into value for team wins over/unders. Here are my favorite picks right now:
Yankees over 94.5 wins
Brewers under 84 wins
Astros under 97.5 wins
Cubs over 93.5 wins
Nationals under 93.5 wins
Reds over 73.5 wins
Let’s quickly run through these. I talked about the Yankees already. They are young, they added Stanton, I like their new manager Aaron Boone. What do the numbers say? The Yankees underperformed last season. By PythagenPat, the Yankees were projected to win 101 games last season and by BaseRuns 102 wins. Fangraphs’ Depth Charts has the Bronx Bombers pegged for 94 wins, a number I find to be a little low.
The Brewers, as I said, are getting public love. Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, and a breakout season in 2017? People will eat them up. I will gladly fade this number. Depth Charts puts the Brew Crew at 78 wins for 2018, and shows last year’s total was a touch lucky.
The Astros won 101 games and the World Series, aren’t they amazing? Houston had a historic season last year, and just brought in Gerrit Cole. They seem like they should be fantastic again, the great thing for us is that a team can be fantastic and win 97 or fewer games. The last World Series champ to win 98 or more games the next season was the Diamondbacks in 2002. We saw the Cubs look very mediocre in the first half of the season last year and seeming to be the best team in the league. 98 wins is a very high number even without a championship hangover, I’ll take the under gladly.
The Cubs look to be primed as a team not getting a lot of attention that should be. Obviously I like them, they were my favorite value in the top tier of teams. Even with a disappointing first half, Schwarber getting sent down, and half of a season of Jose Quintana, they racked up 92 wins. I love them to have the most wins in the MLB this season, and I’ll buy 93.5 “W” flags with my money I get after the Cubs go over this number.
The Nationals have question marks not being looked at right now. The injury risk is real with many players, their division is stronger overall and the “where will Harper sign” cloud will follow the team around all season. Their projections put them at 90 wins, and this is a team I am happy to bet against.
The Reds are a team that I want to fall in love with, but it is not all there. However, we only need 74 wins, so “not all there” is perfectly fine. They have a perennial MVP candidate in Joey Votto, a future ace in Luis Castillo, and a lot of intriguing young players. It’s a group that has a well balanced lineup, and does not rely too much on one aspect. They will have a few prospects ready to come up during the season and this should be able to push them from their projected 72 wins up to 74 or more.
All six division Vegas favorites last year took the crown which may lead to value in underdogs this season. I’ve already gone through the teams that I like as the best value for the divisions so let’s just give you the picks.
Cubs -250 to Win NL Central
Mets +450 to Win NL East
Angels +550 to Win AL West
Just three picks here and it should be pretty obvious why. I love the Cubs and am ready to fade the Nationals and Astros.
That’s what I have for team futures. Remember, especially for futures, it is all about finding value. Just because I selected a wager as a favorite pick does not mean that is what I believe will happen, but where I think the best value is.
I will have another piece regarding futures for players coming out shortly. If you like my content you can follow me on Twitter @ZF_analytics. All data was compiled from sportsbook.ag, fangraphs.com, baseballprospectus.com, and rosterresource.com.