We are now less than a week away from opening day! I’m actually writing this on what should have been the actual opening day (March 31st), but let’s not dwell on things out of our control. Rather, let us be exuberant over the fact that we’re about to have baseball for the next seven months!
As we get closer to the season, the final fantasy baseball drafts are taking place. Now, it’s time to turn our attention to a slightly different focus: betting. In terms of sports betting, MLB continues to grow its popularity, and it’s become a major source of entertainment in today’s game. It is always your choice to bet and you should do so responsibly, but it’s easy to see the extra boost in excitement that can come from this—it’s only going to continue to grow in popularity.
With that in mind, today, we’ll be analyzing every MLB team. Utilizing data available at Fangraphs, as well as my own handicapping of each team’s capabilities, we will assess several futures bets: win totals, division odds, pennant odds, and World Series odds. Which teams are the betting markets overly optimistic about, and which teams are they too pessimistic about? Furthermore, which bets are the most likely to cash in at the end of the year? We’ll investigate all of that here!
Projections via Fangraphs
Betting Odds via mybookie.com
Looking At Last Year’s Results
Before we move forward, we would remiss to not review what took place last season. Knowing which teams overachieved and underachieved their win total can give us a better idea of their true talent. Thus, it becomes easier to project them for next season, even though no team is the exact same as they were last year.
To do this, the most common method is to look at a team’s Pythagorean wins, a statistic that is based on their run differential. This is a strong approach; luck in one-score games is very volatile, so Pythagorean wins do a nice job of separating luck from a team’s win total to assign them with an expected record (xWins).
However, not all run differentials are equal. In the small sample size of one season, there can be a lot of variance that leads to the run differential being higher or lower than it should have been. This led me to create a metric to project Pythagorean wins, known as xxWins. A full breakdown on the metric can be found here, but here is a quick snippet to summarize the metric as a whole:
“We have analyzed in the past what correlates to overall team success between offense, defense, and pitching, and also analyzed each team’s overall luck in 2020 based on this thinking. While the original premise of the study was to try to find inefficiencies in team-building – it appears defense might be slightly overvalued – there is obvious predictive power to this. By utilizing Fangraphs‘ offensive runs above average, defensive runs above average, and pitching Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and incorporating the proper weighting system based on previous research, we can create a metric to forecast the rest of the success. In fact, going back through 2015, xxWins has had a higher correlation to xWins than team WAR has, which leads me to believe that it is effective in assessing the ideal makeup of an organization.”
With that in mind, it’s review time! Based on xxWins, these teams had more wins than they should have:
The Mariners dramatically overachieved their Pythagorean win total, so it is not a surprise to see them at the top. Meanwhile, although the Giants still performed tremendously last season, it’s safe to say that the Dodgers (105 xxWins) were the superior team. Regression is inevitable for them, though, as we will get to, that is baked into the win total.
Without an elite offense and a below-average pitching staff last season, it was a surprise to see the Cardinals win 90 games, or even have 85 Pythagorean wins. They’re a team that generally overachieves their xxWins, but it could all come down on them at some point. Also, could you imagine if the defending World Series champion Braves’ win total was closer to their xxWins. They may have not even made the postseason!
Meanwhile, these teams had fewer wins than they should have, according to xxWins.
Hey, maybe there is hope for Orioles and Diamondbacks fans! Meanwhile, this indicates that the White Sox may even have more untapped potential than we previously would have thought. Considering how strong their bullpen is, it’s strange they underachieved their Pythagorean wins and xxWins, and that could change in a major way this season. Given the fact that their division isn’t that strong and with a similar roster, they could easily finish with the best record in the American League, even if that is not what is being projected.
Another fascinating analysis that we can do is looking at where Pythagorean wins and xxWins differs the most. A year from now, it may be interesting to look back to see which side was more correct in terms of future predictive power, and can perhaps find us teams that are over/undervalued, even by those analyzing peripheral metrics rather than surface-level win total:
The Braves are a very interesting case study. By Pythagorean wins, they underachieved last season. However, based on xxWins, they were lucky to be a playoff team! Overall, Atlanta was a very balanced team, but one without a clear strength; they were about an 83-84 win based on their offense, defense, and pitching. In other words, there wasn’t a driving force for them, but perhaps their lack of a clear weakness pushed them over the edge.
The Blue Jays’ run differential has been cited often as an indicator that they’re going to be a force to be reckoned with this year. Yet, with an average pitching staff in terms of Fangraphs wins above replacement (fWAR) last season, xxWins think their run differential might be a bit unsustainable, even with how strong their offense was. They still were a postseason team, however, based on xxWins, and that should be the expectation for them this season.
Interestingly, a common trend among terms who had a higher Pythagorean win count was having an offense that was superior to their pitching staff (see: Rays, Astros). Hey, I guess offense really does win championships!
Analyzing Every Team’s Win Total
With that addressed, it’s time for us to look toward the 2022 season.
With most offseason moves being behind us, we have a good grasp on what each team’s roster will look like on Opening Day. Thus, the win totals that the betting markets have given each team aren’t likely to change much, if at all before opening day.
To analyze each team’s win total, we’ll go through a couple of steps. For starters, we’ll use Fangraphs‘ projected standings, which, as with the win totals, should not change much before opening day. Meanwhile, I’ve also used my methodology of xxWins to assign each team a projected win total. In the end, I averaged it out with Fangraphs’ projections, and, wallah, we had a projected win total for each team!
Speaking of which, let’s take a look at them:
- Based on the Marlins’ previous lack of success, picking the over on them is a little difficult. However, there are reasons to be optimistic. As of August last season, their xWins would have projected them for 80 wins over a 162-game pace, but they struggled down the stretch as they traded away a few key pieces and gave opportunities to the younger players. The additions of Jorge Soler and Avisaíl García are critical for their offense, while their pitching staff remains quite strong. Getting more innings from Pablo López and Trevor Rogers will also be an added bonus, as they’re projected to allow the tenth-fewest runs this season by Fangraphs. They’re not a postseason team, but a win total over 76.5 is well within reach.
- Frankly, I don’t understand why the Phillies have such a low win total. I understand the concerns about their defense, but we’ve already looked at the limitations of its importance compared to offense and pitching. Meanwhile, with Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos on board, you can make a case they have the second-best lineup (behind the Dodgers) in all of baseball. Add in a rotation headlined by Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler, as well as an improved bullpen, and this might be my favorite pick of them all!
- The perception around the Yankees is quite negative right now, but I think it is starting to become overblown. After all, we are still talking about a team that is projected to rank in the top-five in both runs scored and runs allowed. The offense remains significantly deep, particularly in terms of power, while the bullpen does help compensate a thinner starting rotation. Plus, if Luis Severino can get back to his pre-surgery form, that’s added upside. I anticipate them having to make a trade for another starting pitcher eventually, but the strengths of their team as currently constructed make me confident in them exceeding diminished expectations for them this season.
- In a weak division, it’s possible the Cardinals continue to figure out a way to overachieve underlying expectations. Yet, this may be a difficult year for them to do so. With Jack Flaherty injured, the pitching staff is not in a good place, especially with Adam Wainwright not likely to post a 3.05 ERA and over 200 innings pitched again. Meanwhile, they haven’t made any improvements to an offense that was middle-of-the-pack last season; they are projected by Fangraphs to score the fourth-most runs in the NL Central, which is saying a lot. Really, outside of typical “Cardinals voodoo magic”, there is not a lot suggesting they’ll exceed 84.5 wins this season. I’m looking forward to looking back on this a year later after they’ve somehow found their way into the postseason once again!
- With the additions of Robbie Ray, Jesse Winker, and Eugenio Suárez, as well as the development of their younger players, the Mariners should be a better team than they were last year. However, do not make the mistake of believing they were a true 90-win team last year. Rather, based on Pythagorean wins and xxWins, their true talent of that was a below-.500 team, putting them in line with the likes of the Marlins, Rockies, Guardians, and Royals. Their 33-19 record in one-run games is sure to regress, which, at that point, should mean their performance is much more indicative of their true talent level. Even with the improvements made in the offseason, it’s hard to see them being much more than a .500 team.
Division Odds Analysis
Win totals aren’t the only bets you can make, however. Should you have the desire to, you also have the ability to bet on a team winning the division, winning the pennant, or willing the World Series. This can be a nice alternative to win total bets. Take a team like the White Sox, for instance. If you’re high on them and think they can exceed 91.5 wins, you may be inclined to bet that, but they also could likely win their division with just 85-86 wins. Obviously, the odds associated with those numbers influence which bet to take, but division odds can sometimes offer more value than the pure win total.
NOTE: To calculate implied odds, I looked at the relationship between the team’s win total advantage over the other teams in the division, and then create a formula to use our projected win total to create new odds. Thus, they are on the same scale and very easy to compare
Both of the East divisions are as tight as it gets, with less than a single win separating the top-two teams in the division, based on my personal projections. Outside of that, it aligns with consensus. The question is, though: which teams offer the most value in terms of their odds to win the division? Let’s investigate that.
Wow! A lot of favorites rise to the top here; perhaps they are underpriced? You’ll see many of them as bets I would advise making:
- The Giants went 31-17 in one-score games, lost significant contributors, and likely won’t get career years from a lot of their players again. Meanwhile, the Padres already are without Fernando Tatis Jr. for three months, thinning out a lineup that already had its warts. Altogether, this makes the Dodgers a potentially even greater lock to win the NL West than their (-265) odds suggest, though I can understand the trepidation with such a high price to pay.
- Betting on the Brewers at (-198) to win the division isn’t even necessarily putting faith in them, as much as fading the Cardinals, which I would advise doing this year. The Pirates, Reds, and Cubs all look to be non-factors this season, and St. Louis could regress significantly this season based on the concerns we previously went over. All told, it makes a Brewers team that has upgraded their offense, especially if there is any semblance of a bounce back from Christian Yelich, much more likely to win the NL Central than you would assume.
- At the current moment, the Blue Jays are the favorites to win the AL East, which is warranted. However, with a similar projection for both teams, I’d rather bet on the Yankees, who come at a cheaper price, and, thus, offer slightly more value. It’s also a nice conditional bet with going over on their win total; if they are going to come out on top in a very competitive division, it’s very likely they win over 91.5 games, thus there is higher pay-out potential.
Pennant Odds Analysis
“The Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant!” This is always what I think of when I hear the word “pennant.” Well, the Giants may not win the pennant this year, but who knows? Did you think the Braves without Ronald Acuña Jr. were going to win it all, especially with the Dodgers in their path? You would have had to be very optimistic about their chances to think so.
Based on Fangraphs, my projections, and the betting odds, these teams are the most likely to win the pennant.
I know, I know, it’s boring to see the Dodgers at the top. So, why don’t we turn out attention to who offers value at their current pennant odds:
For the purpose of this, I disregarded long-shot bets like the Marlins, Guardians, Cubs, Rangers, and Royals, as the chances of them actually winning the pennant are extremely slim. All of these teams are projected to have winning records, and have a better chance of winning the pennant than the betting markets are indicating.
- The Phillies stand out as the clear top value in terms of the pennant odds. After all, (+1200) is a very high number for a team very strong projection systems are quite high on:
THE BAT X now projects the #Phillies as the # 2⃣ team in MLB!! 👀👀👀
Schwarber and Castellanos have added 5⃣ WINS to their projection!
*(Way behind Dodgers, a fraction of a win ahead of MIL/NYY/ATL)
— Derek Carty (@DerekCarty) March 19, 2022
I’ll gladly fade previous poor luck and defensive concerns when I can invest in a potent offense with a strong-enough pitching staff. This is also a much superior bet to simply picking them to win the division; they can easily make the postseason as a wildcard contender, and, from there, who knows? Kudos to them for going over the luxury tax to give themselves a chance to be in this position.
- There is a case to bet on both the Yankees and Blue Jays here. I see them as the top-two teams in the American League, and the non-division winner of the two should be in a strong position to still make a World Series push. You could pick both, pick your favorite of the two (Yankees come at a slightly better pay-out), or well, pick neither. The ball is truly in your hands!
World Series Odds Analysis
Projecting the World Series winner is a very similar exercise to projecting the pennant winners, and, thus, there is massive overlap in those two markets. There’s obviously a greater likelihood of a team winning the pennant than winning the World Series, but the latter has a higher pay-out. You could go all-in on a specific team by betting on both circumstances, pick the safer option, or go for the higher pay-out; all are easily defensible choices.
As you can see, the same tops as the pennant odds pop off. The same goes for the top bets:
Ah, back to the Phillies and Yankees again. Could we see a rematch of the 2009 World Series? Who knows, but consider that a potential loss for the West Coast. The Phillies’ World Series odds, as you can see, could simply be cut in half with what they are (+2500) right now, while the Yankees have a lower price than teams they project very similarly with (or better than), such as the Blue Jays and Astros. There is a case that the National League team offers the better value here, considering the American League team may have to deal with the Dodgers, but that would be overthinking it in my opinion—the playoffs are a crapshoot, after all.
A new season is upon us, and everyone is in first place! Will this be the year your team wins the World Series! Gear up, folks!
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)