The time right before the season starts is as fun of a time as there is! Everyone is in first place, and, honestly, anything can happen! This is the time of projection, which can lead to healthy debate, dreaming about what could be, and making bold predictions that you hope will make you look like a genius a year from now!
By this point, 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 has 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 specifically focusing on player analysis; player props and player futures bets. Based on my personal projections (explanation here), we will be looking at which player props stand out in terms of being way too high or too low, while we’ll also look at which players offer value when it comes to leading the league in a specific category. It’s a long season, but, hopefully, by the end of it, the end result can be you cashing in!
Betting Odds via Draft Kings
Spreadsheet of all player props HERE
Home Run Prop Bets
Kyle Schwarber OVER 31.5 Home Runs (-110)
For perspective, Kyle Schwarber hit 32 home runs in just 471 plate appearances last season! Sure, Schwarber may not post a .288 isolated power (ISO) or a 17.5% barrel rate again. Yet, even with some regression baked into the power, 31.5 home runs still feels awfully light.
We’re all aware of the underlying power Schwarber has, and he’ll now be playing half of his games at Citizens Bank Park, the sixth-most friendly stadium for left-handed hitter home runs, per Baseball Savant. Furthermore, three of the other four stadiums (Washington, Atlanta, New York) in the NL East also rank as above-average park factors, and he’s going to get extra plate appearances by hitting leadoff for a productive offense. There’s a reason all main projections have him exceeding this total by a considerable margin; don’t be surprised if he even pushes for 40 homers this season!
Eugenio Suárez UNDER 34.5 Home Runs (-120)
This is a tough pill to swallow, considering it was just 2019 when Eugenio Suárez slugged 49 home runs. “Rabbit ball” or not, that was quite the impressive display of power. Even with a shoulder injury bothering him in 2021, he still posted a career-high 15% barrel rate, while his batted-ball data improved as the season went on and the further removed he was from surgery.
That being said, 34.5 home runs isn’t a small number. Keep in mind that Suárez is shifting from the second-most friendliest home park (Cincinnati) for right-handed hitting home runs to the 15th (Seattle). Also, a lower spot in the lineup will cost him some plate appearances, which in turn limits the power to have strong accumulating statistics. Suárez can have a nice bounce-back season from last year, and he can still go under this home run total; consider this total closer to his ceiling, making it a nice one to go under on.
Mookie Betts OVER 27.5 Home Runs (-110)
Yes, I know; Mookie Betts is coming off of what many would consider to be a down season. Yet, it is important to remember that he was dealing with a hip injury that appears to be resolved, which certainly would affect his power numbers.
Yet, it’s not as though Betts’ season was poor by any means. Not only was he 31% above league average based on his 131 weighted-runs-created-plus (wRC+), but if you extrapolate his 23 home runs in 550 plate appearances to the 657 plate appearances ATC projections have him slated for, he’d be right at this home run total. Thus, this home run total essentially matches his performance in a “down year”, thus he’s being priced at his floor.
Betts’ 7.8% barrel rate from last year may not stand out. However, as we’ve gone over previously, his propensity to hit fly balls at a high frequency with a high pull rate works really well when it comes to manufacturing power, especially in the most-friendly ballpark for right-handed hitter home runs, per Baseball Savant. A fully healthy Betts hitting leadoff of a high-scoring offense in a terrific hitter’s ballpark? Sign me up for over 27.5 home runs!
Manny Machado OVER 29.5 Home Runs (-110)
Considering that Manny Machado only hit 28 home runs last year, he’ll need to take a step forward in terms of his production. Luckily, that is very likely to be the case this season.
In fact, Machado’s power production (.211 ISO) from last season is quite deceiving. After all, it came with a career-high 13.3% barrel rate and overall career-best batted-ball numbers. The problem? He had four fewer home runs than expected, per Baseball Savant, and there isn’t any reason to expect that to be a continuous problem based on the ballpark he’s in and other underlying numbers.
153 games last season was actually the fewest Machado has played in since 2014. He’s going to have plenty of opportunities to accumulate statistics, which, with a higher home run/fly ball rate, is going to lead to over 30 home runs. While this total is dragged down by his poor luck last season, take advantage.
Runs Batted In (RBI) Prop Bets
Adam Duvall UNDER 109.5 RBI (-110)
Sometimes, we tend to weigh a recent season too much in our projection of a player, especially when it is a statistic with a lot of variances, such as RBI. Yes, Adam Duvall thrived with men in scoring position last season with a 188 wRC+. Yet, there is little predictive power in “performing in the clutch” on a yearly basis, making it very unlikely for him to post 113 RBIs again.
There are other factors to consider here as well. For starters, the 33-year-old is projected to be a league-average hitter with limited defensive value and an on-base percentage under .300. Once Ronald Acuna Jr. is back to playing the field, what’s to say that Duvall doesn’t find his way out of the starting lineup? Even if he gets full playing time, the chances of him posting 110 RBI are very slim, at best. Plus, since there is a legitimate chance he doesn’t even have the opportunity to accumulate those RBIs, the odds are in our favor even more than he goes under this RBI total. Fade recency bias to your advantage!
Juan Soto UNDER 118.5 RBI (-110)
Full disclaimer: I would love for Juan Soto to exceed this total and have as bonkers of a season as possible. Yet, this is a total that just one player (Salvador Perez) exceeded last season.
Soto is a terrific talent, but it’s going to be very hard for him to exceed such a lofty total for a lineup not expected to be particularly strong this season. Nelson Cruz and Josh Bell hitting behind him makes the lineup better, but that affects his runs, not his runs batted in. Rather, if Soto truly is hitting second, he’ll be hitting after Cesar Hernandez and the bottom of Washington’s lineup, which isn’t ideal for his RBI total.
In the end, with a number so high, it’s always best to fade it. There are so many possible ways that Soto goes under this total (injuries, poor lineup), but all the stars need to align for him to exceed it. As always, it’s best to play the odds here.
Eugenio Suárez UNDER 98.5 RBI (-110)
Eugenio Suárez exceeded 100 RBIs in both 2018 and 2019, solidifying himself in the middle of the Reds’ lineup. There is certainly a strong possibility he bounces back from his poor season last year. Yet, I don’t think even a full bounce back gets him at the RBI total.
See, upon being traded to the Mariners, Suárez suddenly has a much shorter leash when it comes to his spot in the lineup. Seattle is a team trying to make a postseason push, so if he struggles, his lineup spot could plummet. Plus, believe it or not, Fangraphs projects the Mariners to score fewer runs than the Reds. Hitting behind Jonathan India and Joey Votto is quite the treat for RBIs. Plus, the loss of home runs from the ballpark downgrade also hurts his RBIs. Overall, Suárez’s RBI total is being priced where it should be if he was at his peak, but that’s not where we’re at right now. When players are priced at their proverbial ceiling, take the under.
Total Hits Prop Bets
Isiah Kiner-Falefa UNDER 165.5 Hits (-110)
Last season, it took Isiah Kiner-Falefa 667 plate appearances to accumulate 172 hits. Remember, that was with him playing every day and batting leadoff for the Rangers.
Now, Kiner-Falefa finds himself on a Yankees team that also will need to give playing time to DJ LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres, Josh Donaldson, and Anthony Rizzo. In other words, there are five infielders, but only four spots. Thus, we’ll likely see Kiner-Falefa not start as many games, instead coming in often as a defensive replacement, which would hurt his game.
Even if he does play every day, Kiner-Falefa is going to be hitting at the bottom of the lineup, which will reduce the plate appearances he’ll have per game. If he maintains his hit pace for last year, which may be the ceiling according to most projections, he only needs a reduction in about 15-20 plate appearances to go under this total. That seems almost like a lock to happen. Considering how different his circumstances are now, let’s side with what may be my favorite pick of them all.
Pitcher Strikeouts Prop Bets
Justin Verlander UNDER 215.5 Strikeouts (+100)
I love Justin Verlander, but did the oddsmakers forget it is 2022, and not 2019? Coming off of a Cy Young season in which he struck out 300 hitters in 223 innings, this line would have fit better. However, a lot has changed since.
After undergoing Tommy John surgery, Verlander essentially hasn’t pitched in two straight seasons. Thus, what type of innings projection can you give him. All indications are that he may be starting off slow, and if the Astros are making a World Series push, they’re going to make sure to keep him healthy. ATC projections have him slated for 136 innings, which may be too low, but around 150 innings would appear to be a strong estimate for what he can provide Houston this season. Verlander’s player option is contingent on him pitching 130 innings, for perspective, so that may be a strong baseline to consider when projecting his innings total.
Plus, can we count on Verlander to be the exact same pitcher as he was prior to the surgery? Even if he’s 100% the pitcher he was in 2019, he’d need over 160 innings to get this strikeout total, but the odds are that a 39-year-old who hasn’t pitched in 18 months isn’t likely to pick up right where he left on. Thus, whether it’s performance or simply not having the innings, there are a lot more avenues for him to fall short on this total as opposed to exceeding it. It’s hard to bet against a Hall of Famer, but fade the number, not the player.
Kevin Gausman OVER 190.5 Strikeouts (-110)
When a pitcher goes moves into the AL East, their stock often goes down. Yet, in the case of Kevin Gausman, has it swung too far?
Yes, the last time Gausman was in the AL East, he wasn’t a dominant pitcher. At the same time, based on his peripheral metrics, he was more than a capable middle-of-the-rotation starter, with the potential to become more. That’s where the Giants come in. As we’ve gone over previously, upon being signed by San Francisco, they instructed him to rely more on his fastball-splitter combination. After all, we’re talking about a splitter that induced a whiff on 45.9% of the swings against it and was one of the top pitches (.175 weighted on-base average allowed/wOBA) in all of baseball.
With the Giants, Gausman reached the pinnacle of his powers, striking out 30% of the batters he faced while emerging as a workhorse (192.1 innings pitched) for them as well. After signing a five-year, $110 million contract with the Blue Jays, he’ll now be asked to front a very talented rotation for a team with World Series ambitions- he’s going to be let loose.
Let’s ticket Gausman for 170-180 innings, which may end up on the conservative end. If so, he’ll need to have a K/9 around 9.77/a strikeout rate around 26.8%. That would appear to be quite doable. Even if you expect him to take a step down from last year, we’re still talking about a pitcher who had a 29.3% strikeout rate and ranked in the top ten in swinging-strike rate. Honestly, if you flip-flopped Verlander and Gausman’s props, it would make a lot more sense.
Alek Manoah OVER 152.5 Strikeouts (-105)
This one is pretty simple. Last season, Alek Manoah struck out 27.7% of the batters he faced. Meanwhile, all projections (ATC, THE BAT, Steamer, ZiPs) on Fangraphs peg him for a 26% strikeout rate and a K/9 around 10.
Thus, at his lowest projection, Manoah would need 143 innings pitched to reach this strikeout total. Remember, that’s with his strikeout rate at the lowest projection. Between his time in the minors and in the majors, he already exceeded that innings total (146.2) last season and should be in line for an innings bump this season. Barring an injury or unforeseen struggles, it is very difficult to imagine Manoah not going past this number.
Home Run Match Bets
Kyle Schwarber MORE Home Runs Than Kris Bryant (-110)
We’ve already gone over why Schwarber’s 31.5 home run total feels close to a lock, and Kris Bryant feels like an awfully low comparison in terms of power. Schwarber’s baseline of power is significantly higher, and, believe it or not, Philadelphia is as favorable for left-handed hitting home runs as Colorado is for right-handed home runs. In that case, I’ll gladly side with Schwarber in a battle of the former Cubs.
Matt Olson MORE Home Runs Than Yordan Alvarez (-110)
As we’ll get to, this isn’t the only time I’d recommend investing in the power that Matt Olson will be bringing to Atlanta this season. After all, we’re talking about a hitter who nearly touched 40 home runs last season and now gets to move from Oakland (23rd-most friendly park factor for lefty home runs) to a much better situation with the Braves (11th-most friendly park factor for lefty home runs). If his strikeout rate decrease (16.8% K) remains intact, he’s going to be less reliant on the efficiency of his batted balls for home run production, though that should be there, particularly with the park factor. There isn’t any particular reason to fade Alvarez, but Olson has hit for more power in the past, and the park change is quite significant.
Joey Gallo MORE Home Runs Than Yordan Alvarez (+100)
I promise I have nothing against Alvarez! Rather, this is about Joey Gallo, who could be in line for a tremendous season. Yes, I know his time with the Yankees (95 wRC+) didn’t go as planned, but I would be careful to weigh this too heavily. For starters, it’s a small sample size, and it’s common for players to immediately struggle upon being traded to a new team.
Now, Gallo can hit the reset button, where he’ll take advantage of the short porch in right field, if he even needs it. According to Baseball Savant, he would have been expected to hit 43 home runs had he played all of his games at Yankee Stadium, with his old home, Texas (36), actually being one of the worst spots for him.
We’re talking about a player who had an 18.5% barrel rate last year and has some of the best pure raw power in the MLB. Alvarez has plenty of power, but not at the same rate as Gallo, and the former comes with more injury risk based on his knee injuries in the past. Heck, this is even a contract year for Gallo! I’ll gladly take my chances with the literal definition of a slugger playing half of his games in Yankee Stadium.
Who Leads The League In Home Runs?
Matt Olson (+1400), Kyle Schwarber (+3500)
ZiPs (Depth Chart adjusted) and Steamer each have Matt Olson finishing in the top three in terms of home runs this season. That itself is enough for him to be an advisable bet at (+1400), and the combination of the power, park change, and 650+ plate appearances is more than enough to back it up. Schwarber, meanwhile, is more of a long shot, but should he be? As we’ve has the chance to rack up plenty of plate appearances hitting leadoff for a productive lineup, ranked top-ten in barrel rate last year, and plays in one of the most friendly ballparks for left-handed hitters. At +3500? Yes, please!
Who Leads The League In Strikeouts?
Gerrit Cole (+450)
Although he may be the favorite to lead the league in strikeouts, Gerrit Cole still can offer value at this price. Simply put, no pitcher can come close to matching the combination of volume and efficiency that he can in terms of strikeouts.
A lot has been about Cole’s decrease in spin rate after the league’s crackdown on illegal substance use for pitchers. Yet, once that happened, he still struck out 32.4% of the batters he faced and 33.4% in the second half. Really, he’s the only pitcher in baseball, that, when it comes to who could potentially lead the league in strikeouts, has no red flag. Sometimes, it’s the “chalky” pick that’s the best one.
Who Leads The League In RBI?
Rafael Devers (+1200), José Abreu (+2000)
Here are Rafael Devers‘ RBI totals for the past three seasons:
- 2019: 115 RBI
- 2020: 116 RBI (On Pace)
- 2021: 113 RBI
Meanwhile, here are the RBI totals for José Abreu:
- 2019: 123 RBI
- 2021: 117 RBI
Obviously, there are a lot of variances associated with RBIs. That being said, why would Devers and Abreu suddenly not be at the top of the league in RBIs? They’re both in the middle of very productive lineups, have demonstrated the ability to rack up RBIs consistently in the past, and will play every day. At their current odds, they have everything you could be looking for!
Who Leads The League In Hits?
Trea Turner (+1200)
There’s a reason Trea Turner is the #1 in fantasy baseball category leagues. With elite speed (4.13-second home-to-first time), plus contact skills, strong batted-ball sprays, he’s the pure epitome of someone who should be counted on to post a high batting average (over .300), and the plate appearances are going to be there hitting in the top-three in what appears to be the clear-cut best lineup in baseball.
ATC projections have Turner slated to lead the league in hits (180) by a decent margin (six hits). Right now, there’s no reason for him not to be seen as that, but he’s still tied for fourth in terms of the best odds for this. That sounds like a sound investment to me!
Who Leads The League In Runs?
Freddie Freeman (+1500), Ozzie Albies (+2500)
A Brave and a former Brave here!
The case for Freddie Freeman is simple. He’s going to be hitting second for one of the best lineups in recent memory, is projected for an on-base percentage in the .390s range, and also should see more power in one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks in baseball; his expected home runs, per Baseball Savant, vault massively if you condense that to solely at Dodger Stadium. His case is as strong as Mookie Betts and Trea Turner, though he has the best odds.
As for Ozzie Albies, he’ll be hitting at the top of a lineup projected by Fangraphs to rank score the second-most runs, has topped 100 runs in back-to-back seasons, and even had a power breakout last season. Given his lineup spot in a very productive offense, he’s worth a shot at +2500.
Who Leads The League In Stolen Bases?
Trea Turner (+650), Myles Straw (+1500)
Shifting back to Trea Turner, it’s not just the batting average that makes him so coveted in fantasy – he’s stolen at least 32 bases in every season of his career. The only two players projected by ATC projections to finish ahead of him are Adalberto Mondesi and Starling Marte, who each have major injury risks – Marte is already dealing with an oblique injury. Just from a process of elimination standpoint, Turner would be a smart pick.
The player right behind him in the stolen base projections? That would be Myles Straw. If all goes well, he could be hitting at the top of Cleveland’s lineup, allowing him to accumulate plenty of opportunities, and he should be free to run as he’d please. He stole almost as many bases (13) in his two months with Cleveland that he did in his four months with the Astros (17). There is 40-stolen base potential there that you might want to invest in.
Who Leads The League In Wins?
Max Fried (+2200)
There are certainly some warts to Max Fried’s profile, mainly his inability to miss a lot of bats (23.7%). That being said, he surely has demonstrated to be efficient and work deep into games. When you can get a pitcher that can work deep into games pitches over 180 innings, and plays on a team projected to perform well like the Braves, it’s something to keep an eye on, especially when has very reasonable odds. Heck, ATC projections even project him to be tied for first in wins. That’s quite intriguing at +2200.
Who Leads The League In Saves?
Josh Hader (+1600)
I hate to keep citing ATC projections, but they have Josh Hader to lead the league in saves, yet he has just the eighth-best odds to lead the league in saves. Even if you look at the fantasy baseball marketplace, Hader is going as the top closer, and that’s with the assumption he could post 35-40 saves this season for a strong Brewers team. Relievers will always be very difficult to predict, but getting potentially the top reliever at +1600 works for me!
(Photo by Icon Sportswire) Adapted by Shawn Palmer (@PalmerDesigns_ on Twitter)