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BettorIQ’s MLB Preview: Houston Astros

MLB

BettorIQ continues with its 2020 MLB betting previews. Throughout the spring, we will be breaking down all 30 teams from a betting perspective.

Houston Astros 
2019 Record: 107-55 
2019 Profits: +5.4 units 
2020 Win Total: 95 (based on 162-game season)
2020 Odds to Win AL West:  -170
2020 Odds to Win AL Pennant: +225
2020 Odds to Win World Series:  +650

Betting Positives: Playing heel, Houston won’t lack for motivation this season as it attempts to come back from the much publicized sign stealing scandal. Perhaps a blessing in disguise that the season has been shortened and it’s no longer at the forefront of the news cycle. What remains is one of if not the most talented team in MLB. The Astros return seven players who posted walk rates of 10% or greater and their lineup led the MLB in BA, OBP, SLG, wOBA, wRC+, and K%. And what’s scary is that offense could have been even more potent as it finished only 24th in BABIP with RISP at .287. That lineup capability is paired with a defense that ranked 8th last season in UZR. Houston’s pitching staff will also gain a solid addition with Lance McCullers Jr. returning from injury. McCullers Jr. missed all of 2019 but is still only 26 years old and profiles as a top-of-the-rotation arm.  

Betting Negatives: The Astros should consider themselves fortunate that no individual players were impacted by the sign-stealing penalties. However they were forced to move on from A.J. Hinch as veteran manager Dusty Baker enters the picture. Baker’s track record suggests that he will divert a bit from the Astros analytically inclined approach of recent years. Hinch was not a believer in strategies such as sacrificing bunting and intentional walks but Baker is a National League manager, who despite his interpersonal skills, has lacked the analytical component to be a complete modern day manager. The loss of ace Gerrit Cole, who departed for New York in free agency, is also noteworthy. Cole threw 212.1 innings with a 2.50 ERA and MLB’s highest K%. That leaves aging vets Justin Verlander and Zach Greinke and McCullers Jr. to carry the load. Verlander is especially a candidate for regression, after posting a BABIP mark of just .219 last season.  

Handicapper’s Take: While countless hours have been spent of dissecting Houston’s home/road splits in order to better prove the sign stealing allegations, the reality is from a betting perspective, the road is where the profits were made. Since 2017, the Astros went 169-98 -12.8 units at home and a near identical 167-96 but +33.3 units on the highway. This was made possible by an average home price of over -200 vs. -155 on the road. Based on Houston’s preseason win total (94-96), oddsmakers were projecting regression. Couple that will Cole’s departure, who typically commanded some of the highest price tags of any starting pitching in MLB, and we could see Houston’s prices a bit more reasonable compared last season’s -210. The narrative for opposing team revenge and off-the-field distraction exists but the fact remains, few teams outside of the Yankees and Dodgers, can match Houston’s upside.