MLB Betting: Analyzing PECOTA’s Projections for 2020
Just ahead of pitchers and catchers reporting to MLB Spring Training, the valuable PECOTA projections have been released. These numbers can be a helpful for bettors to get a feel for where the market is going to stand out of the gates. Also, by getting a little deeper into the numbers, there may be some value to be found in the futures market, particularly before bettors and the books have more information as Spring Training begins in earnest. Let’s take a look at a few of the numbers.
Curveball in the NL East
This division is, of course, home to defending World Series Champion Washington, and last year’s divisional champion Atlanta Braves, who won 97 games last time round. Yet, in something of a surprise, PECOTA has pegged the New York Mets as the most likely team to win the division this season. New York won only 86 games last season, and although the Mets find themselves on top on this projection, the numbers hardly suggest a big improvement. PECOTA puts the Mets at only 87.8 wins, so this is more about the regression it predicts for New York’s rivals. The Nationals tick down to 87.1 wins from the 93 victories it put up during last year’s regular season. An even steeper drop is predicted for the Atlanta Braves, who are expected to win 82.8 games this season.
Using these numbers as a guide, there appears to be a ton of early value on taking the Nationals and Braves to finish under their win totals. DraftKings has Washington at 88.5 wins and the Braves at 90.5. When it comes to the divisional crown, the Mets at +300 jumps out as something to consider. The Braves are the favorite, at +170, and the Nats come in at +260. That the Mets getting a number identical to Philadelphia, despite the Phillies being projected by PECOTA to win 11 fewer games underscores how intriguing a wager this is at the moment. Some of the lack of enthusiasm surrounding the Mets may come from a turbulent offseason in which the team had to fire Carlos Beltran before he even managed a game, but all accounts suggest the playing staff is very much satisfied with the in-house hire of Luis Rojas.
Red Sun Rising in the NL Central
Cincinnati had a disappointing 2019 season, going 75-87. Yet, PECOTA is very bullish on the Reds in what it sees as a mediocre NL Central division, with the team being given a 47.3% chance to take the crown. Projected to win 86.1 games, this would be a massive step up for a team that has not reached that total since 2013. The Reds have had six straight season under .500, and have won less than 70 games on four occasions. However, there’s obvious reason for optimism. The additions of Sonny Gray and Trevor Bauer give the Reds a much better rotation behind obvious ace Luis Castillo. The signing of Nick Castellanos is a key statement of intent by an organization that has been in rebuilding mode for what feels like ages. Much is expected of second-year CF Nick Senzel. Improvement is also expected by the win total market, that lists the Reds at 83.5, meaning there’s less wiggle room than one may want given the Reds’ recent track record. Again, there’s some attention to be paid to the idea of the Reds winning the division. The team is currently listed as fourth-favorite in the Central, with the same +300 as the New York Mets. This is a clear upside play, and requires a bit of faith in a team that has struggled for a long time now. One indicator that better times ahead is that Cincinnati were somewhat unlucky in the win column last year. The team did rising 75-87, however, it ended the season with a respectable run differential of -10. For some perspective, both the Texas Rangers and San Francisco Giants ended the year with more wins that the Reds, despite having run differentials of -68 and -95, respectively. There is real room for improvement from Cincinnati this year.
The Story Of Mookie Betts
With the protracted and painful trade saga of Mookie Betts finally over, the verdict is in, and it is not pretty for fans of the Red Sox. Boston diehards will be the first to tell you that selling off a generational talent for cash is not a fantastic idea, but that’s what the Red Sox front office opted to do. We’ll discuss this more in a later piece, but it’s hard not to imagine that this move could send the already fragile Boston clubhouse into a tailspin. As if the offseason was not already hard enough, with the team being forced to move on from World Series-winning manager Alex Cora, now a player who by all accounts was adored by his teammates has been shipped out for a comical return. PECOTA clearly thinks that Boston’s ceiling is not particularly high, projecting only 84.5 wins and a third-place AL East finish for the team. Now, that is very close to the 84 wins the team put up last season, but there was clearly a feeling that last season was something of an aberration and not truly indicative of the team’s talent and potential. Now, things are very uncertain in Boston, and the win total is likely negatively impacted by the fact that the Yankees and Rays both project to remain very competitive. The Red Sox are currently has a win total future of 85.5, so the books clearly aren’t too high on Boston either. There is still some talent in Boston, to be sure, with the likes of Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, and Andrew Benintendi as well as an apparently healthy Chris Sale. Boston are a team to keep an eye on through the spring, as some exciting prospects may be able to seize a role on the club, and the team may be able to over-perform expectations early.
In direct opposition to the reeling Red Sox, things could not be brighter for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The team has just completed what looks to be one of the greatest trades in the history of the sport, bringing in the second-best player in baseball, while barely impacting their own roster or loaded farm system. The team did have to part with highly-thought of Jeter Downs in the reworked deal, but Los Angeles will barely notice.
It has become an annual tradition to assume that the Dodgers would finally breakthrough, but really, surely, this is that year. PECOTA clearly agrees that the Dodgers should be the clear favorite to win it all this season. Los Angeles is projected by the model to win 102.5 games this season. The Yankees have the second-highest win projection at 99.0. The team is being given an absurd 99.9% chance to win the NL West this season. Los Angeles’ win total future is currently at 100.5, so amazingly there still may be some value in taking the over in that spot, particularly when you consider that not a single division opponent is projected by PECOTA to play .500 baseball this season. Despite the short price, the Dodgers deserve serious consideration at +175 to win the National League. The team is as close to a shoo-in as possible to make it to the NLDS. Given that, an even more substantial reason to be bullish on the Dodgers is how middling the rest of the entire league looks. PECOTA does not project a single NL team to win more than 88 games this season. It’s hard to imagine a clearer picture of the stunning gulf of class between Los Angeles and the rest of the league.
To be sure, these are very early numbers, and there is a ton of player movement to come in the next weeks. However, it remains a solid starting point for bettors, and is a tool to come back to frequently. PECOTA projections are updated every single day, and they adjust for transactions, Spring Training changes, injuries, and so on. As we get closer to Opening Day, PECOTA should never be far by when the time comes to pull the trigger on any futures bet.