MLB Betting: The Difference Between a Money Earner and Money Burner
While prepping for the upcoming MLB season, I happen to stumble upon last year’s standings and found a very interesting dynamic. In multiple divisions, the top two finishers had very similar records but incredibly different betting results. It was so unique that it deserved some research as perhaps we could apply our findings to future betting endeavors. Here’s what I discovered.
American League East
Boston Red Sox: 108-54 +31.1 units
New York Yankees: 100-62 -9.5 units
Eight games and a 40-unit difference! And what makes it so incredible is that it’s not like Boston wasn’t projected to be a top-tier team. The Red Sox were lined at 91.5 wins heading into the season while the Yankees were slightly higher at 94.5. The vast separation of profits was created because of market price. Boston’s average moneyline price was around 15 cents cheaper than New York’s. The Red Sox were also underdogs in 24 games (+137 avg.) and went 11-13 while the Yankees were dogs 16 times (+126 avg.). Add those factors up and tack on the eight-win difference and you start to see why one team was a money earner and the other a money burner.
American League West
Houston Astros: 103-59 -1.8 units
Oakland A’s: 97-65 +36.6 units
This one was a little easier to explain. Heading into the season, Houston was lined as a 96.5-win team while not much was expected of Oakland at 74.5 wins. Preseason win totals and starting pitching carry a lot of weight in the betting markets. The A’s were pegged to be below average and didn’t have one elite-level starting pitcher. Sorry, but the markets simply aren’t going to get excited about Trevor Cahill. In the end, Oakland’s average moneyline price was a measly -105. On the opposite end of the spectrum was the Astors who not only were pegged to be the American League’s top team but had a host of starting pitchers that commanded big price tags. Bettors love big armed, swing-and-miss pitchers and Houston had that in spades with Verlander, Cole, McCullers, and Morton. Those four guys started nearly 73% of Houston’s games. The average moneyline price of the Astros last season was a whopping -190!
National League Central
Milwaukee Brewers: 96-67 +23.1 units
Chicago Cubs: 95-68 +0.5 units
Similar situation to that of the AL West though not as dramatic. The Brewers were lined at 84.5 wins while the Cubs were 94.5. Like the Yankees, the Cubs are obviously inflated in the betting markets. And it’s fitting that they landed right on their season o/u win total and finished dead even in profits. And when your top starting pitcher is Jhoulys Chacin who finished 32nd in FIP among qualified starting pitchers you start to see the reason behind the Brewers posting a +23-unit season.
National League West
Los Angeles Dodgers: 92-71 -22.8 units
Colorado Rockies: 91-72 +19.8 units
Over the last six seasons, the Dodgers have averaged 94 wins and every fifth day carted this generation’s most dominant starting pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, to the hill. The Dodgers were off a 104-win season and lined at 96.5 wins. Yeah, they fell short of expectations but not by much as they finished 92-71. Tough to make any sort of profit when you’re routinely laying north of -150. Meanwhile the Rockies exceeded expectations by nine wins and did so with Freeland, Marquez, and Anderson as the core of their rotation. And their projected ace and the one guy who does fit the big arm, swing-and-miss profile, Jon Gray, underachieved with a 5.12 ERA.
The obvious common theme among these teams is preseason expectations or lack thereof. The Yankees, Astros, Cubs and Dodgers came into the season power rated as World Series contenders. And it’s not like any of them “tanked.” They averaged 97.5 wins and all four made it to the postseason but finished a combined -33.6 units. And let’s not forget the Washington Nationals who were right in the mix in terms of power rated royalty. Loaded with high priced, big-armed starters, the Nationals finished 82-80 -24.9 units. Same with the Cleveland Indians who played in a super-soft AL Central, had arguably the most Fan Graphs-esque starting rotation in MLB, and lost -24.8 units despite being a 91-win team. All of those results really make Boston’s season from a betting perspective all the more impressive. Of course it’s hard not to turn at least some sort of profit when you win 108 games!
Like most sports, the path to riches typically doesn’t involved betting on the “best” and “worst” teams. Instead it’s isolating those that produce season-long results that differ (see: Oakland and Washington) from their preseason expectations. Now it’s easy to say, man, I should have been betting on the A’s all season or I knew the Nationals would be a great fade. But those types of bet on and against profiles happen every season. Heading into 2019, it looks as if the Cleveland Indians could once again be a great fade due to their rich prices and potentially shaky offense. And the San Diego Padres, a long term loser, have put them in position to be competitive. Of course those are just two examples and obvious ones at that. The Indians opened -135 and are currently a pick ’em vs. Minnesota and the Padres went from home underdogs to -125 favorites vs. San Francisco. In 2018, five teams finished the season up +18 units or more while five finished down -18 units or more. I know I’ll be hunting to find 2019’s “winners” and “losers” starting today.