The Pros and Cons of Betting Against the Worst Teams in MLB
2019 will be remembered as the Year of the Dinger. It was also the Year of the Favorite as four teams won 100+ games and -200 or more chalk posted a ridiculous ROI of nearly 9%. What will also be remembered is how historically bad the bottom feeders were with four teams failing to top the 60-win plateau.
Prior to 2018, that last time MLB had two sub-60-win teams in the same year was 2004. We’ve witnessed six in the last two seasons. And to no surprise, under the traditional moneyline format, teams that fail to get to 60 wins don’t win a lot of money for their backers. Below are the betting results of the sub-60 club over the last decade.
Kansas City (59-103) -19.0 units
Miami (57-105) -19.2 units
Baltimore (54-108) -22.2 units
Detroit (47-114) -44.2 units
Kansas City (58-104) -24.2 units
Baltimore (47-115) -53.9 units
Minnesota (59-103) -31.0 units
Houston (51-111) -27.6 units
Houston (55-107) -33.4 units
Houston (56-106) -34.5 units
Pittsburgh (57-105) -22.2 units
Now, it’s important to note that most of those teams weren’t projected to be that bad. The baseline for regular season win totals for obvious bottom feeders is typically in the low to mid-60’s. But given the recent surge in the amount of teams wallowing in ineptitude, oddsmakers have adjusted. Look no further than this year’s win totals.
2020 Season Win Totals
Kansas City 64.5
Oddsmakers have clearly divided the Orioles and Tigers into the “we see no reason they’ll improve” camp while the Marlins and Royals have their doors cracked for a small uptick.
So the question now becomes, why not bet against the Orioles and Tigers every game this season? For starters, and most obvious, just because a team is lined 56.5 doesn’t mean it can’t exceed that mark. Imagine a world where Detroit finishes 62-100. Last season, the Tigers were +200 or more underdogs 40 times. Seems like a lot but unless they jump out to a 30-10 start, that number is likely to increase. Add it all up and you’re all of a sudden hard pressed to turn much of a profit blindly betting against them.
So while the historical results show that teams that finish with less than 60 wins are money burners, it needs to be put into context with the current climate of MLB (the good are really good and the bad really bad) — one that up until recently the betting markets have never really witnessed on such a polarizing scale. In 2018, Baltimore’s first foray into historically bad baseball, its opponents’ average moneyline price was -167. Last season, the Orioles actually improved by seven games but their opponents’ average moneyline price jumped to -197. Meaning the markets started to slowly wise up. And you can bank on that adjustment continuing assuming the projection of another disastrous season proves true. You like -300 favorites? Opponents were tagged -300 or higher 20 times versus Baltimore. And with three playoff contenders and Toronto slated to improve within the division, again, we can expect that number to increase.
We’re entering a new era of MLB betting; one where half of a typical betting card features 2-1 or more chalk. Bettors who’ve long grinded out profits by betting short favorites and underdogs are seeing these incredible results with high price teams. It’s put bettors, including myself, in a position of asking, why am I trying to beat competitively lined games in an ultra-competitive market when I can just sit back, fade these glorified Triple-A teams, and count my money at the end of the season? It’s a legitimate question and one that as recent as five years ago I never would have imagined asking. But it’s important to remember that no matter what the sport, the markets do eventually catch up. MLB has no doubt been slow with this stuff but adjustments are being made. Bet against Baltimore every game last season and you won around +13 units. That’s not bad but it’s also not legalized stealing like it was in 2018 when you would have made +47 units. And with the Orioles projected to be just as bad as they were last year, conventional wisdom says consistently fading them will be even less fruitful in 2020.