With each passing year, I feel less and less like I have to put a disclaimer on this piece. Betting on sports is now legal in many states and will almost surely be legal nationally at some point during this decade. Whether you’re a sharp -- we have those in the Slack -- or just someone who wants to throw a few bucks on the baseball season, there’s an app for you.
I’ve been running this column as part of the preseason package for a while, usually offering two to three over/under picks and then some suggestions on props. Famously, I hit on Christian Yelich at 200-1 for NL MVP in 2018; in 2019, I hit on Justin Verlander to lead the majors in wins. Forget the money -- I didn’t have any in play. It’s just gratifying to be able to look ahead at the next six months of baseball and see certain things coming. It helps on those days when you get it wrong.
This year, I’ll use DraftKings’ numbers because I have the app handy. If you want me to weigh in on any investments you might be thinking about making, drop me a line and I’ll get to them quickly.
The shocking thing for me is how many teams stood out in the win-total markets. My red line is a gap of five wins between the line and my projections; there are a whopping ten of those this year. That doesn’t mean I’m giving out all ten, it means I can be selective within that group.
Dodgers over 102.5 wins. Going over the high number on the board is usually a sucker’s play. In this case, I have to take a gap of 10.5 wins, and if it makes me the sucker so be it. The fear is that the Dodgers’ last 20 games or so won’t be meaningful, and they’ll throw out the parachute and cruise in, falling short of the number. Even a Dodger team mailing it in is still pretty good, though. Give me the chalk.
Orioles under 64.5 wins. We went under the low numbers on the board two years ago and went 2-0. We’ll try this one again based on my projection of 55 wins for the Orioles. It’s just a math play, trusting my numbers.
Rangers under 66.5 wins. I have them at 59-103, and it’s probably easier to see them falling apart than making a run. They have a bad rotation, and their bullpen has been eviscerated by injuries this spring. I liked this one a lot coming in, and feel better having gotten an email from a pro bettor telling me he was on this one (at 67.5).
Rockies over 63.5 wins. This is probably the first counterintuitive one. The Rockies, even post-Arenado, still have a good core, a sprinkling of talent around it, and a manager able to squeeze wins from what he has. This isn’t a good team, but it’s also not one of the very worst teams in baseball. It’s not clearly the worst in the NL West. Take the 8.5-win gap here and run.
That’s the first tier: my “official” picks for this year. There were none last season, but I am 8-1 for the last full three seasons.
If you have a little more tolerance for risk, you can get in on the Rays over 85.5, the Royals over 73.5, the Marlins over 71.5, and the Tigers under 68.5. Those are suggestions rather than recommendations.
DraftKings posts an assortment of other options. Let’s see what kind of trouble we can get into. Note that “+200” means you bet $100 to win $200, or $10 to win $20. “-150” means betting $150 to win $100. Underdogs are plus, favorites are minus.
Marlins to win NL 33-1
Marlins to win World Series 75-1
As I wrote Monday, I love their rotation. If they had a better defense behind it you could make some 1991 Braves comps. As is, I think they’ll be relevant deep into the season.
Braves to win NLE +120
This is a very short line to bet into, but I see a bigger gap between the Braves and the field than most people do. This is a very good team, closer to the Dodgers than to the rest of the NL.
Brewers to win NLC +300
Brewers to win NL 25-1
Brewers to win World Series 44-1
I have the Brewers winning the division outright, while the markets favor the Cardinals, and not by a little. To me, that’s underestimating just how thin the Cards are, especially in the rotation, and not acknowledging the edge the Brewers have in the dugout. Getting my division pick at 3-1 is a gift; the rest just follows.
Royals to win AL Central 40-1
Their true odds are closer to 10-1, in my opinion, given the depth they have laid in and the flaws of the teams ahead of them. This isn’t saying they will win, but that there’s value in a 40-1 line.
Gerrit Cole to win AL Cy Young +350
Super-short odds, but as I mentioned on Twitter, the top of the AL pitching pool is thin. Shane Bieber and Lucas Giolito are the only other pitchers on Cole’s tier. Sure, someone else could win, but this looks like value.
DraftKings doesn’t list any pitchers for MVP, but if you have access to a place that does, Cole will almost certainly be undervalued.
Julio Urias to win NL Cy Young 66-1
The risk here is that he doesn’t pitch enough, but when he does he’ll be very good and likely to get incredible run support. I’ll take the chance that he’s the best Dodgers starter this year.
To lead MLB in home runs:
Christian Yelich 40-1
Kyle Schwarber 70-1
Rhys Hoskins 75-1
To lead MLB in RBI:
Michael Conforto 50-1
Gleyber Torres 66-1
To lead MLB in runs scored:
Whit Merrifield 75-1
I really, really love that one and may have to visit a neighboring state before Thursday to show how much.
Finally, some individual offerings:
Yordan Alvarez under 33.5 HR
Yordan Alvarez under 102.5 RBI
He’s not going to play enough.
Juan Soto under 38.5 HR
Juan Soto under 118.5 RBI
He’s going to be pitched around too often.
Pete Alonso under 41.5 HR
He is going to lose some playing time along the way as the Mets try to solve their defensive issues, part of which will involve Dom Smith at first base.