Where to Find Betting Value at the Quarter Pole of the MLB Season
Most teams throughout baseball have reached the one-quarter mark of the 2018 season, and we're starting to get to a point where early-season small sample sizes can now be taken more seriously.
For some young teams, like the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies, a faster-than-expected start has shocked oddsmakers while also increasing their postseason chances quite a bit. Others -- preseason favorites like the Los Angeles Dodgers -- have fallen on hard times, causing their postseason chances to take an extreme hit to this point.
The perceptions of these teams have changed. By win percentage, the Braves are the best team in the National League. Not too far behind them, the Phillies sit second in the NL East ahead of the sluggish Washington Nationals. And as for the Dodgers, they need help in some form -- health, moves or even a slump from the divisional-leading Diamondbacks.
Yes, it's only May 15th, and we shouldn't overreact and say that the Braves are the best team in baseball, but a team can play its way right in or out of contention at any point. With that being said, what do our numbers say you should expect down the stretch? And, just in case you missed the early-season boat, where can you take advantage of Vegas' odds the rest of the way?
In some cases, our metrics and Vegas' odds match up pretty well, but there are some notable differences to point. But first, let's take a look at Bovada's preseason odds to win the pennant (from February 21st) and those from today (May 15th), less than three months later.
|Boston Red Sox||6/1||13/4|
|New York Yankees||11/4||7/2|
|Los Angeles Angels||14/1||8/1|
|Toronto Blue Jays||20/1||16/1|
|Tampa Bay Rays||40/1||66/1|
|Chicago White Sox||75/1||250/1|
|Kansas City Royals||75/1||300/1|
|Los Angeles Dodgers||9/4||7/1|
|New York Mets||12/1||17/2|
|St. Louis Cardinals||9/1||12/1|
|San Francisco Giants||10/1||14/1|
|San Diego Padres||75/1||250/1|
As you can see, the Atlanta Braves have seen their odds improve the most, going from 75/1 (implied probability of 1.32%) to 9/1 (10.00%) since the preseason. Staying in the NL East, the surprising start by the Philadelphia Phillies has also increased their odds, from 50/1 to 15/1. Other teams that have seen a big improvement include the Pittsburgh Pirates (40/1 to 20/1), the Boston Red Sox (6/1 to 13/4), the Los Angeles Angels (14/1 to 8/1), and the Detroit Tigers, who are still extreme longshots but play in the worst division in baseball, the AL Central, allowing their odds to improve from 150/1 to 66/1.
The Braves enter Tuesday with a record of 25-15 and a 1.5-game lead in what has turned into an ultra-competitive NL East. They have the best run differential in the National League (+57) and are arguably the biggest story in Major League Baseball.
The 2018 season was supposed to be another rebuilding year for Atlanta, but the MVP performances of Ozzie Albies (.376 wOBA with 13 home runs) and Freddie Freeman (.421 wOBA) and inspired play by veterans like Nick Markakis (.346/.415/.537 slash line) and the addition of stud rookie Ronald Acuna (.346 wOBA in 81 plate appearances) has helped the Braves score more runs than any team in the NL this season. Their 52 homers are third in the NL, with a team wOBA of .337, a number trails only the New York Yankees.
The rotation, led by Julio Teheran, Sean Newcomb, and Mike Soroka, has the NL's fourth-best ERA (3.55) to go with a bullpen ERA of 3.60, which ranks sixth. Our projections give Atlanta a 25.7% chance of making the playoffs, although they're going to have to fend off a hard-charging Washington Nationals squad that just swept a four-game series from the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Nationals have just as much momentum as the Braves right now. They've won 13 out of their last 15 games and are fifth overall with an 87.6% chance of reaching the postseason. They also have a 76.8% chance of winning the division, compared to Atlanta's 10%, according to our algorithm.
Their rotation is the best in the NL (2.91 ERA, 3.14 FIP) and the offense, led by Bryce Harper's 13 homers and .387 wOBA, Trea Turner's team-high 1.6 fWAR, and solid contributions from Anthony Rendon and Matt Adams, has injected life into a once-struggling offense.
Because of their slow start, Washington saw their Vegas odds drop from 15/2 from 7/2 at the start of the year. But Washington has the best odds to make the postseason, at 86.8%, so there may be no better buying opportunity in baseball than the Nats.
With a record of 23-16, the Phils sit 1.5 games back of the Braves in the NL East and a half-game up on Washington, with slightly worse odds of winning the pennant (15/1) than the Braves (9/1).
Aaron Nola has established himself as an ace, with a 1.99 ERA that is sixth-lowest in baseball. He's joined by a rejuvenated Jake Arrieta, Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez, all four of whom are among baseball's six best pitchers at limiting hard contact. And Arrieta has given up hard contact on balls in play just 20.5% of the time, the best in baseball. Nola is second at 22.3%, Pivetta is tied for fourth at 24.6% and Velasquez is tied for sixth at 24.8%.
The offense has scored enough runs to stay in most games, too. Odubel Herrera's .360 batting average trails only Mookie Betts (.362) among qualified Major Leaguers. Carlos Santana is having a red-hot May (.456 wOBA and five of his seven homers have come this month), and Rhys Hoskins and Cesar Hernandez have provided consistency at the top of the lineup.
Our projections have the Phils just behind the Braves in terms of postseason odds, at 22.6%, but their +39 run differential is third-best in the NL and they are a much better bet than the San Francisco Giants, who, at 21-21 and with a run differential of -25, still have better Vegas odds to win the pennant (14/1) than the Phils. Our projections have the Giants at just 7% to reach the playoffs, which makes more sense.
The D-Backs made the postseason last year as a wild card team, so they entered the 2018 season with solid 12/1 odds to win the pennant. But after racing out to a 24-17 start, they hold a 1.5-game lead on the Colorado Rockies and a 3.5-game lead on the aforementioned Giants.
Despite a slow start by Paul Goldschmidt (.317 wOBA with just four dingers), the offense has been humming thanks to the incredible play of A.J. Pollock, who has found a new power stroke with 11 bombs already this season. David Peralta and Daniel Descalso have also been solid and, like the Phillies, Arizona's rotation has been a top-10 unit this season in fWAR (3.6), ERA (3.69) and strikeouts per nine innings (9.71).
Our projections give the Diamondbacks an 80.0% chance of reaching the postseason, the seventh-best odds in baseball. However, those odds may take a hit if the D-Backs get bad news about a possible long-term injury to Pollock, who injured his thumb on a diving catch attempt Monday night. If he's out for an extended period of time, the doors to the NL West could open up wide for the Giants, Rockies, or the team many expected to run away with the division this season -- the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Los Angeles Dodgers
There is no contender in baseball that has seen their fortunes change more negatively than the Dodgers. Thanks to an incomprehensibly bad 16-24 start to the season, they are 7.5 games out of first in the NL West and currently sit fourth -- and coming off a humiliating four-game sweep to the lowly Cincinnati Reds at that.
As a result, they've seen their preseason Vegas odds for winning the pennant fall from 9/4 to 7/1. And yet, despite being behind the Giants, New York Mets, Rockies, Chicago Cubs, Nationals, Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals and Phillies in the wild card standings, they still have better odds to win the pennant than all but the Nats and Cubs.
However, their slow start has been reflected in our projections, which gives them only a 19.9% chance of reaching the postseason. Their team-wide batting average (.239) is 21st in MLB, and their wOBA of .308 is tied for 22nd. Corey Seager had gotten off to a bit of a slow start (.325 wOBA) but he's now out for the rest of the year. They've also missed the injured Justin Turner, who is set to return on Tuesday against Miami. But the injuries have hurt their power, with only 36 dingers as a team this season, which is tied for third-fewest in baseball with the Detroit Tigers and San Diego Padres.
If you're a believer that the Dodgers can come back, then buying some stock in them with their odds down might be smart, but there are a lot of teams they must leapfrog and they've shown no signs of coming out of their early-season funk.
With four teams up against one another in the standings, this divisional's virtually a toss-up at this point. The Brewers (25-17) lead the division by one game over the Cardinals (22-16) and Pirates (23-17) with the Cubs just two games back (21-17).
As a result, each team's odds to win the pennant are pretty close, too. The Cubs came into the season at 15/4, but have seen those odds fall to 11/2. Milwaukee's have increased from 16/1 to 12/1, Pittsburgh's has jumped from 40/1 to 20/1, and the St. Louis has seen their drop a bit from 9/1 to 12/1.
By using our projections, the Cubs have a slight edge over the Brewers -- 82.0% to 75.9% -- to reach the postseason. The Cardinals are a bit further behind, at 53.4%, with the Pirates much lower at 12.0%. But our projections give the Cubs a more distinct advantage to win the division -- 48.6% to the Brewers' 34.0% -- and that's big. Winning the division provides an easier path to the NL title, so it appears the Cubs are still the team to back here.
Red Sox vs. Yankees
The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox entered play Tuesday separated by half a game in the AL East, with run differentials that were a single run apart (Boston +66, New York +65). So it's no surprise that our projections are all but certain both teams will make the playoffs, with the Yankees at 98.4% and the Sox at 92.9%. However, we give the edge to the Bronx Bombers (69.8%) to win the division over Boston (30.0%).
Vegas has Boston at 13/4 odds to win the pennant, however, slightly better than New York's 7/2, so it makes more sense to throw your weight behind New York's Vegas line, given our projections' stance on them winning the division.
Astros vs. Angels
Thanks to the incredible performance of Shohei Ohtani as both a top-shelf starter and one of the game's best power hitters (when he plays) and the continued dominance of Mike Trout, the Angels are out to a 25-16 record and a +35 run differential. That's resulted in their Vegas odds improving from 14/1 to 8/1.
But Houston's 26-17 record is just as good (just percentage-points behind Los Angeles) and their run differential of +90 is far and away the best in baseball. Their odds to win the pennant have remained steady at 11/4, and our projections continue to peg them as the heavy favorites to win the division (89.9%) over the Angels (6.4%).
Who to Buy
Based on our numbers and the latest Vegas lines, the Nationals seem like the best bet in the NL East, with the Phillies an interesting dice throw. The potential Pollock injury throws everything up in the air in the NL West, so stay away from there for. And in the Central, the safest money is on the Cubs, but the Brewers have a legitimate shot to win that division, too.
In the American League, the Yankees make more sense than the Red Sox, and the Astros are still the team to beat in the West, although the Angels are going to stick around all season.