MLB Betting Guide for the Second Half of the Season
The Home Run Derby, Midsummer Classic (and the Celebrity Softball Game, if you're into that), and all the fanfare that comes with the MLB All-Star break is now in the rear-view mirror. So, for casual baseball fans and those that like a little action on the side, now what?
Sure, the first half -- really, roughly 60% of the regular season -- is gone and done with, but there are still nearly 1,000 games to be decided. On a day-to-day or even week-to-week basis, we'll have all the usual storylines and drama that comes with the trade deadline and the stretch toward the postseason.
With it comes MVP talk, Cy Young conversations, and new or more-established World Series favorites. And the oddsmakers over at Paddy Power are already on top of it all, offering player props and outright betting odds on a variety of special awards and events.
If you're looking for that added rooting interest, which players and teams are the favorites? And which ones should you be targeting for value as the second half of the season gets underway?
American League MVP
In the early American League MVP race, there isn't anything new at the very top. Two-time winner Mike Trout and his 6.5 fWAR come in at -200 odds. However, for as great a year that Trout's having -- posting top-three numbers in home runs (25), weighted on-base average (wOBA; .439), and weighted runs created-plus (wRC+; 187) -- his Los Angeles Angels have failed to live up to expectations and are fourth in their own division.
Plus, Trout's not the only star who has proven himself worth 6.5 wins. He's joined by both Mookie Betts (+400) and Jose Ramirez (+900). While Betts is third behind Trout and Red Sox teammate J.D. Martinez (+300) in odds, he leads the Majors with a .471 wOBA, 202 wRC+, and .332 isolated slugging (ISO), not to mention a 1.139 OPS. But at more than double the odds, and double the return, Ramirez is the best bet at the top.
Ramirez ranks top-four in the American League in each and every one of these categories: home runs (29), RBI (70), wOBA (.427), wRC+ (174), ISO (.327), and OPS (1.029).
Jose Ramirez just keeps raking. 29th homer of the year for the @Indians, tying the MLB lead. pic.twitter.com/Z7cRwplksh
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) July 14, 2018
He's also third in the league with 20 steals, and as the Cleveland Indians' everyday third baseman, his 6.1 defensive runs above average (DEF) lead the four top favorites. We project the switch-hitting stud to rack up a total of 44 homers, 123 RBI, and 30 stolen bases with a 1.021 OPS by season's end.
If you're looking for even more of a darkhorse, you can look to Boston ace Chris Sale (+9000). Justin Verlander was the last pitcher to win the American League MVP in 2011, but Sale's 4.9 fWAR is 2.5 wins clear of the six other players listed at the same long odds.
National League MVP
There isn't as much of a clear-cut favorite in the National League MVP race. While the Atlanta Braves' Freddie Freeman enters the second half at +130 odds, he's followed closely by the Colorado Rockies' Nolan Arenado (+250). If picking between the two, Arenado has a 4.1 to 3.9 edge in fWAR, and he's projected to outpace Freeman in home runs (39), RBI (114), and OPS (.990) for the year. Oh -- and he's a wizard at the hot corner.
Nolan Arenado just threw a Backyard Baseball Fireball power up to throw this guy out pic.twitter.com/aVFS6C8Wsj
— Too Much Tuma (@toomuchtuma) July 12, 2018
Unlike the American League race, the top starting pitcher candidate, Max Scherzer (+900), is no outside contender. Not only do Scherzer's odds come in fourth, but also his 4.1 fWAR is right on par with that of Arenado's and exceeds all others.
But that shouldn't come as a surprise. Scherzer has logged the most innings (134.2) of any National League pitcher while notching 12 wins and earning a 2.41 ERA in 20 starts.
Scherzer's an unlikely candidate, as only one National League hurler -- Clayton Kershaw in 2014 -- has been voted MVP in the last 50 years (Bob Gibson won it in 1968). No one can blame you if you look further down the odds for a hitter. And if you're doing so, you could do worse than Lorenzo Cain (+2000) and Anthony Rendon (+10000).
Of any player with odds of +1000 or longer, Cain (3.5 fWAR) leads the way on the back of a .362 wOBA at the plate and a National League-leading 8.4 DEF from his center field spot.
Meanwhile, Rendon is 19th in odds but is in a tie for 9th with 3.3 fWAR. Top-15 marks in both wOBA (.369) and wRC+ (131) have helped make up for a slumping Bryce Harper in Washington, and we project the third baseman to tally 12 dingers and 35 RBI over the rest of the season, bringing his totals to 27 and 84, respectively, for the season.
American League Cy Young
Naturally, you'd expect Sale to sit atop the oddsmakers' ranks for the Cy Young award. After all, Verlander and Kershaw's MVP seasons were both accompanied by Cy Young Awards. But for some reason, that isn't the case in 2018.
The New York Yankees' Luis Severino (+130) leads the way, followed by Verlander (+250) and Sale (+400). As you can see, Sale isn't far off, but for a pitcher topping the list with a 4.9 fWAR and 2.17 fielding-independent pitching (FIP), not to mention 13.12 strikeouts per 9 innings, that's insane value.
And while Severino owns the American League lead in wins (14), we project Sale -- with 10 wins -- to narrow the gap down the stretch, earning 17 wins to Severino's 20 for the season.
There isn't as big of a discrepancy between the odds and the numbers, but Gerrit Cole (+1100) provides similar bang for your back. Boasting a 3.5 fWAR (fifth among American League starters), the 27-year-old is 10-2 in his first year with the Houston Astros. He rates second to Sale in strikeouts per nine (12.41) while his 2.97 FIP sits fifth behind the aforementioned pitchers and well-documented nemesis Trevor Bauer.
National League Cy Young
The Senior Circuit is as expected. At ridiculous -200 odds, Scherzer's dominance is clear. The dude might be third in fWAR among National League pitchers, but he is first in strikeouts per nine (12.16) and opponent batting average (.179) -- well clear of the competition in both categories.
Flying in the face of Scherzer's amazing season is what could be the all-for-nothing performance of the Mets' Jacob deGrom (+900). Through 19 starts, his team's shortcomings have kept him to a 5-4 record and have held down his odds much lower than they should be. Topping the National League in fWAR (4.4), deGrom's 2.32 FIP and 1.68 ERA are also a league-best for starters -- and he's done so with a batting average on balls in play (.282) over 30 percentage points higher than Scherzer's. If some luck and a few more wins (we project him for six more) break in his favor -- and especially if he's traded to a contender, The deGrominator could eat into Mad Max's odds in no time.
Outside the top five names, it's easy to spot the high-risk, high-reward bet that is Patrick Corbin (+9000). To start the year, Corbin pitched to a 2.25 ERA with 12.38 strikeouts per nine and 4 wins (in 6 starts) through the months of March and April. He's managed just a 2-4 record since, and his strikeouts are down to a more moderate 10.3 per nine innings of work. But the upside is evident with the young southpaw. His 3.3 fWAR is fourth among National League pitchers, and we project him to finish the year with a sparkling 3.31 ERA.
In the American League divisional races, a lot has virtually been decided. Whether you're consulting our probabilities or Paddy's implied probabilities, the West and Central winners are locked in. At 97.7% by our numbers and 84.6% according to the betting odds, the defending-champion Astros, who own a five-game lead over the Seattle Mariners, are projected to finish 13 games clear of the 2-spot. And the Indians are even more of a lock at 99.1% and 99.0%, respectively.
The only division that's open is the wide, wide open East. Currently, the Red Sox own a 4.5-game lead over the Yankees, but we project the two to finish just 2 games apart. So it follows that we give Boston a 58.4% of taking the division title compared to 41.6% for New York. The gap (60.0% to 44.4%) is just as close in the betting market, but if you're laying some money here now might be the time to so, and it should be on the side of the Yanks.
At +125 to the Red Sox' -150 odds, the Yankees are slight underdogs, but they could overcome down the stretch. We already have them a spot ahead of Boston in our power rankings, and that's without their usual deadline moves, which are almost certain to come. And with the two teams meeting 10 more times over the regular season (include a 3-game set to end the season), the head-to-head matchups might just decide this tight race in their favor.
A broader look shows that the Yankees and Red Sox are our second- and third-most likely clubs to win the American League pennant, and though the two are flip-flopped in Paddy's current odds, there isn't any real value there. The value lies in the Indians and Oakland Athletics.
Despite their status as a near-lock in the Central, the Indians are at +550 odds to represent the American League in the World Series. That's almost double that of the Yankees (+300), who would have to work their way through a potential Wild Card matchup before moving on to either face the Red Sox or Indians, in all likelihood.
And while the Tribe's bullpen ranks 14th in the American League by fWAR (-0.9), their starting rotation (12.7) is 2nd only to the Astros, and they've just recently added a pair of arms to the bullpen, including lefty Brad Hand, who's tallied 24 saves and 65 strikeouts alongside a 3.17 FIP this season.
The A's (+3300) are appropriately listed as the sixth team, according to our American League ranks. However, their projected 88 wins are three off the Mariners' projected win total, which gives them a glimpse -- a 30.8% probability -- of making the postseason. It would take a lot, and they would have to inevitably take down some superior teams, but they boast the league's sixth-best offense by wRC+ (103), and their 31 road wins are third-most in the Majors. A traveling offense could cause a problem for any team, especially over a five- or seven-game series.
In the National League East, we have by far the most wide open race of all six divisions. The division-leading Philadelphia Phillies (yes, the Phillies), the preseason favorite Washington Nationals, and breakout Atlanta Braves all are at +180 odds to take the regular season crown. But Atlanta is the team to target, with our models giving them a 42.2% probability of winning the division, compared to Philadelphia and Washington at 39.4% and 18.5%, respectively.
Furthermore, the Braves own the highest odds of making the postseason as the eighth-best team in our power rankings despite sitting a half-game back of the Phillies -- and it's easy to see why. The Braves' 0.7 run differential is substantially better than the other two division contenders and is backed by an offense ranked fourth in the National League in wRC+ (99) and sixth in the Majors with a strikeout rate of just 20.4%.
Like in the Junior Circuit, the other two divisions are expected to be taken by the favorites -- the Los Angeles Dodgers in the West and the Chicago Cubs in the Central -- by season's end. But if you're choosing between the chalk in the American League and the National League, the latter provides higher potential returns.
Carrying -225 odds to win the division, the Dodgers' 69.3% probability of doing so matches up nicely with an implied probability of 69.2%.
Per our numbers, the Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies and San Francisco Giants -- all within four games following the break -- are all overpriced as the second through four place teams. The Dodgers have had a full season's worth of ups and downs, but just yesterday, they made a deal to add -- of all players -- four-time All-Star Manny Machado to help get them to where they want to be. Fittingly, we project L.A. to emerge from the West by a four-game margin.
As for the Central, the Cubs have sizable leads over the St. Louis Cardinals (8.5 games) and Pittsburgh Pirates (9.5), and in spite of just a 2.5-game gap, their probability (79.7%) of reigning as kings of the Central is over four times that of the second-place Milwaukee Brewers (19.0%). And that's better than the 75.0% implied probability awarded to them by oddsmakers, creating a little value to go with the "favorites" designation.
Though the Brewers have the odds stacked against them to win the division, they do present some upside in the National League pennant race. They are all but assured one of the two wild card spots (most likely the first), boasting a probability of 79.4% to reach the playoffs in 2018. Our projections would have them advancing to face the Cubs at this moment in time, and anything could happen.
The Brewers are just a single spot below the Cubs in our power rankings, thanks to the Majors' best defense and a pitching staff ranked seventh by fWAR (10.9). At +800 -- the same odds as four other teams, they're a steal.
World Series Champion
The ultimate goal isn't the league pennants, though. Which teams are the oddsmakers' favorites to win it all?
|Team||Paddy Power Odds||nF Champs|
While the Astros and Red Sox share the same odds, our models favor the defending champions by a sizable margin. They are our definitive number-one team, standing as the only club with top-four fWAR in hitting, starting pitching and relief pitching. Don't be fooled into thinking Boston's anywhere close.
Looking for more value in the return, the Indians are a prime target again. Their odds and championship probability meet in the sixth spot, but as we've addressed, they're all but locked into the 3 seed for October. To make things look better for their prospects, our algorithms would favor them over the Cubs and give them quite a chance against the Dodgers, who are just a single spot ahead of the Indians in our power rankings.
Cleveland certainly has a tall task in advancing past three superior teams in their own side of the draw, but they have managed to take three of seven against Houston, and their 2-5 record against the Yankees is skewed by two walk-off losses on the road.
If you'd like to venture further down the odds, the Milwaukee Brewers are an intriguing team to target. As with their National League odds, they are on the same line as three teams from the National League East and the Diamondbacks, who draw lower postseason chances from us across the board.
The Brew Crew should be the unquestioned team behind the Indians, and their 4.8% World Series odds exceed -- however slight -- their implied probability of 4.76%.