Which American League Teams Have Been the Most Profitable Bets in 2018?
The Major League Baseball season is just over halfway through, and while there's been a lot of money won and lost in this year's betting market, there are teams that have proven to be more profitable than others. In fact, among American League clubs, there are four teams that have provided the best returns on a game-to-game basis in 2018.
We know that these teams rank as the top four in Odds Shark’s current money standings, but will they continue their money-making success over the rest of the season? Let's check it out.
1. Oakland Athletics
The Oakland Athletics have been a sleeper pick to make the playoffs ever since they’ve come within striking distance of the Seattle Mariners and the second AL Wild Card spot. Our models have them ranked seventh in the league, and at 60-43, they’ve over-performed their Pythagorean win record -- 55-48, according to Baseball Reference -- by four games.
In spite of a mediocre pitching staff, Oakland has been able to string together wins through offensive power. As a team, they’ve hit 141 home runs this season, second only to the New York Yankees' 162. They also rank seventh in slugging percentage (SLG) and fifth in isolated power (ISO), despite having just a .289 team batting average on balls (BABIP) in play. The average BABIP for hitters is around .300, so bettors could expect Oakland to remain steady or even positively regress toward more offensive production.
And while we're talking sustainability, the amount of hard contact a team makes is a great measure of a team’s ability to continue their power-hitting ways. It just so happens that the Athletics rank first in the Majors with a 40.3% hard-hit rate.
Oakland has the capability to make a playoff run and continue to make bettors money behind their undervalued offense. Their unassuming core (only two All-Star on this year’s team: the ever-popular Jed Lowrie and reliever Blake Treinen) make them unappealing to public bettors, thus creating value for bettors that recognize their under-the-radar yet dangerous lineup of big-time sluggers.
2. Boston Red Sox
The Boston Red Sox have had an incredible first half of the season. Not only have they racked up a league-best 71 wins, but they’ve been extremely profitable despite having two strikes against them (no pun intended) for sharp bettors.
They’re a "public" team, meaning they typically have the majority of the bets on their side, inflating their odds to win each game. Also, their lineup is essentially the opposite of the Athletics in the sense that they have an above average BABIP (.308) and a hard contact percentage that falls in the middle of the pack (35.3%, 17th). So it’s truly incredible that Boston has managed to be as profitable as they’ve been with the odds theoretically stacked against them.
Although they’re likely to regress -- albeit slightly, they rank second in the Majors in contact percentage (79.6%), giving them the consistency they’ll need to compete for a World Series title. The Red Sox also boast a starting rotation and a bullpen that rank in the top-five teams in the league in fielding independent pitching (FIP). Boston has a well-rounded roster that will likely lead them to a deep playoff run, but that doesn’t necessarily mean their profitability will continue.
Bettors should tread lightly with the Red Sox for the rest of the season as the odds will likely continue to be stacked against them. The best strategy might be to target situations where the odds could favor bettors, such as road games, matchups with teams like the Yankees, and non-Chris Sale starts, since the Sox are balanced enough to overcome such disadvantages more times than not.
3. Seattle Mariners
The Mariners have had a fascinating season thus far. For the most part, they’ve kept up with the dominant divisional-leading Houston Astros (five games back) despite having a run differential of zero runs, which is typical of a team hovering around .500.
Every aspect of their team is slightly above average, except for their defense, which is terrible. Seattle has been great in one-run games, and while the same holds true for Oakland and Boston, the Mariners have competed in about 50% more one-run games than those teams. One would expect teams to have a record around .500 in one-run games, so the Mariners’ 26-13 record stands out.
Surprisingly enough, Seattle ranks toward the bottom of the league in hard-hit rate, at 31.1%, but rank first in medium contact percentage -- a metric that is truly the epitome of their offense -- at 51.4%. The Mariners are prime candidates for second-half regression in a negative direction. With seven series against the Astros and Athletics remaining on their schedule, Seattle will find it difficult to continue making bettors money like they have throughout the season so far.
4. Tampa Bay Rays
Given that the Tampa Bay Rays are sixth in our predictive model, it goes without saying that we at numberFire are high on their analytically driven ways this season. Their starting rotation has quietly been one of the best in the majors this season (ranking sixth in FIP), led by All-Star Blake Snell.
The truly astounding statistic that captures the value in betting the Rays is that they’ve underperformed in relation to their Pythagorean win record by one win. While we’d logically expect the most profitable teams to overperform in wins -- based on their run differential -- and be candidates to negatively regress, the Rays have the potential to improve over the rest of the season.
Among the four teams here, the Rays stand out as the team most likely to miss out on the playoffs (3.4% probability, according to our models), so if they begin to sell at the trade deadline, they won’t be the same undervalued betting value that they've proven themselves to be. However, with the pitching staff they currently employ and manager Kevin Cash’s innovative strategies (like starting relief pitchers for one or two innings to exploit matchups at the top of their opponent's lineup), the Rays can continue to be a profitable team for bettors throughout the remainder of the season.