MLB Betting: The 3 Best Win Totals to Target
Opening Day is just a day away, so bettors are finalizing their bets for the season. We have covered World Series futures, value bets for the Rays and Brewers, players who could lead the league in hits, and MVP bets for both the American League and National League. Now it is time for win totals, and there are a few teams that bettors should consider targeting based on our model’s projections.
The table below shows the win totals listed on FanDuel Sportsbook and numberFire's projected win total for each team.
|Team||nF Projected Wins||FanDuel Win Total|
|Boston Red Sox||33||30.5|
|Chicago White Sox||29||31.5|
|Kansas City Royals||22||24.5|
|Los Angeles Angels||32||31.5|
|Los Angeles Dodgers||36||37.5|
|New York Mets||32||32.5|
|New York Yankees||36||37.5|
|San Diego Padres||30||30.5|
|San Francisco Giants||24||25.5|
|St. Louis Cardinals||33||31.5|
|Tampa Bay Rays||33||33.5|
|Toronto Blue Jays||27||27.5|
Our model makes it easy to see where the value lies, but further analysis can help to show the rationale behind our bets.
The best method for analyzing win totals is to start with a team’s record from the prior season and determine how many games that team should have expected to win. That's important because some teams win more games than their run differential might predict or vice versa. Pythagorean record is a good tool that can help bettors see the difference between a team’s actual record and their expected record based on how well they played.
Once we understand how many games we could expect a team to win based on their roster from the prior season, we must account for roster changes, which can be done easily with projected WAR for that season. I will use this method as I go through each pick from the model -- although the wins will have to be prorated for the shortened season -- starting with a team that had offseason turmoil.
Boston Red Sox: Over 30.5 Wins
The Boston Red Sox had a Pythagorean record of 87-75 in 2019 (three wins better than their actual record), which amounts to about 32 wins in a 60-game season. The Red Sox will be without two of their best players in seasons prior this year: Mookie Betts and Chris Sale. Betts was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers during the offseason, and Boston will replace him in the outfield with Alex Verdugo, who was acquired in the trade. Verdugo is obviously a step down from Betts in terms of production, but he is three years younger and has upside.
Even without Betts, the Red Sox should be amongst the top ten lineups (per WAR from FanGraphs) in baseball with Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and J.D. Martinez leading the way, all of whom are amongst our top projected fantasy players.
The Red Sox will also be without Chris Sale (who will be out for the season due to Tommy John surgery), David Price (traded to the Dodgers with Betts), and Rick Porcello (signed with the New York Mets).
Boston's rotation isn’t looking great on paper, but the 2019 iteration wasn’t much better. Sale had his worst season by WAR as a starter, and Price continued his lackluster run with the Red Sox by posting an ERA over 4.00 for the first time since his rookie season. Porcello has one of his worst seasons as a starter, too. Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi, and Martin Perez will pick up much of the workload, but they do not have big shoes to fill based on the rotation’s performance last season.
numberFire's model projects the Red Sox to win 33 games, which is reasonable, considering that their run differential suggests the Sox were better than the 84 wins they earned last year and the possibility that the losses of Betts, Sale, Price, and Porcello won’t leave them in shambles. Given FanDuel’s total of 30.5, bettors should strongly consider betting the over on Boston.
Chicago White Sox: Under 31.5 Wins
The Chicago White Sox were three wins worse than their actual record, per their Pythagorean record (72 vs. 69), and the FanDuel total implies that they will improve on that number. Chicago’s 69 Pythagorean wins from last season translate to about 26 wins in a 60-game season. Even though Chicago is a young team with highly touted former prospects like Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez, and Luis Robert, it’s hard to see how the offseason improvements will lead to six more prorated wins.
The signing of Yasmani Grandal to start over James McCann at catcher and the call-up of Robert (who is expected to start in the outfield this year) are the best improvements to the lineup by the Sox. Grandal is one of baseball’s best catchers, but he is replacing an all-star from 2019 in McCann, so it is only an incremental improvement. Unless Robert lights the league on fire in his first season, his call-up is likely only to be an incremental improvement as well.
The Sox also signed Dallas Keuchel over the offseason. Keuchel replaces Ivan Nova, who signed with the division-rival Detroit Tigers. As a former Cy Young winner, Keuchel is a big name. That said, he did not play much better than Nova in 2019. Keuchel had an FIP (fielding-independent pitching) of 4.72 (Nova had 4.98), and given his age (32), it is unlikely that Keuchel will improve by a substantial margin.
Chicago made some moves toward contention, but their team is still too young to make the leap – bettors should take advantage of the under.
Kansas City Royals: Under 24.5 Wins
The Kansas City Royals are another American League Central team that are projected to stay under their win total.
The Royals won a paltry 59 games last year, but their Pythagorean win total of 64 suggests that they played better than their actual record. In a 60-game season, 64 wins translate to about 24 wins, so the Royals would have to actually improve on last year’s roster to surpass their total.
Kansas City’s most notable change to their lineup is Salvador Perez's return from injury. Perez replaces Martin Maldonado and will likely give the Royals a boost, but the impact will be marginal, and the other changes to their lineup will likely be negligible. Also, one of the Royals’ best bats, Hunter Dozier, is projected to decline in production per FanGraphs, a regression to the mean of sorts.
The same core rotation returns for Kansas City: Jake Junis, Brad Keller, and Danny Duffy, all of whom are projected to perform similarly to last season. The Royals are essentially working with the same team as they did when they won 59 games in 2019, so it’s difficult to see much improvement, especially because other than Adalberto Mondesi, none of the regular starters are young and in the development phase of their career. Bettors should fade Kansas City and take the under this year.