MLB Futures: Who Should You Bet to Win Each Division?
Offseason changes create mystery in betting markets. But as a result, they also create value.
We've seen plenty of those changes during this winter's MLB offseason. If you have at one point been a superstar pitcher, you're scanning Zillow listings in San Diego. If you hit dingers, enjoy the beautiful summers in Toronto.
Because we haven't seen each team in its current state yet, there's room for over- and under-reactions to these offseason moves. We can definitely take advantage of that once the season gets underway, but the markets are unlikely to ever be as soft as they are right now.
Lucky for us, divisional betting odds are now posted for each division at FanDuel Sportsbook. Rather than relying on World Series or pennant odds, we can give ourselves more flexibility in trying to exploit these changes of scenery. And there does seem to be some lingering value.
Today, we're going to run through each division and see where the best betting value lies. There won't always be any, in which case that will be stated, as well. But we can at least chat about the dynamics of each race. Let's start things off in the National League with what figures to be the most competitive race and go from there.
National League West
To get a proper read on each division, I compiled my own power rankings for the upcoming season. A big crutch in this was the option on FanGraphs to view each team with their current active roster. This means I'm getting Nolan Arenado's production on the St. Louis Cardinals and so on. Then, I was able to decide which stats I wanted to emphasize, weight out different components of the game, and see which team was primed to make a run.
The top two teams in those power rankings were both in the NL West.
|NL West||Divisional Odds|
|Los Angeles Dodgers||-200|
|San Diego Padres||+200|
|San Francisco Giants||+4500|
The question is whether the new-look Padres have enough juice to bet them at +200. Normally if you can get a team slotted second in your power rankings a +200 to win the division, you take it all day. But the Dodgers are just a different beast.
Sure, the Padres added Yu Darvish and Blake Snell, among others. But the Dodgers brought in Trevor Bauer, and they're likely to get David Price back after he opted out last year. That's a tough squad to bet against, even when you'd be doing so with a team as fun as the Padres.
Recommendation: No action. If I'm going to get a piece of the NL West, that's where I'd rather dabble in the World Series market. The Padres are +800 there, and I like that more than getting them at +200 to beat the Dodgers. I'm good banking on the volatility of the postseason instead of going against the powerhouse that is the Dodgers over 162 games.
National League Central
The NL West has the top two teams in my power rankings. The NL Central... does not. But at least it now has Arenado, and the sportsbooks are fully accounting for that move.
|NL Central||Divisional Odds|
|St. Louis Cardinals||+105|
Adding Arenado is huge for the Cardinals as it improves both their defense and the hitting. But that doesn't mean everything here is cured.
The starting pitching is a massive, massive red flag. After Jack Flaherty, things fall off quickly, and they're going to need multiple pieces to hit the high end of their range of outcomes. It's fair to label the Cardinals as the favorites, but putting them at +105 is an easy pass.
That opens up value elsewhere in this market, and you could make a case for several other teams.
Recommendation: The Milwaukee Brewers at +380.
The Brewers have issues of their own in the rotation, but they have two studs at the top in Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes. After that, it's a bunch of guys who allow tons of balls in play. But with Kolten Wong's elite defense now at second base, that's less of an issue than it was previously.
The Brewers' offense is going to struggle, so they're going to rely on low-scoring games. That's a viable strategy, though, when your bullpen is as good as theirs and the defense projects to be improved. They might not be the most exciting team to watch, but it could be effective if they can hit just a smidge.
National League East
|NL East||Divisional Odds|
|New York Mets||+145|
It's a solid division with four viable teams. That's enough to cross off the Atlanta Braves at those short odds. The Mets, though, are interesting.
In my aforementioned power rankings, they checked in at fifth place. It was tops in the NL East, though the Braves were also in the top 10. Being ranked fifth there is nice when you're getting +145.
The question is whether the other viable teams in the division prevent the Mets from being a value at that number. That doesn't seem to be the case.
Recommendation: The Mets at +145.
The Mets' combo of starting pitching and offense is tough to overcome, even with the uncertainty around Noah Syndergaard's timeline. Carlos Carrasco looked like his old self last year with a 29.3% strikeout rate across 68 innings, so his addition can help hold things over until Syndergaard comes back. Getting Marcus Stroman back in there helps, as well.
FanGraphs' playoff odds are posted for the upcoming season, and they have the Mets winning the East a whopping 54.3% of the time. The implied odds at +145 are 40.8%. My power rankings aren't the only ones high on this team going into the year, so I'll happily take the +145 and join in the LFGM cheers.
American League West
The Oakland Athletics effectively ran away with the AL West last year, winning the division by seven games across a 60-game season. It should come as no surprise, then, that they're the current favorites to repeat.
|AL West||Divisional Odds|
|Los Angeles Angels||+360|
Two dynamics are at play for betting this division.
The first is how you view the viability of the Los Angeles Angels. They're +360 here, which would make this look like a three-horse race. The Angels, though, were 17th in my power rankings with no real strength to lean on outside of being Mike Trout's employer. If you are skeptical of the Angels, that ups the interest in the A's and Houston Astros.
The other dynamic is whether you think the remaining Astros bounce back. It's true they've lost a ton of firepower. But they've still got some legit studs, and it's not a certainty that 2020 is the new norm for Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa. You have to decide how you feel about those two things before diving into this market.
Recommendation: The Astros at +150.
Part of this is the possibility that their old superstars bounce back. The other is that the A's have some issues of their own. There is upside in their younger arms, but with that upside comes uncertainty. At +135, we're assuming a lot of those pieces hit, which is a risk.
The Astros' lineup -- even with George Springer gone -- will score runs. They get Yordan Alvarez back after he missed basically all of 2020, and Correa is young enough to believe he can regain his 2019 form. This number feels like an overreaction to the (impactful) losses they've experienced and a bad 60-game stretch last year. Now's a good time to get back on the bandwagon at a long number.
American League Central
|AL Central||Divisional Odds|
|Chicago White Sox||-135|
|Kansas City Royals||+4000|
That's easy to comprehend. The White Sox finished just a game back last year, and that was even with Yoan Moncada struggling as he recovered from COVID-19. They added a solid arm to the rotation, too, by trading for Lance Lynn.
We shouldn't count the Minnesota Twins out yet, though. They won the division last year despite minimal contributions from Josh Donaldson and a rotation that got torched by injuries. They're bringing back all the key cogs except Eddie Rosario, and they've added depth to the back end of the rotation the past few weeks.
Recommendation: Lean toward the Twins at +145.
I'm specifying this as being a lean because it's the thing we'll discuss today in which I feel the least conviction. With that said, the Twins are one spot ahead of the White Sox in my power rankings, and their divisional odds at FanGraphs are 46.2%. The implied odds here are 40.8%.
The big question is whether you want to lock up bankroll for that long. If you don't mind, then there is value in the Twins at +145. But if you're betting enough volume where that unit could be better spent elsewhere, there's not enough in this one where you absolutely must pull the trigger.
American League East
Not often is the defending American League champion +400 to win its own division the following year. That's what we have in the East, though, with the Tampa Bay Rays.
|AL East||Divisional Odds|
|New York Yankees||-195|
|Toronto Blue Jays||+360|
|Tampa Bay Rays||+400|
|Boston Red Sox||+2000|
How 'bout them Toronto Blue Jays? Turns out adding good players is good. Who knew!
Turning to the power rankings, they love the New York Yankees entering the year. They're ranked third behind just the Dodgers and Padres and a healthy amount ahead of the rest of the AL East. That's accounted for in the odds, though, with their implied win odds at 66.1%.
Recommendation: No action. The Blue Jays are a fun team, but the questions around their rotation lower the enthusiasm. The Rays' Snell trade has left them thin in the rotation, as well. That boils things down to just the Yankees. But with sportsbooks properly accounting for what figures to be a nice rebound this year, this is an easy pass for me.