4 MLB Futures Bets to Make Before Opening Day
For the past week, I've been building out my baseball moneyline model and strikeout prop projections. It's a lot of work, and the hope is that it'll pay dividends this season.
But, whew, buddy, has it made me itchy.
When you're tinkering with numbers like this, all you want to do is fire off some bets. But with opening day markets not up yet, I'm just Judge Judy dot gif'ing.
That's why the futures market exists, friends. We get to apply some of this research and get some action down, and it's of the full-season-sweat variety.
At least, you hope the sweat lasts all year.
In digging through the futures market, I've found four bets that stand out as showing value to me. This is based on both data from my power rankings and some that I just think are fun and spicy.
Let's dive on in and help scratch that itch before next week.
Toronto Blue Jays to Win the A.L. (+480)
(UPDATE: The Jays have since shortened to +450 to win the A.L.)
Losing Marcus Semien and Robbie Ray sucks. Those guys are rockstars, and they helped elevate the Toronto Blue Jays to a 91-win season last year.
But the Jays re-loaded well, and I think they've got the juice to win the pennant.
Right now, the Jays are +480 to win the American League at MLB odds, sitting behind the Chicago White Sox (+460) and Houston Astros (+470). That's despite the fact that the Jays have the shortest World Series odds (+950) of any American League team.
It's also despite the Jays' sitting highest in my power rankings in the A.L. They're not on the same level as the Los Angeles Dodgers, which is why I'm opting to go this route, but the Jays are legit contenders.
Projection systems seem to agree with my numbers. FanGraphs' playoff odds peg the Jays as the A.L. favorites at 22.1%, above their implied odds 17.2% at +480. That's a big gap that we don't see all too often.
This lineup is deep. It's got the starpower at the top, but you've also got a guy with MVP upside in Matt Chapman likely hitting in the bottom third of the order. If Chapman can regain the stick he showed back in 2019 -- while playing his typical stout defense -- this will be one of the best teams in the league. The market values them as such but may still be underselling just how dang good Toronto can be.
Philadelphia Phillies to Make the Playoffs (+100)
(UPDATE: The Phillies have since shortened to -128 to make the playoffs.)
The true time to bet the Philadelphia Phillies was last week. As discussed on our betting podcast, Covering the Spread, they were +500 to win the N.L. East at the time. That's now down to +400, so the value is gone.
But I'll happily bet them at even money to go to the playoffs.
Honestly, this market is a bit of a relief, too, given the strength of the division. My numbers love the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves, labeling both as top-six teams in the league.
The Phillies are right there with them, though. That's why I liked the divisional bet. But I'll take the flexibility of not needing them to beat out those superpowers.
Before you ask, yes, my numbers factor in defense. I know Philly is going to struggle there.
But the rest of the package is so good. Their current active roster -- in other words, after you add Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos into the mix -- ranks 6th in 2021 wRC+, according to FanGraphs. They're also third in starting-pitcher skill-interactive ERA (SIERA) thanks to two aces and quality depth.
Right now, FanGraphs has the Phillies' playoff odds at 63.3%, a good chunk above their implied odds of 50.0%. They'll still have to deal with the Mets and Braves, but they get a little extra cushion here. Even if the true value was last week, I'll still take a number that's longer than it should be.
Matt Olson to Lead in Home Runs (+1500)
(UPDATE: Olson has since lengthened to +1600 to lead the league in home runs. This means the market isn't biting on Olson, which negatively impacts the odds this bet hits. Still, the original analysis holds; just take note of the lengthening.)
To get dingers, you want high elevation, high temperatures, and high humidity.
Matt Olson is going from playing his home games in the third-coldest park with the second-lowest elevation to the seventh-warmest park and the third-highest elevation.
Olson has always had big power, hitting a homer in 6.0% of his plate appearances for his career. That was while playing his home games in one of the work parks for long balls. His road home-run rate was 6.3%, and he'll now play in conditions much more favorable for hitting.
It shouldn't be a surprise, then, that Olson grades out as one of the top home-run hitters for the season. He's projected to rank second in total homers by both numberFire's projections and FanGraphs' projections. Both have him pegged to either tie or set a new career high in jacks thanks to his new home.
Olson is tied for the sixth-shortest odds to lead the league in this department. He's got the power, and now he's got the park. Let's get ahead of this upgrade and bet him to blast off most often.
Logan Webb to Win N.L. Cy Young (+2000)
(UPDATE: Webb has since shortened to +1700 to win the N.L. Cy Young.)
As a poor sap who lives in New York and can't bet on player awards, I envy you all. If you bet Logan Webb to win Cy Young, let me live vicariously through you.
He has all the key components you want to take this puppy down.
Because Cy Young is, in part, an award where team success matters, it's important to note that my numbers do like the San Francisco Giants. They've lost key pieces, but they're still returning a nice unit.
As for Webb himself, the building blocks for stardom are there. Not only does he have a park that's great for pitching, but he pairs a solid strikeout rate (26.5% last year) with a worm-killing 60.9% ground-ball rate. He doesn't let up dangerous contact, which should give him tremendous surface-level stats.
The strikeout rate should stick, too. His swinging-strike rate last year was 12.4%, around what you'd expect for someone with his strikeout numbers. When coupled with his batted-ball data, that's more than enough to be a star.
Finally, this award is one that could be wide open. The favorite -- Jacob deGrom -- is already dealing with shoulder soreness. Max Scherzer is entering his age-37 season. We've got some volatility here, and Webb could easily benefit.
That also opens the door for some longer shots in this market. But for me, Webb is the best bet of the bunch.