The end of the Super Bowl is the unofficial starting point for Major League Baseball research, meaning it’s now time to dig into some baseball futures.

Given the length of the MLB season, I typically avoid tying up funds on preseason favorites. I’d rather take shots on teams and players that are undervalued and then adjust from there. 

The Braves and Dodgers, for example, are clear-cut World Series favorites. Every other team is available at 10-to-1 or longer. A bet on Atlanta or L.A. at something around +400 just doesn’t move the needle much for your futures portfolio. If everything goes as expected, those teams likely head into the playoffs around +200 to win it all. There’s just not much room for upside. 

I’m also going to avoid the super longshots. As we build out a portfolio, there’s a sweet spot between favorites and lottery tickets. As someone making several preseason futures bets and even more in-season futures bets, I want to avoid wasting resources on bets with extremely narrow paths to victory. 

Mike Trout stands out as an intriguing MVP value (+2200 on BetMGM), but he’s averaged 79 games played over the past three seasons. He’d need to outperform the competition and have an outlier season in terms of health. Not something I’m willing to bet on, even for a small amount.

World Series 

In addition to ignoring the Braves and Dodgers, I’m treading lightly in the National League. Just like the odds won’t shift much for those two favorites heading into the playoffs, the longshot teams will also maintain their odds. 

Last season was a great example. Arizona (37/1) went into the playoffs with a favorable price, and even after emerging from the Wild Card round, remained a nice value at 9/1. 

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I’d rather target the softer American League, where one or two of the teams in the +1000 to +2000 range could easily be priced like the Braves and Dodgers by October. If we get that part right, we can easily hedge on the rest of the AL bracket and have a well-rounded outlook for the playoffs. 

Best Bets: Minnesota (+3500 on Caesars) and Toronto (+2000 on BetMGM)

The AL Central should be the worst division in baseball once again this year. The Twins went 87-75 last season, the worst mark of any divisional winner, and still won the Central by nine games. Minnesota brings back virtually the same squad from last season, but will now get the benefit of full seasons from Royce Lewis and Edouard Julien.

Even with the more balanced schedule, the Twins will have plenty of opportunities to beat up on their division mates. And if Cleveland or Detroit sneaks up and takes the division, Minnesota should still snag a wild car berth given how high its floor is for wins. Once the team gets there, the trio of Pablo Lopez/Joe Ryan/Baily Ober is a formidable bunch for any opposing offense.

The AL East, on the other hand, should be quite solid. The division produced three playoff teams last season and is favored to send another trio to the postseason this year. The Yankees are the current favorite to win East, followed by the Orioles and Blue Jays.

The PECOTA projections at Baseball Prospectus have New York winning the division comfortably (94.5 wins), with Toronto finishing second (88.2 wins) and Tampa Bay coming in third (86.6 wins). PECOTA has Baltimore all the way down at fourth place (86.3).

Futures odds and projection systems aren’t gospel, but the differences between them are interesting. The lack of consensus presents a value opportunity. Toronto added Justin Turner as a veteran to slot in among its young core. The Blue Jays return a majority of their starting rotation and a bullpen that ranked fourth in ERA last season. Getting them at 20/1 feels like good value given the volatility in this division.

MVP 

There are plenty of familiar names at the top of the odds board, though some of them have switched leagues. After winning the AL award for the second time, Shohei Ohtani now has the fourth-best odds in the National League, while newly minted Yankee Juan Soto is second on the AL side. 

Reigning winner Ronald Acuna leads the way for the NL, while 2022 winner Aaron Judge sits atop the board for the AL.

Best Bets: Yordan Alvarez (+1000 on Caesars) and Fernando Tatis (+1000 on DraftKings)

This is the range I like to shop in for award winners. Within the top five to seven in terms of odds, but not the favorites. These are normally players who have had recent MVP-caliber seasons or have won the award in the past, but fall behind the favorites in terms of current perception.

Alvarez’ 2022 season was MVP-worthy, but the competition in the AL was ridiculous. Aaron Judge hit 62 home runs, while Shohei Ohtani went deep 34 times while posting a 2.33 ERA with 219 strikeouts. Even with 37 homers and a .306 batting average, Alvarez didn’t stand a chance. Now Ohtani is out of the picture, but Alvarez has to deal with Soto, who could threaten a career-high in home runs at Yankee Stadium. 

The metrics for Alvarez are off the charts. His Baseball Savant page paints the picture of one of the best, if not the best, hitters in baseball. He’s 96th percentile or better in hard-hit rate, average exit velocity, barrel rate, and every expected stat (xBA, xSLG, and so on). That kind of power, paired with a below-average strikeout rate (18.5%) and an excellent approach (93rd percentile in BB%), are the ideal ingredients for an MVP campaign.

Tatis is in a similar boat. He popped an NL-leading 42 homers in 2021 to go with 25 steals and a .282 batting average, but finished third in the MVP race to Bryce Harper and Soto. He’s behind Acuna and three Dodgers (Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman and Ohtani) in MVP odds.

A PED suspension cost Tatis the first few weeks of the 2023 season, and he was also recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. He posted the worst power numbers of his career, but stole nearly 30 bags and cut his strikeout rate to career-best 22.2%. There’s a ceiling outcome of a 40/40 campaign in Tatis’ profile; he just needs to stay healthy and regain his power stroke. 

Cy Young

This is the one area I’m more comfortable taking longshots. Given their propensity for injuries and year-to-year performance fluctuations, pitchers are the least-reliable commodity in the game. Half the Cy Young candidates on the board right now will either underperform or get hurt. 

Take last year, for example. Blake Snell comes back from the dead with a career-high 32 starts and a league-leading 2.25 ERA, despite 99 walks (also led the league). Gerrit Cole loses a mile per hour on his fastball and posts his lowest strikeout rate since his final year in Pittsburgh, but leads the AL in ERA and WHIP en route to a unanimous Cy Young win, the first of his career. 

In short, there’s volatility here.

Best Bets: Cole Ragans (+3000 on Caesars) and Max Fried (+1400 on BetMGM)

The case for Ragans is pretty straightforward. If he does what he did in Kansas City for an entire season, he could run away with the award. Ragans was traded to the Royals in the Aroldis Chapman deal. He was inserted into the KC rotation and immediately made improvements to his arsenal and velocity. 

Ragans added 3-4 MPH to his fastball, curveball, and changeup last season. He tossed a slider into the mix as well. In 12 starts with Kansas City, he posted a 2.64 ERA with 89 strikeouts across 71.2 innings. His 31.1% strikeout rate would’ve ranked behind only Spencer Strider and Snell among qualified starters. A dozen starts isn’t the biggest sample, but Ragans made such clear and obvious progress that replicating his 2023 performance isn’t out of the question.

Fried is a shaky health bet, and he made just 14 starts last season between IL stints. The skills are undeniable, though. Fried generates soft contact at elite levels, ranking in the 88th percentile in hard-hit rate, 91st percentile in average exit velocity, and 95th percentile in barrel rate. His 2.55 ERA last season was supported by a 2.75 xERA (97th percentile). 

Fried has always been a decent strikeout pitcher, but he flashed a bit more upside there last season, with his 25.7% strikeout percentage being a career-best since he became a full-time starter. That mark would’ve been just outside the top 15 among qualified starters. If Fried can maintain that strikeout level and continue to limit walks (87th percentile in BB%) while suppressing hard contact, we could get a truly elite season.

Rookie of the Year

This is another volatile market, and it’s probably the one I’ll take the most shots at during the year. There’s so much projection that goes into evaluating rookies, from performance to playing time and staying power. Guys get called up, sent back down, lose their roles, find new opportunities, and so on. 

Gunnar Henderson was the AL favorite heading into last season, then struggled for a good two months. He was 10/1 or longer in most spots by midseason, but figured things out and ran away with the award. It’s not often we see a wire-to-wire winner here. Be prepared to make adjustments. 

Best Bets: Jackson Chourio (+850 on FanDuel) and Colt Keith (+1000 on DraftKings)

Yoshinobu Yamamoto is the prohibitive favorite in the NL, and with good reason. He was a superstar in Japan and should make an immediate impact with the Dodgers. However, history is not in his favor when it comes to this award.

Only four starting pitchers have won Rookie of the Year in the past 20 years — two in the AL (Jeremy Hellickson and Michael Fulmer) and two in the NL (Jose Fernandez and Jacob deGrom). There have actually been more relievers (five) to win it than starters in that span.

I’ll be taking shots on the young hitters instead. Chourio is second on the odds board, but he’s well behind Yamamoto. He hit 22 home runs and stole 44 bases as a 19-year-old in Double-A and Triple-A last season.

Chourio has fellow prospects Sal Frelick, Joey Weimer and Garrett Mitchell to contend with for playing time, though none of them have impressed at the major league level. He and Jung Hoo Lee stand out as pretty safe playing time bets, and while I don’t mind Lee, I’ll side with the statistical upside of Chourio. He’s more likely to spike a 15/30 type season.

I wanted to go with Jasson Dominguez on the AL side, but I just have a hard time seeing him playing enough coming off Tommy John surgery. Even if he returns in July, he’d have to go absolutely bananas to become a contender. Keith feels like a much safer pick. He popped 27 homers in just 126 games across two levels in the minors last season and should be the primary second baseman for Detroit.

Evan Carter is the rightful favorite in the AL, but he’s far from a lock to repeat the success he had following a September call-up last year. He posted a healthy .306 batting average and a 1.058 OPS across 22 games, then kept it going in the postseason. However, all of that came with a 32% strikeout rate, which is untenable given Carter’s good-not-great batted ball metrics.

Keith can match Carter’s power output while outpacing him in batting average pretty comfortably. Carter has the edge in steals and lineup context, but these odds should be closer.



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