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March 13, 2013

The Lineup Card

9 Bets on Vegas Over/Under Odds

by Baseball Prospectus

​1. New York Mets: Over 74.5 Wins
The Mets have been the punch line for so long now that conventional wisdom assumes that the squad is going to be bad for years to come, or at least until the Wilpons leave town. Lost in the uproar over the R.A. Dickey trade is the fact that GM Sandy Alderson has quietly assembled a solid core of young players, and a high-ceiling rotation. Zack Wheeler won’t be up on Opening Day, but it’s not hard to envision a Wheeler/Matt Harvey one-two punch inhabiting Citi Field by June. Jon Niese is a legitimate mid-tier starter, and a healthy Dillon Gee has plenty of room to grow—assuming health. While the focus has been on the Mets’ miserable outfield, how much of a downgrade is anybody on Jason Bay and Andres Torres?

The Mets aren’t going to sniff the playoffs in 2013, but look past the short-term complaints about ownership and you’ll notice that Alderson is quietly doing what he did with Oakland back in the 1980s: slowly building a solid core while the farm system replenishes. If the rotation reaches its full potential, a .500 season is well within reach. —Mike Gianella

2. Bet the Under on All 30 Teams
Here's a little primer on how legal bookmakers and casinos actually set these over/under numbers. The casino isn't interested in accurately modeling a likely outcome. They are providing a market product that responds to the same laws of supply and demand as everything else in the economy. In fact, the incentive for the casino is in setting a number that will draw an equal amount of money to both sides of the bet. This way, no matter what each team does, they will pay out an equal amount (and that amount being roughly equal to what they take in). Because the casino usually charges a small fee to place the bet, they make their money on those fees. This is why the line on an individual game or a prop bet "moves" once in a while. The casino finds that they have set the line too high or low and too much money is coming in on one side. It's strictly risk management.

What the over/under line represents for these MLB prop bets is the median expectation among actual bettors of what each team will do. Call it a "wisdom of the crowds" approach, which works great when you have a wise crowd. But consider the psychology of the crowd. A lot of the bettors are fans of the teams on which they are betting, and we're at the time of the year when people are optimistic about their team's chances. Plus, if you're the casual betting type, it's nice to have a flutter on the thought that if your team wins a bunch of games, you can make some actual cash as a result. Expectations will probably skew a little higher, and the casinos will adjust the prices of their products accordingly. Want proof? Go to any bookmaking site and add up the numbers for the over/under numbers of all 30 teams. Because there are only 2,430 games played, the numbers should add up to that exact figure (the numbers for the site that we all used for this column add up to 2,440, which isn't bad). But if you see 2,500 wins projected via the over/under line, you know that there's a problem.

There's a little bit of irrational optimism baked into the lines for each team, because that's the marketplace. Sure, some teams will exceed their number and some will fall short. But if you want to exploit an inefficiency, always bet against irrationality. Take the under on all 30 teams. There aren't enough games to cover all the wins that the line expects to see, and so chances are better that you'll end up hitting on more bets than you lose on. Oh right... the fees... Perhaps the best advice would be the advice that my father gave me (passed on from his father and his father's father before that): "Son, when someone puts money in your hand, close your hand." —Russell A. Carleton

3. Chicago White Sox: Under 81.5 Wins
PECOTA envisions 77 wins from the South Siders, and this one feels right too, even though this was an 85-win team with an even better Pythagorean record last year. The top of the rotation has regression candidates in Chris Sale and Jake Peavy, while Chicago didn’t really address the bottom of the rotation—unless it was addition by the subtraction of Philip Humber. And too many good things happened in the lineup with Alex Rios, Adam Dunn, and especially the departed A.J. Pierzynski’s improvements as 30-somethings to have high hopes for the lineup that scored the fourth-most runs in the American League.

The White Sox didn’t get markedly worse as a roster, but it could be a year of some painful corrections at the individual level. Add to that some forecasted improvement in Kansas City and especially Cleveland, plus a Tigers team that filled its holes (2B/DH) on a loaded roster, and it’s hard to see the South Siders as a winning club. —Zachary Levine

4. San Diego Padres: Under 74.5 Wins
From a reporter/writer standpoint, I enjoy dealing with the Padres as much as any team in the major leagues. Manager Bud Black is always an interesting guy to interview. Catcher John Baker might be the best interview in baseball, with great insights into all aspects of the game. And he was even part of the famed Athletics “Moneyball” draft in 2002. The rest of San Diego's coaching staff and players are also good guys, including emerging star third baseman Chase Headley, and I love listening to the hilarious Ted Leitner, the Padres’ longtime radio play-by-play announcer. However, I have a hard time getting excited about the 2013 Padres, even with the fences being moved in at Petco Park. A rotation fronted by Edinson Volquez and with Freddy Garcia at the back end doesn’t inspire confidence, the bullpen is iffy beyond closer Huston Street and set-up man Luke Gregerson, and the lineup isn’t going to cause any opposing pitcher a sleepless night. Thus, I’ve got no choice but to take the under 74.5 wins on the Padres. —John Perrotto

5. Boston Red Sox: Over 83.5 Wins
Vegas, in its infinite wisdom, placed the line on Red Sox wins at 83.5. Were I a betting person (i.e. not married), I'd take the over. Yes, the Red Sox lost a whole lot of games last season, but while that's surely impacting the line, it doesn't impact the 2013 Red Sox.

There are two major reasons for this. The first is turnover of players and coaches. No matter what you think of John Farrell, he’s an upgrade over Bobby Valentine. On the player side of things, Boston has jettisoned the under-performing Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez, and it is no longer counting on Carl Crawford. Those players have been replaced by the consistently above-average Ryan Dempster and Mike Napoli.

Further, they've replaced Mike Aviles with Stephen Drew at shortstop and Cody Ross with Shane Victorino (who, I concede, is less of an upgrade than an easily reachable emergency center fielder should an asteroid collide with Jacoby Ellsbury's foot at any point in the season). Beyond that, the Red Sox’ starting pitching should improve primarily because their starters aren't as bad as they appeared last season (PECOTA agrees), and they now have promising young pitchers to step in should injuries strike. This means no more Aaron Cook, Daisuke Matsuzaka, or Daniel Bard starting games (combined, those three started 39 games with a 6.97 Run Average).

While the Red Sox weren’t a good team last season, their record was dragged down by the glorified Triple-A lineups they fielded last August and September. From August onward, the Red Sox were 16-42 (a .276 winning percentage). Here is a representative lineup from late September last season:

  1. Scott Podsednik
  2. Pedro Ciriaco
  3. Dustin Pedroia
  4. Cody Ross
  5. James Loney
  6. Jarrod Saltalamacchia
  7. Ryan Lavarnway
  8. Daniel Nava
  9. Jose Iglesias

Only two of those players will be in the Red Sox’ Opening Day lineup—maybe three, if Nava makes the team.

The 2013 Red Sox may not be a great team, but they’re significantly better than the mess that ended the season in Red Sox uniforms last season. PECOTA thinks they’ll win more than 83 games, and so do I. —Matthew Kory

6. Philadelphia Phillies: Under 84.5 Wins
The Phillies enter 2013 as a story we’ve seen many times before: an aging “dynasty,” looking to put it all back together for one final, glorious shot at the spotlight. These teams rarely live up to their previous incarnations for two big reasons—neither of which has anything to do with Ruben Amaro’s disdain for defense or taking walks. These reasons are simply health and depth.

When a team’s core has been together for this long, it’s common for both the biggest stars on the team to be past their primes and the minor-league system to be too empty to become useful if something goes wrong. The Phillies have six players who are projected to be worth two wins or more, according to PECOTA, in 2013: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard. Only Hamels is younger than 33 years old. Also, Hamels and Rollins were the only two members of this group not to hit the DL last season.

And when injuries strike this team, there are no reinforcements coming either from reserve positions or the minor leagues. The Phillies have Aaron Cook and Tyler Cloyd as their sixth and seventh starters. They have Freddy Galvis and Kevin Fransden as their backup middle infielders. And they have Darin Ruf ready to step in if/when Ryan Howard goes down. On top of that, trading for help is no easy task, since Philadelphia has one of the worst farm systems in baseball and very little room to add payroll.

PECOTA projects the Phillies for 81 wins. In order for them to get to 85 or more, many things would have to collectively go right for them as an organization. To miss that target, it would likely take only one or two missteps, like Roy Halladay getting knocked around while throwing 86 mph fastballs. But what are the odds of that happening? —Brett Sayre

7. Giving the Odds on All the Teams

American League




Astros: Under 59.5

White Sox: Over 81.5

Orioles: Under 78.5

Angels: Under 91.5

Indians: Under 77.5

Red Sox: Under 83.5

Athletics: Under 84.5

Tigers: Over 92.5

Yankees: Under 86.5

Mariners: Under 77.5

Royals: Over 78.5

Rays: Over 87.5

Rangers: Over 86.5

Twins: Over 68.5

Blue Jays: Over 88.5


National League




Diamondbacks: Under 81.5

Cubs: Over 73.5

Braves: Under 88.5

Rockies: Over 71.5

Reds: Over 91.5

Marlins: Under 63.5

Dodgers: Over 91.5

Brewers: Under 80.5

Mets: Over 74.5

Padres: Under 74.5

Pirates: Over 77.5

Phillies: Over 84.5

Giants: Over 87.5

Cardinals: Under 86.5

Nationals: Over 92.5

8. Toronto Blue Jays: Under 88.5 Wins
I’m a Blue Jays fan, and I was two years old when Joe touched ‘em all, so I haven’t enjoyed a whiff of success (just whiffs) in my conscious lifetime. But this year, as the Ontario snow is melting, the buzz is heightening. The new men in blue are already heroes, and spring optimism is a fever that the entire city has contracted. Baseball is no longer the neglected child in Toronto.

Such an onslaught of public hype often drives Vegas lines. The under on 88.5 wins, for this reason, is mighty appealing for the contrarian bettor, especially considering the reduced -105 vig. While the 2013 Blue Jays could easily eclipse 90 wins, there are reasons to doubt them, too. The improved rotation is thin on depth. After R.A. Dickey, no starter has delivered consistent, healthy seasons. Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus will have to rise above replacement level. Will the Jays even have trade currency come July?

If you’re one who loves season win totals (a bet I’m against, as it ties up money for six months), unders are never that fun to cheer for. The reduced juice, though, offers a far better return than the heavily taxed over (-125)—for me, it’s either an under play or a stay away. —Andrew Koo

9. New York Yankees: Under 86.5 Wins
Full disclosure: when I first volunteered for this topic, I planned to take the over on the Yankees at 86.5. While I was writing, I changed my mind. I’m not really happy with either answer, which probably means that the line is set about where it should be. But I’m in too deep to back out now.

Aside from the 1994 and 1995 strike years, in which their winning percentages prorated to full-season totals of 100 and 89 wins, respectively, the Yankees haven’t won fewer than 87 games since the year Derek Jeter was drafted. That’s not to say that Jeter’s presence prevents the Yankees from falling short of 87 (though it certainly helps, or has until now). It is to say, however, that it’s been an awfully long time since betting the under on the Yankees at 86.5 was a winning proposition.

As the fine print always says, past performance is no guarantee of future results. We’re weeks away from Opening Day, and the Yankees have already been reduced to recruiting people who no longer play baseball. They’ve suffered a few serious injuries this spring, and if the age of their roster is any indication, they’ll suffer a few more before the season is over. In fact, they’re starting to give off the slightly sour odor of the 2012 Phillies, which made me wrinkle my nose last March.  

It’s easy to overstate the case against the Yankees. Most of the core from last season’s strong team remains, and none of the existing injury issues should be crippling, if the reported recovery timetables turn out to be accurate. PECOTA still wants to believe. But here’s what made me switch from over to under: in the past, we could count on the Yankees to be buyers at the deadline, absorbing other teams' unwanted contracts in pursuit of extra wins. Now it’s not clear that they’ll be willing to pick up any payroll, unless it’s for an expiring salary that won’t jeopardize their penurious plans for 2014. The offseason we’ve just seen suggests that the current incarnation of the team is more concerned about taking the under on $189 million than it is about avoiding the under on 86.5. —Ben Lindbergh

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Premium Article Rumor Roundup: Trouble... (03/13)
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