March 27, 2014
PECOTA vs. Vegas
One year later, I couldn’t bring myself to take PECOTA back to Las Vegas with me. It wasn’t that we did badly last year. We did OK. We nailed a couple of the big unders, betting on the White Sox and Phillies not reaching their above-.500 Over/Under figures in what would turn out to be terrible seasons. We lost on some others, as PECOTA was too high on the beat-up Yankees, too low on the Orioles (like the rest of us) and missed the Braves party completely. We also collected on the Dodgers winning the NL West, which they did easily after a slow start.
So we’re still solvent; it’s just that I can’t take PECOTA back to Las Vegas with me. I can’t really explain why, but it was something in between the Riviera and the Rhino, and while the details are sort of fuzzy, when we got the request to revive PECOTA’s best gambling bets, I thought it was best to do it from the comforts of home through the magic of offshore wagering.
I thought we might have missed our chance because of the lowercase “o” opening day overseas, but Bovada, one of the leading online wagering sites, simply updated the Dodgers and Diamondbacks numbers and let the games go on. And speaking of the Dodgers, they’re one of the teams that PECOTA is the most extreme on—and in the positive direction, despite having the highest number on the Bovada board.
Already off to a 2-0 start, they get PECOTA’s vote as the strongest bet on the over, given the output of our simulation system.
As for the strong under play, it’s once again going to be Atlanta. Fool me once, shame on the Nationals for underachieving in 2013. But with an over-under of 87.5 even after the injuries have taken their toll and a .500 PECOTA projection, it’s the easiest Under play on the board.
You have to take slightly skewed odds on these (-125) in the direction we’re betting them vs. (-105) the other way, but these are the ones with the best chance of hitting.
Want to get a little more adventurous on the lines? There are always the division bets. One of my first articles at BP was on why you should never get involved in baseball futures wagering due to the extreme house edges, but as you’ll see, there are some plays that PECOTA’s projections find worthwhile even after acknowledging the house edge.
For these, we turn to the Playoff Odds Report, an output of 50,000 season simulations. And despite the compelling narratives that Sam Miller ascribed to those simulated seasons in which the Astros make the playoffs, they will not be one of the choices.
These charts are fairly simple. The odds are in the traditional system, where a +250 means you have to wager $100 to win $250 (collect $350) and a -170 means you have to wager $170 to win $100 (collect 270). Then the house edge is taken out to get a fair percentage—the percentage of the time the team would be expected to win if these odds were a reflection of reality (and not perception, which in some ways they are). But you are gambling against a house edge, so the third number is how high your confidence (in this case PECOTA’s percentage) needs to be to make the bet a positive play. These will add up to more than 100 percent, because the house edge means far fewer than half the teams will be good bets.
American League East
American League Central
American League West
National League East
National League Central
National League West
Notice how the house edge kills a lot of the choices? There are still some good ones. Plenty of value exists in the tight American League East, and the Rays are our choice there. PECOTA is also high on the Angels despite recent failures and uncertainty in the back of their rotation, and their standing as a third choice to the banged-up Rangers suits them well. And the Dodgers are strong even at 1-2 odds.
If you’re looking for a longshot, the White Sox at 12-1 and the Brewers at 10-1 are PECOTA’s picks for dangerous teams at the bottom of their divisions, and the Cubs are a little strong at 33-1 if you want to live really dangerously.
Last year, we stayed away completely from World Series odds because the game is stacked even more against you, but at your own risk, here’s the whole chart as of Wednesday afternoon based on the 50,000 simulations.
Good luck, and remember, don’t bet on baseball.