Buyer Beware of Big Prices on Elite Teams
Major League Baseball is nearing the halfway point of the regular season, and the ‘haves’ are separating themselves from the ‘have nots’ decisively as the teams turn towards July with the All-Star game in three weeks at Nationals Park in Washington, DC.
The sports books have taken a beating by the top teams as bettors continue to take a home run swing with daily bets on the Astros (52-27), Red Sox (52-27) and Yankees (50-25), who are all on pace to win more than 100 games this season. Each has been a profit-producer, as expected, with all three teams ranking top-9 in money-earned for bettors. New York bettors did make a double-bogey over the weekend when the Yankees, laying at least -150 each game, were swept on the road three-straight at Tampa Bay. Boston is just 4-5 in their last nine games and losing money during that stretch, but the Astros have really rewarded their betting backers, going 15-2 in their last 17 games. However, the prices have been prohibitive on the Astros, as Houston has been at least a $2 favorite in nine straight games and were -300 or higher in each of their last three games over the weekend against Kansas City while going 2-1. Cleveland (43-33), another playoff team like the other three last year, has also turned the corner after a slow start, and the Indians have won 7-straight games entering the week of June 25 with all seven of them covering the run line with victories by 2 or more runs. All four of those teams are living up to their preseason win totals projections with Houston (96.5), New York (94.5), Cleveland (94.5) and Boston (91.5) the best American League teams as projected.
In the National League, the preseason heavy favorites were the Dodgers (96.5 wins), Cubs (94.5) and Nationals (92.5), but those teams have not met expectations thus far with LA (41-35), Chicago (42-33) and Washington (40-35) all below those win projections, but still within three games of the respective division-leading opponents Arizona, Milwaukee and the surprising Atlanta Braves, who had a season win total of 74.5. But the Bookmakers will tell you that Chicago, LA and Washington still take a significant amount of betting action and the books are rooting against those teams most nights, and even more on the top American League teams. The Cubs, Dodgers and Nationals have saved the bookmakers as each has been a losing bet for the season, with the Dodgers a National League worst 16-units in the red.
For the record, Seattle, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Arizona and Boston are the five most profitable teams season to date with each providing double-digit unit profits, and all five teams have been profitable both home and away.
Most of the betting public loves to bet on the best teams and big favorites, and Boston, New York, Houston, Cleveland, LA, Chicago and Washington all qualify. In addition, those teams are also included in money-line parlays and with wagers on the run-line as heavy favorites.
New York and Boston are in a dead heat atop the AL East, 14 games clear of their division opponents, and one will win the division and the other is a prohibitive favorite very likely to be a wild card. That’s a safe bet only halfway through the season, and with much at stake in the AL East division, there will be few ‘days off’ in terms of a breather, so these teams may continue to play at a very high level throughout the second half of the season. The two wild card format has allowed more quality teams to make the playoffs, but the 1-game playoff is still a flawed system.
Last season I wrote an article in early August about the two dominant teams of Houston and Los Angeles. Bettors were riding the Dodgers to huge profits, and LA had set a record at the All-Star break with the best run differential in National League history. But I provided insight and caution when wagering on those top two teams the remainder of the season. Both the Astros and Dodgers were on pace to win more than 100 games, and those two teams made it to the World Series where Houston won in 7 games. It took a number of weeks for the Dodgers to cool off as they were playing remarkable baseball well into August at better than a .700 winning percentage. But the unthinkable happened, and bettors who failed to understand the inflated prices and potential downturn paid a price, as LA lost 15 of 16 games starting on August 26, and the last five losses were as a favorite of more than $2. Bookmakers got much of their money back against LA during that stretch.
But over the course of a 162 game regular season, every team is going to suffer through some down times and losing streaks, and that includes the very best teams. Injuries, pitching problems and adjustments, wear and tear, and trade deadline acquisitions and changes are part of the situations that need to be evaluated during the second half of the season.
While I’m a fundamental handicapper first and foremost, and like to dig into the stats and pitching profiles beyond just the surface stats, it’s still worth noting that there are proven historical situations that suggest the best teams in baseball will not continue to win at their current pace or produce profit. The Dodgers and Astros proved that last year, but those teams also had big leads within their divisions deep into August.
What is certain to happen in the betting marketplace the rest of the season is that the elite teams will have big price tags attached to them. So will these top teams and overpriced favorites produce profit?
Historical perspective at the halfway point
Since 2004, after game 81, playing AGAINST teams with a winning percentage of greater than .640 (Class A teams this season New York, Boston and Houston) produces a record of:
175-208 . . . with an average line of +147 and providing an ROI of +10.7% (Return on Investment)
Since we know that many bettors will ride the run line and lay -1.5 runs on these favorites, know that playing the ‘Dog and against these elite teams has produced even better results with a record of 131-80 and a ROI of 14% to an average run line (+1.5) of -120.
While I don’t subscribe to a data query system or do all the query research, I am provided information to substantiate historical situations, patterns and technical parameters that can produce profit. It’s up to you to dig into the stats and match-ups or use service providers and handicappers that work and understand how to analyze, evaluate and interpret information. As you gain more experience and become a more polished bettor, you’ll become better at identifying value and find additional ways to wager on even elite teams (team totals, 1st 5, run lines, in-game). As you refine your game and pitching repertoire, you’ll realize that elite teams are not necessarily your best bets and laying inflated prices comes with more risk and is not the best percentage play.
New York, Boston and Houston may try to prove otherwise the second half of the season, but the Dodgers provided a blueprint last year and the results above substantiate the ideas. You can bet on it.
FairwayJay is a leading national sports handicapper and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful analysts. Read more great insights from Jay here and follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay