Matt Harvey lost again on Sunday, with the Mets priced as high as -280 here in Las Vegas. Chris Archer leads the majors in strikeouts, while King Felix ranks second as I write this early Monday morning. Their two teams -- Tampa and Seattle -- teams are a combined 0-4 in the four starts from those two aces. I closed out last week writing about how betting on aces – the guys that advanced metrics really, truly love – has evolved into a negative expectation wager over the last few years. The quants have emerged as the dominating force in the MLB betting marketplace and there’s no way that I’ve uncovered to beat them at their own game.
So, I’ve been focusing on the opening week of the MLB season with an anti-quant mentality, looking to take advantage of what the betting markets are undervaluing, not overvaluing. If the markets are too tilted towards starting pitching, that leaves three areas that aren’t appropriately priced, in my opinion – lineups, bullpens and streaks.
There’s already early season action for streak bettors, with the Orioles winning while the Twins and Braves keep losing. KC and Cinci have been good bets; Miami has only one victory thusfar. KC, Minnesota and Baltimore have yet to cash a single Over bet, while Oakland and Tampa have cashed only one Over. Cleveland hasn’t cashed an Under bet yet while Houston, Atlanta, Miami, the Yankees, Red Sox and Tigers have each only cashed one Under. Particularly with totals, the markets don’t move quickly in early April baseball – some of these streaks have the potential to continue for weeks.
But anyone can look at the standings and see who’s hot and who’s not. The goal this week is to identify the other two areas of potential profitability – great lineups and great bullpens to back; awful lineups and miserable bullpens to fade. And particularly when it comes to the lineups, the square thought process is a positive thing, not a negative one. Casual bettors recognize and respect the teams that can hit far more than the markets do!
In a real sense, the MLB betting markets are picking up right where the NFL markets left off. The Carolina Panthers were the poster child of the anti-advanced metric thought process for the vast majority of the 2015 campaign. The markets looked at Carolina’s numbers and said ‘This team isn’t real.” Carolina was “living off of turnovers”, with the #1 turnover margin in the NFL. Carolina was feasting on the weak, facing one of the easier schedules in the league. Carolina’s receivers weren’t good enough, with the preseason injury to Kelvin Benjamin holding sway in the markets well after Greg Olson, Ted Ginn, Jerricho Cotchery and Devin Funchess had shown what they could do with Cam Newton throwing to them.
And Newton himself wasn’t truly respected as an NFL starting quarterback . Newton’s QBR numbers (a key advanced metric stat for quarterbacks) – like that of most other mobile, dual threat quarterbacks – didn’t measure his abilities appropriately. Plain and simple, that’s how Carolina opened the season with a 9-2 ATS mark – best in the NFL – and were 13-5 ATS prior to their Super Bowl loss – the only time all year where they were finally priced with respect.
So maybe the appropriate title for this week’s Wiseguy Report is "What Lineups Do the Squares Love and Hate Already After One Week.” Because hitting is one area of the MLB betting marketplace that the public bettors seem to grasp better than the advanced metric lovers. One week into the campaign there are plenty of reasonable assertions about these MLB lineups that have not been fully factored into the betting market equation yet. And frankly, these reasonable assertions are so simple that I’m baffled the markets seem to be asleep at the wheel.
This much we know already. Toronto can hit. Boston can hit. The Chicago Cubs – even without Kyle Schwarber, already lost for the season – can hit. The LA Dodgers can hit. The San Francisco Giants can hit. Detroit’s lineup can trade runs with anybody. So can the Yankees, Astros and Rockies. None of this is a surprise – these were all teams projected to hit well in the majority of preseason previews and offseason discussions.
Voila – no advanced metrics needed – there are nine teams that you can look to bet Over the total or bet on the Run Line; with the type of lineups primed to put crooked numbers up on the scoreboard on a fairly consistent basis. And when these lineups are clicking on all cylinders; they’re the types of teams that will run off a streak of 15 Overs in a 20 game span, or the moral equivalent thereof.
There aren’t many huge surprises with the teams that have come out of the gate with ice cold lineups. The LA Angels, Oakland A’s, Tampa Bay Rays, Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies and Minnesota Twins were all expected to have weaker than average batting orders. So far, those weak lineups are living up to expectations; teams worthy of a fade on the Run Line as opposed to laying the high price to bet against them in straight up fashion.
The bad bullpens have already come to light as well, just one week into the season. As with the lineups, the preseason projections have been spot on in many instances, projections that the markets are slow to react to. The Rockies bullpen is nothing short of awful. Atlanta’s bullpen might be worse. And the Phillies would certainly challenge any team in the ‘we have the worst bullpen in the majors’ argument. The Padres bullpen has been bombed. The Twins bullpen has taken three losses in their first six games. Milwaukee’s bullpen has been spotty at best. And the Tigers bullpen has ‘throw gas on the fire’ written all over it.
None of this can be considered a surprise – the vast majority of these bad bullpens fall right into the preseason projection range, as do the top lineups. Bad bullpens correlate well with Overs and with betting against these teams – many of them bottom feeders – on the run-line.
My elite bullpen projections from spring ball have certainly lived up to early season expectations. The Yankees, Royals, Orioles, Cardinals and Pirates have all dominated the latter stages of tight ballgames, with only the Astros and Rangers standing out as Week 1 bullpen disappointments. Elite bullpens bode well for Run Line bets with the favorite and with Under wagers, of course.
If you’re paying attention to baseball on a nightly basis as a recreational bettor, given the state of the modern MLB marketplace, you might have a good notch or two more of an advantage over the markets than you think you do.