MLB Betting Options ; Fast Starts in MLB


Finding betting options for MLB

by Ted Sevransky

Cleveland needs more than Cy Young winner Corey Kluber!

Time to break down the American League, team by team in “overview” fashion. I’ll do the same thing next week for the National League. The goal is to identify potential market inefficiencies right from the get-go; looking for overvalued and undervalued commodities. Teams are listed in alphabetical order, by division.

Baltimore: By far, the single most profitable team to support in MLB last year. Yet the betting markets aren’t particularly enamored with Buck Showalter’s squad heading into 2015. The best home run hitting team in baseball lost big bats Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis in the offseason. The Orioles have been consistently undervalued in recent seasons and they certainly have that potential again heading out of spring training.

Boston: Picked up big bats Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval in free agency. Can be expected to score runs in bunches, even if David Ortiz declines on the wrong side of his 40th birthday. Sparkplug Mookie Betts, at the top of the batting order, is primed to score runs in bunches. But the big money Boston spent on starting pitching this past offseason has left them with a glut of No. 3 type starters. The bullpen, too, is loaded with question marks. No surprise here if the Red Sox end up as a strong Over team – strong lineup, mediocre pitching.

NY Yankees: An aging roster, with only one regular younger than 31. Sabermetrics are not particularly kind to this team. That being said, their infield defense has been dramatically upgraded following the retirement of Derek Jeter and the acquisition of Chase Headley. Their starting staff is rock solid and the bullpen looks good on paper. I expect them to return a significant profit for their supporters; an undervalued commodity heading into April.

Tampa Bay: Has declined from World Series contenders into AL East bottom feeders over the course of the last few seasons, and saw longtime manager Joe Madden leave for Chicago in the offseason. A starting staff of Archer, Cobb, Smyly and Odorizzi with Moore returning by midseason has the potential to be the best in the division. Their lineup is clearly the worst in the East, and their exceptionally strong defense from recent seasons appears to have declined precipitously. Toronto: Manager John Gibbons is clearly on the hot seat entering the 2015 campaign. The Blue Jays upgraded their lineup this past offseason, bringing in catcher Russell Martin and third baseman Josh Donaldson. But after losing potential ace Marcus Stroman to a season ending injury in spring training, the Jays have major question marks on both their starting staff and their bullpen. May cash more than their fair share of OVER bets to open the campaign, especially against opposing lefties.

Chisox: A modest upside with the South Siders heading into 2015 after management wrote a bunch of fat checks in the offseason to shore up their bullpen. The biggest question is whether manager Robin Ventura can coax enough offense out of a lineup that features reigning AL Rookie of the Year Jose Abreu and not much else. A solid rotation and dramatically improved ‘pen. Cleveland: Only team in this division outside of KC to deliver a profit for their supporters last year. Suffered some major starting pitching woes in spring training, with offseason acquisition Gavin Floyd and back of the rotation overachiever Josh Tomlin both looking at extended early season stints on the DL. For a pitching staff that lacks much upside behind Corey Kluber, that’s never a good sign. Detroit: Won 90 games again last year while winning their fourth consecutive AL Central title. David Price still commands a big price (pun intended) at the top of the rotation, but Justin Verlander has lost his luster in the markets and the likes of Alfredo Simon and Shane Green at the back of the rotation aren’t sabermetric darlings. This lineup is still primed to produce runs in bunches, as long as Miguel Cabrera stays healthy.

Kansas City: Defending AL champs are lined as a sub .500 team. The betting markets are looking at last year’s postseason run as a fluke, especially after staff ace James Shields left town in the offseason. The bullpen remains truly elite on paper, and their lineup has no shortage of upside. Their smallball style of play has the potential to keep KC in contention all year. Minnesota: It’s very hard to make money betting on the very worst teams in baseball, and Paul Molitor’s squad certainly has that look on paper once again. That being said, the Twins have restocked their farm system and are loaded with quality prospects, ranked as the top farm system by Baseball Prospectus.

Houston: In the midst of a massive rebuilding process. After failing to win more than 56 games in each of the previous three seasons, the Astros improved by 19 wins last year. The Astros have a strong core of young position players and their atrocious bullpen from 2014 was significantly upgraded this past offseason. If their starting pitching can overachieve again, Houston will continue their upward trajectory.

LA Angels: Had the best record in baseball last year (notching 98 wins) and they were the second most profitable team to support. But the markets are not expecting a repeat performance without Josh Hamilton’s big bat for the foreseeable future. Their aging lineup can only decline after being the best hitting team in baseball last year and the back of their rotation is anything but settled. Could decline by 10 wins and still compete for the AL West title.

Oakland: Long time GM Billy Beane’s moves this past offseason were real head scratchers for me. On paper, the A’s have a weaker lineup, a weaker starting staff and a weaker bullpen than they did last year; a team primed for regression…unless Beane’s magic comes through again. Seattle: Emerged as AL West favorites, taking money throughout the spring. Lloyd McClendon has a good looking lineup after the acquisition of slugger Nelson Cruz to shore up an underachieving DH spot. Despite their 16 win improvement last year, Seattle returned less than four units of profit for their supporters in 2014 – the betting markets certainly aren’t sleeping on this squad.

Texas: Fell apart in 2014, suffering the most games lost to injury for any team in baseball since 2001. The Rangers lineup still looks extremely potent on paper if Adrian Beltre and Prince Fielder can live up to their massive contracts. But Texas has pitching woes that new manager Jeff Bannister will be hard pressed to solve, especially with Yu Darvish and Jurickson Profar both needing season ending surgeries already.

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PAY ATTENTION TO THESE FAST STARTS Players that have been pleasant surprises in the early going include Joey Votto, Sonny Gray, Nelson Cruz and Shane Greene.  Very little in this world lends itself to a reliable conclusion at an early stage. You can generally tell if milk is spoiled by the first sip. You can sometimes determine how dumb a movie is by the trailer. But a Major League Baseball season is like the vast majority of things in life — a tiny taste is hardly indicative of anything. So given that we’re only roughly five percent of the way through the 2015 season, let’s stop short of drawing any conclusions and instead just say these are 15 things we’re cautiously encouraged by thus far.

Nelson Cruz-ing. Count me among the many who didn’t/don’t expect Cruz to hit 40 home runs again this season, largely because of the move to Safeco Field. But it was hard to feel comfortable about that assertion after Cruz went deep six times in a five-game stretch. And though none of those long balls was sent out in Seattle, they did come in Oakland Coliseum and Dodger Stadium, two places not exactly known as homer havens.

Joey Votto-matic. It’s nice to see Votto (1.199 OPS) raking like he did in his 2010 MVP season, and the fact that his RBI total (nine) outweighs his walk total (seven) makes him less of a talk-radio target for a fan base that skewers him for his selectivity. Actually, Votto has swung at 36.6 percent of first pitches, a slight jump from the 28.8 mark in his last full season, in 2013.

The new-look Braves. The name recognition isn’t what it once was, but Atlanta, which is off to a better start than anybody imagined, might wind up with a more productive offense in ’15 than it had in ’14, when Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and Evan Gattis were still onboard. The Braves are hopeful a more contact-prone lineup will prevent them from killing potential rallies with K’s. Last season, their 22.6 percent strikeout rate was the fourth highest in baseball and their 76.1 contact rate was third lowest. This season, they’ve tomahawk chopped the K rate down to the fifth-lowest mark in MLB, at 18.0, and the contact rate is the second highest, at 82.5.

Alex Guerrero’s arrival. Adrian Gonzalez is on fire, Howie Kendrick is impactful, Joc Pederson might be Rookie of the Year material. But how about Guerrero emerging as a legit Major League piece? He was only on the Opening Day roster on account of a contract clause that would have allowed him to be a free agent otherwise, but he’s taken advantage of Juan Uribe’s slow start and sore hamstrings to push for regular playing time by going 5-for-12 with two homers and one double. The Dodgers are finally getting some return on that four-year, $28 million investment.

Dustin Pedroia’s power. The Laser Show returneth. Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts are the future of the Red Sox, but let’s hear it for the old-timer up the middle. Pedroia played through a significant thumb injury in 2013 and a significant wrist injury in ’14, sapping his strength. In the course of compiling a .575 slugging percentage early on, he’s shown a rediscovered ability to turn on the inside fastball, and that could be the seed of a big bounceback season from the Red Sox’s pesky little second baseman.

The Shane Greene Machine. I could devote thousands of words in this space to the Tigers’ offense, but we kinda figured they’d be able to score some runs. The question is what they’ll get from the rotation beyond David Price. Scouts I spoke with in Spring Training insisted Greene was one of the winter’s savvier pickups. One walk, no earned runs and just seven hits allowed in 16 innings over two starts, and he’s done it all in just over 10 pitches per inning.

Nick Martinez: Rescue Ranger. With the way his first season in Texas went down, you’ve got to love the way Prince Fielder has responded to neck surgery and come out swinging this spring (.909 OPS). But spotlight on Martinez here. The Rangers’ rotation has been ripped apart by the injuries to Yu Darvish and Derek Holland, making what Martinez has done in two starts — against the Angels and A’s, no less — so important. He’s 2-0 and hasn’t allowed an earned run in 14 innings of work.

Yonder Alonso: Better than so-so. Going into the season, I had Alonso down as one of my “10 most important players nobody’s talking about.” Long story short, a predominantly right-handed lineup facing predominantly right-handed pitching needs balance from the left-handed Alonso, whose career has been a bit of a bust. Alonso is healthy following forearm surgery and seeing it well early on, with a .355/.459/.516 slash line.

Those power-potent Royals. So much for the pure contact-and-speed formula that put the Royals in the postseason for the first time in 29 years. Before falling to the Twins on Wednesday (their first loss of the season), they had the highest slugging percentage in baseball (.532), thanks to contributions from new additions Kendry Morales and the now-injured Alex Rios, as well as Mike Moustakas’ strong start. The Royals were second in the Majors in contact rate last season, and they’re on top of that particular leaderboard this year (82.3 percent). The difference is that their line-drive rate has risen, from 20.8% in ’14 to 25.3% this year.


Not-so-Rocky road. We wouldn’t harp on the Rockies’ home/road splits so much if they weren’t so consistently eye-catching. It’s one of baseball’s seemingly unbreakable trends. But maybe this ’15 installment, which became the first in club history to win its first six games on the road, can finally squash that storyline. The Rox won just 21 games on the road in ’14, averaging a league-worst 3.15 runs per game. So the 5.2 road runs per game early on was a welcomed stat, no matter how small the sample.

Kevin Kiermaier’s K rate. The Rays went into the season knowing the growth and development of young outfielders Kiermaier and Steven Souza Jr. is going to be a big key to this club’s offensive relevance. Kiermaier’s 1.117 OPS is built upon a growth in patience and decline in chase rate (from 30.1 in ’14 to 23.8), which is allowing him to see more fastballs. He’s cut his strikeout rate almost in half, from 19.5 to 10.7.

The Ubaldo Jimenez U-turn. It’s only one start, and we’ll see if he can back it up Friday at Fenway, a place where he’s struggled in the past. But Jimenez’s 2015 debut (one hit, one walk and eight strikeouts over seven scoreless vs. a loaded Blue Jays lineup) was excellent, and it was an extension of some strides he made this spring. Jimenez is the rare pitcher whose rockiest days came after he left Coors Field, and his 2014 with Baltimore was abysmal. If he can turn it around, an underrated O’s rotation reaches another level.

Toronto’s kid relievers. Here’s a fun fact: LaTroy Hawkins, the recently ousted Rockies closer, is 15,456 days old. Miguel Castro and Robert Osuna, the two kids taking on prominent roles in the Blue Jays’ bullpen, are 14,791 days old combined. They had a great spring camp to make the club despite having never pitched above A-ball, and they’ve combined to pitch 10 1/3 innings in which they haven’t given up an earned run. John Gibbons has already made Castro his closer and pitched Osuna in key setup spots.

Jorge Soler’s flair. If the Cubs are going to build upon their solid start and become a true contender, it’s all about the development of the young bats. And though all anybody wants to talk about is Kris Bryant, Soler could be every bit as impactful a presence. He had a very strong showing in his break-in year in ’14, and he’s followed it up so far with a .310/.382/.586 slash line. He just needs to cut down on his strikeouts. A-plus pitching.

This just in: The A’s might be almost totally reinvented, but they’re still good. That extends to a pitching staff that lost Jon Lester to free agency and Jeff Samardzija to trade. Sonny Gray (0.59 ERA) and Scott Kazmir (0.69) have been particularly superb in their first two starts to ensure those absences are not felt. More to the point, A’s pitchers compiled four shutouts in the season’s first nine games, becoming the first AL team to do so since the 1910 White Sox.

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