Who Do You Love?
Can one really gain an edge over the sports books? I find it hard to believe that there is anything I can consider that the Vegas folks have not when it comes to football, basketball, hockey, tennis, golf or boxing. On the other hand, I always look forward to when the pre-season baseball odds come out.
Vegas lines are initially set and subsequently moved based on public opinion. Baseball, more than any of the sports mentioned above, lends itself to empirical analysis and therefore in my opinion, also affords the analytical type a few opportunities to get in on some bargains. (Note: feel free to bookmark this, return at the end of the season and then mock me mercilessly if I am just dead wrong on some of these.)
Posted below are this season's odds to win the World Series according to bodog.com:
Immediately jumping off the page as bargains to me are the Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League and the Texas Rangers in the Junior Circuit. The D-Backs are coming off of a Pythag Record of 80-82 in 2006 and although they have lost contributors Miguel Batista, Johnny Estrada and Luis Gonzalez, they have added Doug Davis and Randy Johnson. Further, an abysmal offense that posted just a 93 OPS+ as a team in 2006 figures to receive a boost from maturing youngsters Chris Young, Carlos Quentin, Conor Jackson and Stephen Drew. With the National League's best starting pitcher still anchoring their staff, I give the Snakes a good shot at pushing their win total into the high-80's, which may just be good enough to qualify for the post-season in the mediocre NL West. And with Brandon Webb and the Unit at the front of the rotation, I give them a much better than 50/1 shot to win a title.
As for the Rangers, they are coming off a 2006 in which they posted an 86-win Pythag campaign despite crummy seasons out of some good players. Brad Wilkerson and Hank Blalock are just not even close to as bad as they played in 2006 and although he did not exactly struggle last year, Mark Teixeira stands to improve upon his 2006 season. Gerald Laird figures to be an uptick over Rod Barajas behind the plate. In fairness, all of this may serve merely to make up the production lost from the defections of Gary Matthews Jr. and Mark DeRosa, as both had fantastic 2006's. But the pitching figures to improve too, as Brandon McCarthy comes south and into the rotation from the Chicago White Sox. Finally, even though he may not be in 2003 form, Eric Gagne figures to help the Texas bullpen. At 40/1, I will take my chances with this squad.
The Cleveland Indians, at 20/1, look like a fantastic buy. Despite winning only 78 games in 2006, The Tribe underperformed their Pythag by 11 games. So when you start with a baseline of 89 wins, and consider the changes the Tribe made in the off-season, it's hard not to consider them to be right in the thick of things in the AL Central. The young infield of Ryan Garko, Josh Barfield, Andy Marte and Jhonny Peralta figure to improve on the 2006 version, if for no other reason than Aaron F. Boone will no longer be sucking up AB's. The most significant upgrade will come in left field, where David Dellucci will replace Jason Michaels as the everyday starter. Dellucci has posted consecutive outstanding seasons and offers considerable upside to the offensive black hole that was left field for the 2006 Indians. Cleveland boasts considerable insurance for the outfield to boot, with Michaels, Trot Nixon and Shin-Soo Choo ready to step in for any of the starters.
On the flip side, there are a number of teams who figure to regress in 2007. The ones that come to mind in my book are teams that made over-hyped off-season acquisitions, outperformed their Pythag in 2006 and/or lost key personnel. The Oakland Athletics immediately jump out. Despite their 93 wins in 2006, Oakland's run differential suggested they were more on the order of an 85-win team. Further, the A's lost their best hitter, Frank Thomas, and best pitcher, Barry Zito, to free agency. Mike Piazza will be able to make up some of Thomas's production and Oakland is fortunate otherwise to be relying heavily on youth but I see 2007 as a step-back season for the A's. Oakland is only at 20/1 but that still seems like it overvalues their chances.
Not to pick on the Bay Area but the San Francisco Giants at 10/1 is a joke. They won 76 games in 2006 (also their Pythag total) and added Barry Zito, Ryan Klesko, Rich Aurilia, Steve Kline and Dave Roberts. What am I missing here? I like Zito as much as the next guy and think he will help San Francisco quite a bit. I also happen to believe that Matt Cain is going to make some major strides this season. That all said, this team is too old and too mediocre at too many positions to be considered any sort of serious contender. If you can get any of your buddies to wager the Giants to win it all at 10/1, take all the action you can.
Some others off the cuff: I think the two Chicago squads at 9/1 look way too pricey while Atlanta and Philadelphia look cheap at 30/1 and 15/1 respectively.
So, baseball fans, today is Valentine's Day. Based on the above odds, who do you love?