Change-UpFebruary 14, 2007
Who Do You Love?
By Patrick Sullivan

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

ARI  50/1
ATL  30/1
BAL  90/1
BOS  9/1
CHA  9/1
CHN  9/1
CIN  45/1
CLE  20/1
COL  100/1
DET  5/1
FLA  35/1
HOU  35/1
KCR  85/1
LAA  10/1
LAD  15/1
MIL  45/1
MIN  22/1
NYM  9/1
NYY  7/2
OAK  20/1
PHI  15/1
PIT  100/1
SDP  30/1
SFG  10/1
SEA  100/1
STL  9/1
TBD  200/1
TEX  40/1
TOR  15/1
WAS  150/1

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?


The two teams I would bet on are the Brewers and Padres. I don't think anyone should be 45-1 in the NL Central, except perhaps the Pirates, and I certainly do not think the Brewers' chances are that much less than the Cubs' or Cardinals' who are at 9-1. (Incidentally, am I missing it or are the Astros missing from the list?) With a healthy Sheets and a solid rotation after him plus developing young players who now have some big league experience, I see the Brewers contending this year after last year's disappointing season.

I think the same can be said for the Padres. They are also in a division that could be won with a win total in the 80s, they have an ace in Peavy and a solid rotation behind him as well as a still effective closer and a deep roster mixing young and veteran players. At 30-1, they look like a good bet, certainly compared to the aged Giants at 10-1 or the misshapen Dodgers at 15-1. That said, I agree with you that Arizona is probably an even better pick.

I'll tell you who I don't like... the Diamondbacks. Even with talented young players, can they expect a lineup with 4 players in their first full season and another in his second full season to carry the load? Starters R. Johnson, Hernandez, and Davis aren't exactly sure bets for strong 2007 performances. Plus, their bullpen doesn't look much better now than it was last season. I just don't see this team looking like the 2006 Marlins, rising way above expectations.

The Twins at 22/1 look pretty enticing. I don't know if they are as nasty as last year, but they look to be in the thick of things and have the rotation to get it done in the postseason.

The Tigers at 5/1 are a horrible bet. They have a great rotation, but their hitting is pretty bad.

I don't like the Cards at 9/1 to repeat. It is unlikely that they will count to infinity two years in a row.

You are probably right though, the Indians are the best bet.

Come on, Sully! What about our Red Sox? 9/1? I'll take that money. Yes, our (of course, I was on the team) pythag was pretty pitiful last season (-5), but when your entire team goes down to injury its not surprising that the season wouldn't look so hot in retrospect. This was a team that was leading the AL East for the majority of the season who, I think, has improved a lot this off season.

The Diamondbacks are also a good bet, I'd say. Not because I think they're a great team, but at 50/1 you'd have to say that you're getting very good odds on that money.

I feel the same way about Cincinnati at 45/1. Are they good? Probably not that good, but they could definitely make the playoffs and then as the terrible Cardinals showed us last year sometimes thats all thats required.

Kevin - HOU was missing and is now fixed. Thanks.

And mattymatty, I like the Sox. A lot. But i must make every effort to de-homerize myself.

Thanks for the comment.

The Diamondbacks jumped right out at me (partly because they're listed first I'm sure) - they are loaded with young talent and there is a lot of upside in their pitching. They could be terrible also, but look to be a good buy.

I like Cleveland to win it all as much as I like any team in baseball, so they look like the best buy of all to me. I'm tempted to go to Vegas a drop a few hundred bucks on them at 20-1.

I'm a huge Dodger fan but I wouldn't buy them at 15-1. I have no idea how the Giants are pricier then the Dodgers. Tampa might be an OK buy at 200-1. With all the young talent and Kazmir at the front of the rotation, there is a perfect storm that could happen for them. Not likely, but more that 0.5% likely.

Rob - You really think, even at 200/1 the Rays have a shot to even make the playoffs? Just because the odds are long doesn't make it a good bet. I don't think its even 500/1 that they beat out two of Boston, NY and Toronto in their own division. I'm not saying they don't have good young talent, but any bets on the Rays is the equivalent of throwing money down a hole.

Probably Crawford or Reyes, with the MI getting the nod. They're both blossoming 5 category guys. I agree that Santana is out of this world, but there's a lot of pitching value a little later in the draft.

Whoops. Wrong post.

Hey, what's up with KC at those odds? Gil Meche makes the Royals better than the Mariners?

Brewers 45/1
Atlanta 30/1
Cleveland 20/1
Twins 22/1

Anybody but the Pirates could potentially win the NL Central. If the Brewers somehow make the playoffs with a healthy Ben Sheets, and a Sowers-like second half performance from Yovani Gallardo, the top of their rotation could be good enough to carry them. The young offense should continue to improve.

The Braves should never be 30/1... ever. Lights out pen, solid rotation, and they always seem to figure out a way to score enough runs to contend.

Cleveland at 20/1 because of their disappointing 2006 is way off. Sabathia's coming off his best season as he turns 27. Sowers is a front-of-the-rotation guy. Adam Miller could contribute by the end of the year, and they unquestionably have one of the strongest lineups in the AL - mostly young and improving (which is scary when it comes to Sizemore).

Minnesota at 22/1 seems like an overreaction to Liriano's injury. Matt Garza could come in and do a passable Liriano imitation as a ROY candidate. Bonser pitched very well last year, and Johan is Johan. Look at the pre-Schilling Red Sox and how Pedro carried the rotation for multiple playoff teams (and should have been MVP over Pudge). The offense isn't the question mark it was in past years. They are a contender.

The Padres at 30/1 seem to be the best bet. The did win their division last year and haven't really gotten worse. Not exactly sure why the Giants are listed so high? They were bad last year and I doubt they are going to be much better this year (and with a underachiever as their new manager.)

Personally, I don't think any of the teams in the NL West is capable of winning the World Series, no matter how well they're playing or how many breaks they get in the playoffs. The rest of MLB is that much better.

The reason I don't like the Pads at 30/1:

I don't think it's too controversial to say that the West is a tossup between 4 teams (ARI, SF, LAD, and SD). So with that 1/4 chance of just making the playoffs, even if the playoffs really are a crap shoot, they've only got a 1/4*1/8=1/32 chance of winning it all. So even assuming they Pads have the same chance to win the WS as, say, the Sox or NYY, you're still in a losing situation.

I love the Brewers at 45 to 1. They have the pitching to make it.

Tampa is not likely to win it all as I said, but I think 200-1 is a touch steep. That's a tough division, but if you played it 200 times I think the Rays would come out on top once or twice, figuring in injuries, career years, huge upside, etc.

I think the odds for the A's are just right. I remember reading that teams with good bullpens tend to outperform their Pythagorean record, and A's bullpen last year was very solid.

I don't think it's too controversial to say that the West is a tossup between 4 teams (ARI, SF, LAD, and SD). So with that 1/4 chance of just making the playoffs, even if the playoffs really are a crap shoot, they've only got a 1/4*1/8=1/32 chance of winning it all.

That's a good way of looking at it, Matthew.

I also like to add up all the odds and find out the total so you can determine how much of an underlay these propositions are in the aggregate. In this case, when one adds up the odds of each team winning you come up with approximately 160%, meaning the house has a huge edge on the bettor.

The more normal odds run 110%, as in bet $110 to win $100. If the house gets an even amount bet on both sides, the juice works out to just 9% (win $110, lose $100) or 4.5% if you base it on the entire $220 take.

As a result of the above, the odds are stacked against the bettor in proposition type bets such as the World Series. There might be a good choice or two but you have to be very selective and, even then, you're probably only getting a *fair* bet. It might be a good one relative to all the others but nothing great on its own merits.

Can you bet AGAINST teams at these odds? If so, you could really clean up betting against the 9/1 teams (since it's basically 8/1 IF you make the postseason). And betting against the Yanks at 7/2 is a great bet.

I'd hate to have to make odds for the N.L. Central, the hub of mediocrity. None of those teams excites me. The Tigers are a lousy buy at 5-1, as are the Royals at 85-1.

For some reason, I think the Rockies are better than the odds indicate.