Change-Up March 28, 2007
Over Unders

On Valentine's Day I asked readers "Who Do You Love" by going through the odds for each team to win the World Series. I chimed in on who I thought looked cheap and who looked expensive, and then readers contributed their two cents as well. Well World Series odds are fun and all but not as fun as the Over/Under win total figures.

Many would argue that the crux of Sabermetrics is that you can predict a team's win total by analyzing a team's ability to score and prevent runs. Virtually all other research aimed at determining what contributes to a baseball club's winning efforts, on both an individual and team-wide level, is derived from this finding. Sabermetric projection mechanisms with these principles at their core offer a neat opportunity for the enterprising individual to take advantage of Vegas over/under win totals.

Now, projections are never fool-proof and are often downright inaccurate. Just ask Tigers fans from last season. But I happen to believe that the astute fan has the opportunity to stick one to Vegas on these (hey, it makes up for football season). So without further ado, let me try my hand at each MLB team. I will offer up my prediction (over or under) and then briefly account for why I believe the arbitrage opportunity exists. And yeah, I will be on the record here so just as I stated back on Valentine's Day, feel free to check back and ridicule me if it turns out I am just dead wrong on a lot of these.

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National League

Arizona - Over 77.5 (-120) Under 77.5 (-110)

Prediction: Over

What is Vegas missing here?

That the Snakes are by and large average or better at every position on the field and boast one of the very strongest pitching staffs in all of baseball. They still might be a year away from championship contention but this is easily a .500 club. I mean they were an 80-win team last year based on their Pythag total. This might be the easiest money on the board.

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Atlanta - Over 81.5 (-115) Under 81.5 (-115)

Prediction: Over

What is Vegas missing here?

Probably not a whole lot but we are talking about a club that led the NL in OPS+ last season and played more like an 85-win team based on their run differential. 81.5 is in the ballpark but I like them for a few more wins than that.

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Chicago Cubs - Over 85.5 (-115) Under 85.5 (-115)

Prediction: Under

What is Vegas missing here?

Again, probably not a whole lot. I don't have a lot of conviction in this one. 85.5 may be the exact appropriate figure for the Cubbies.

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Cincinnati - Over 76.5 (-115) Under 76.5 (-115)

Prediction: Under

What is Vegas missing here?

That Cincinnati's back of the rotation is brutal. That their infield can't hit at all. That the Reds are too dependent on Ken Griffey Jr. I don't know, I think the Reds win more like 70-75 games.

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Colorado - Over 74.5 (-130) Under 74.5 (Even)

Prediction: Over

What is Vegas missing here?

That Todd Helton, Matt Holliday, Garret Atkins, Troy Tulowitzki and Chris Iannetta constitute a nice offensive core. That Aaron Cook, Jeff Francis and Rodrigo Lopez are all reasonably decent. That Brian Fuentes and other live arms like Ramon Ramirez and Manuel Corpas make their bullpen pretty darn good. They're not great, but they'll win north of 75 games.

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Florida - Over 78.5 (-125) Under 78.5 (-105)

Prediction: Under

What is Vegas missing here?

Probably not a whole lot - 78.5 sounds fine. I don't feel too strongly about this one but my thinking goes like this: they were an 80-win Pythag team in 2006 and got some stellar play from guys that I think are pretty decent candidates to take a little step back this year. Namely, Dan Uggla and Hanley Ramirez.

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Houston - Over 78.5 (-115) Under 78.5 (-115)

Prediction: Over

What is Vegas missing here?

Here's another team I don't feel like I have a great grasp on. But only once since 1995 have they won fewer than 80 games and something tells me they will scrap another competitive club together this season.

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Los Angeles Dodgers - Over 88.5 (-130) Under 88.5 (Even)

Prediction: Under

What is Vegas missing here?

Probably that Juan Pierre and Luis Gonzalez suck. All bets are off if Grady Little plays his best this season.

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Milwaukee - Over 81.5 (-115) Under 81.5 (-115)

Prediction: Over

This is a perception number. The Brewers are the Brewers - how could they win more than 81 games? Well look at their roster. Star power at the top, plenty of solid filler and some truly promising youngsters. This looks more like an 85-win team to me than an 81-win one.

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New York Mets - Over 88 (-115) Under 88 (-115)

Prediction: Under

What is Vegas missing here?

That Carlos Beltran and Paul Lo Duca will not replicate their outlier 2006 seasons. That the starting pitching is bad. I would have the Mets closer to 85 wins.

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Philadelphia - Over 88.5 (-115) Under 88.5 (-115)

Prediction: Over

What is Vegas missing here?

88.5 actually sounds about right to me. I am going over just because I happen to really like the makeup of the team. The lineup will rake, the rotation is rock solid and I think one way or another they will piece together a solid enough bullpen.

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Pittsburgh - Over 71.5 (Even) Under 71.5 (-130)

Prediction: Over

What is Vegas missing here?

They are pretty close to average or above at just about every position and their rotation, with guys like Ian Snell, Zach Duke, Tom Gorzelanny and Paul Maholm, has a shot at being average in its own right. Average or just below average equals 75-80 wins, not 71.

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San Diego - Over 84 (-125) Under 84 (-105)

Prediction: Over

What is Vegas missing here?

I think 84 would sound just about right if you didn't know just how good Kevin Kouzmanoff was. In Akron and Buffalo respectively last season Kouzmanoff posted OPS's of 1.109 and 1.022 as a member of the Indians organization. Now he comes over in the Josh Barfield deal and I think he is ready to contribute in a big way right off the bat. I am calling 88 wins for the Pads.

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San Francisco - Over 81.5 (-115) Under 81.5 (-115)

Prediction: Under

What is Vegas missing here?

They're just not a very good team. Have a look at the roster and in the comments section let me know how they get over .500. Is Matt Morris taking them there? Pedro Feliz?

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St. Louis - Over 84.5 (-110) Under 84.5 (-120)

Prediction: Under

What is Vegas missing here?

That the Cards are relying on a lineup that is both injury-prone and thin even when healthy.

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Washington - Over 66.5 (-110) Under 66.5 (-120)

Prediction: Under

What is Vegas missing here?

Pass.

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American League

Baltimore - Over 73.5 (-115) Under 73.5 (-115)

Prediction: Under

What is Vegas missing here?

Not much - that figure looks just about right. My problem with the O's is that I think this may be the year where some of their middling supporting cast like Melvin Mora, Jay Gibbons and Kevin Millar all fall off the table and contribute next to nothing. They do have some exciting arms in their rotation, however.

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Boston - Over 90.5 (-115) Under 90.5 (-115)

Prediction: Over

What is Vegas missing here?

This is the 2003 Sox all over again and that squad won 95 games. Boston has a lineup that won't quit, superb starting pitching and a bullpen that will keep the opposition in plenty of games they have no business winning. It's a volatile combo, but one that I think gets them over the 90-win hump.

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Chicago White Sox - Over 86.5 (-115) Under 86.5 (-115)

Prediction: Under

What is Vegas missing here?

A lot. In fact, along with Arizona, this may be the easiest money on the board. Their left field, center field and shortstop offensive output will be a joke and the starting pitching is not good enough to win with only Jim Thome, Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko carrying the offensive load.

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Cleveland - Over 84.5 (-115) Under 84.5 (-115)

Prediction: Over

What is Vegas missing here?

Probably just the concept of Pythagorean Win-Loss records. Cleveland was a lot better than their record indicated last season and I don't see much reason to expect them to regress.

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Detroit - Over 87.5 (-130) Under 87.5 (Even)

Prediction: Under

What is Vegas missing here?

That a lot of things went really right for Detroit last season. They are a good team, but 87.5 looks a little to lofty for my blood. A tough one, but I call it under by a smidge.

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Kansas City - Over 67.5 (-125) Under 67.5 (-105)

Prediction: Over

What is Vegas missing here?

Nothing. I like the line and wouldn't touch it. But only slightly better-than-expected performance from Alex Gordon could push them by a win or two over the 67-win mark.

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Los Angeles Angels - Over 89.5 (-125) Under 89.5 (-105)

Prediction: Under

What is Vegas missing here?

That the Halos can't hit. At all. But they're pitching is so good that the 89.5 is not out of the picture. Call it 87.

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Minnesota - Over 83.5 (-115) Under 83.5 (-115)

Prediction: Over

What is Vegas missing here?

That this bullpen is so good that the starters won't need to do all that much and that this team can actually hit a little bit now. 86 wins.

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New York Yankees - Over 97 (-115) Under 97 (-115)

Prediction: Under

What is Vegas missing here?

The Yanks are excellent, but 97 wins is a whole lot of wins. With Chien-Ming Wang banged up and taking into account their reliance on Carl Pavano, I see New York's starting pitching as enough of a question to feel confident about an under-97 call.

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Oakland - Over 84.5 (-110) Under 84.5 (-120)

Prediction: Under

What is Vegas missing here?

That Oakland lost its best hitter and best pitcher from last season and is depending on too many unproven or injury-prone players to get to the 85-win mark.

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Seattle - Over 75.5 (-115) Under 75.5 (-115)

Prediction: Over

What is Vegas missing here?

I don't love how this team is assembled but I will call a King Felix breakout, a little bit of a Jarrod Washburn bounceback, and a decent enough lineup to get the win total up into the high-70's.

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Tampa Bay - Over 67 (-130) Under 67 (Even)

Prediction: Over

What is Vegas missing here?

That Tampa Bay has a bunch of really good baseball players in their system and that this is the year they start to make some legitimate noise. The starting pitching leaves plenty to be desired but there is enough punch in that lineup to push their win total to around 75.

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Texas - Over 81.5 (Even) Under 81.5 (-130)

Prediction: Over

What is Vegas missing here?

That Texas was an 86-win Pythag team last season, Oakland got worse and there is not much reason to think Texas will regress. Yes they lose Gary Matthews, Jr. and Mark DeRosa, but Brandon McCarthy helps and more can be expected from the likes of Mark Teixeira, Ian Kinsler and Gerald Laird.

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Toronto - Over 86.5 (-110) Under 86.5 (-120)

Prediction: Under

What is Vegas missing here?

That Royce Clayton is a joke, Reed Johnson and Lyle Overbay are coming back to earth and the back end of the rotation is just brutal.

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OK, I went through what I think Vegas is missing with these lines and told you who I like and dislike in relation to the odds this season.

Now you tell me what I am missing.

I'm not as high on Arizona as most. The young hitters can be very streaky and while they have a complete rotation its completely bad unless RJ turns it around. Davis and Hernandze are trending the wrong way. This team could easily have a below average rotation.

Looks like a lot of the gaps between Vegas and your perception have closed a bit since the article went up. Arizona, Seattle, and Colorado have bumped up by a few wins each. Darn those oddsmakers and their ability to react!

Not that I'd ever gamble illegally, of course.

I'll say one thing...the seemingly most overlooked aspect of the Red Sox is their defense (which factors into those runs saved)...they might have the best overall defense in baseball this year.

To wit: they're replacing an injured Trot Nixon with J.D. Drew (a slight upgrade), Crisp should rebound some and play more, Lugo is only a tad worse than Gonzalez, and Pedroia is quite a bit better than Loretta (a similar fielding player, but much more range). With everyone else returning on a defense that led the league in fielding percentage and broke the record for consecutive errorless games, that's pretty good.

I think you are being generous to Lugo and shortchanging Gonzalez, Peter. I will take Lugo the player everyday over Gonzalez mind you, but Gonzalez is the far superior defender.

The one I think you are missing is Houston. This is an offense with a chance to be terrible and after Oswalt, and perhaps Jennings, a rotation that is questionable. And if Lidge's problems continue that bullpen is seriously weakened as well. I do not put much stock in their ability to scrap together a competitive team the last few years. Pettitte and Clemens did help do that. I take the under on Houston, maybe in the 73-75 win range.

Arizona has one of the strongest pitching staffs in baseball? It seems to me like you missed on that one. Webb is excellent and RJ might have a good season, but what else is there? Livan and Davis are going south, plus they're pitching in a hitter's park. The 5th spot is up in the air and Jose Valverde is scheduled to close now.

Regarding the Yankees, I think something that's gone unnoticed this spring is how good their bullpen can be. Rivera, Farnsworth (now that Torre knows how to use him), Proctor, Bruney, and Vizcaino is the best 'pen they've had since Stanton and Nelson were in their primes setting up for Mariano. That could ease early trouble from their starters.

I think Detroit is the second best team in baseball (maybe first) behind the Yankees. I think they'll top 87.5 easily, even in that division.

The reasons analysts would be gambling almost as much as the rest of the bettors are managerial whim (regarding both playing time and tactics), injuries, and trades--most or all of which are largely unpredictable, and sufficient to materially affect final results.

Sully, I think you need to check my language a bit more closely. You can't say I'm being generous to Lugo when I didn't establish a value for him...I only set it relative to Gonzalez.

The important thing to note is that Gonzalez can be both overrated and underrated at times defensively...but it's easier to overrate him. He can make incredible plays out there, and his range is excellent, but he is prone to mental lapses and errors on seemingly routine plays...one of the best out there, but far from perfect.

Lugo's defense is very similar to Gonzalez's; he is also prone to silly errors and mental mistakes, but can also make big plays. Last year, Lugo actually had a higher range factor, and while his zone rating was lower than Gonzalez's, it was comparable to Carlos Guillen's, Michael Young's, and Jack Wilson's, good fielders all. The year before that, Lugo again had the higher RF, and while his ZR was again lower, they were much closer that year.

I won't argue that they're equal defensively, but they are pretty close, at least more so than intuition would indicate. I try not to make off the cuff comments, and I was aware of their respective standings and abilities. While it is still a downgrade for the Sox, it isn't a big one, and the upgrades at 2B and RF significantly outweight the downgrade.

It's hard to have the best defense in baseball when you have a sub-standard fielder at one of the most critical positions on the field, which the Red Sox have as long as Coco Crisp is in center. The man's a butcher with a noodle arm.

Grady Little is not a player. He might manage his best this year, but play, no.

Also, the Angels will be plus Casey Kotchman, who shows signs of being a great offensive player, and Howie Kendrick, who's done nothing besides hit .385 at every level prior to the Show. Garret Anderson's had a much better spring than his last two, and seems to be free of the plantar fasciitis that plagued him all last year, and the arthritis the last two years. Juan Rivera can still make a midseason comeback and contribute if he doesn't. Their offense will be better than you think.

The San Francisco line represents Vegas having no idea what the Giants will do. Will Lincecum go Liriano on the league? Will Benitez return to 2002 form? Will Lowry pitch like his rookie season, or like last season? Will any of that matter if Bonds's knee gives out?

Living in Las Vegas...I actually made a few small over and under bets a week ago. We agreed on three.. Pirates, Angels, Padres..I took the Cards as an over as well!

The over on Arizona is a no-brainer. As a Padres fan, I hate how aggressively they've moved to address their weak rotation this past off-season. They may or may not be able to take the division right now, but the Snakes are no more than a year or two away from being a serious player again.