With the start of the MLB season approaching, the futures markets are generating a lot of interest. Which teams will mount a serious challenge for the World Series title? Read on to find out more.
World Series winner odds: The importance of the offseason
In addition to analysing how teams performed last year and where they showed signs of potential improvement, the latest moves in a historically late-moving offseason will have also impacted the markets and where potential value could be found.
It’s been a shocking MLB offseason. One after another, MLB’s premier free agents have lined up for their respective paydays, only to be left with a mere percentage of the payouts forecasted. MLB’s biggest spenders, the Yankees and Dodgers, have mostly sat out the free agent rush and the landscape around them has changed in unexpected ways.
MLB is in an era of the super team, with the stark differential between the haves and have-nots abundantly clear. Seven teams can be identified as genuine World Series contenders and while the remaining three spots in the playoffs (all seemingly wildcards) might not seem like incentive enough to inspire outside-looking-in clubs to go for it, it’s those teams on the periphery that have made big investments of late.
Below, we’ve taken a look first at the “select seven” as well as the clubs whose fortunes have shifted since the start of 2018.
Who are the "select seven"?
There are six divisions in MLB and there are seven teams that seem primed to claim them. While their strength makes some forecasting easy, their mutual strength makes it more difficult, since they all must cross paths in the playoffs.
MLB’s playoffs are essentially an eight-way sprint, with plenty of variance in a series of shortseries of games in which the favourite is little more than a 60-40 proposition. That means that when you see that three teams are listed at better than 7.00 to win the World Series, you know you need to pick and choose from amongst these co-favourites carefully.
The race to become the World Series champion looks to be wide open. There are seven tightly grouped at the top of the market all with good reason, but there could also be value on offer elsewhere.
Houston Astros - The World Champions (currently priced at 6.470*) seem to have gotten better in the offseason, adding to both their starting and relief pitching with Gerrit Cole and Joe Smith. The Astros are projected 101 wins in various sources online (over 97.5 is available at 1.877*) which is almost unheard of.
Starter Dallas Keuchel has claimed that the same championship malaise that seemed to claim the Chicago Cubs last season after their 2016 victory will not fell his team this year. Projecting any team at better odds than 6.000 is difficult, but if there is such a club, this is it.
Los Angeles Dodgers - Runners-up in 2017, the Dodgers made it a mission to get under MLB’s luxury tax for 2018 and offer a slightly weaker edition this time around as a result. The major pieces are still in place, but key bullpen cog Brandon Morrow is gone along with a number of depth pieces and LA will presumably have less wiggle-room for mid-season additions.
The Dodgers are a strong team and the NL’s playoff gauntlet is the less cumbersome of the two, but this may not be the year and 6.680* seems short given the doubts that surround them.
New York Yankees - General Manager Brian Cashman deserves tremendous credit for positioning his team for a half-decade of dominance to come, capped by a tremendous offseason. The lineup is explosive and the bullpen seems perfectly suited to playoff baseball.
The Yankees are one of only three teams priced under 7.00 at 6.970*. Boston looms as a legitimate threat to challenge New York in the AL East, and with the possibility of the Yankees starting a playoff trek through a single-game wildcard round - something bettors will seriously have to consider when analysing their world series odds.
Washington Nationals - Washington is the least dominant of the select seven and has the least depth, meaning the variance of injuries could have the strongest negative impact. Their path to the playoffs is an easy one and this being Bryce Harper’s last season before free agency may strengthen the team’s incentive to improve for the playoffs, but as things stand bettors will struggle to justify odds of 9.420*.
MLB’s biggest spenders, the Yankees and Dodgers, have mostly sat out the free agent rush and the landscape around them has changed in unexpected ways.
Cleveland Indians - The Indians are pretty much intact from a year ago when the team entered the playoffs as a favourite coming off of a late-season 22-game win streak. Cleveland has little standing between the team and a division title and may be getting lost in the hype around Houston and New York. Baseball’s strongest pitching staff might be worth following at 9.740*.
Chicago Cubs - This season’s Cubs possess greater accumulated skills than results showed in 2017. The club is back to full strength, now having added Yu Darvish and Brandon Morrow. Chicago was a real powerhouse in the second half of 2017 and that seems more likely to be the team we’ll see this time around.
Boston Red Sox - With the hype surrounding the Yankees’ moves, it’s been easy to dismiss the Red Sox in the build-up to the MLB season - they are projected to win just three fewer games than their rivals (over 90.5 is available at 1.628*).
The deficit in both sides’ season win totals isn’t necessarily reflected in their odds for winning the World Series (the Red Sox are available at 12.290*). When variance is taken into consideration, and the fact that the addition of JD Martinez should resolve last season’s power outage, Boston might appeal as a more attractive option to bettors.
American League Wild Card contenders
The LA Angels made high-profile additions with Shohei Ohtani, Ian Kinsler and Zack Cozart during the offseason, but the latter two were imperfect fits and the flawed pitching staff remains un-fixed. Ohtani mania is likely driving their shortening odds of 22.620*, but he seems likely to spend the year getting adjusted to MLB.
Bettors should take note of the fact that the Toronto Blue Jays front office had a shrewd offseason. The benefits of strength in depth are obvious given the Astros and Dodgers recent success and it seems the Jays have emulated that approach. Their additions weren’t splashy, but have provided quality replacements when Toronto’s ageing roster inevitably suffers injuries - they’ll be a popular outsider pick at 30.730*.
The Minnesota Twins won a wildcard last season and will hope to repeat the feat this time around. They used the offseason to add two starting pitchers (Lance Lynn, Jake Odorizzi), a closer (Fernando Rodney), a set-up man (Addison Reed) and a middle-of-the-order bat (Logan Morrison), all for little enough money to allow for mid-season additions.
Minnesota is the likely favourite for the second wildcard slot in the AL but bettors will probably doubt how far they can go beyond that - World Series winner odds of 39.450* still seem quite given that the Twins will be in contention come the end of the season.
National League Wild Card contenders
The San Francisco Giants appear to have moved in the opposite direction to the rest of the MLB teams during the offseason - they’ve added two ageing stars in Andrew McCutcheon and Evan Longoria to a team that had a disastrous 2017.
MLB’s playoffs are essentially an eight-way sprint, with plenty of variance in a series of shortseries of games in which the favourite is little more than a 60-40 proposition.
They might have some star power heading into the new season but reaching the playoffs could be a struggle in itself, let alone winning the World Series. Currently priced at 20.150* the Giants are priced on the short side and there will plenty of other options with greater appeal.
The St. Louis Cardinals won 19 more games than San Francisco last season and countered the Giants’ moves by adding a huge bat in Marcell Ozuna as well as some solid bullpen pieces. Although both teams will need some luck to make it to the playoffs and beyond, at a higher price (22.620*) the Cardinals might be the more popular pick.
The Arizona Diamondbacks won 93 games last year (only four teams managed more). They have lost the services of mid-season addition JD Martinez but remain otherwise mostly intact. Fangraphs projects Arizona for one less win than San Francisco.
The Diamondbacks might seem an attractive option at 24.910* but they will likely come unstuck against elite opposition - much like they did in last season’s NL Division Series (losing 3-0).
The Milwaukee Brewers (25.430* to win the World Series) had a surprising run a year ago, finishing with a 0.531 win percentage (their highest since a franchise-best 0.593 season in 2011). They have made two big offseason moves (Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain) but bettors might be expecting some regression - especially with Jimmy Nelson sidelined until at least June.
Final thoughts on who will win the World Series
As always, the race to become the World Series champion looks to be wide open. There are seven tightly grouped at the top of the market all with good reason, but there could also be value on offer elsewhere.
Those looking to hedge their options later in the season could benefit from the Philadelphia Phillies high odds (103.930*) given their young core and solid additions (Jake Arrieta and Carlos Santana) and the factor of the unknown with a new manager.
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