With the start of June, the Major League Baseball season is approximately one-third of the way done. That means now is the time for MLB bettors to have a closer look at unexpectedly hot or cold teams to determine whether or not their surprising spots in the standings are for real. Below, we look at six teams—three who have been better than expected, three who have been worse—to determine whether betting on them makes sense going forward.
The good surprises
Colorado Rockies (W-L Record: 36-23)
If you were looking for signs of a Rockies resurgence in 2017, they were there to be found. While surface numbers will always be exaggerated in Coors field, it was fair to say that team’s lineup was stacked 1-8 before Ian Desmond’s springtime injury and Trevor Story’s disappointing no-show, and the pitching showed more promise than recent past editions, thanks largely to General Manager Jeff Bridich.
It is under Bridich’s guidance that the Rockies have prioritised hard-throwing pitching in recent years. The thin air at high altitude Denver punishes pitchers who rely on breaking stuff, so Bridich and his evaluators have prioritised fastball/changeup types, acquiring a number of young, hard-throwing arms in recent years. Add to the team’s cadre of young starting pitchers (a calculated gamble that paid off) with closer Greg Holland and the team actually has a pitching staff for the first time in years, all of which explains why the Rockies have scored 44 more runs than their opponents. You can bet on this team being legitimate and making the playoffs.
New York Yankees (W-L Record: 32-22)
The Yankees were supposed to be ready to arrive in 2018 or 2019 after a couple of years of development. This team never rebuilds (The last time the Yanks finished below .500 was 1992), but it was clearly in the midst of a youth movement this year with veterans Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez (and their contracts) retiring after 2016 and youngsters like Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge and Luis Severino in need of seasoning before hopefully ascending to stardom.
Start spreading the news; the kids don’t need any more time.
Minnesota’s actually been outscored by nineteen runs to this point, suggesting their record should be more like 24-29 than 29-24.
As of right now, Judge is the odds on favourite to win the American League MVP award. Severino has ascended to ace status. Sanchez, injured early on, is now rounding into form and the Yankees have looked unstoppable. The team leads the toughest division in baseball despite an injury to their closer Aroldis Chapman and a terrible showing from their presumed ace Masahiro Tanaka; in other words, things could actually be better. Regardless, the Yankees have averaged 1.2 more runs per game than opponents; the third-best margin in MLB. They’re legitimate. Now.
Minnesota Twins (W-L Record: 29-24)
After a solid 2015, Manager Paul Molitor’s young squad had an abysmal season a year ago. World-beating prospect Byron Buxton was hurt or inept, the starting staff weak and inefficient and the team lacked the kind of stability that can harken legitimate success. Sadly, aside from their won-loss record, not much has changed.
Despite the team’s winning record, Minnesota’s actually been outscored by nineteen runs to this point, suggesting their record should be more like 24-29 than 29-24. Miguel Sano’s breakout seems legitimate, but at the same time unsustainable (his 37% K% and .465 BABIP can’t possibly continue to co-exist), the drop off in lineup talent after Sano is immense and the starting pitching seems built on smoke and mirrors. The emergence of young Jose Berrios offers hope, but even his surface numbers seem to mask troubling patterns in his peripherals. While Molitor has made something manageable out of ugliness like this before, it’s worth betting on the collapse night, after night, after night.
The bad surprises
Chicago Cubs (W-L Record: 28-27)
They almost made it look too easy in 2016. The Cubs dominated the NL West, then cruised through the playoffs before coming back from a 3-1 deficit (seemingly for drama) to win the team’s first World Series in 108 years. The lineup was young, the pitching staff stacked and the Cubs were favoured to repeat in 2017. This time though, they’ve made everything look hard.
Whether it’s because of the departure of clubhouse strengths Dexter Fowler and David Ross, the inevitable ageing curve of an older starting staff or what have you, the Cubs just haven’t been the same. Team defense, at levels of historic strength a year ago, is now just league average according to Fangraphs and the pitching has suffered for it. The question is whether the celebration circuit drained the team during the offseason.
The immediate stats don’t tell us there’s a real reason to believe the Cubs will return to 2016 heights, but that assumes the prognosticator ignores the evident abundance of talent on the roster. The guess here is that the Cubs play .550-or-so ball the rest of the way as bettors expect the champions to play better ball than that. Not only do the Cubs have recent success, but enormous popularity, and that means there will be bettors out there putting money down as if this were the same club as it was a year ago. Keep a close eye for hot streaks that may be more than just that, but until the Cubs round into form, you’ll get a good price betting against them.
Texas Rangers (W-L Record: 26-31)
A year ago, the Rangers finished at 95-67, with the best record in the American League. Experts prognosticated great things for the Rangers in the playoff before the team was swept by wildcard Toronto; then they predicted more great things for 2017. They shouldn’t have.
Don’t let the team’s name power fool you; the Giants are bad, and you should bet that way.
Texas’ 2016 record was one of the great aberrations in recent statistical history, the result of an all-time best record of 26-11 in one-run games. While many have tried to explain the Ranger’s amazing run, the most reasonable explanation is variance. In 2016, their luck has turned, with the won-loss record failing to reflect the roughly equal scoring of the Rangers and their opponents, so bettors might be able to use that record to benefit, but don’t expect this team to win the way it did in 2016. That…was an anomaly and lightning rarely strikes twice.
San Francisco Giants (W-L Record: 23-35)
Winners of three of the last seven World Series, San Francisco unbelievably owns the second-worst record in MLB one-third of the way through the season. While there’s been some bad luck involved (losing ace starter Madison Bumgarner to a motorcycle injury, for example), there’s not a lot of hope for an offense that’s produced the third-fewest runs in MLB.
San Francisco is getting slaughtered, allowing more than a run more per game than it scores. That’s a recipe for failure no matter how much luck is involved, and if the Hunter Strickland-Bryce Harper incident in late May is any indication, the clubhouse is turning ugly. Don’t let the team’s name power fool you; the Giants are bad, and you should bet that way.
*All data as of 2017-06-05.