With the MLB season set to begin, we know bettors are preparing to make their final futures plunges (those markets go away opening day, but they’ll be back at the All-Star break). To that end we look at one of MLB’s forgotten favourites and why a bet on them presents real value.
A year ago Pinnacle published this article, asserting that the Cleveland Indians were undervalued. Cleveland then cruised to the AL West title with a late-season 22-game win streak that had most experts calling them World Series favourites. They went on to lose a tough five-game ALDS to the New York Yankees, a result in keeping with postseason variance. By that time though, we had published another article.
In the midst of Cleveland’s run and the Yankees’ late-season moves, the betting world had completely forgotten about the Houston Astros. We didn’t, and Houston went on to take the championship.
Like those articles, this one offers advice on betting on a particular team that’s offering value as compared to its current odds of winning the World Series.
There are no sure things in betting, but betting for value is always going to be a smart decision as long as you’re staying within your bankroll’s confines.
A skewed market and a clear path
At the time of writing, the Chicago Cubs were priced at 10.210* to win the World Series, below the average price for an average playoff team. That places the 2016 world champions behind the following:
Houston - 5.96
LA Dodgers - 6.78
Yankees - 7.08
Washington - 9.57
Cleveland - 9.89
The suggestion here is that Chicago should probably be the #2 team on this list. Fangraphs.com projects the Cubs for a 93-69 record, good for third best in baseball, tied with LA, Cleveland and Boston.
Those same projections have the team’s closest divisional competition, St. Louis, clocking in at 87 wins, with no other divisional rivals projected for as many as 80 victories. Short of a surprise Chicago has a relatively easy path to the playoffs.
While Houston is a better team and New York and Cleveland sport impressive rosters, those three teams share a league. The path through the playoffs will be treacherous for all of the above, while the National League looks decidedly less-perilous. Not only does the NL have one fewer “super-teams” (the Red Sox make any claims that New York will obviously win the AL East dubious), but its super teams are of a lesser quality than their AL counterparts.
LA is dealing with injury issues and the limitations of a club wishing to not exceed the luxury tax: In short, they can’t add players.
Washington, meanwhile, has injury concerns of its own to go with depth issues and a clear refusal to mortgage its future for its present (most recently by turning down a straight-up trade offer of top prospect Victor Robles for star catcher J.T. Realmuto). The narrative that this is the last championship window for the team is just that: Narrative. Narrative doesn’t win ballgames.
In a seven-game series where variance could secure a title even against superior opposition,
Chicago’s path through the postseason to the World Series is as clear as any teams’ in MLB.
Analysing last year’s deceptive record
Part of the reason Chicago’s price is where it is due to the team’s uninspiring 92-70 record in 2017, but it’s more thank likely that those weren’t the Cubs we’ll be seeing this season.
The 2017 Cubs, fresh off a first World Series victory in 108 years, were partied out. They started the season sluggishly and entered the All-Star break two games under .500.
In the season’s last two and half months, the team went an astonishing 24 games above .500. Those, we’d surmise, were the real Cubs, a team that certainly offers value at 10.210* to win the World Series.
Why pitching improvements could be crucial
One of the reasons Chicago improved after the all-star break was a major trade deadline acquisition: Jose Quintana.
Quintana brought stability to a staff that was lacking it. Front office stalwarts Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have added to Quintana’s addition by bringing in the offseason’s best available starter Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester and Tyler Chatwood to form one of MLB’s most dominant rotations.
The bullpen, meanwhile, looks at least as strong as the late 2017 version. Former closer Wade Davis (his dominance clearly in decline) has been replaced by Brandon Morrow. Morrow heads up a pen full of solid-to strong options including CJ Edwards, Pedro Stropp, Steve Cishek and capable starter-turned reliever Mike Montgomery. It’s a deep bullpen and Chicago still has the room in its budget to make additions as needed, as it did in 2016.
The potential for a young lineup to improve
Here’s a look at the lineup Cubs fans will see more often than not, along with their ages and reasons for optimism.
C - Willson Contreras (25) - Considered to be amongst MLB’s three best catchers just 600 ABs into his career, this season projects him continue his maturation as a hitter and an athlete.
1B - Anthony Rizzo (28) - Not a lot of upside here, but the consistent excellence is remarkable and the age suggests it should be maintained.
2B - Javy Baez (25) - Took major steps forward a season ago and it’s unlikely to be a fluke; he has a history of making major jumps in his second year at a level.
3B - Kris Bryant (26) - In another MVP-calibre season, Bryant’s situational luck was off-the-charts bad and “rules” of regression suggest that misfortune can’t be maintained.
SS - Addison Russell (24) - Struggled in 2017, but his age suggests there’s improvement to be made.
LF - Kyle Schwarber (25) - A brutal 2017 (though he did hit 30 home runs in 129 games) was followed by an off-season transformation in which Schwarber lost some 25 (excess) pounds.
CF - Ian Happ (25) - The 23-year old hit 24 home runs in 364 Abs in his first MLB go-round.
RF - Jason Heyward (28) - Baseball’s best defensive corner outfielder. The bat may never be what it once was, but he’s worked extensively with new (highly regarded) hitting coach Chili Davis to rediscover his swing.
In short, this lineup is young, deep and very good whilst offering plenty of reason for optimism regarding improvement.
Taking the positive from a bad experience
While some disregard the value of experience, Chicago’s core has now been through a World Series win and experienced the disappointment of a poor follow-up season. This is a team that should have a chip on its shoulder about a 2017 that they know should have been better.
In short, everything is looking up for a Cubs team that was already good enough to just miss the World Series a year ago. That alone would offer value if the price were 6.50, where it probably should be, but at odds of 10.21* the Cubs arguably present the greatest value in MLB World Series winner odds.