The new World Baseball Classic (WBC) is baseball’s attempt at mimicking soccer’s World Cup. The top baseball nations in the world will compete March 2nd-19th, first in a round-robin group stage, then in a double elimination format.
When weighing your WBC futures options, there are a few factors worth looking to before placing your bets – these same factors also apply to Major League Baseball (MLB) futures:
The favourite’s chances
There are three primary favourites heading into the WBC: the Dominican Republic (whose odds give them a 26% chance to win), The USA (25%) and Japan (22.2%).
In MLB, the best teams lose a third of their games because of the inconsistency of day-to-day performance. With that in mind, consider what the winner will have to do to win:
- Finish in the top two in a four-team round robin.
- Win two games to get the final. With the double elimination format, teams will be able to slip up once before getting there.
- Win the final against – presumably – a pretty good team.
There’s a real question of whether any team is a 20% favourite to win, let alone three teams. Even with the best-of-five or best-of-seven formats of MLB’s playoffs, we’ve seen repeatedly that the best team doesn’t always win over a small sample.
Operating at full strength and the weight of a name
Without looking at the odds, the natural assumption would be that either the USA or Japan would be the favourite heading into the competition. The US is the birthplace of baseball and home to 29 of MLB’s 30 teams; Japan meanwhile, has won the last two WBCs.
While the US is still clearly a powerful baseball nation, the likelihood is that the emotions the name invokes may overvalue it as a betting option here. Where the soccer world understands that sacrifices must be made for the World Cup, the world baseball community hasn’t embraced that idea nearly as fully, and omissions from the USA roster have made that apparent.
It can be argued that the team of US players who have turned down invitations could be superior to the team the nation will actually field, and while most bettors will be familiar with the rosters, the same is true of MLB, where the teams with the strongest following –The New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs are strong examples—see the odds offered upon them offering less value because of the enticement that rooting for the best branded teams offer.
The clarity of path
In baseball terms, three games aren’t a lot. One hot hitter or pitcher can make a massive difference over that span, and that effect is amplified with a single-game format. As a result, quality of opposition in the WBC is tremendously important. Have a look at the initial groupings for the 2013 WBC:
- Pool A: Brazil, China, Cuba, Japan
- Pool B: Australia, Chinese Taipei, Korea, Netherlands
- Pool C: Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Spain, Venezuela
- Pool D: Canada, Italy, Mexico, USA
Focusing only on the group stage, Japan and Korea (11.4%) have far easier paths to the double elimination stage than the Dominican Republic and (to a lesser extent) the USA. Chinese Taipei is the only team in Pool B with 2009 runner-up Korea that’s not included in our Field (3.5%) option. Cuba (5.9%) is in the same position as Chinese Taipei, and both may prove strong betting options because two teams from each group advance.
Meanwhile, both the Dominican Republic and USA share group space with two other individually offered teams, with the DR’s competition especially stiff. While Spain is a non-entity, Venezuela is our fourth favourite, while Puerto Rico at least has odds to call its own. The USA doesn’t have a Venezuela in its grouping, but both Canada and Mexico have established major leaguers dotting their rosters.
The same principle holds true in MLB. The Toronto Blue Jays, called by some to win the World Series, are in a division where any of the five teams could triumph over the long season, and in the stronger of baseball’s two major leagues. Therefore, a team that has an easier path to and through the playoffs, like the Washington Nationals, may prove the better pick with all odds being equal, regardless of which you believe to be the better team.
Futures are good fun and you can find good value in them. Just remember that as with all bets, you need to incorporate more than meets the eye.