Throughout its lengthy history, Major League Baseball has been generally hard to predict. Baseball is an inherently unpredictable sport, and games are often decided by even the slimmest of margins. One unfortunate bounce here or a missed call there could go a long way toward determining a team’s fate in a given season.
Just like any sport, baseball has several traditional powers. There are certainly exceptions, but it feels as though teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Cardinals and Giants are in the World Series mix more often than not. With baseball having no salary cap, the richest teams are essentially free to try and buy their way to a title, if they so choose.
Of course, that strategy hasn’t proven to be without its faults. Nowadays, teams are putting more and more emphasis on developing talent from within rather than outspending each other. Nowadays, there are quite a few teams out there boasting quality homegrown talent.
Preseason odds can tell you a lot, but the teams that look the best on paper in April aren’t always the ones standing at the top of the mountain in October. A lot can change over the course of the 162-game marathon of a regular season. What are some ways to get a betting edge as far as predicting the eventual World Series winner before the season begins?
Organizational depth matters
The MLB regular season is about 6 months long. While you may not think baseball is the most physically taxing sport out there, playing a game essentially every single day for 6 consecutive months will take a toll on players.
Major injuries may not be as common in baseball as they are in more violent sports like football or hockey, but we’ll still get a handful of big-name players go down over the course of the campaign. While it’s obviously a team sport, the Angels losing a player as impactful as Mike Trout is certainly going to hamper their chances of staying in the playoff race.
You won’t often see a shallow team win the World Series. Having a deep bench and a capable bullpen is more and more important these days as managers attempt to play matchups. Just look at Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who seemingly switched his pitchers with every other batter during the team’s 2017 postseason run. His constant tinkering ultimately proved costly, as the vaunted L.A. bullpen collapsed due to fatigue in the latter stages of the World Series.
Still, you can’t overlook role players. It’s easy to pick a team like the Yankees just because they have the most star power. Aaron Judge? Giancarlo Stanton? Gary Sanchez? Luis Severino? How can this team not win it all, right?
As we saw when the Astros won in 2017 or when the Cubs won in 2016, the lesser-known players are often the ones tasked with lifting the team. Charlie Morton closed out the World Series for Houston. David Ross hit a massive home run in game 7 of the ‘16 Series for Chicago.
Picking a team based on star power is lazy and, often times, just a flat-out bad strategy. Analyzing a team’s full roster can help give you an idea as to how a team will hold up over the course of the lengthy season.
Repeat champions are rare
It’s easy to see why picking last season’s winner to repeat would be tempting. Some champs will undergo drastic roster changes after winning a title, but if a team is able to keep its core of talent intact, why can’t they win it all again?
As you may have imagined, the Cubs were a very popular bet to win the 2017 Series after winning in 2016. They had a young roster filled with capable veterans. With guys like Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo continuing to improve, the Cubs were easy preseason favorites in ‘17.
We know what wound up happening. Chicago endured a bit of a championship hangover over the first half of the season. They ultimately went on to win the NL Central, but they never reached the heights the ‘16 title team did. The 2017 iteration ultimately fell short at the hands of the Dodgers in the NLCS.
The 2018 Astros are essentially in the same boat. They lost very little talent over the offseason, and they even appeared to bolster their rotation by trading for Gerrit Cole. There’s little reason to believe the Astros can’t repeat in ‘18.
Back in MLB’s early days, teams going back-to-back wasn’t all that rare. Now that the league has expanded to 30 teams, though, it’s gotten far more difficult. We are currently in the midst of the longest streak without a repeat champion in MLB history. The Yankees won three straight titles from 1998 through 2000, but we haven’t had a team win 2 straight since.
There is plenty of parity in the game today, and we often see teams come out of nowhere to make playoff pushes. Just because a team like the Cubs may look loaded and primed to repeat doesn’t mean it’s a certainty.
Be aware of personnel changes
A successful season does not mean a manager’s job is guaranteed. By all accounts, the 2017 New York Yankees exceeded expectations by winning 90-plus games and coming within a game of reaching the World Series. Despite the exceeded expectations, the team decided against bringing longtime manager Joe Girardi back for 2018.
Instead, New York opted to hire Aaron Boone, who had zero managerial experience of which to speak before being given the job. While those in the know speak highly of Boone, there’s no telling what kind of manager he’ll be considering we have no evidence on which to base our claims.
Even with the loaded roster, a team like the Yankees may be fairly unpredictable after the managerial switch. Sometimes teams are given a jolt by a fresh voice in the clubhouse, but we’ve seen other instances in which a new manager has helped tear a locker room to shreds. Just ask the 2012 Boston Red Sox, who endured a miserable 69-93 campaign despite entering the season as odds-on World Series favorites.
Sometimes, it takes teams time to gel with a new man in charge. Targeting teams that have had stable leadership over the course of a few years is generally a safer way to try and project how a team will perform prior to any given season.
Pitching wins championships
Saying “pitching wins championships” makes you sound like your dad, but it’s actually true. Sure, there’s more to it than that, but having a strong pitching staff is a must if you want to get to the top.
Since Rob Manfred took over as MLB’s commissioner a couple of years ago, we’ve seen an explosion of offense. The two may or may not be correlated, as Manfred insists that no fundamental changes have been made to the way baseballs are constructed. We don’t know if he’s telling the truth, but there obviously has to be something behind the massive increase in home runs we’ve seen over the last couple of seasons.
While scoring runs is the name of the game, preventing other teams from scoring is certainly just as important. The recent explosion of offense has made it more important than ever for teams to gather as much pitching talent as possible.
In the playoffs, teams will not hesitate to ask a little bit more of their top pitchers. We’ll often see a starter asked to go out there on short rest in the postseason as teams get desperate. Having a true ace like Clayton Kershaw or Justin Verlander is essentially a must for a title contender these days.
Just look at the last several World Series winning clubs. The Astros had Verlander and Dallas Keuchel atop the rotation. The Cubs won with Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta. The 2015 Royals boasted Yordano Ventura and an in-form Edinson Volquez. When the Giants won their trio of titles between 2010 and 2014, Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum led the way.
Bullpens are becoming more and more important, but teams tend to live and die based on how their starters fare under the bright lights of October.
Some history is completely meaningless
A franchise never having won a title in the past should not deter you from betting on that team to win in the future. The Houston Astros existed for 55 years before winning their first title in 2017. The Cubs went over a century between championships (1908-2016).
During their lengthy title drought, some believed the Cubs were a cursed franchise. Ditto for the Boston Red Sox, who endured a championship dry spell from 1918 until 2004.
Either the Cubs or Red Sox were ever cursed. They just endured a lot of bad luck over the years. The Cubs earned the nickname “lovable losers” for a reason. Their organization just did a rather poor job of building their roster for long stretches of time. It happens.
Don’t let that kind of history sway your thinking. It’s just foolish. The Astros lost well over 100 games in 2013, but they managed to turn things around so quickly that they won it all just 4 years later.
This is also where we can throw the notion of a player being “clutch” or a “choker” out the window. Clayton Kershaw has been the best pitcher on the planet for the last handful of years, yet he managed to garner the unfortunate label as a playoff choker after a few hiccups during the Dodgers’ recent postseason runs.
Kershaw had some poor outings, but, as a bettor, are you really going to go all-in on a bet against the Dodgers in a postseason game with Kershaw on the mound? If you’re smart, probably not.
Betting on baseball is far from an exact science. So much can change from pitch to pitch that more often than not our projections and prognostications wind up looking foolish in hindsight. Still, there are some things you can do as a bettor to give yourself a bit of an edge. Not making the same common mistakes others do is a positive step in the right direction.