The 2013 MLB regular season is in the books, and on this final Sunday night of the season, as we await the Texas-Tampa tiebreaker game on Monday, followed by the two wild-card games on Tuesday and Wednesday, let’s clean up one last loose end from the season and it’s to review each team’s win props.
Regular readers of TheSportsNotebook know that a staple of our preseason MLB coverage, along with the NFLand the NBA, is to measure each team against it’s Over/Under win prop and make a pick. Let’s look at who the big winners and losers were in the win prop sweepstakes.
I’ve broken the teams down on an arc based on how much they beat, or missed their number by. The Big Winners/Big Losers each were teams that Las Vegas missed by double digits on. Then a separate category of teams that were in the 5-9 win range, where it wasn’t a blowout, but the team was pretty clearly on a certain side of the aisle. Finally there are the teams that were tight enough to be within five either way, and two teams landed right on the number. Here’s how it shook out…
BIG WINNERS: Pittsburgh (+16.5), Boston (+14), Cleveland (+13.5), Oakland (+12.5), St. Louis (+11.5)
SOLID WINNERS: Atlanta (+8), Baltimore (+6), Kansas City (+7.5),
CLOSE WINNERS: Tampa Bay (+4.5), Detroit (+0.5), Texas (+4.5), San Diego (+2.5), Colorado (+3.5)
PUSH: NY Mets, LA Dodgers
CLOSE LOSERS: Minnesota (-2.5), Miami (-1.5), NY Yanks (-1), Cincinnati (-1), Arizona (-1)
BIG LOSERS: ChiSox (-17.5), Toronto (-15), LA Angels (-13.5), Philadelphia (-11.5), San Francisco (-11.5)
A few thoughts…
*I like the fact that this review exposes teams like the White Sox–the biggest disappointment on the board–as the underachievers they are. Too often, teams like Chicago, because they were not expected to make the playoffs, are let off the hook when they go badly off the rails.
But you’re telling me a fan on the South Side wouldn’t have had more fun watching an 80-win team, as the White Sox were projected? At least you turn on the TV set each night with a 50/50 chance of seeing a win and you can at least root for a winning season in September. Instead, the Southsiders gave their fans nothing and only the win prop review calls them to account, along with the more heralded disappointments they share company with.
*In a somewhat odd twist, Tampa Bay and Texas each had the exact same win prop at the start of the season. I was 86.5, rather than the 91 wins each posted. But it’s strange the teams who have to go to a one-game playoff on Monday for the last playoff spot were perceived as dead even when the season started.
*The repudiation of those in the Boston Red Sox front office who forced out Terry Francona after the 2011 season is complete. Cleveland is in the group of big overachievers and hosts the wild-card game on Wednesday night. And Boston got back into that group only by hiring John Farrell, who as the pitching coach through 2010, was the next best thing to bringing back Tito. Maybe there’s something to this notion of getting rid of the players rather than the manager. And maybe more teams should take note.
And just how bad did Houston have to be to decisively miss a number that was only 59 to begin with? We can strike a similar tone with the Mariners and Cubs.
Finally, congratulations to Clint Hurdle and the Pittsburgh Pirates. They win the honor of being baseball’s biggest overachiever. This is TheSportsNotebook’s second year of tracking this, and last year’s champion were the Baltimore Orioles. On the flip side, last year’s big loser was the Colorado Rockies, succeeded in 2013 by the White Sox.
My own picks were the very definition of mixed bag. I finished 14-14-2. It’s a downer because in 2012, I had winning records in all three sports where this mode of preseason analysis is used, albeit by narrow margins in all three.
On the positive side, I feel good about myself because I went 6-4 on the ten teams that are on the extremes, while going only 3-7 on those decided by five or less. The breaks just didn’t go my way. Of course if I were betting this for real, my bookie would be happy to let me feel good about myself while he collected his 10 percent juice and made a profit on my .500 record.
Now that the calendar says August, and MLB’s July 31 non-waiver trade deadline has passed, we can set the tone for the season’s final eight-plus weeks. While the playoff races in both the American League and National League are the most important way to do that, there’s one other race that shouldn’t be overlooked—it’s the race each team has against itself to meet their Over/Under win total from the preseason.
A staple of TheSportsNotebook’s preseason MLB coverage, as it is in the NFL and NBA, is to make a pick on each team’s win prop. Here’s an update on how the American League looks. I’ve broken each team down into four categories.
If a team’s winning percentage projects out to missing the win prop by 10-plus games they’re in the Landslidecategory. It would take a serious collapse or surge to change the final result. If the range is from 5.5-9.5 games it’s listed as Solid. If you’ve got it right, you’re looking good, but it wouldn’t take anything historic for that to change. Teams whose current pace shows them within 1-5 games of the final number are Within The Margin Of Error, to borrow a phrase from political polling. And if a team is either even, or within a half-game, the betting markets are simply Dead On.
Here’s how everyone sorts out in the AL, complete with full disclosure on how TheSportsNotebook’s picks are faring…
Over: Boston, Baltimore, Cleveland
Under: Toronto, ChiSox, LAA
Comment: At the start of the year a friend and I looked at the betting odds for teams to win the AL East and saw both the Red Sox & Orioles at 8-1, and figured the wisest wagering strategy would be to simply take both of them. That’s looking pretty good right now.
Whether Baltimore makes the playoffs or not, the fact that their 89-win pace is beating the market by ten games shows how much doubt Buck Showalter and his troops have played through after the miracle turnaround in the 2012 season.
And guess who the biggest disappointment is? It’s not the Blue Jays or Angels. Nope, the White Sox are missing the number in the wrong direction by a bigger number than anyone in all of baseball. It’s for this reason that I really like this measuring stick. I believe we let teams like Chicago off the hook too easily—the fact they weren’t expected to be playoff contenders (their preseason number was 80.5) isn’t a reason to go completely in the tank, at 61.5.
If you’re a White Sox fan, tell me you wouldn’t feel differently about this season if you could turn on the TV set each night knowing you had a 50/50 chance at winning, and could at least dream of the playoffs.
For the record, Boston’s 14-game cushion on the number is the largest in the American League, though not all of baseball. Although I suppose anyone who remembers 1978, knows the Red Sox can blow a 14-game lead after the All-Star break.
TheSportsNotebook is 4-2 on these teams, misfiring on Tito’s Tribe and Chicago.
Over: Tampa Bay, Oakland
Comment: Tampa & Oakland are within a half-game of moving into the landslide category. It would be shocking if either goes under, with the Rays only needing to win 87 games, and the A’s shooting for 85. TheSportsNotebook had the Over in both cases, moving me to 6-2 on teams who look good.
MARGIN OF ERROR
Over: Kansas City, Texas
Under: NY Yanks, Houston, Seattle
Comment: Even though Houston’s number was only 59, their current win pace of 54 games has them missing by more than any other team in this group. Kansas City’s 4 ½ ahead of the 78.5 win pace Vegas gave them credit for, and everyone else is within three. For the record, the Yankees need to win 87 games to go Over.
TheSportsNotebook’s showing here is 3-2, and two of the teams I’ve got right are the Astros and Royals, where the margin is strongest. Hopefully at least three of these five battleground states pull through on Election Day.
DEAD ON: Minnesota & Detroit
Comment: The Tigers’ recent hot streak pushed them to a 93-win pace. That would give them the Over on their 92.5 number, although my projections round up. The same goes for Minnesota, who needs to reach 69 wins.
Even though I picked Detroit to win the World Series, I went Under. This seeming contradiction can be explained by the difference in betting strategies. When you pick the league as a whole, you take some chances—in this case that the Tiger bullpen would come through.
When you pick Over/Unders you stay cognizant of how far a team might slip—in this case, I felt if things didn’t work out for Detroit they could slide to the mid-high 80s, a pace they were on most of the year. Whereas when a number is 92.5, there’s not a lot of room to go higher.
The American League side of this has worked out well, with my projected record at 9-4-2, and the bulk of the wins coming on teams whose positions look more secure. Lest this come off as bragging, my National League picks were much more mediocre, at 6-6-3. In that light, please click here to read the National League win prop landscape.
The Cincinnati Reds and the Pittsburgh Pirates, natural geographic rivals and playoff sparring partners in the 1970s, were each in last year’s NL Central race into August. They went in opposite directions, as the Reds blew away the division and the Pirates collapsed and remained in search of their first winning season since 1992. Today we’ll take a look at both teams, and continue the pattern of TheSportsNotebook’s MLB coverage and assess each team’s chances against their Over/Under win projection posted in Las Vegas.
Cincinnati is coming off a playoff disappointment. They lost three straight games at home to San Francisco, any one of which would have put them in the National League Championship Series. But there was no small amount of bad luck involved—ace pitcher Johnny Cueto was injured very early in Game 1 and unable to pitch in the series.
Cueto should have won the Cy Young Award last season and he anchors a good pitching staff that includes a solid #2 in Mat Latos, steady innings-eating veteran Bronson Arroyo, and up-and-comer Homer Bailey. This staff looks respectable enough on the surface, and when you consider they pitch in one of the most hitter-friendly parks in baseball, they look even better.
Manager Dusty Baker made a wise decision to keep closer Aroldis Chapman in the bullpen, rather than convert him to a starter—a path that has been nothing but disaster for pitchers like Joba Chamberlain, Daniel Bard and Neftali Feliz, and I frankly don’t even know why the Reds even toyed with the idea this spring, but at least they came to their senses. The pen in front of Chapman is led by Jonathan Broxton, who can also close, and a collection of respectable middle relievers like Sean Marshall and Jose Arredondo.
Joey Votto leads the lineup and the first baseman is reliable for an on-base percentage over .400, a slugging percentage in the high .500s (and perhaps over .600) and to be in the MVP conversation, so long as he’s healthy. He missed a couple months last year and it speaks well to the Reds’ depth that they pulled away in the NL Central race with Votto sidelined. The outfield has quality hitters at each spot in Ryan Ludwick, Shin-Soo Choo and Jay Bruce. Todd Frazier will have the third base job to himself with the departure of Scott Rolen, and has a proven ability to hit for power.
I’m not all that sold on the capabilities of second baseman Brandon Phillips. He had a career year back in 2011, but otherwise is mostly mediocre. Shortstop Zack Cozart broke into the majors last year, and needs to hit more consistently this season.
Cincinnati’s biggest weakness is a lack of players who get on base consistently, and I’m concerned about the possibility of long summer droughts offensively. I think this will be a good team and in contention throughout the year—starting pitching, a top closer and power will do that for you. But their win total is 91 and that’s a hefty number to take for a team I think will be up and down offensively. That’s why I go Under.
THE PROBLEMS IN PITTSBURGH
The collapse of the Pirates in September was a big free-fall and I’m not sure that the Buccos can get back up. I like their addition of Francisco Liriano to the starting rotation—he’s still only 29 and has time to save his career, but this is also a classic small-market move, of having to bet on a reclamation project. A.J. Burnett pitched well last season, but both he and Wandy Rodriguez are getting older. James McDonald is the pitcher I want to see really step up. He’s had a couple years in the low 4s with his ERA and he has the talent to make the next step and be a true horse.
But even if the pitching can keep the team in games through six innings, they’re still going to have to score and they’re still going to have finish games. I don’t see much reason for optimism on either count. Joel Hanrahan was dealt to Boston and the closer’s job is now Jason Grilli’s, who’s done nothing to suggest he can handle the role. And if he does, the depth in the pen took a hit with Grilli’s promotion.
Andrew McCutchen remains as good a player as there is in baseball, excelling in all phases, including defense out in centerfield. But he wore down last year because of a lack of help. Where’s the help coming from this year? Russell Martin can provide leadership behind the plate, but he didn’t hit in the Yankee lineup and he’s not about to start here. Garrett Jones and Pedro Alvarez give you home runs at the corner infield spots, but don’t get on base. Travis Snider was a nice pickup to play right field and at age 25, has an upside, and any hope for real offensive support has to start here.
I like this team, and after nine years living in Pittsburgh, I’d love to see PNC Park rocking in early October on a crisp fall night on the Allegheny River. But I don’t see it happening. Even with the win total a modest 77.5, I’m still taking the Under.
The baseball teams in the city of Los Angeles have been spending big over two consecutive offseasons, and the Dodgers and Angels have emerged as early favorites to reach the World Series. The oddsmakers have placed both teams at 7-1 to win it all, numbers challenged only by Detroit and Washington. Is the Hollywood Hype justified?
Are the Dodgers and Angels set to create an All-LA World Series and end the sports malaise that disappointing showings by the Lakers and USC football (not to mention last year’s stretch failings from the two baseball teams) have created? TheSportsNotebook’s MLB coverage continues spring training with a look at the two monied favorites from the City of Angels.
LA Angels: You read and hear the positives from the rest of the sports media, and I don’t dispute the star power that exists on this team. But I think the flaws the Angels have below the glittering surface are being too easily passed over as everyone salivates over a lineup with Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton at its heart.
Let’s start with Pujols himself. It’s easy to look at his 30-home run season and .516 slugging percentage and tell yourself that if Albert did this in a year when he had a terrible first month, what he’s going to now that he’s settled into his new home. I get that. But Pujols’ lower-than-normal numbers to end the year weren’t just the result of his awful April. It’s a continuing pattern. His on-base percentage has gone down four straight years. The slugging percentage is down three straight years. Albert is 33-years-old, so it’s not like this is coming out of nowhere.
Now let’s move to Mike Trout. You don’t have to knock the kid to say he’s unlikely to repeat his .399/.564 effort in on-base percentage and slugging, and the focus of spring training are how he’s put on some extra weight, isn’t happy about being shifted to left field and got a raw deal on his contract, still in the exclusive control of the club in this early part of his career. Designated hitter Mark Trumbo is a great power hitter, but a classic slugger from the old school, who doesn’t hit for average or take walks. In other words, a drag on the lineup when he’s not going deep. Howie Kendrick has had bad years two of the last three seasons, Erick Aybar hasn’t been a good offensive player since 2009 because he doesn’t take walks and Alberto Callaspo doesn’t offer any power at the third base spot, and even his contact hitting is suspect.
The starting pitching has similar questions. The Angels made a nice move in picking up 26-year-old Tommy Hanson, but while I like the chance they took, it does have to be acknowledged that Hanson has never matched the promise of his ’09 rookie campaign when he went 11-4 with a 2.89 ERA. Last year’s ERA was 4.48 and that was with Atlanta against DH-less lineups. Joe Blanton has been brought in as the fifth starter, but he hasn’t a good season in several years and has started to become injury-prone. Finally, the bullpen was a huge problem in 2012, and new closer Ryan Madson has had some setbacks in his recovery from Tommy John surgery and is not a sure thing to be ready for Opening Day.
None of this sounds like a World Series favorite. Now let’s acknowledge this team’s very real strengths. Jered Weaver is good for 30-plus starts and a five-year track record tells us he’ll at least be a good, solid starter and might make a Cy Young push. C.J. Wilson and Jason Vargas have similar levels of reliability and performance appropriate to the #2 and #4 spots in the rotation they both occupy. Hanson’s upside is still very real. The bullpen has a lot of depth, including the addition of Sean Burnett in setup, an area that was a problem all of last year and Ernesto Frieri, the one bright spot in the ’12 relief corps. I don’t think the Angels will have the same problems at the end of games even if they to survive without Madson.
And then there’s that whole Pujols-Hamilton hitting back-to-back. For all the grief Hamilton took at the end of last season in Texas, he ended up with a .354/.577 stat line and hit 43 home runs. All of those numbers were improvements on his 2011 season. He can certainly keep it rolling, Pujols could nudge his numbers back up and when these guys are hot, no pitching staff in the world will slow them down. Let’s also not forget the star in the dugout and that’s manager Mike Scoscia. If there’s one guy you’d want to try and solve depth problems, this would be the man to pick.
What it ultimately comes down to is that I can see the scenario where the Angels win the World Series. But I can also see the scenario where they win 84 games and do nothing more than tantalize with some hot streaks when Pujols and Hamilton are in rhythm. And it’s the latter scenario that’s not being focused on enough.
LA Dodgers: The Dodgers are the exact opposite of the Angels—they have depth galore, and while they’ve gotten headlines for their star-shopping, the city’s National League team has shown more attention—or least more money—when it comes to adding some veteran depth.
The star power starts with the pitching and Clayton Kershaw. It’s hard to believe the lefty is only 24 years old. We already know he’s good for 200-plus innings and a sub-3.00 ERA. It’s just a question of whether he wins another Cy Young. Zack Greinke is somewhat overrated and overpaid—his only ace-caliber year has been the ’09 Cy Young season in Kansas City. But even at career norms, Greinke is a reliable #2 and the mere fact we can utter the phrase “Cy Young season in Kansas City” tells us enough about how good the 29-year-old really can be. Josh Beckett has had two bad years in the last three and is 32-years-old, but the pressure is no longer on him to be the ace and if this team gets to October, is there anyone else you want on the mound?
Adrian Gonzalez was the centerpiece of the big August trade with Boston and he needs a bounceback year. Gonzalez slugged under .500 for the first time in his career. He needs to find the power stroke and centerfielder Matt Kemp needs to keep his hamstrings healthy. If he stays in the lineup, a Kemp-Gonzalez duo will be almost as good as it gets—just not quite as good as Pujols-Hamilton.
But the Dodgers have the quality depth in the lineup and that includes depth among the top players. Andre Ethier may not be slugging .500-plus anymore like his halcyon days of 2008-09, but the rightfielder is still a very complete offensive player. Hanley Ramirez has had two off years, but his power started to come back last year, with 24 home runs, and if he can bring the OBP along with it, the Dodgers have four potential stars. The longshot will be if Carl Crawford can get himself healthy, something that got another setback this week with reports that the left fielder won’t be ready for Opening Day.
Where I’m really impressed with the Dodgers is their stockpiling of veterans who will know their roles. I’m talking about someone like a Jerry Hairston, who can play literally any position on the diamond. Or Skip Schumaker, a quality infielder from St. Louis’ 2011 World Series champs who can either push Mark Ellis for the starting second base job or fill in at any other spot. Nick Punto struggled in Boston last year, but the 36-year-old had a .388 OBP in part-time duty with St. Louis the year before. To the list of vets with rings on their fingers, let’s add Juan Uribe, who won in 2005 with the White Sox and 2010 with the Giants. All of these are players who can help off the bench and aren’t going to gripe about playing time.
I also like the bullpen. There’s no flashy names, but I think Brandon League will work out as the closer. He had 37 saves in 2011 with Seattle. If League is…well, out of his league, just give the job back to Kenley Jansen who notched 25 saves a year ago. Javy Guerra, only 27-years-old, has had consecutive good years in setup work. Don Mattingly also has three veterans—Matt Guerrier, J.P. Howell and Ronnie Belisario, who fit the classic mold of relievers who can go almost any direction. If even one of them comes up with a good year, the Dodgers have a pen that can go all the way.
In short, I like this Dodger team. Whether I like them enough to justify the odds they’re getting is another question and final predictions won’t come until the morning of Opening Day. But for now let’s focus in on the Over/Under win projections for both teams in Las Vegas.
The Angels are set at 92.5, with the Dodgers a half-win behind at 92. I’m going Under with the Angels. I see them falling anywhere from 84-95 wins and that’s just a lot more room on the Under side. The Dodgers are very tough—I might like them, but this is a very tight number. Oddsmakers make it tough to bet favorably on a trendy team, and the Magic Johnson-owned Dodgers are certainly that. I have to lean Under by a hair.