Batter's Box Roundtable - Beating the House
Thursday, March 03 2005 @ 12:44 PM EST
Contributed by: Pepper Moffatt
Spring training is the time of year where you hear a ton of projections on what will happen in the upcoming season. Will Bonds hit 50 home runs? Can the Red Sox repeat? Is this the year the Braves won't win the NL East? These projections are all over the place: In fantasy baseball magazines, websites such as ESPN.com and Baseball Prospectus, and newspapers such as USA Today. Often the most accurate predictions come from gambling lines. We look at over/under lines for 2005 team wins and discuss which teams we think Vegas is overrating, and which teams aren't getting enough credit from the gambling community.
I took the over/under lines from one of the major off-shore gambling houses. Pistol and I have noticed that the over/under lines are slightly different from establishment to establishment, so if you're considering making a "real" wager, it's best to shop around and find the most favourable line.
I asked the Batter's Box roster to pick four "OVER" teams - teams which the market is undervaluing, and four "UNDER" teams - teams that will likely fall short of the market's expectations. Craig B made the excellent observation that the market predicts the average team will win just under 82 games, where in reality an average team wins 80.7 games in a season (since not every team will play a full 162 games due to rainouts, etc.) This is because fans often overestimate the chances of their favourite teams and bet OVER on them, thus raising their lines. Not surprisingly, we all pick the Jays to finish OVER. A hometown bias or are the Jays really under valued? We'll let you decide.
We'll look at the predicted win totals division-by-division, starting with the AL East, which the markets predict will be the strongest division in baseball:
1. Yankees - 102
2. Red Sox - 96
3. Orioles - 70.5
4. Devil Rays - 70.5
5. Blue Jays - 69.5
AVERAGE TEAM - 83.7
Not surprisingly, the Batter's Box roster thinks the Yankees are overvalued and the Jays undervalued.
NEW YORK YANKEES
- Mike Green - UNDER 102 - They're old, their defence is bad and getting worse, their Pythagorean projection for last year was 89 wins...paraphrasing Max Webster, you can only drive down Rivera Road so many times.
- Dave Till - UNDER 102 - They're going to spend more on liniment for aging limbs than some teams spend on their middle infield.
- Craig Burley - UNDER 102 - Because 102 is stupid as an over/under number in the first place, their Pythag was an underwhelming 89-73, and they have a terrible bench for such a rich team, combined with an old lineup that will suffer injuries.
- Pistol - UNDER 102 - The Yankees' Pythagoras last year was 89 wins. They aren't 13 wins better than that now.
- Pepper Moffatt - UNDER 102 - I don't think this is going to be the cakewalk everyone thinks it is. After all, the Yankees have won 103, 101, and 101 games in the last 3 seasons and they did just add Randy Johnson. The problem with an over/under level this high is there's no margin for error. I think it's far more likely that the Yankees will "only" win 92 games than it is for them to win 112. So I'm going with under as well.
- Ryan01 - UNDER 102 - I just don't get this. Yeah the Yanks are still good, but that's a real high number.
- Mick Doherty - UNDER 102 - They'll win the division, but 102 is a lot for an old team.
- Rob - UNDER 102 - 'cause all the cool kids are doing it.
- Mike D - NO PICK - I don't think the Yankees and Red Sox are obvious unders.
- Thomas - UNDER 102 - I'm cool, too. And seriously, they're old.
BOSTON RED SOX
- Dave Till - UNDER 96 - Regression to the mean, no Pedro, no Schilling at start of season.
- Dave Till - OVER 70.5 - (But behind the Jays, neener neener). Because they have some good hitters.
- Ryan01 - OVER 70.5 - Ok, their pitching isn't going to blow anyone away but it's still a powerful offense that should keep them closer to 80 wins than 70.
TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
- Thomas - UNDER 70.5 - Jays are going to win more, Orioles will win more, the Yanks and Red Sox won't lose sustantially more, so someone has to take a beating. Cleveland and Detroit have improved, Texas is on the rise, Anaheim's a good club. Oakland won't lose substantially more. Ergo, TB will take a beating and Lou's not going to be a happy camper. And they'll also give way too many at-bats to Danny Bautista.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
- Mike Green - OVER 69.5 - This one I understand, but don't agree with...young team...somewhere between 2003 and 2004 is a more reasonable objective number (ie 76-78)...subjectively I think they'll do better than that due to a breakout from Rios.
- Dave Till - OVER 69.5 - Because I'm a homer.
- Craig Burley - OVER 69.5 - Last year's Pythag record was 71-90, and they should be improved in every facet of the game except perhaps outfield defense. Looking for a bounce-back year from Wells and Halladay alone should improve the team over '04.
- Pistol - OVER 69.5 - The Jays should get some sort of bounce back off of last season. 70 wins should be easy. 80 is within reason.
- Pepper Moffatt - OVER 69.5 - Last year we all picked the Jays to finish over 83.5 games. Boy does that look bad this year. Now we're doing it again this year. Vegas makes a killing on people overestimating how good their favourite teams are.
But 69.5 games? I've been as critical as anyone about Toronto's off-season, but this is just silly. Sure they can't hit much, but they've got great starting pitching, so they should win their fair share of 3-2 games. The only way I see the Jays being under 69.5 games is if Halladay gets hurt. I agree with Chris Karhl at Prospectus that this is a 73-75 win team, so 69.5 seems like a good buy.
- Thomas - OVER 69.5 Pepper is right about home team caveats, but again, there's no way the Jays are this bad. I'm a bit more optimistic than he is, but regardless, only another "Season from Hell" would leave us with 69 wins and we're not going to have two in a row.
- Ryan01 - OVER 69.5 - Please, please, please, let me be right on this one.
- Mick Doherty - OVER 69.5 - If only because if they don't get to 70 wins, Batter's Box might be an unbearable place to visit.
- Rob - OVER 69.5 - Insert hometown bias comment here.
- Mike D - OVER 69.5 - Book it. Take it to the bank. They really only need *one* of Wells or Halladay to bounce back, and these are not flaky, fluky players. A 2003-type success isn't out of the question.
- Gerry - OVER 69.5 - Ditto.
- Named For Hank - OVER 69.5 - They can't win the World Series in front of Dudek and Moffatt wearing Hillenbrand jerseys if they don't win more than 70 games.
Overall, the market believes the AL Central will rival the NL West as the weakest division in baseball. The Twins look to be the class of the division, with the Indians, White Sox, and Tigers fighting for second place.
1. Twins - 90
2. Indians - 83.5
3. White Sox - 82
4. Tigers - 78.5
5. Royals - 64
AVERAGE TEAM - 79.6
We had absolutely nothing to say about Kansas City, so you can infer from that we think they're really as bad as the market thinks. We don't think any of these projections are way off. We're particularly divided about how the Tigers will perform next season.
- Ryan01 - UNDER 90 There's a ton of talent there still, but I foresee a few bumps in the road for this young team.
- Mike Green - OVER 83.5 - Solid young ballclub in mediocre division...Rhodes and Millwood additions good enough to push club (along with development of young players) to high 80s.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
- Mick Doherty - UNDER 82 - I love Scooter Podsednik, but this is NOT a .500 club.
- Dave Till - UNDER 78.5 - What goes up must come down.
- Craig Burley - OVER 78.5 - This is the second-best team in the Central provided the young pitchers continue to improve, and their bullpen top three (Percival, Urbina, Farnsworth) could end up as the best in the AL. Improved in every area, and last year's Pythag record was 79-83.
- Mick Doherty - OVER 78.5 - Putting together a nice nucleus and bringing in some veterans. Not a World Series team, but .500 seems a worthy and attainable target.
- Gerry - UNDER 78.5 - Pudge is the heart and soul of the team and he has lost a ton of weight in the off-season. I look for the Plexiglass principle to hit hard here.
The Angels look to be the class of the division, according to the market. The three other teams in the AL West appear to be interchangable, though the division as a whole projects to be one of the strongest in baseball.
1. Angels - 92.5
2. Rangers - 81
3. A's - 79
3. Mariners - 79
AVERAGE TEAM - 82.9
We really like the Rangers and A's to beat their projections, while we believe the Mariners have not improved as much as the market thinks.
- Pepper Moffatt - OVER 81 - I really like the Rangers this year. They might slide a little from the 89 wins of last year, but given their terrific young offense, they should have no trouble hitting 81 wins.
- Ryan01 - OVER 81 - They're young, but with that core I don't see any reason to expect they won't stay above .500
- Mick Doherty - OVER 81 Let the Mark Teixeira, Perennial MVP candidate talk begin ... NOW!
- Mike Green - OVER 79 - Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Damian Miller for Dan Meyer, Danny Haren and Jason Kendall is not equal to 10 wins, Rich Harden will improve...they'll be around 90.
- Dave Till - OVER 79 - Because they'll find a GM somewhere who will make a bad trade with them.
- Pistol - OVER 79 - This seems like the easiest pick to me. The A's might take a step back, but it won't be by that much. I think they're at least an 85 win team.
- Pepper Moffatt - OVER 79 - It's kind of risky, seeing as the A's overhauled their entire pitching staff. But there's a lot of talent on this club and Kendall should help quite a bit.
- Thomas - OVER 79 - Everything that's been said before, and more. I disagree with Pepper. This isn't a risky pick at all (comparatively). There's no way the A's win less than 85. It's lines like this and a few others that might tempt me into betting.
- Mike D - OVER 79 - Book it. Take it to the bank. Even though I do believe the A's starting rotation will take a hit (unlike the more fervent Beane-o-philes), the A's' defence and bullpen are too good for a losing season. If the wheels come off early, Beane will act quickly to rectify.
- Gerry - OVER 79 - Ditto.
- Pistol - UNDER 79 - Beltre and Sexson improve the Mariners, just not by that much.
- Pepper Moffatt - UNDER 79 - I expect that they'll bounce back somewhat; it would be unusual for a team to drop 30 games from the previous year like Seattle did and then keep on declining. Plus they've improved themselves in the off-season. But I still think 79 games is a little optimistic given the strength of this division. I see the Mariners being similar to the Rangers prior to 2004: A decent team with a lousy record because it's in the wrong division.
- Mick Doherty - UNDER 79 - Seriously, 79 wins? In that division? Uh, no.
- Mike D - UNDER 79 - They'll regret signing Sexson rather than Delgado. Too many things have to go right here for a winning season.
- Thomas - UNDER 79 - Mick's comment was brief and accurate.
The NL East should be one of the stronger divisions in baseball next season and may end up being the one with the best pennant race as the top 4 teams have projected win totals less than 7 wins apart. Like the Royals, the Nationals appear to have little hope of finishing out of the basement.
1. Braves - 89.5
2. Marlins - 86
3. Mets - 85.5
4. Phillies - 83
5. Nationals - 69
AVERAGE TEAM - 82.6
We like the Nationals even less than the market does. Is it because a number of us are disgruntled former Expos fans, or are they really that bad?
- Dave Till - OVER 89.5 - Because Bobby Cox and Leo Mazzone keep large bags of magic pixie dust in their offices. As somebody else said, I'm going to keep picking the Braves to win until they actually lose.
- Mick Doherty - UNDER 89.5 - I know, every year ... I'm not saying they won't win the division, I'm just saying this is their least impressive club since I was still in my first job out of college.
- Rob - OVER 89.5 - It's Atlanta. Don't bet against them until they lose.
NEW YORK METS
- Rob - OVER 85.5 - They'll have a Tigers-like bounce, win a bunch, then fall back to the 70s in 2006.
- Mike D - UNDER 85.5 - Though I don't think it means the spending spree was the wrong approach if success doesn't come right now to the Mets.
- Craig Burley - OVER 83 - Just a gigantic amount of addition by subtraction, with Bowa gone, Milton gone, Todd Jones and Roberto Hernandez gone, Glanville gone... wow. The Phillies have excellent young pitchers who will get more time on the mound this year. They had a 86-76 record (and Pythag) last year and have improved in every area, and Marlon Byrd should bounce back as well. The Phillies are completely loaded - having them fourth (behind the Marlins and Mets?) is insane.
- Mick Doherty - OVER 83 - No more high-falutin' divisional aspirations and expectations -- watch them prosper.
- Mike D - UNDER 83 - Morale is not good here. They can, of course, do better than this -- but I wouldn't say they're "loaded."
- Mike Green - UNDER 69 - Bad bad ballclub...number is at least 5 wins too high, bearing in mind the quality of the divisional competion.
- Dave Till - UNDER 69 - Because that's one bud-ugly ballclub.
- Pistol - UNDER 69 - They won 67 last year, don't seem to be improved, and play in a division with 4 tough teams.
The predictions for the NL Central are stratified: No two teams are projected to be three or less games apart. The Cardinals look to win the division, but the Cubs will be in the hunt for the division title and the wild card.
1. Cardinals - 92.5
2. Cubs - 89
3. Astros - 84
4. Reds - 78
5. Pirates - 73.5
6. Brewers - 69
AVERAGE TEAM - 81.0
We believe that the Cubs are highly overrated. We're split about the other 5 teams in the division, except for the Brewers, who appear to be better than their projected 69 wins.
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
- Pepper Moffatt - OVER 92.5 - I must be insane to pick a team at 92.5 wins as an over, but I like the Cards this year. They play in a pretty weak division and should be able to collect a lot of easy wins against the 5 other teams in the division. If Mulder can stay healthy and put up good numbers this year and if they stay reasonably healthy, I don't see why they can't win 100 games.
- Mick Doherty - UNDER 92.5 - A nice club, but they're going to miss Renteria, no matter how good Cabrera is.
- Gerry - OVER 92.5 - As Moffatt said it is tough to pick a 92.5 projection and go over but the lineup is awesome, and with a full year of Larry Walker, it could be better than last year. Mulder doesn't hurt either.
- Craig Burley - UNDER 89 - How are these guys going to score any runs? They couldn't get on base last year, so they solved the problem by getting rid of Alou, who was the guy they had getting on base. And they will have pitching injuries again. Many, many pitching injuries.
- Pepper Moffatt - UNDER 89 - The Cubs are 20 games better than the Jays? These teams are pretty similar: above average starting pitching with an offense that couldn't slug their way out of a paper bag. I know they play in an easier division than the Jays, and their starters are better. But 20 games better? I don't buy it.
- Ryan01 - UNDER 89 - If the pitching stays healthy, I could look bad on this one. But the Dusty factor should keep me safe.
- Rob - UNDER 89 - Maddux is close to the end and they're giving Corey Patterson 680 PA. Prior-Wood-Zambrano will keep them close, though -- 88 wins.
- Mike D - UNDER 89 - Too high a number for this flawed club that should face stiffer competition in their division games.
- Gerry - UNDER 89 - As others have said what gets them to 89 wins? They have good pitching but it is injury prone.
- Mike Green - UNDER 84 - Will Berkman be around after the trading deadline, or will the dismantling begin?
- Thomas - OVER 84 - They'll need to lose 7 games off last year's Pyth. record to equal this mark. With full seasons from Backe and Pettitte in the rotation their pitching will likely improve this year, even if Clemens doesn't pitch as well. Chris Burke and Jason Lane will have solid seasons and as long as Biggio and Bagwell don't fall off a cliff the offence should be okay. It won't be pretty, but they'll beat it by a couple.
- Rob - UNDER 84 - Beltran and Kent are gone. Biggio and Bagwell are old. Ausmus exists.
- Pistol - UNDER 78 - Another team that greatly exceeded their Pythagoras record last year (+10). As with the Yankees, they aren't 12 wins better than last year's team.
- Ryan01 - UNDER 78 - Some solid hitters but I just don't trust that pitching staff.
- Mick Doherty - OVER 78 - Readers, meet your 2005 NL Champs.
- Mike D - OVER 69 - A pesky club, and one that should do well enough against NL also-rans to beat this number.
- Mike Green - OVER 69 - I can't understand this line at all. They pick up Carlos Lee and lose Kolb, and they've got a young team, and they're supposed to lose ground..if Capellan emerges as a good pitcher (which he very well might), the Brewers could win 85-87.
- Pistol - OVER 69 - The Brewers are a decent team, and I think the Astros and Cardinals will slip back to the pack a bit.
- Thomas - OVER 69 - Not to give away my preview, but they were an 68 win team last year according to pyth. record. This year the add J.J. Hardy to replace Craig Counsell, Damian Miller replaces Chad Moeller and Carlos Lee replaces Scott Podsednik and nobody is due for a big decline. Sheets is huge for them, but I think they'll beat 69 win a few to spare.
- Rob - OVER 69 - Hey, why not?
The market does not believe the Dodgers can make the playoffs again, as their projection puts them solidly in third place. The Giants look to win the division, though the market believes the Padres will give them a run for their money.
1. Giants - 88
2. Padres - 86.5
3. Dodgers - 83.5
4. D-Backs - 73.5
5. Rockies - 67.5
AVERAGE TEAM - 79.8
For the most part we believe that the projection for the Giants is overly optimistic, while the Dodgers look to be better than the 83.5 wins they're projected for. We can't make our minds up about the Rockies.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
- Mike Green - UNDER 88 - The number is just 3-4 too high...Barry will decline...Alou will decline...the pitching is mediocre.
- Craig Burley - UNDER 88 - Are you kidding me? This is a .425 ballclub plus Barry Bonds, who may or may not be worth 10 wins a year this time around like he has for a while. Lasy year's Pythag was 88-74, and you've got Tomko and Snow headed back to reality, Rueter's career burning out, a bad bullpen, and some seriously godawful outfield defense.
- Pepper Moffatt - UNDER 88 - I expect them to decline more than 3 games from last year. This team isn't getting any younger. Signing Vizquel doesn't help the team's average age any and signing Matheny doesn't help their offense.
- Mick Doherty - OVER 88 - I don't even think about actually betting this one, but after many years of doubting the Giants ... I believe.
- Gerry - UNDER 88 - I think Bonds will fall back this year.
SAN DIEGO PADRES
- Mick Doherty - UNDER 86.5 - The classic pre-season, everyone-overrates-someone, trendy pick to do well.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS
- Pistol - OVER 83.5 - I think the Dodgers are still the best team in the NL West. Even if they don't win the division they should remain in contention all season and have shown a willingness to make moves to improve.
- Ryan01 - OVER 83.5 - They're not quite as strong as they were but they have the resources to make some big moves at the deadline.
- Mike D - OVER 83.5 - The Dodgers have the pieces in place to contend, and Jim Tracy is the right manager for the job.
- Gerry - OVER 83.5 - DePo has been willing to take risks and I think he is optimising his team for Dodger stadium. 83.5 is a low number, and with the Giants on my under list, LA will pick up the slack.
- Craig Burley - UNDER 73.5 - Their Pythag last year was 54-108 and they managed to underperform it. Geez. Their best hitter has arm problems, their second best is coming off serious shoulder surgery, they got rid of most of their best players. Their bullpen is a disaster area and they play in Coors Field Lite.
- Thomas - UNDER 73.5 - Sexson will get injured, Russ Ortiz will be spectacularly mediocre and a bunch of no names won't do very much. This is a rotten apple.
- Craig Burley - OVER 67.5 - I think a couple of Rox are likely to have bounce-back years, but more than that, it's hard for a team with a built-in home-field advantage like Colorado's to lose a lot of games. I see them as a 70-to-75-win team, because their division is much weaker than this would predict and they have some good rookies who can't be much worse than the overrated vets they're replacing.
- Rob - UNDER 67.5 - I just don't see them doing anything.
- Gerry - UNDER 67.5 - Too many rookies.
- Named For Hank - OVER 67.5 -
The Rockies have seen Lucas' kitten illustration, printed it out and tacked it on the bulletin board and will win a couple of extra games.
Those are our picks. How about yours? What teams do you believe will outperform their projections (OVERS) and which teams do you think the market is overly optimistic about (UNDERS)?