Best Futures Bets for the 2020 MLB Season
The MLB has crept up and now will start in less than a week. With a beginning in sight, bettors should finally feel confident the season will at least start, which means wagering on futures is officially a viable option for those who were scared COVID-19 would ruin everything. Baseball leagues have been playing without issue all over the world to this point so there is international precedent for this sport to work.
A 60-game season is invetiably going to lead to some weird, outlier outcomes in a sport that is already built on volatility. In theory, bettors want to be focusing on longshots because the odds of them coming through are enhanced by the shortened season, as it allows less time for the cream to rise to the top. Here are some of the best and sharpest futures bets as identified by Ricky Sanders for the 2020 season:
Cleveland Indians to Win AL Central +260
In a 60-game season, strength of schedule is going to prove more important than ever before, as there will be 37.5-percent of the normal number of games played in 2020. Every game is going to mean much more than ever before and there are only a limited number of truly hopeless teams in the league. Fortunately for the Indians, the AL Central features two of those teams, as the Tigers and Royals are laughingstocks as currently constituted. According to Roster Resource depth charts, Jordan Zimmermann (DET), Ivan Nova (DET) and Spencer Turnbull (DET) round out the Tigers pitching rotation, and that is assuming Michael Fulmer (DET) can return healthy. As for the Royals, Jakob Junis (KC), Mike Montgomery (KC), Jorge Lopez (KC) and Glenn Sparkman (KC) are going to toe the mound four out of five days, so how can any faith be put in that rotation either? Zips projections expect every single starter in the Royals rotation to post an ERA of 4.75 or worse (and three of the Tigers starters for an ERA of at least 4.55).
Per FantasyPros.com, the Indians will face teams that produced a cumulative 4.70 ERA and 1.39 WHIP last year, which both rank as the most favorable hitting schedules of any team (based on last season’s numbers). Other than the Indians being able to stomp the worst teams, the White Sox recently lost some luster with Michael Kopech (CWS) deciding to sit out the season due to anxiety. His presence towards the end of the year would have given the back of the rotation a legitimate boost but that possibility no longer exists. That leaves the favorite Twins whose “ace,” Jose Berrios (MIN), projects for a 4.36 ERA according to Zips. By comparison, the Indians top three starters all project for sub-4.00 ERAs, so the Indians clearly possess the top rotation in the division. In order for the Indians to compete, they will need Jose Ramirez (CLE) to be the Ramirez of old, and that guy returned in the second half last year: .441 wOBA, .412 ISO, 176 wRC+ and .327/.365/.739 slash line. All-around, especially on the heels of their strong 1-2-3 in the rotation, the Indians are clearly one of the best few teams in the division and it is not farfetched to think they can eke out a win in the AL Central in a 60-game sample.
San Diego Padres to Make Playoffs +320
Three division winners and two wild card teams will make the playoffs from each league in the 2020 season and the San Diego Padres possess better than the implied 23.8-percent chance to make the playoffs. Unlike the case with the Indians, schedule analysis alone is not too kind to the Padres, although it should be noted the Giants are priced in the betting markets as the second worst team in the National League and the Rockies are likely overrated. How are the Rockies going to compete with a starting rotation that consists of names like Kyle Freeland (COL), Antonio Senzatela (COL) and Jeff Hoffman (COL) and a bullpen headlined by the likes of Wade Davis (COL) and Scott Oberg (COL)? Still, the strongest case for the Padres is the Padres roster itself as it is loaded with high-upside individuals everywhere.
Starting with the rotation, Garrett Richards (SD) and Dinelson Lamet (SD) are true wildcards, but each has put their potential on display previously. For his career, Richards owns a 3.64 FIP, 3.70 xFIP and 3.85 SIERA, so last year’s three starts with poor numbers following an extended layoff can be taken with a grain of salt. In intrasquad games, Richards has looked back, with beat writers noting he looks “good,” and his breaking ball passes the eye test. Lamet has always been a pitcher with SP1 upside if he were to be able to hone his control as he has struck out over 30-percent of opposing hitters in his 35 career starts. Just to touch on the bullpen, Kirby Yates (SD) is arguably the most dominant reliever in all of baseball (41.6-percent K rate, 2.05 SIERA last year) and setup man Emilio Pagan (SD) posted similarly dominant numbers (36.0-percent K rate, 2.54 SIERA) in his own right.
The lineup added Tommy Pham (SD) and Trent Grisham (SD) to the mix and may feature a secret weapon: Francisco Mejia (SD). Over the second half of the 2020 season, Mejia quietly produced a .363 wOBA, .206 ISO, 127 wRC+ and .305/.355/.511 slash line while cutting down on his K rate (down almost four full percentage points versus the first half). Add in the potential for Manny Machado (SD) to build upon his first season in San Diego and the fact Fernando Tatis Jr. (SD) is a young stud atop the lineup and it is easy to see the potential with this team. In reality, this team probably has closer to a one in three chance to make the playoffs and they are priced like they have less than a one in four chance. Take that value.
Jose Ramirez AL MVP +2500
This section will remain short and sweet as it is essentially a repeat of the Indians section. Only seven teams are listed as +6500 or higher odds teams to win their respective divisions and the Indians will play those teams in a whopping 26 of their total 60 games:
Six games versus the Pirates
10 games versus the Royals
10 games versus the Tigers
Like the Royals and Tigers, the Pirates are lacking in the pitching department, with every starting being projected for a 4.26 ERA or higher (per Zips), and three of them featuring 4.76-plus ERA projections. Amongst hitters with at least 150 plate appearances in the second half, only Alex Bregman (HOU), Nelson Cruz (MIN) and Ketel Marte (ARI) edged him out in terms of wOBA and wRC+. The Astros face a similarly favorable schedule but there is more uncertainty around Bregman’s situation simply because the team knew what pitches were coming when drums were being banged on. Essentially, there is a potential for a drop-off in production from players in the lineup if they are unsure what pitches are coming, and Bregman is fourth in AL MVP odds (so not quite the same level of underdog). Ramirez is one year removed from 39 homers, 105 RBI and 34 steals and his first half struggles last year no doubt held him back from his full potential last season (he legit looked lost at the plate for a while). If shooting for the stars, Ramirez is a player that has finished top three in MVP voting twice in the last three years, and is, for some reason, being priced like a true longshot.
Los Angeles Dodgers to Win 2020 World Series +380
Longshots are fun and all, but when it comes down to who will be there in the end, it still makes sense to gamble on the clear best team. Other than being loaded with talent on offense, the starting rotation and in the bullpen but they are deep in all three aspects as well. Chris Taylor (LAD) could start for multiple other teams and Enrique Hernandez (LAD)/Austin Barnes (LAD) can be solid contributors in their own right (Hernandez owns a career .351 wOBA, 123 wRC+ in the split against left-handed pitching and Barnes ranks seventh in defensive runs saved amongst catchers since the start of the 2018 season). Even with David Price (LAD) opting out of the season, Ross Stripling (LAD) will simply step into the fifth starting pitcher role and Dustin May (LAD)/Tony Gonsolin (LAD) can fill-in if/when an injury/COVID-19 occurs.
The back end of the bullpen is covered too if Kenley Jansen (LAD) is slowed by after-effects of COVID-19 as Pedro Baez (LAD) is a career 3.54 SIERA pitcher, Blake Treinen (LAD) is a former dominant closer and Brudsar Graterol (LAD) has one of the most electric arms of all prospects. Yes, this team is uniquely-equipped to deal with adversity, which they are already dealing with considering the Price sitting out news, which is why they are the clear favorites to win it all to me.