2017 MLB Playoffs: Finding the Best Betting Value

The 2017 MLB playoffs are here and bettors could have a money-making opportunity on their hands. Last week, we set our own odds on the entirety of the MLB postseason and end-of-year awards. Today the focus is on finding the best value at online sportsbooks. (If you’re in search of a good one, we keep an up-to-date list of the best online sports-betting sites.)

Going into the postseason last year, the Cubs were the favorite to win it all, and then dramatically took the title; but over the past 15 years, the bracket has rarely played out as expected. Case in point: six Wild Card teams have won the World Series in that span. Only one Wild Card has won it all since 2012, though, when the Wild Card system was amended to pit the top two non-division winners in each league against each other in a one-game, winner-take-all, play-in game. It is really hard to put cash on a team that has to win a 50/50 game just to reach the final eight teams. Let’s look at some of the division-winners and find a more worthwhile bet.


2017 MLB Playoffs: Finding The Best Value

The Favorite

Cleveland Indians: 33/10

Last season, the Tribe got as far as you can without winning a championship, dropping Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, 8-7, in extra innings. Though they struggled a little early this year, the hangover was officially cured by a record-setting 22-game win streak during the second half. Cleveland’s 102 wins were the most in the American League, and second only to the Dodgers (104) overall. Their +254 run differential was first in the majors, 58 runs better than second-place Houston. While they don’t exactly have weaknesses, pitching is their biggest strength; they lead the MLB in team ERA (3.30) and sit third in opponent batting average (.236). Corey Kluber is the favorite to win the CY Young Award; Andrew Miller does it all out of the bullpen; and closer Cody Allen is one of 12 Cleveland pitchers to average over ten strikeouts per nine innings.

This team is locked and loaded, but at roughly 3/1, they may not be the best value.

Top Challengers

Los Angeles Dodgers: 19/5

The Dodgers’ phenomenal 2016 season has been overshadowed by Cleveland’s recent dominance. Over the entire 162-game slate, LA had the most wins (104), the second-best ERA (3.38), the best opponent batting average (.228) and an NL-best +190 scoring differential. Depending on how you judge hitting, LA can goes from average (runs scored), to mediocre (batting average), to upper-echelon (on-base percentage). Though his postseason track-record is mixed, Clayton Kershaw is the most dominant pitcher of this generation, and he leads a staff that is so deep that Alex Wood (16 wins, 2.72 ERA) had to “prove himself” down the stretch to earn a spot in the playoff rotation. Rich Hill and Yu Darvish will start the second and third postseason games.

Though LA’s pitching gets most of the press, they had six players hit 21 or more homers this year, including rookie Cody Bellinger, who had a team-leading 39. They are appropriately the second choice in futures betting.

Houston Astros: 9/2

One of three teams to win 100 games, Houston’s 101 victories were just one fewer than the Tribe, and three less than the Dodgers. Though the Astros’ pitching is serviceable, they win with their bats. Their team ERA of 4.12 ranked 11th overall, and opponents hit .240 against Astro pitching, tied for sixth overall. However, on the mound, Houston will go as far as Justin Verlander takes them. Acquired from the Tigers a month ago, the former AL MVP and six-time All Star went 5-0 and gave up just four runs on 17 hits in 34 innings with his new team. By adding an ace, Dallas Keuchel slides into a new role as a solid second starter, while Brad Peacock and Collin McHugh become reasonable back-of-the-rotation options.

Houston’s lineup score an MLB-best 896 runs and led the sport in slugging percentage and OPS by a large margin. The Astros have few weaknesses in a lineup that includes Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer, Marwin Gonzalez, Alex Bregman, Josh Reddick, and Yuli Gurriel, i.e. seven players with an offensive WAR over 3.0. If you believe in Verlander, you should think long and hard about Houston.

Longshot

Chicago Cubs: 31/4

Apologies to the Nationals (33/4), Red Sox (17/2), and the Wild Card teams; your path is awfully difficult and your squads have problems.

The Nats may or may not have a healthy Max Scherzer, who was removed from his last regular-season start, and third starter Gio Gonzalez has been awful down the stretch. Throw in their awful postseason track record and the fact that they’d have to beat the Cubs and (likely) Dodgers just to reach the World Series, and I’m officially out on Washington.

Boston’s hitting does not stack up, and unlike the Dodgers, their pitching is not going to make up the deficit. They are not deep enough on the mound after Chris Sale: Drew Pomeranz is solid but without a playoff track record, and Eduardo Rodriguez and Rick Porcello are big-league average. David Price, out for much of the year due to injury, could be an X-factor out of the bullpen, but getting to him with the lead may be dicey.

As previously mentioned, the Yankees and Diamondbacks (the favorites in the AL and NL Wild Card games, respectively) have to survive a one-game playoff just to move on, and will have used their top starters to get to the Division Series. Even if they reach that point, they are on the road and simply not worth a bet.

That brings us to the best value on the board: the defending champion Cubs. Chicago benefited from a weak division that allowed them to sleepwalk through early portions of the year. When it was all said and done, they easily won the NL Central, were fourth in the MLB in opponent batting average (.238), and finished fourth in runs scored (822).

Jake Arrieta’s hamstring is a potential problem. Though Jon Lester, Jose Quintana, and Kyle Hendricks are a solid trio in the startig rotation, Arrieta needs to be at his best for the Cubs to make a deep run. That said, Arrieta has a little time and is one of the best conditioned athletes in the game. He won’t pitch until Game 3 of the NLDS, which will be the Cubs’ first home playoff game since winning the World Series. His likely opponent is the struggling Gonzalez. Even if the Nationals and Cubs split their first two games, it will be hard to bet on Washington in Game 3. As for bats, Chicago has plenty of young talent. Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, and Anthony Rizzo are stars, and creative manager Joe Maddon has plenty of other options too.

The Bet

Jon Lester Delivers (By: By Arturo Pardavila III from Hoboken, NJ, USA [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

Having championship pedigree and a huge home-field advantage counts, particularly when you can get a good price. That’s the scenario for the Cubs, who are favored to eliminate the Nationals in the NLDS even though they’ll have to play three of five in DC. The price on the Indians is just too short given the strength of the Astros.