Betting on futures is enticing because of the arbitrage opportunities it provides.
If the media is weaving a certain narrative or giving excess exposure to a team, it will affect the wagers placed in futures betting. Moreover, bettors tend to overreact to early season results and will jump ship from teams that struggle while backing the hot hand to open the season. Since Vegas’ aim is to garner equal interest on either side of a bet, they will lower the odds of a team that is attracting significant betting attention while raising the odds of one that isn’t.
The end result is that futures odds can deviate significantly from the true chances of a team winning. For instance, let’s compare the FanGraphs projected World Series odds compared to Bovada for the four competitive NL East teams as of May 8th.
|Team||FG WS %||BV WS Odds||BV WS %|
Bovada’s odds give the Phillies a four-times higher likelihood of winning the World Series as the Nationals, yet FanGraphs believes the Nationals are the better bet. Meanwhile, the Mets, who FanGraphs deems as four times less likely to win than Washington, possess lower odds on Bovada.
Projecting World Series winners is an inherently fickle task, and every source will have their own opinion. However, since Vegas is constantly updating their lines to counter the groupthink of the betting populace, while FanGraphs is mainly interested in developing an accurate prediction model, I will trust the odds of the latter over the former.
Scenarios like this occur quite frequently and allow the analytical sports gambler to lock in advantageous odds on certain bets. Let’s explore the teams with the best value World Series futures bets.
Washington Nationals (40-1): This is the most glaring betting opportunity. Traditional media outlets are down on the Nationals because they lost Bryce Harper to the Phillies. But they more than made up for that loss by adding budding ace Patrick Corbin to their rotation, whose 5.9 fWAR in 2018 was over two wins better than Harper’s.
Bettors are also fading the Nationals because of a 14-21 start to 2019 along with a weak finish to 2018. However, we’re barely 20% through the MLB season and few accurate conclusions can be mustered from a team’s record at this point, especially given the injuries Washington has dealt with. Moreover, the Nationals’ Pythagorean record in 2018 was 90-72, eight games better than their actual 82-80 finish, indicating that the true talent of the team is better than the consensus believes.
Outside of losing Harper, the Nationals are bringing back all of their best players, many of whom are young with significant room to grow. While there aren’t a lot of name brand names, few teams possess the offensive balance of a healthy Nationals lineup, with every regular producing at an above average rate offensively for their position. None of the injuries to Juan Soto, Trea Turner, and Anthony Rendon are deemed overly serious and each is expected back in the coming weeks.
FanGraphs pegs Washington’s playoff likelihood at 50%, the same as Philadelphia and higher than any other NL East team. Considering Washington’s rotation is headlined by Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin, they could do significant damage in October if they make it. At 40-1 odds, that’s an enticing bet.
FanGraphs WS %: 5.1%
Bovada WS %: 2.5%
Arb Ratio: 2.0
Cleveland Indians (25-1): I initially had to hold my nose on this one given that I am not a fan of the spendthrift ways of Indians ownership. But the Indians’ odds have become favorable enough at 25-1 to make them a viable betting option. While everyone is lauding the hot start of the Minnesota Twins, who currently possess 16-1 odds, Cleveland is still the smarter bet to go all the way.
Consider that they have managed a decent 18-16 start largely without the services of Francisco Lindor, who was on the shelf with a calf strain to start the year, and Mike Clevinger, who has been shut down since his second start of the season. Their offense has also been weighed down by a protracted slump from Jose Ramirez, who is beginning to show signs of life. Don’t be surprised if the Indians make a move at the deadline to bolster their offense, similar to the acquisition of Josh Donaldson last season.
But the bread and butter of this team is their pitching, with arguably four of the top 20 starters in baseball in Clevinger, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, and Corey Kluber. Few teams will be able to compete with that cavalry come the postseason.
FanGraphs currently gives the Indians 76% odds at making the playoffs and 6.9% of winning the World Series. The equivalent readings for the Twins are 80% and 5.1%, yet their Bovada futures payout is significantly lower than Cleveland’s.
FanGraphs WS %: 6.9%
Bovada WS %: 4.0%
Arb Ratio: 1.7
Oakland Athletics (100-1): If you want a higher yielding bet opportunity then look no further than the Oakland Athletics. While both Bovada and FanGraphs hate the chances of the Athletics even making the playoffs, I believe both are significantly undervaluing the prospects of a team that finished with 97 wins in 2018.
The Athletics have returned largely the same lineup in 2019, yet they are off to a middling 16-21 start and sit last in the AL West. The central reason for this is bad luck, as the Athletics have significantly underperformed their xStats. Another problem has been injuries, as first baseman Matt Olson has missed the first six weeks with a broken hamate bone while pitching prospect Jesus Luzardo was shut down in spring training with shoulder issues. Olson will return this week while Luzardo could begin pitching in the minors this month and earn a mid-June call-up.
The biggest impediment to the Athletics World Series odds is the Houston Astros, who are given 98% odds of winning the division by FanGraphs. As a result, the Athletics will need to chart their path through one of the two Wild Card spots. Given the competition occurring between the Rays, Yankees, and Red Sox in the AL East, along with the revival of the Twins, it’s likely that the Athletics will need to win 90 games for a spot in the one-game Wild Card playoff.
That entails a 74-51 record for the rest of the reason. Fortunately, Oakland did something similar last year, overcoming 3% playoff odds in mid-June to take the AL by storm en route to a 97-win season. Oakland still boasts an extremely well-rounded offense and look to finally have a legitimate top-end starter in Frankie Montas. Some better luck, along with the return and promotion of Jesus Luzardo and potentially a deadline pitching acquisition, could push this team into a playoff spot. At 100-1 odds you have little to lose and a lot to gain.
FanGraphs WS %: 0.2%
Bovada WS %: 1.0%
Arb Ratio: 0.2