Every year, millions, if not billions of dollars are bet by fans and analysts on their baseball teams. And while most of it is done on daily bets or World Series champions, there is another bet that I find infinitely more fascinating: the season over/under.
It’s fascinating in the same way that the price of a stock is fascinating. The number demonstrates an equilibrium determined by people who are risking their own money. The result truly represents what the expectations for that team really are. You want to know who is overrated or underrated? You want to claim someone over performed or under performed? Here is your baseline.
So let’s take a look at what gamblers say will happen in the American League this year, and throw out some gut reactions.
The AL East
Boston has become the clear favorite, and is supposed to be 6.5 games better than they were last year. Supporters will quickly point out how they acquired Adrian Gonzalez and signed Carl Crawford this offseason, but people forget that they lost Victor Martinez and Adrian Beltre this winter, too. But Boston’s struggles last year were largely a result of just how banged up that team was. That number seems about right. Pass.
I'm supposed to believe the Yankees are going to fade 3.5 games just because they're a little older and Andy Pettitte retired? That's reasonable, except that
a) they scored enough runs to be a 98 win team and
b) some of their best hitters - Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodrigurez and Derek Jeter - all had pretty crummy years.
I don't think that happens again. I find it morally reprehensible to bet on the Yankees, but if I didn’t have a soul, I’d take the over.
Tampa Bay won 96 games last year and was good enough to win 98. And yet both Vegas and PECOTA (a statistically-based projection that BaseballProspectus.com uses) have them winning just 84 this year? They lost a lot this offseason, but they didn't lose that much. Over.
Baltimore only won 66 games last year, and they were actually worse than that. Vegas anticipates a 10 game jump, and PECOTA goes even higher than that, predicting a .500 record. I'd usually be all over that, especially in that division, except that I refuse to bet against Buck Showalter. Pass.
And that leaves Toronto at 76.5 games according to Vegas. Someone is going to get the snot knocked out of them in this division. I think it's going to be the Blue Jays. Under.
The AL West
Texas won 90 games last year and Vegas thinks they're going to be close but fall short of that this year. That seems conservative. They're still the class of this division, and that's worth more than 87 games. Over.
Oakland at 83.5. I'll be totally honest - I have no idea what Oakland has done this offseason. But I trust Billy Beane to tear apart this team if he thinks they'll fall short again, and there is no reason to think they won't fall short again. Under.
The fall from grace by the Angels last year really didn't get enough attention. They lost seventeen more games than the year before. They spent the offseason signing a couple of relievers and trading for Vernon Wells. This feels like an organization experiencing a death rattle. I don't see the 83 games that Vegas predicts, and neither does PECOTA, who predicts just 78 wins. Under.
Seattle, a 61-win team, was even worse than that last year. And this offseason, they....what did they do, exactly? They're supposed to win 70 games? Criminy. I don't see how they do it, but I'm not betting the under on three teams in the same division. Pass.
The AL Central
I've got bad news for all those who feel the Twins aren't getting enough respect - Vegas is still picking them to win the division, nosing past a three-horse race. I see it the same way, and while I like the Twins and White Sox a bit better than the gamblers, I wouldn't touch the totals of the Twins, White Sox or Tigers.
As for the others, I'm going to predict that they finally swap places in the standings. That means picking the over on KC and the under on CLE. My scientifically deduced reason: it just feels like the Tribe is a little rudderless right now.
I want to thank Alex Halsted for mentioning me in his book 100 Things Twins Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. #98 is “Venture Online,” which you’ve already done if you’re reading this, but I hope you aren’t stopping with this blog. There are dozens of talented Twins bloggers that aren’t getting nearly enough attention and are worth your time. If you’re looking for a good launching point, I’d suggest stopping by MNGameDay.com, where there is a feed of the latest posts from across the Twins blogosphere.