MLB: Five to Fade, Four to Follow
by Robert Ferringo - 04/10/2007
Quick, who has been the best bet in Major League Baseball since Opening Day of 2003?
If you said the New York Yankees I command you to throw yourself out your office window. The correct answer is enough to make Kirby Puckett quit groping some woman in a bar in Heaven and throw a cocaine-induced smile back on his beloved Minnesota Twins. That's right; over the past four-plus seasons a team with one of the smallest payrolls in baseball has helped bettors put together the largest MLB bankroll.
Minnesota has earned dime bettors somewhere in the neighborhood of $42,000 since the start of the 2003 season. The Detroit Tigers, for example, managed to lose that much in 2003 alone. And let's not forget about the Sox and Yanks, who have combined to leave their backers $23K in the hole over that same span.
There are no secrets to how the Twins managed to find success on the diamond and at the betting window on a yearly basis. They stick to the fundamentals - great pitching, solid relief, outstanding defense, above-average team speed and clutch hitting. If you use them as a blueprint it becomes a little easier to pinpoint exactly which teams have the ability to join them in the winner's circle each season. And that's a critical component in success in any sport: finding clubs that are underappreciated or overlooked by the general public and proceeding to squeeze every last ounce of profit out of them. Conversely, avoiding overpriced or overhyped organizations is another imperative for padding your stack.
To accomplish both of the aforementioned goals it takes months of monitoring and preparation, analyzing every aspect of a team's roster and front office, as well as some good, old-fashioned gut instincts. Here are nine teams that I've been tracking this winter and through the early spring. Five of them are clubhouses that I'm looking to fade for a majority of the season and the other four are teams that I've pegged as potential sleepers and teams that could provide tremendous value for us.
Five to Fade:
San Francisco Giants - As I said to a capper friend of mine this week when talking about San Fran: when Ray Durham is your best option as protection for Barry Bonds you're in trouble. Big trouble. They gave Barry Zito the largest contract ever for a pitcher despite the fact that he's neither a power pitcher, a World Series champion nor a great acapella singer. I think that money would have been better served finding someone not named Randy Winn or Pedro Feliz. Their 1-5 start is not an aberration; this team sucks.
Chicago White Sox - It's not that I dislike the White Sox. I just think that they're overvalued and still getting mileage out of their World Series crown two years ago. Their pitching isn't as scary anymore and there's always the potential for an Ozzie Guillen meltdown/tirade/puppet show taking place and sabotaging a game. Or a month. The AL Central is loaded this year and someone has to finish in fourth. I nominate the South Siders.
Philadelphia Phillies - We've been hearing it just about every year since 1998: The Phillies are a sleeper in the NL East. Um, no they're not. They haven't sniffed the postseason since 1993 and have perennially been one of the worst bets in baseball. Over the past four years they've cost dime bettors $17,080 and they've posted just one profitable season in their past six. Yes, they have a strong young nucleus with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. And yes the rotation is better. But the bullpen is among the worst in baseball and will be blowing leads from now until September.
St. Louis Cardinals - They've got Braden Looper in the starting rotation. Do I need to say more? Winning that World Series was the culmination of seven year's worth of blood sweat and tears. It took so much to get to that mountaintop that a letdown is a guarantee. Remember, this team only won 83 games last year before their playoff run. They've lost the bulk of their starting pitching and guys like Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds have been one drunken stumble away from breaking down for good.
Toronto Blue Jays - Everyone was proud of them for capitalizing on Boston's utter collapse last fall to sneak into second place. I'm sure that got a lot of play in the City of Churches during the offseason and sold a lot of season tickets, but it's not going to happen again. A .500 record isn't out of the question, but if you're counting on A.J. Burnett for 15 wins you're in a lot of trouble.
Four to Follow:
Atlanta Braves - Last year the Braves bullpen blew 29 saves. Those are Tera Patrick numbers. But Atlanta has shored up its relief with a pair of solid setup men in Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano leading up to Bob Wickman. Now, let's not get carried away with Wickman, but he's certainly better than Dan Kolb and Chris Reitsma. They have the clichéd "mix of veterans and youngsters" and if a motivated Andruw Jones can put up the obligatory Contract Year numbers then they could find their way back on top of the East.
Cincinnati Reds - I've been saying that this is my Gut Feeling Team. I just really like their team speed and defense. Throw in a pair of big bats (Adam Dunn, Ken Griffey), an underrated ace (Aaron Harang), and solid-but-not-flashy bullpen and you've got a team that should be continually undervalued and a great moneymaker. The key, of course, is Griffey. But if (make that when) Junior goes down we'll still have a great chance to cash in by fading them.
Arizona Diamondbacks - Hey, somebody's got to win the West. I do like the Dodgers but I think that Arizona will be hanging around with them through most of the second half of the year. It's an intriguing contrast between the veteran nature of their rotation -with guys like Randy Johnson, Livan Hernandez and Doug Davis - contrasted against the Baby 'Backs like Stephen Drew, Chad Tracy and Chris Young. If the bats blossom in the desert than this could be a dangerous (and profitable team) all year.
Cleveland Indians - OK, here's a tip for a long-term betting strategy: always bet against the Trendy Team. Then after they tank the same season in which everyone tabbed them for greatness you bet them the following season. See, most bettors are so bitter that Trendy Team blew their bankroll last year that they won't go near them this year after they got their head straight, learned humility and likely dumped some negative guys in the clubhouse. This year's Exhibit A: the Cleveland Indians.
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