MLB Betting: 2009 A.L. East Preview
by Robert Ferringo - 03/06/2009
The American League East is obviously not for the birds.
So much ink gets spilled opining about the Red Sox, Yankees and the suddenly upstart Devil Rays that I wanted to focus on the "other" teams in the East: Toronto and Baltimore. Because the Big Three get so much attention I feel like the real value lies in backing the Blue Jays and Orioles. These are two pretty good teams. But because they aren't competing for World Series titles bettors often overlook them.
Quick, name me the only team in Major League Baseball betting that has turned a profit for its backers the last four years straight. If you said Toronto you would be correct. The Blue Jays have been one of the real gems of baseball betting over the last several years and that simply illustrates my point about finding value on these underrated squads. They are often sizeable underdogs against their more highly-touted division rivals. So as long as they can steal a game here or there - the Jays have had a winning divisional record in each of the last three years - these teams can build your bankroll because of the plus-money prices the oddsmakers routinely give them.
Toronto is a proven moneymaker over the last five years. But Baltimore has been a proven money burner. The O's haven't won more than 70 games in either of the past two seasons and since 2005 have been one of the five worst teams to bet on in baseball (in terms of return on investment). The organization is floundering and, judging by their pitching staff, isn't ready to turn around any time soon.
However, the O's were actually flirting with .500 as late as mid-August. And before a stunningly bad 7-30 close to the year this team actually had been one of the best bets in the American League.
What makes the Orioles and Blue Jays a decent wager is that neither team has really accepted its role as Random Red Shirts (a.k.a. random white guys) on Star Trek whose only purpose was the get killed and help further the heroics of the show's stars. Toronto and Baltimore are feisty foes and even if they don't have the talent to consistently beat the Red Sox and Yankees they have the fight and the heart to at least cash some tickets.
It's going to be a little more difficult for them to improve on their records this year because they now have a third team to compete with (prior to last year neither the Jays or O's ever really had to worry about finishing in the East basement). But I think that the key to making money betting within the East lies in understanding when to play on, play against, or stay away from the "other" teams in this division.
Here is Doc's Sports 2009 A.L. East preview:
Boston Red Sox
2008 Record: 95-67 (+1165)
2009 Wins Over/Under: 93.5
Odds To Win 2009 AL East: 1.5-to-1
Odds To Win 2009 AL Pennant: 4-to-1
Odds To Win 2009 World Series: 8-to-1
Time heals all things, and the Red Sox had a full offseason to finally get over their breakup with Manny Ramirez last summer. Boston may have been happy to see the quirky left fielder go, but come October I'm sure they wished his dreads were still hitting behind Big Papi in the late innings.
However, this is a new year and a new start for a veteran Boston team. They still have a stacked lineup and outstanding pitching, and I think they might be the most complete team in baseball. Jason Bay looked like he could thrive in Boston and if J.D. Drew can match what he did in the middle of last season then Boston's lineup is as formidable as any you will find. They have experience, talent, and flexibility to maneuver and improve this team.
If there is a weakness with this team I would say that they are relying on a lot of guys with injury histories (Papi, Beckett, Lowell, Baldelli) and several others with consistency issues (Drew, Bay, Dice K). But they added depth in the bullpen and can win games a variety of ways.
The Red Sox will be fine this year and I even think that they are a little underrated in terms of World Series odds. The core of their title teams is still solidly intact and their pitching staff might be the most complete in baseball. In short, I think that Boston has become the model franchise in the Majors and that they are set to contend for a title for the next several seasons. Remember, this team was just one game away from the World Series last year.
New York Yankees
2008 Record: 89-73 (-472)
2009 Wins Over/Under: 96.5
Odds To Win 2009 AL East: 1-to-1
Odds To Win 2009 AL Pennant: 1.5-to-1
Odds To Win 2009 World Series: 3-to-1
Bad karma continues to linger of the head of the New York Yankees. And no matter how much money they try to throw at this aging and inconsistent roster they can't change the fact that the Baseball Gods are not feeling the pinstripes.
Alex Rodriquez will be out at least until mid-May and I will be absolutely stunned if C.C. Sabathia and/or A.J. Burnett aren't right behind him. Both Sabathia and Burnett have monster contracts and are dodgy injury histories. But the Yanks are resting their hopes on how these high-priced arms can perform. Throw Mark Teixeira in the mix and that's a quarter-billion-dollar investment that I am firmly on record as saying won't come close to expectations (I bet Burnett and Sabathia don't combine for more than 25 wins; I'm taking the 'under' there).
Yes, the Yankees had to deal with a rash of injuries last season. But that's what happens when you are relying primarily on older, injury prone players that are well past their prime. And they did nothing to get younger, faster, or more athletic over the winter.
This team is slow, defensively deficient, has a terrible middle relief, and is relying on guys who you just don't know what you're going to get from (Matsui, Damon, Cano, Cabrera). Joe Girardi is still an unproven commodity as a manager in New York and after missing the playoffs last year, the A-Rod steroids controversy, and their offseason-spending bonanza, the stakes couldn't be higher. If this team gets off to their traditional slow start then all hell could easily break loose.
Toronto Blue Jays
2008 Record: 86-76 (+227)
2009 Wins Over/Under: 80.5
Odds To Win 2009 AL East: 30-to-1
Odds To Win 2009 AL Pennant: 30-to-1
Odds To Win 2009 World Series: 60-to-1
Four wins. The Blue Jays were four wins away from being the best 90-win team that no one ever heard of nor cared about. And that was with a 7-15 slide in April and without its best hitter for 54 games. However, Toronto had a great year and actually one of the few teams in the Majors to actually turn a profit for its backers.
But that was then. And this team can't keep up with the rest of the division for 162 games. Or can it?
They didn't really lose anything this offseason and this team was successful last year because it relied on the fundamentals: strong pitching, great defense, strong pitching, a quirky home field edge, strong pitching and some clutch hitting. And did I mention the pitching? This team has the best overall E.R.A. in the league last year and their 2.96 bullpen E.R.A. was only the third time in the last six years that a team finished the regular season below 3.00. They were No. 2 in the league in fielding percentage and the lineup is full of just professionals who do their job day in and day out.
But as with all mid-market teams, depth is an issue and injuries are a crippler. Two of Toronto's key starting pitchers, Dustin McGowan and Shawn Marcum, are on the shelf to start the year and two of its best hitters, Lyle Overbay and Vernon Wells, haven't played this spring due to injuries. That's a problem. Throw in the one loss that they did have from last year's team (A.J. Burnett) and they enter the year with only two of their five starters from 2008. And if this club wants to compete for anything more than moral victories they need everyone to stay on the field and produce.
The Blue Jays need a strong first half of the year in order to keep management from selling this club off for parts. I still think that if they do manage to stay relatively healthy that this team can be a productive wager. But I still think that they reached their ceiling last year. And it still wasn't good enough.
2008 Record: 68-93 (-1381)
2009 Wins Over/Under: 74.5
Odds To Win 2009 AL East: 50-to-1
Odds To Win 2009 AL Pennant: 50-to-1
Odds To Win 2009 World Series: 100-to-1
Let's just say that it's going to be a l-o-o-o-n-g season for the Orioles this year. It's not that this team is that bad. They're not going to lose 100 games or anything. But with the pitching staff that they are bringing into Opening Day their fans need to brace themselves for a lot of four-hour games.
Let's put it this way: on Baltimore's Web site their depth chart lists nine starting pitchers. Now, that would be an interesting way to mix things up, but if you still have that many guys fighting for a spot that means that you really don't have anybody ready for spots. They were second only to Texas in line for the worst E.R.A. in the league.
The Orioles have been saying, at least publicly, that they're dedicated to "building the organization from within". And when I look at their roster I see a lineup that really could compete for this division. Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and Matt Wieters are three up-and-coming studs. Brian Roberts is an All Star already, Luke Scott is coming off a breakout year, and vets like Mel Mora and Aubrey Huff are just solid pros. Mix in some nice role players and I like what I see.
But they can't get people out. Jeremy Guthrie is the only legit arm that they have in the starting rotation and the rest of the guys are just wannabes and retreads. Their bullpen isn't terrible, as long as everyone stays healthy. But their rotation actually did have the worst starter's E.R.A. in the league last year. And if those guys aren't at least chewing up some innings their going to burn that bullpen out by June 1 and this team will spiral out of control again, just like it did while going 10-31 after Aug. 14 last year.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
2008 Record: 97-65 (+2796)
2009 Wins Over/Under: 88.5
Odds To Win 2009 AL East: 3.5-to-1
Odds To Win 2009 AL Pennant: 5.5-to-1
Odds To Win 2009 World Series: 12-to-1
The D-Rays are still on Cloud Nine after their absolutely unbelievable season in 2008. They won 97 games and were by far the best bet in baseball, and nearly the entire roster that played in the World Series last October is back to try to defend their American League crown. And even better, this team is incredibly young and should be ready to compete for years to come.
However, I'm not buying the Rays this year.
I think Tampa Bay is set up for a brutal let down this season after their miracle run in 2008. This team hit just .260 as a team last year, the lowest mark for a playoff team in over five years, and their 29 one-run wins was No. 2 in the league behind the Angels and Giants (31). This team lived a charmed life the entire season, actually, and their .266 batting average in close and late situations was one of the best marks in baseball. I don't see any way that they can duplicate their success in these situations from that magical run.
I do not expect the Rays to hit the mat the way that Colorado did last year after their improbably World Series run. However, I think a return trip to the postseason is highly unlikely. Baseball is a game of numbers and stats, and Tampa Bay's 2008 season is what would be referred to as an outlier. I think they come back to the center this season and settle just above .500.