MLB Predictions: Home Run Leader Odds
by Alan Matthews - 2/15/2011
For those of us in cold weather states, it’s a saying that automatically helps on those wintry nights: pitchers and catchers report. And that’s exactly what has started happening around baseball, with pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training camps in Florida and Arizona. The first exhibition game is less than two weeks away, coming on Feb. 25.
Remember, too, that there has been a change this year in terms of Opening Day. Whereas in the previous few years there has been one ESPN Sunday night game to kick off the season, this year there are six games on Opening Day, which was moved to Thursday, March 31, in large part so the World Series won’t end in November as it did last season when San Francisco finished off Texas in the Fall Classic.
So with baseball in the air, it’s time to take a look at one of the first props the books have opened: the regular-season home run leader. We will offer some odds and predictions for this prop.
If you had the right guy on this prop last year, then you made some good money on the field because Toronto’s Jose Bautista came out of nowhere to lead the major leagues with 54 homers. It was arguably the most shocking 50-homer season by any player since Orioles outfielder Brady Anderson hit 50 in 1996.
Bautista was basically a journeyman entering 2010 as the Blue Jays were his fifth team since he reached the majors in 2004. His previous career high was 16 homers with Pittsburgh in 2006 and he was never really even an unquestioned full-time starter until last year with only one season of at least 140 games. But there was a bit of foreshadowing in 2009 with Bautista. He made some major changes in his swing in the middle of the 2009 season under Jays hitting coach Dwayne Murphy that started taking hold in September of that year when he hit 10 homers. That obviously carried over into 2010. He finished with those 54 dingers and 124 RBI.
Sportsbook.com lists Bautista at +1500 to repeat as the MLB home run champion, but that is clearly wasted money. I’m not saying Bautista is completely a one-year wonder, but I’d be stunned if he ever hits more than 35 homers again. And with Vernon Wells having been traded, that’s just one more reason for pitchers to pitch around Bautista.
In absolutely no surprise, the Cardinals’ Albert Pujols is the betting favorite on this prop at +700. Hard to argue against Pujols considering he has hit at least 41 homers in six of his 10 big-league seasons. Pujols’ contract situation could work against him, however. Of course, the three-time MVP put a Wednesday deadline on getting an extension from the Cardinals. Once that passes, Pujols doesn’t want to talk contract at all and will test free agency after the season.
Now, it’s normally a good thing to bet on any player in contract year, but in Albert’s case (and for the Cardinals overall) it becomes a major distraction as he will be asked about it in every city the Cards visit. Thus, I don’t recommend taking him.
There are three guys right behind Pujols at +800: the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera, the Brewers’ Prince Fielder and the Phillies’ Ryan Howard.
Cabrera had an MVP-type season with 38 dingers in 2010, but I don’t value him this high just because of cavernous Comerica Park. Plus he seems to be a bit injury-prone, as he battled through several nagging injuries last season but still managed to play 150 games. And is his attitude 100 percent fixed?
I love Fielder because he is in a contract year and also due to the lineup he’s in. Five Brewers hit at least 20 homers last year, led by Fielder’s 36. Thus, pitchers really won’t be able to avoid him. As for Howard, he might be in slight decline. The 31-year-old hit just 31 homers last year, a drop of 14 from 2009. He also posted a career lows in OPS (.859) and had some injury problems. The loss of Jayson Werth also could affect Howard in the lineup.
I think the best value on the board is Adam Dunn at +1500. Now with the White Sox, Dunn goes from a park not suited for his left-handed power in Washington to one where he should thrive at U.S. Cellular Field. And the guy is durable, having played at 158 games in each of the past three seasons. He hit 38 home runs in each of his two seasons in Washington while learning a new position, first base. He won’t have to worry much about fielding in Chicago as he will spend the vast majority of his time as the DH.
It’s also probably worth at least a flier on Alex Rodriguez, whose value has fallen so far that he is at +3000. That’s longer odds than on guys like Mark Reynolds and Nelson Cruz, two players who can’t hold A-Rod’s you know what. But this is all about homers and not all-around play. Yes, A-Rod will be 36 in July and his body seems to be breaking down a bit, but he might have one more 45-homer season left and obviously is in a ridiculously deep lineup. Plus A-Rod did end the 2010 regular season strong, hitting a season-high nine dingers in the month of September.
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