The Los Angeles Dodgers are –165 favorites to win their first World Series since 1988, but Jason Lake says the Houston Astros hold all the betting value for your MLB picks.
There are two ways to build a championship baseball team. One is to assemble the best analytics team you can find, and squeeze every last bit of value out of your payroll. The other is to throw as much money at the problem as possible, and sign top talent to top-dollar contracts. We’ll see both these methods in action when the Houston Astros take on the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2017 World Series.
The Astros are the Moneyball team in this case. They went big on analytics starting in 2011, when Jeff Luhnow took over as GM; Houston was just below the average MLB payroll this year at $150 million, but here they are, four wins away from their first title in franchise history. Standing in their way, the Dodgers, with easily the biggest payroll in the majors at $265 million. And go figure, it’s the big spenders from L.A. who are favored to win the World Series at –165 on Bovada’s MLB odds board.
If you’ve been betting on baseball for a while, you can probably guess which team has all the value here. Not that the Dodgers (104-58, +6.98 betting units during the regular season) are stuck in the mud with traditional thinking; GM Farhan Zaidi was a Moneyball acolyte under Billy Beane with the Oakland A’s before heading south in 2014. They run the numbers and share them with the players. But Zaidi is one of a chorus of voices calling the shots in L.A., and they’ve still got some catching up to do with the data after years of hard-headedness.
The Astros (101-61, +11.72 units), meanwhile, got here by trusting the process. They tanked heavily in 2011 and built through a combination of draft picks and salary dumps; then, once the team had turned the corner, they flipped the script in 2015, spending big money in free agency and unloading prospects for proven talent. Grabbing Justin Verlander from the Detroit Tigers at the trade deadline was simply the latest of these smooth moves — and it might be the one that puts Houston over the top.
If we’ve got the narrative right here at the ranch, we should expect the MLB betting lines to undervalue the Astros in this matchup. Aside from the Moneyball angles, we’ve got the Dodgers representing an enormous international fanbase, one that’s watched their heroes win five straight NL West titles. Houston may be the fourth-largest city in the U.S. by population, but for now, it’s still a small market in the world of baseball betting.
So let’s do the math and see what happens. FiveThirtyEight projects Los Angeles to win the World Series 55 percent of the time; run that through the Odds Converter at Sportsbook Review, and you get Dodgers –122 out the other side, vigorish not included. It does indeed appear to be a closer matchup than the betting market thinks — so close that home-field advantage might make all the difference. ESPN even has the two pennant winners tied atop the majors on their MLB Relative Power Index charts.
One other important factor: Dodgers SS Corey Seager. He missed the entire National League Championship Series with a strained back that he suffered in Game 3 of the NLDS versus the Arizona Diamondbacks. It looks like he’ll be good to go for the World Series, after playing a simulated game on Monday; we’re still waiting for confirmation at press time, but even if Seager is cleared to play, is he going to perform up to snuff? We’ll take our chances with Houston instead, thank you kindly.
Free Pick: Astros +145
Best Line: Bovada