MLB Picks: Bet the Underdog in Tonight's Red Sox vs. Phillies

Jason Lake

Wednesday, April 8, 2015 12:22 PM UTC

Wednesday, Apr. 8, 2015 12:22 PM UTC

The 2015 MLB season just started, and we’ve already got interleague play on the schedule. The Boston Red Sox are –135 road faves on the baseball odds for Wednesday’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Is baseball back? We’ve been hearing about the death of America’s national pastime for a while now, but even as live attendances are dwindling and sports fans are finding other things to do, ticket prices are increasing and television contracts have shot up into the billions of dollars. Meanwhile, people have been known to bet on baseball from time to time. The MLB odds might not take up as big a slice of the betting pie as they used to, but that pie just keeps on growing.

With that in mind, everyone here at the home office is pleased to be writing about baseball again. This sport is particularly suited to our general handicapping style of using advanced stats to help us exploit weak areas of the marketplace – call it Moneyball, if you will. Where are those weak areas? Glad you asked. Let’s explore that by looking at Wednesday’s matchup (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2) between the Boston Red Sox and the Philadelphia Phillies, where the MLB odds at press time have Boston pegged at –135 on the road.


The Down-Low
First and foremost, we expect the betting public to overvalue (or undervalue) teams based on their brands and their reputations. There’s an old saying in sports: It’s not the name on the back, it’s the name on the front. Poppycock. A team is only as good as its individual players, and this goes double for baseball, which is essentially an individual sport with a little bit of teamwork thrown in.

We also rely on casual fans to overvalue offense and undervalue pitching and defense – especially middle relievers. You can see how analytically-minded teams are preaching defense these days with their shifts and their emphasis on lower pitches at the knees, trying to induce those worm-burners and double plays. Handicappers need to stay on top of these trends. So do baseball teams themselves; those who stubbornly stick to traditional methods are often quality fade candidates.


A Steel-Drivin’ Man 
You won’t find many MLB teams with bigger brands than the Red Sox and the Phillies. They’ve got large marketplaces with loyal fans who will bet blindly on the home team from year to year, barely even considering offseason player movement, injuries, or who happens to be the starting pitcher that day.

In the curious case of the Red Sox, that blind allegiance has been alternately rewarding and frustrating over the last few years, since Ben Cherington took over for Theo Epstein as GM in 2011. Cherington is continuing Epstein’s legacy of sound analytics, under the watchful eye of owner John Henry, but injuries and a few high-profile “bad” trades and signings have hurt the team. Last year, the Red Sox went 71-91 and dropped 26.47 betting units on the season.


The Other 300
The Phillies (73-89, minus-4.62 units) have been in the soup for three years running. As he did in Toronto, Baltimore and Seattle, Pat Gillick loaded up on high-end players and built the Phillies into a quality team, only to leave them dying on the vine. Philadelphia has turned into a total mess under Gillick’s replacement, Ruben Amaro Jr., a proud anti-Moneyball executive who signed Ryan Howard to a bloated contract extension just as Howard (.690 OPS last year) was exiting his prime. Whoops.

At least the Phillies don’t carry high expectations anymore. They’re at the bottom of the baseball odds list at 300-1 to win the World Series, while Boston is near the top at 10-1, despite having a pretty lousy starting rotation. Rick Porcello (3.67 FIP for the Detroit Tigers last year) is scheduled to start Wednesday’s game, while Aaron Harang (3.57 FIP for the Atlanta Braves) is due up for Philadelphia. That’s already enough to make us recommend the Phillies at their +130 price. Naturally, there are other things to consider, but this MLB pick illustrates how quickly you can arrive at a logical “ballpark” decision by starting with the fundamentals.

Free MLB Pick: Take the Phillies

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