Is 16 games enough of a sample size to help us with our MLB picks? If it’s good enough for football, it’s good enough for us. Let’s start handing out some early grades for all the 30 teams in the majors.
Jason's 2015 moneyline record as of Apr. 22: 5-5, minus-0.49 units
How good are people at making instant judgments? Pretty good, according to all those pop psychology books we keep buying at the airport. But if you look at the betting markets at the start of a new season, you see it all the time: The public overreacts to the events of the first few games. First impressions are tricky that way. Sharp handicappers put their faith in large sample sizes, not snap judgments.
Here’s the wonderful thing about baseball, though: They play nearly every single day. By the time you read this, nearly every team in Major League Baseball will have played 16 games. That’s an entire regular season when you’re betting on football. We’ve got enough data by now to make some reasonable evaluations and start handing out some performance-based grades.
Before we get started, keep in mind that these grades are only for what’s happened on the diamond. We’re referring to the Simple Rating System (SRS) numbers at Baseball Reference as we go to press, and we’re going to use something like a bell curve to hand out our marks – there’ll be a lot of C’s out there. Teams are listed in order of SRS rank; you can use these grades to help you with your MLB picks by comparing them to how well the teams have done against the baseball odds. Remember: High Grade + Low Earnings = Buy. Low Grade + High Earnings = Sell.
A (above plus-2.8 SRS): Toronto Blue Jays, New York Yankees, New York Mets
All is not as it seems in the AL East. The Blue Jays (8-7, minus-0.74 units) and Yankees (8-7, plus-1.31 units) are floating around .500; both teams have Top 10 hitting, but New York leads the majors in pitching at 2.6 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), while Toronto is last at minus-0.3 WAR. That gives us more confidence in the Yankees, who also benefit from lower expectations than Toronto’s.
B (plus-1.9 to plus-2.8 SRS): Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays
And there’s the rest of the division. The Red Sox (9-6, plus-1.63 units) are the only team making money here, while Baltimore (7-8, minus-0.94 units) and Tampa Bay (7-8, minus-0.62 units) are in the red despite some pop at the plate. We’re leaning toward the Rays, who are No. 14 in pitching (plus-1.4 WAR), 10 spots ahead of the Orioles (plus-0.6 WAR). Plus, you get all that tasty small-market betting value on an analytics-friendly Tampa team that always seems to outperform the market.
C (minus-1.6 to plus-1.9 SRS): Miami Marlins, Washington Nationals, Kansas City Royals, Detroit Tigers, San Diego Padres, Oakland Athletics, St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies, Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Angels, Cincinnati Reds, Colorado Rockies
Welcome to the soft middle of MLB picks. If we’re going to exploit any team on the MLB odds at this grade level, it’ll be at the margins, and the Marlins (4-11, minus-8.58 units) are an intriguing follow candidate at plus-1.2 SRS. They’re in the bottom half of the league on the mound and at the plate, but that run differential of minus-6 tells us Miami has had some bad luck in the win column.
D (minus-1.6 to minus-2.2 SRS): Chicago White Sox, Houston Astros, Texas Rangers, Minnesota Twins, Seattle Mariners, Cleveland Indians
It’s been a disappointing season thus far for all these teams – except the Astros, who somehow lead the AL West at 8-7 and plus-1.85 units. Those good times aren’t likely to last. Houston has played nine of its 15 games at home, and its road games were against Texas and Seattle.
F (below minus-2.2 SRS): Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers (3-13, minus-11.05 units, minus-4.3 SRS) do not play well with others. Recommend direct transfer to Triple-A for remedial studies.