Now that we’re a couple of weeks into the 2015 MLB campaign, it’s time to look at which teams have been the best and worst baseball picks, while highlighting some key early-season superlative efforts.
Jason's 2015 moneyline record as of Apr. 19: 5-5, minus-0.49 units
Yes, folks, they’re still playing baseball. It’s amazing how quickly we gloss over the MLB odds after that rush of Opening Day excitement – and not the least bit surprising with the NBA and NHL playoffs in full swing. But soon, very soon, the “summer season” will be here for handicappers, and baseball will once again take its (former) rightful place as America’s pastime. Let’s get prepared with this special double-sized wrap of the first two weeks of MLB action, featuring the best and the worst from both leagues as we go to press.
Best AL Bet: Detroit Tigers (10-2, plus-8.35 units)
Maybe it was just a case of betting fatigue. After four straight AL Central titles and a pair of pennants, the Detroit Tigers were just 16-1 on the World Series odds list going into the new season. Okay, maybe it was the departure of 2013 AL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, who signed as a free agent with the Washington Nationals. Any way you slice it, Detroit is the hottest team out of the gate with 10 wins in its first dozen games. The Tigers are first on the junior circuit with 2.0 WAR in pitching and second in hitting at 3.3 WAR. Their World Series odds have narrowed to 10-1.
Best NL Bet: New York Mets (10-3, plus-7.54 units)
The Mets didn’t carry nearly as much chalk into the new season as Detroit did; they were 33-1 to win the World Series after six straight losing seasons. But even those baseball odds suggest there was some optimism in the Big Apple this year, with the return of former All-Star pitcher Matt Harvey from Tommy John surgery. So far, so good: Harvey won his first three starts, although it took a lot of help from New York batting order, which is second on the senior circuit at 1.9 WAR as we go to press. If you’re feeling frisky with your MLB picks, the Mets are now available at 25-1 on the World Series futures market.
Worst AL Bet: Cleveland Indians (4-7, minus-4.47 units)
It’s not entirely unexpected after dropping from 92 to 85 wins in their first two years under manager Terry Francona, especially after a quiet offseason in the tough AL Central. But Cleveland still went into 2015 with hopeful World Series odds of 20-1. Things are not going according to plan; the Tribe (now 25-1) are No. 27 in the majors with 0.0 batting WAR, spoiling what has otherwise been a decent pitching performance at 1.3 WAR (No. 11 overall). Put that all in a blender, and you get a tasty UNDER record of 7-4. Don’t bury these guys just yet, though. Three of their losses were against the Tigers.
Worst NL Bet: Milwaukee Brewers (2-10, minus-8.80 units)
It’s not easy to do worse than the Miami Marlins (3-10, minus-8.50 units), but the Brewers have managed to do just that. Perhaps we shouldn’t be all that shocked, considering Milwaukee was a 50-1 World Series long shot going into the new season. Still, the Brew Crew (now 75-1) is No. 25 overall in pitching at 0.6 WAR, and No. 29 in hitting at minus-0.3 WAR. They unloaded Yovani Gallardo (3.94 FIP last year) to the Texas Rangers this offseason rather than meet his contract demands, and they’ve already lost two-time All-Star OF Carlos Gomez indefinitely to a hamstring injury. Sorry about your damn luck.
Best Starter: Colin McHugh, Houston Astros (0.94 FIP)
This is a very small sample size, of course, but McHugh allowed just one run in each of his first two starts, racking up 2.01 betting units for the Astros in the process. That’s seven straight wins stretching back to last season, by the way, with the UNDER going 6-1. Among those pitchers who had three starts at press time, Washington’s Max Scherzer led the way with a sparkling 1.24 FIP, but the Nationals only won two of those starts for a combined profit of 0.33 units. The top money-winner: Julio Teheran of the Atlanta Braves, with 3.80 units in earnings on a team record of 3-0, despite an awful 6.11 FIP.
Worst Starter: Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies (7.55 FIP)
Again, small sample size alert. Hamels did have one excellent start against the Nats on Apr. 11, giving up just one run on two hits in seven innings. The other two starts were absolute cow flop, though. Hamels has already allowed nine walks and seven home runs in 18 innings of work, and all this despite a tiny .122 BABIP. Let’s see what happens once he gets a few more starts under his belt. Meanwhile, from a pure profit standpoint, 2014 Cy Young winner Corey Kluber (1.98 FIP) is at the bottom of the money pile with 3.94 units in losses for Cleveland on a team record of 0-3. What a waste.
Best Hitter: Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles Dodgers (1.625 OPS)
He hasn’t made the All-Star team since 2011, barely cracking .800 OPS, but Gonzalez has doubled that after 11 games this year. He hit five home runs in the first three games of the season – a first in the majors – and he’s 23-of-44 with six walks and just three strikeouts thus far. All this, and the top defensive first baseman in the big leagues, too, according to the Fielding Bible. In the American League, Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles leads all batters with a 1.213 OPS, hitting 17-of-41 with four homers.
Worst Hitter: Chris Carter, Houston Astros (.258 OPS)
Once upon a time, way back in 2009, Carter won Overall Hitter of the Year honors at the MiLBY Awards for Minor League Baseball. In the majors, Carter has become a light-hitting 1B/DH for the Astros, and he may be on the verge of losing his job after starting the 2015 season 3-of-40 at the plate, all singles, with 16 strikeouts and four walks. At least Carter’s .150 BABIP suggests he’s been the victim of bad luck along the way. Bringing up the rear in the American League is Tampa Bay Rays catcher Rene Rivera at .308 OPS, hitting 4-of-40 with 11 strikeouts and just one walk.
Biggest Surprise: Atlanta Braves (8-4, plus-5.67 units)
Doom and gloom were predicted for the Braves this year; they were near the bottom of the baseball odds at 66-1 to win the World Series after falling below .500 last year and losing their best player, Jason Heyward (6.3 WAR), to the St. Louis Cardinals in free agency. Then they pulled the trigger on the Craig Kimbrel (1.83 FIP) deal with the San Diego Padres just before Opening Day. No sweat: Atlanta (now 50-1) has a run differential of plus-10 after 12 games, despite not being excellent at any one particular thing on the diamond. Shelby Miller (3.19 FIP) joins Teheran at the top of the MLB money list with 3.79 units of profit on a team record of 3-0.
Biggest Letdown: San Francisco Giants (4-9, minus-6.44 units)
It’s been a very disappointing start for the defending champions. They went into the season with somewhat lowered World Series expectations at 18-1, and they’ve already fallen to 28-1 after watching some of their top talent land on the injured list. Hunter Pence (.777 OPS last year) isn’t due back from his broken left forearm until next month, and Jake Peavy (3.03 FIP in 12 starts) just went on the 15-day DL with a strained back that was clearly bothering him during his first two starts this year – Peavy posted a 4.43 FIP while giving up eight earned runs in just 7.2 innings, dropping 2.41 units for San Fran supporters.