Baseball is back for 2021, and we’ll be getting a full season of action this time around. While there are still plenty of unknowns going into this year, I’ve enlisted the help of my projection systems THE BAT and THE BAT X to help us identify some of the best futures bets for the 2021 season.
THE BAT utilizes advanced sabermetric methodologies like those used by MLB front offices to project player performance. THE BAT X builds off THE BAT (which primarily uses traditional stats as its inputs) by incorporating Statcast data for hitters. THE BAT routinely tests as one of most accurate projection systems available, and THE BAT X tested as the best of 2020 according to a FanGraphs study.
World Series future
BetMGM odds: 35/1
Across all markets, the Phillies seem to be the “good’ team that is the most undervalued heading into 2021. The NL East will be a tough division, but it may be for that exact reason that Philly has become something of an afterthought to the Mets and Braves. Even the Nationals have a higher Vegas win total and lower World Series odds.
The Phillies’ World Series odds are around 15th at most sportsbooks, but THE BAT projects them for the seventh-most wins in MLB. That’s a significant gap. The Braves and Mets project for more wins, so technically Philly doesn’t project to make the playoffs in the most likely scenario, but they project for just three fewer wins, and at 35/1, that gap is easily small enough to justify the odds for a legitimately good baseball team.
BetMGM odds: 50/1
The Brewers have around the 20th-best odds to win the World Series this year, but THE BAT projects them for the 10th-most regular-season wins at 85. That also happens to be the most in the NL Central, giving them a clearer path to making the playoffs than a similarly talented team like the Phillies.
Milwaukee was quite unlucky in 2020. Christian Yelich finished 2020 with a .343 wOBA after two straight seasons of .400+. With natural regression and the return/additions of Lorenzo Cain, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Kolten Wong, this offense should be much better than it was a year ago. Throw in two ace pitchers with good depth behind them and the second-best bullpen in baseball, and you have a team that should be a low-level contender.
Team win totals
BetMGM total: 58.5 wins
THE BAT X projection: 66.9 wins
Recommended bet: Over (-110)
The Pirates are not a good baseball team. They are certainly not the best baseball team. But they are the best bet you can make this year. At 58.5 projected wins, Vegas is saying that not only are the Pirates the worst team in baseball, but they are the worst team in baseball by a lot — five wins worse than the next worst team. That’s aggressive and probably wrong.
THE BAT projects Pittsburgh for 66.9 wins. That’s bad. It’s 95 losses. It’s bottom three in baseball. But something you may not know about bottom three is that it is not the absolute worst, and it is certainly not the absolute worst by five wins. The Pirates were one of the unluckiest offenses in baseball last year — the only hitters who accrued 100+ PA and did not underperform their Expected Weighted On-base Average (xwOBA) were Cole Tucker and Jacob Stallings — and that is surely impacting this Vegas line. It’s not sexy to root for the Pirates, but it’s where the value is.
St. Louis Cardinals
BetMGM total: 86.5 wins
THE BAT X projection: 82.7 Wins
Recommended Bet: Under (-110)
The pro-Cardinals sentiment in betting markets also certainly has to do with the perception that they became a lot better this year with the addition of Nolan Arenado. I say perception because there is a real chance that they’ve acquired merely an above-average hitter as opposed to the stud many think Arenado is. The problem with Arenado is that his power peripherals have been in serious decline for years.
He was in roughly the bottom-third of MLB in many of the most relevant Statcast categories last year. Granted, he may have been playing hurt and would be bound to improve a bit even if he was healthy, but leaving Coors will not be kind to Arenado. Between the impact of the park and the major red flags, this is a guy who won’t add as many wins to St. Louis as the betting markets seem to believe. Then add in the declining quality of the aging Paul Goldschmidt and consider that, apart from Arenado, Goldschmidt and perhaps Paul DeJong, the Cardinals don’t have a single hitter who projects to be above-average. That’s not exactly a recipe for 86-win team, particularly given the mediocrity of their starting rotation after Jack Flaherty.
Most regular-season home runs
Eugenio Suarez, Cincinnati Reds
BetMGM odds: 22/1
As is often the case with markets like this, finding the best line will be important. I’ve seen Suarez anywhere from 15/1 to 35/1, and while I think he’s a value at any of these prices, you want to get in at the best one you possibly can. Even though THE BAT X (using Statcast data) projects Suarez for four fewer home runs than THE BAT (using just traditional data), it still projects him for the third-most home runs in baseball this year at 38. Mike Trout (42) and Pete Alonso (39) are the only players who project for more. Suarez isn’t a household name, and that’s really the only reason I can think of for the absurd odds on him. He hit 49 homers in 2019 and finished second, and his 2020 numbers extrapolated to 650 PA would have put him at 42. The dude has power and plays in the best park in all of baseball for home runs.