2020 MLB Playoff Odds vs. Projections: The Best World Series Futures Value Bets

2020 MLB Playoff Odds vs. Projections: The Best World Series Futures Value Bets article feature image

Jamie Sabau/Getty Images. Pictured: Trevor Bauer

The field for the 2020 MLB Playoffs is now set.

On Tuesday, the expanded best-of-three Wild Card round begins, with eight teams in each league vying for a spot in the best-of-five Divisional Series round which starts next Monday. The American League's Wild Card round will run from Tuesday to Thursday of this week. The National League will begin play on Wednesday and conclude on Friday — and all remaining teams will get the weekend to rest.

Six of the seven World Series value teams that I continually identified during the offseason — as late as June —  made the playoffs. Only the Diamondbacks failed to live up to my expectations. If you are holding a ticket on the Athletics, Indians, Rays, Reds, Padres or White Sox, congratulations, you got the best of the number — but there's still plenty of work to do.

Seven teams of the ten teams from the two Central divisions made the playoffs — and none of those teams will play one another in the first round. As a result, there's a chance that seven of the final eight teams remaining come from just two of the six divisions.

And even though you won't get a 22-1 on the Rays, or 50-1 on the Reds or Padres, there is still some value left in the MLB playoff betting market — specifically as a result of the expanded playoff format.

Let's dive into the first-round matchups, try to navigate a path to the title for each of these clubs, and figure out which teams are offering offering value for betting purposes.

Wild Card Round Projections

Naturally, I have the top two seeds projected for a significantly higher Wild Card winning percentage than any of the remaining teams. Over the course of a 162-game season with a traditional playoff format, it would have been difficult to imagine either the Blue Jays (-10 run differential) or Brewers (-17) making a serious run at the postseason; Milwaukee didn't spend a single day over .500 in 2020, for instance.

But in a three-game series, even against the top two teams in the league, both underdogs have a puncher's chance. But Toronto's starting pitching — behind Hyun-jin Ryu — is as questionable as it gets, leaving the Rays with a substantial projection edge both in Games 2 and 3:

  • Game 1 Projection: Rays, 64.5%
  • Game 2 Projection: Rays, 72.4%
  • Game 3 Projection: Rays, 74.1%

It's difficult to imagine the Blue Jays coming back from a 0-1 deficit and winning both Game 2 and Game 3 against Tampa Bay, which can toss out Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow and Charlie Morton against each opponent.

In the second round, Tampa Bay has a potential date with either the Indians or Yankees. I show Cleveland as a 53% favorite over the Bronx Bombers, and make them a projected favorite in all three matchups, including Game 1 (52.5%) between the likely AL Cy Young winner, Shane Bieber, and Gerrit Cole.

A series between the Rays and Indians, who can toss out Bieber, Zach Plesac, Carlos Carrasco and Aaron Civale, would be extremely tight and low-scoring, so the Yankees got an extremely tough draw — first having to navigate Cleveland's pitching before potentially facing Tampa, which went 8-2 against them this season.

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The Athletics, who faltered late in the year without superstar third baseman Matt Chapman, also got a tough-luck draw against the White Sox — whose offense finished 43% above average against southpaw pitching in 2020.

Chicago can neutralize both Jesus Luzardo and Sean Manaea, potentially forcing the Athletics to use righties Mike Fiers and Chris Bassitt in their three-game playoff rotation.

Any potential series between the Twins and White Sox or Twins and Indians is essentially a coin-flip — but the Rays have between a 53% and 55% win probability against those possible ALCS opponents.

I would favor the Dodgers in a World Series matchup with the Rays at roughly a 60% clip — but I would also make the Rays a 65% favorite against a team like the Cubs or Reds, so matchups are everything.

I make the Dodgers a 65% favorite against the Padres or a 70% favorite against the Cardinals in a five-game series, and their odds are between 68% and 74% in a potential seven-game NLCS versus the Braves, Cubs or Reds.

The Brewers, meanwhile, would be more than a 60% underdog against any of those clubs, which is why their World Series odds remain so low, even if they make it past the presumptive World Series favorite.

The Braves vs. Reds matchup is the most intriguing first-round series, in my opinion, as the Reds starting pitch depth with Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray in Games 2 and 3 tries to overcome the Braves' potent offense (121 wRC+).

Except for the A's and White Sox, all of my future tickets ended up in different corners of the bracket — and I now have a path to getting four teams to the Championship Series.

Looking at wRC+ (relative to 100) and Defensive Runs Saved, six teams (Dodgers, White Sox, Rays, Twins, Yankees, Padres) returned positive value both offensively and defensively in 2020, and there is a massive discrepancy in pitching quality amongst these playoff teams.

Note that the Padres lost Mike Clevinger, and possibly also Dinelson Lamet, from their playoff rotation — which would be a significant blow to their chances.

Pennant Winner Projections

The final column, "Value," is the difference between my projected odds (converted into fair odds) and those listed on the betting market.

A positive number indicates that betting value currently exists, while a negative number means that a team is overvalued in the market.

Calculate your own edge by using our betting odds calculator. 

Three teams that I was on in the preseason — the Rays, Reds and White Sox — still offer value to reach the World Series and take home the pennant in their respective leagues.

The Reds went 16-9 in September after a sluggish start, and perhaps had we played a full 162 game schedule, they could have risen to the top of the NL Central. They offer elite starting pitching depth with Trevor Bauer (3.26 xFIP), Luis Castillo (2.82 xFIP), Sonny Gray (3.19 xFIP) and Tyler Mahle (4.6 xFIP) to sustain a playoff run, even though their offense (88 wRC+ in September) continues to struggle.

At worst, the Reds are a coin-flip underdog in their first two playoff series.

The White Sox benefit from a strong first-round matchup, and they too should be either a small favorite or coin-flip underdog in a potential second-round series with the Astros or Twins.

The ability to start Lucas Giolito (3.35 xFIP) twice in any playoff series is a huge advantage over every team in their half of the AL bracket, and they play incredibly sound team defense and steal a ton of strikes behind the plate, in addition to having a lot of offensive pop.

The Rays are like if the Reds had both better offense and an elite bullpen. It's easy to overlook the names on this roster, but they are an incredibly deep team, which should serve to benefit them most in a schedule without rest days.

World Series Projections

Personally, my World Series shortlist has seven teams on it.

In the National League, I'm expecting an NLCS between the Dodgers and either the Cubs or Reds.

In the American League, I expect either the Rays or one of the three Central teams (Indians, Twins, White Sox) to make the World Series.

I would make the Dodgers a pretty significant favorite against those four likely World Series opponents:

  • vs. Tampa Bay: 61%
  • vs. White Sox: 66%
  • vs. Indians: 67%
  • vs. Twins: 67%

And they would be an equally significant favorite against the New York Yankees, for example.

As a result, I expect the Dodgers to win the World Series at a rate of more than one fifth, but less than one-quarter of the time — as they still have a 27% chance of faltering in a three-game set with the Brewers.

No other team can match the Dodgers in all three facets of the game (offense, defense, pitching), although certain teams can come close in specific aspects.

The Dodgers secured a +136 run differential in 60 games, after recording a +273 differential in 2019, and they were on pace to win 116 games.

But they still don't get a leg up in this expanded playoff format — which should have given a bye to the top seed in each league.

As a result, the Dodgers are more likely to lose in the first round (27%) this year than they are to win the World Series (22%), which is why you should prepare for some Wild Card chaos.

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