2021 MLB Best Bets: Collin Whitchurch’s Top-5 Futures To Target This Season
Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Aaron Nola
Major League Baseball is back, at long last, and with it comes so many new opportunities to wager on this sport we love.
The futures market seems to grow more and more every year. This year, in addition to the props you already know and love — win totals, division, league, World Series, individual awards — we have seemingly more statistical benchmarks, as well as head-to-head win total matchups and more.
There’s so much to choose from that narrowing down to just five favorites is difficult. But I’m going to try. Here are my five favorite future bets ahead of the 2021 MLB season.
Colorado Rockies Under 63.5 Wins (DraftKings)
I’ve been hammering this one since win totals first started being released more than a month ago, and nothing about my opinion has changed. Are the Rockies the worst team in baseball? Probably not. Will they finish with the worst record in baseball? There’s a very good chance.
Colorado plays in the NL West. The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres also play in the NL West. The Dodgers and Padres are expected to be among the best teams in MLB in 2021. Both approaching 100 wins isn’t out of the question.
The Rockies play the Dodgers and Padres a combined 38 times.
The other two teams in the NL West — Arizona and San Francisco — are no slouches either. Both with win total projections in the mid-70s; they’re at least competitive.
This isn’t all about the schedule, though. The Rockies — who you might have heard traded their franchise icon a few months ago for half of a bologna sandwich and a moldy sock — have a roster that leaves a lot to be desired. Trevor Story is still there. Charlie Blackmon, too. C.J. Cron will probably have a lot of fun hitting at Coors. After that? It gets kind of gross. There are busted prospects, non-prospects, and something called Josh Fuentes.
The pitching staff isn’t much more promising. German Marquez is quite good, yes. After that you get Kyle Freeland, Antonio Senzatela and Jon Gray. The best DRA projection among that trio is 4.86.
The Rockies are bad, is what I’m trying to say. It seems like a 100-loss team on paper, and probably will be. Under 63.5 wins seems like a lock.
St. Louis Cardinals To Win NL Pennant (+1200, BetMGM)
You can’t predict baseball, as they say. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try. That’s kinda why we’re here. Let’s envision a scenario where the 2021 season plays out how it looks on paper.
The Dodgers win the NL West with the best record in baseball. The Padres have an inflated record, too, but are relegated to the Wild Card Game. Out East, the Mets and Braves duke it out and let’s say the Mets prevail, sending the Braves to the Wild Card Game to face the Padres.
This is a plausible scenario, and in it, the NL Central winner (spoiler alert: I think it’s going to be the Cardinals) goes straight to the NLDS, even if they have the worst record among the league’s playoff teams. The Cardinals would play the Mets and then await whoever makes it out of the Dodgers/Padres/Braves gauntlet.
St. Louis would be underdogs against the Mets. It would be underdogs in the NLCS, if it were to make it that far. But the fact is that MLB’s current playoff structure and landscape gives the Cardinals an easier path to the World Series than teams significantly better than them.
The Cardinals have to win the NL Central to make this happen, of course, and that’s no given. But the NL Central is incredibly uncompetitive, and it’s likely they just have to get past Milwaukee to make that happen. Their NL Central odds (+100) aren’t appealing enough, so we’re instead betting on them prevailing and making it through the crapshoot that is October.
At 12/1, that’s worth a swing.
Manny Machado To Win NL MVP (+2600, FanDuel)
My actual favorite to win NL MVP is Ronald Acuña Jr., who my colleague Brad Cunningham included among his best bets. But given Acuña’s long odds, and the fact that 10/1 at William Hill seems to be a bit of an outlier compared to the rest of the market, I’ll instead turn my attention to a favorite whose long odds I can’t quite understand.
Preseason narratives can influence odds considerably. That’s not to say that Fernando Tatis Jr. isn’t an extremely viable MVP candidate, it’s just that he isn’t the best MVP candidate on his own team. That would be Machado.
I can’t figure why last year’s third-place finisher in NL MVP voting has such long odds. Bettors maybe have grown fatigued of Machado, who is now in his 10th MLB season. But Machado is somehow still only 28 and one of the best players in baseball. In the shortened 202 season, he had the fourth-highest WARP among position players. He plays sterling defense at third and his bat hasn’t taken a step back at all.
In 2021, Machado will be plying his trade for one of the best teams in baseball. His teammate understandably gets a good majority of the pub, but don’t sleep on Machado. He’s not the MVP favorite, but deserves better than 26/1 odds.
Aaron Nola To Win NL Cy Young Award (+1200, DraftKings)
Aaron Nola was one of the best pitchers in baseball in 2020. He was arguably the best pitcher in the National League. He finished seventh in Cy Young voting.
Because of the weirdness of the 2020 schedule, Nola got a bad rap. While Cy Young frontrunners Trevor Bauer and Yu Darvish got to face the doldrums of the league in the Central divisions, Nola was facing the uber-competitive NL East and AL East. Thus, Nola lagged behind in ERA, but advanced metrics said he was better than his contemporaries.
DRA (Deserved Runs Average), which is Baseball Prospectus’ stat that measures a pitcher’s performance based solely on outcomes he can control, had Nola at 2.58. That was tied with Shane Bieber for the best mark in baseball. By WARP, his 2.5 was behind Bieber’s 2.7, and ahead of Jacob deGrom (2.3), Bauer (2.3) and Darvish (2.0).
Nola was simply unlucky. Over a 162-game season, the chance for his performance to regress to the mean is more likely. The chance of his DRA and ERA to more closely align is likely. His competitive level will more closely mirror that of his opponents.
Nola is one of the best pitchers in baseball and should be treated as such entering 2021. He’s not the Cy Young favorite, but he should be. He provides great value at 12/1.
Houston Astros To Win World Series (+2500, FanDuel)
Let’s be honest. Any World Series bet that isn’t the Dodgers just feels foolish at this point, but of all the teams on the next tier behind Los Angeles, the Astros’ odds provide the best value.
Houston suffered through a miserable 2020 season. Much of it was self-inflicted, of course, as the Astros dealt with the fallout from their sign-stealing scandal. But over 60 games, the Astros didn’t look like the Astros’ team we’ve come to know over the last half-decade.
The career-worst performances from the likes of Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman are unlikely to continue. Call it them coming back down to Earth now that they can’t steal signs if you please, but I’ll call it the randomness of a 60-game schedule. This year, the Astros are down one George Springer, but still have their core, plus Yordan Alvarez, who missed virtually all of 2020. The myriad of rookies who took the mound for them last season have a year of experience under their belts, and they still have one of the best managers of all-time, Dusty Baker, on the bench.
A lot has to break right for any team to win a World Series, but Houston is the class of the AL West, which features the primed-for-regression Athletics and continuously underperforming Angels. For my money, they’re the second-best team in the American League behind the Yankees, yet the White Sox, Twins, and Blue Jays are among the teams with shorter World Series odds (Houston’s 25/1 is tied with Oakland and Tampa).
Given this roster and what we know it’s capable of doing in October, 25/1 is simply too good to pass up.