Barkley: Why I’m Still Buying the Braves and Selling the Orioles in the Second Half

Jul 19, 2018 10:34 PM EDT
  • The second half of the baseball season is about to start, and 5Dimes has posted adjusted win totals.
  • Even though the Orioles may be due for some positive regression, they just traded their best player, and that provides under value.
  • I also expect the White Sox to go under and the Braves to go over.

The All-Star break is great for a few reasons. It’s one of the very few times of the year when you don’t have to stare at an odds screen or run numbers through a model. You don’t have to constantly check prices to make sure you get the best of the number. You can relax. You can enjoy time with family, play with your kids.

But since you’re a degenerate, that gets old after about 24 hours. And we’re in Day 3 here, so thankfully second-half MLB adjusted win totals are up, and we can keep grinding away with our lives. Phew.

The Formula

One thing to keep in mind here is that win totals in essentially all sports are a zero-sum game. If you look at NFL win totals and you like 12 overs, and that’s it, you’re probably doing it wrong. Those wins have to come from somewhere. So if you like those 12, which 12 are going to be worse, and in some cases, much worse? College football has a few exceptions because teams schedule FCS opponents, but really, all sports work like this. Baseball is no different. There are only so many games that can be won — they have to be distributed somehow.

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In baseball, a few factors come into play down the stretch. Since we are so close to the trading deadline, some teams will emerge as buyers, and sellers, signaling their intentions to contend for the postseason. Some teams will linger in a sort-of trade purgatory (Tampa or Oakland, for example) where they’re gonna give it a shot with what they have (and ultimately come up short, and then maybe reposition). Players will return from injury and make an impact (Stephen Strasburg starts Friday night), or miss significant time down the stretch (James Paxton, possibly, and Robinson Cano, definitely).

Consider those things when making your own bets. Here are some win totals that look appealing to me:

Orioles under 52.5 -120

65 games remaining, 24-41 or worse hits the under

I know there are contrarian parts of all of us that think this is going to get better. This isn’t going to get better. The team’s best player by an incredibly wide margin isn’t playing in any of these games because he’s been traded to the Dodgers. And the rotation down the stretch is most likely: Dylan Bundy/Kevin Gausman/Alex Cobb/David Hess/Yefry Ramirez. Hess has a negative WAR, and Ramirez has 23.1 MLB innings under his belt. Andrew Cashner may return but may not, and Chris Tillman, if he did, would maybe make them more likely to lose.

The schedule is actually what buries them, though, in my opinion. If you include Tampa and Oakland as “playoff chase” teams (Tampa is a stretch, admittedly), the Orioles play 41 of their remaining 65 games against teams in the playoff chase. Many of the winnable games in the 24 against nonplayoff-chase teams occur on the road. Toronto is projected to be competent down the stretch, which also hurts and means the Birds are a dog in all division series.  I think Boston maintains or sees a slight dip in its winning percentage, the Yankees play slightly better and Tampa plays about the same, so I don’t know where the wins are coming from.  I realize Pythagorean win % says Baltimore should be better, but this team has exceeded (poor) expectations all year! Let’s keep it going!

White Sox under 64 -120 

67 games remaining, 31-36 to push

Baffling. Absolutely baffling. One of my favorite arguments about this team is, “Well, yeah, but look, their division is so bad!”

I KNOW! THE DIVISION IS BAD BECAUSE THEY’RE IN IT!

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The expectation that this team can play .463 baseball down the stretch when it has played .347 up to this point, and is missing one of its most valuable offensive players (Avisail Garcia) for at least the first two to three weeks of the second half is unreasonable. There are no indicators that the White Sox have been particularly unlucky or due for positive regression.

They have 19 games left against the Tigers and Royals, so you might be thinking, “Well, that’s what will do it.” They’re 1-8 against the Tigers this year. Not so fast, my friend. If I give you half of those DET/KC games, or even a 10-9 record, that’s still 21-27 to push. They play in Baltimore three times late in the year, and let’s say they win two out of three there; that means they’ll need to go 19-26 to push, against all of the actually good teams in the AL. (They don’t play Texas again, but they do play the Cubs in interleague.) I don’t see it.

Braves over 86.5 +130

68 games remaining, 35-33 or better hits the over

Everyone expects the downward regression, and there are reasons to support it, but this is a price I can’t really pass up. Atlanta has games left against the Mets and Marlins, against whom they have played very well this year, and seven games left late in the year against Philly, with whom they’ve basically split. Additionally, the Braves have six games late in the year with Pittsburgh when the Pirates really might be out of it.

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The Braves have a couple of injured middle-of-the-rotation starters, but really this is about the healthiest they’ve been all year now that Ronald Acuna is back again. They seem able, as currently constructed, to play .500 baseball a lot of the time, and the over requires an effort only marginally better than that.

As a side note, I also think the under on Washington goes in tandem with this because just as everyone expects the Braves to fade, EVERYONE expects the Nats to play amazing down the stretch, which is a tough when the facts are not in evidence. It’s dangerous to just assume the Nats will figure it out, and their projected win total number has them playing about .600 down the stretch. It’s quite possible Washington plays a little better, Atlanta plays a little worse, but they both still hit these plays.

Credit:

Baltimore Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph (36) speaks with starting pitcher Dylan Bundy (37) on the pitcher’s mound during the third inning of the game against the New York Yankees at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

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