MLB Betting Trends: Mookie Betts Injury, Trade Deadline Deals, Reds, More

MLB Betting Trends: Mookie Betts Injury, Trade Deadline Deals, Reds, More article feature image
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(Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images) Pictured: Mookie Betts

Every two weeks during the MLB season, Action Network’s Tanner McGrath will compile a notebook of observations, analytical findings and actionable information to help bettors find an edge in the daily grind of betting a 162-game season.

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Oh No, Mookie

The biggest news of the week — for bettors, fans and pundits alike — is the injury to Mookie Betts.

After getting smoked by a fastball to the wrist on Sunday, the Dodgers superstar has a fractured left hand and no timetable for a return (luckily, surgery is not needed).

How much do we downgrade the Dodgers lineup without Betts? 10%? 20%? More?

For a lineup that also features Shohei Ohtani and Freddie Freeman, it might be more than you think.

For starters, Betts leads the team in fWAR (3.5) and is slashing .304/.405/.488 with a 159 wRC+. Only Ohtani (53) has accounted for more runs (50), as Betts is always valuable on the basepaths.

Here’s the OPS by batting order spot for the Dodgers this year:

  • 1st (.886)
  • 2nd (.957)
  • 3rd (.864)
  • 4th (.858)
  • 5th (.874)
  • 6th (.650)
  • 7th (.575)
  • 8th (.633)
  • 9th (.581)

Our own Sean Zerillo made a very adept Dodgers-related observation in Monday’s Opening Pitch:

Betts missed one game this season; Ohtani led off, followed by Freddie Freeman, Will Smith and Teoscar Hernandez. After those bats, Andy Pages, Gavin Lux, Enrique Hernandez, Miguel Vargas and Miguel Rojas were the final five hitters in the Dodgers order. Rojas (career .668 OPS) is a better defender than Betts — but a significant downgrade offensively. Additionally, consider that Cavan Biggio (career .723 OPS; .601 in 2024) is currently playing for an injured Max Muncy (.798 OPS in 40 games) and you realize how genuinely shallow this Dodgers lineup is — beyond the top four or three spots (when Will Smith sits) — for the foreseeable future.

The Dodgers have a top-heavy lineup and are now missing a third of their big three. The Dodgers spend plenty of money, but even the richest owners can't afford solid bottom-of-the-order talent with so many resources locked in at the top.

After opposing pitchers deal with (or get shelled by) Ohtani, Freeman, Smith and Hernandez, are they really scared of Lux, (Enrique) Hernandez, Vargas, Rojas and Biggio? Those five have combined for 0.3 fWAR, and Rojas has been only moderately more valuable thanks to his defensive contributions.

I hope Betts isn’t out for long, but the Dodgers might be overvalued in the short term. I don’t think the market will accurately adjust for the injury given the other scary names in the lineup. The loss is very significant in context.

Additionally, Yoshinobu Yamamoto just hit the 15-day injured list, regression is finally hitting James Paxton (6.33 ERA over his past five starts) and Walker Buehler hasn’t settled in yet (seven starts, 33 innings, 4.64 ERA, 4.58 xERA, 3.90 xFIP, 13% K-BB, 99 Stuff+).

The Dodgers might not be just overvalued — they might be vulnerable.

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Deadline Days

Of course, the Dodgers could always find another bat at the deadline.

I’m curious about who could be available to the Dodgers, and who they would deal back.

Regarding the latter query, Los Angeles has more than a few arms available toward the top of its prospect ranks. RHPs Kyle Hurt, River Ryan and Nick Frasso are three Triple-A arms available, but none are top-100 prospects.

The only consensus top-50 prospect in the system is Dalton Rushing, a hard-hitting, slugging catcher who has moderately improved his plate discipline this season at Double-A Tulsa (12% walk rate, 20% strikeout rate). He’s trending up defensively and already looks like a draft-day steal.

Regarding the former question, the Blue Jays could move Bo Bichette if things keep going south. The shortstop is having the worst year of his career (80 wRC+), but has been exceedingly unlucky from a BABIP perspective (.270) given his excellent bat-to-ball skills (career .340) and uptick in contact rates (career-high 83% contact and 93% zone-contact). I expect him to hit above .300 the rest of the way.

Or, maybe, the Dodgers should trade for an outfielder (Luis Robert Jr., anyone?). They rank 16th among MLB teams in outfield fWAR this season (2.3) behind a mediocre .221/.296/.390 slash line.

In terms of other potential trade deadline news, Patrick Mooney and Will Sammon of The Athletic recently wrote a deadline story centering around the Yankees, Cubs and Marlins.

The Yankees are the best team in baseball and Brian Cashman should go all-in this year, building as much depth around Aaron Judge and Juan Soto as possible. If I were the Yankee GM, I’d target a bullpen arm to shore up the most overvalued relief corps in baseball (3.31 relief ERA, fifth; 4.18 relief xFIP, 21st).

The Marlins look ready to unload and enter a rebuilding mode, and that’s fair after a disastrous first half. Jesus Luzardo seems like an obvious trade candidate.

Despite a slight decrease in velocity (96.8 mph in 2023, 95.5 in 2024) and Stuff (104 in 2023, 94 in 2024), he’s still among the highest-upside southpaw arms in baseball. When his fastball-slider combination is working, he can sustain 30% strikeout rates.

But I think the most interesting group of potential deadline-dealing teams are the ones on the NL Wild Card bubble.

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The Bubble

Nine teams are within two games of each other for the second and third NL Wild Card slots entering Monday.

TeamRecordWC GB
Cardinals35-35+0.5
Padres37-380
Nationals35-360
Diamondbacks35-370.5
Giants35-370.5
Reds34-371
Pirates34-371
Cubs34-381.5
Mets33-371.5

Which of these teams should buy? Which – if any – should sell? And who gets the final spots when all is said and done?

Only three of these teams have positive run differentials – the Padres (+16), Diamondbacks (+3) and Reds (+13) – and are thus underperforming their Pythag records.

Among that group, I think the Reds are fascinating. They’re 9-5 in June and have won 13 of their past 20. While we assumed the lineup would be the driving force of Cincinnati’s success, it’s really been the pitching staff.

Hunter Greene has traded in some velocity and strikeouts for an improved batted-ball profile, leading to a career-best 3.13 xERA. Nick Lodolo looks pretty good when he's healthy (2.93 ERA, 3.20 xERA, 104 Stuff+), but Andrew Abbott has been the surprising breakout star.

Despite a very average stuff profile (91 Stuff+, one plus pitch), Abbott has done nothing but force weak fly-ball contact (33% ground-ball rate, 10th percentile; 31% hard-hit rate, 91st percentile), which has resulted in a rock-solid 3.32 xERA.

Additionally, I adore Cincinnati’s bullpen. Behind Fernando Cruz’s unhittable splitter, the Reds rank fourth in bullpen fWAR (2.6), fifth in bullpen strikeout minus walk rate (16%) and first in bullpen Pitching+ (103).

The lineup has struggled all year, but they continue to pull balls (44% rate, second) in the air (40% fly-ball rate over the past month, 10th), which is generally a sign of better things to come — especially at Great American Ball Park.

Elly De La Cruz needs to get back on track, but we know about his upside. Perhaps the Reds could deal for a bat to replace the potentially-injured-for-the-year Christian Encarnacion-Strand.

Personally, I’d love to see the Pirates deal for an outfielder who can provide some much-needed lineup depth (Luis Robert Jr., anyone?), mainly because they now have an elite rotation behind Paul Skenes, Jared Jones and Mitch Keller. The problem is they’re likely heavily monitoring and regulating the usage of those young pitchers, and perhaps won’t have the juice to make a real run. One year away, I suppose.

For what it’s worth, here are FanGraphs’ current playoff odds for all nine bubble squads:

TeamRecordPlayoff Odds
Cardinals35-3535.0%
Padres37-3845.3%
Nationals35-363.3%
Diamondbacks35-3733.7%
Giants35-3733.5%
Reds34-3720.4%
Pirates34-3711.1%
Cubs34-3821.5%
Mets33-3725.8%

The Padres have already bought with the acquisition of Luis Arraez and AJ Preller is always a wild card around this time of year.

I still think the Giants are worth a To Make The Playoffs wager (+240, FanDuel). They’ve been demolishing left-handed pitching over the past month (160 wRC+). Heliot Ramos has been a spark plug across 150 plate appearances (team-leading 176 wRC+ and 2.0 fWAR) and seven Giants with regular playing time boast a wRC+ above 100.

But there’s still more upside to be tapped into, even if they don’t make a blockbuster deadline move. Jorge Soler could start tapping into more power (.308 wOBA, .319 xwOBA). Logan Webb and Jordan Hicks have been excellent at the top of the rotation, and the pitching staff is hanging around despite getting zero production from Blake Snell.

The bullpen – led by the ever-reliable Camilo Doval and Rogers brothers – is underperforming (4.20 relief ERA, 19th; 3.65 relief xFIP, third; 108 relief Stuff+, sixth).

This is among the most fascinating times of the year for baseball fans. Enjoy, and keep a close eye on all these teams as the deadline approaches.

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