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MLB Futures Odds Update: Buy Divisional Stock In Rays, Twins Before It’s Too Late

MLB Futures Odds Update: Buy Divisional Stock In Rays, Twins Before It’s Too Late article feature image
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Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images. Pictured: Byron Buxton

We’re just about two months into the 2022 MLB season, so it’s a good time to take a look at the futures market and see where we can find value. In terms of divisional races, I see two spots where the market is undervaluing contenders: the AL East and AL Central.

American League East

At this point in the season, it probably feels like the New York Yankees are inevitable and headed toward an easy American League East division champion. The Yankees are 34-15. They’ve won 69% of their games and are playing at a 105-win pace as we near the one-third point of the season.

Less than two weeks ago, the Yankees were playing at a 115-win pace and they’ve already cooled off from that high point. The pitching staff has held up to this point, but the injury history of starters Luis Severino and Jameson Taillon cannot be ignored. Both have been excellent in 2022 to this point, but given their lack of innings logged in years past, questions remain about whether they can hold up for a full 162.

Another important distinction is the schedule: The Yankees have already played 13 of their scheduled 19 games with the Orioles, who FanGraphs projects as the worst team in the American League. New York has only played four of its 19 with Tampa Bay, the projected closest rival to them in the standings.

The schedule imbalance is a major reason that the Yankees’ pitching staff has allowed 3.06 runs per game, which is the best in baseball. As New York’s schedule toughens up, the regression will come for the pitching staff. The bullpen is already showing some cracks — Aroldis Chapman’s stuff is down, Chad Green is done for the year and Michael King has looked human in recent relief outings. The Yankees will still be one of the best teams in baseball, but I like taking a shot on Tampa Bay to catch New York.

The projection systems are consistently underselling Kevin Cash and the Rays‘ win total. Tampa Bay sits six games out of first as of writing, in third place behind Toronto by 0.5 games. The Blue Jays have a negative run differential and have been pretty fortunate this season, while Tampa continues to plug along despite two of its better starting pitchers sidelined.

FanGraphs projects the Rays to finish with 88 wins and I believe this is too low. They’ve gotten very little production from Wander Franco and Randy Arozarena in the middle of the order, relative to expectations. Franco was showing signs of coming out of his slump before landing on the IL and is too good of a hitter not to once he returns. Arozarena had a terrible start in 2021 before getting so hot through the summer months that he won AL Rookie of the Year. He’s capable and even likely to go on a hitting run to propel this offense forward.

The main reason I’m bullish on Tampa Bay, though, is the pitching depth. Shane Baz and Luis Patiño have not pitched a full inning yet this season. Baz was one of the best pitchers in baseball when he debuted last September. Patiño also has  an excellent fastball and slider combination and should sit around a 4.00 ERA.

Combine those two with the legitimate ace in Shane McClanahan and five-and-dive star Drew Rasmussen, plus journeyman Corey Kluber and now Cash has a ton of pitching options. Ryan Yarbrough and Jeffrey Springs are both around to piggyback, serve as a fireman in the middle innings or help preserve the pitching staff.

The Rays have only played six games against Baltimore at this point. They have 13 left with the division’s basement dwellers and will also play 15 more games against New York. That gives them more than enough time to catch New York and win the AL East.

FanGraphs gives the Yankees a 61.2% chance to win the AL East right now. Given they are lined at -200 (67% implied) or steeper at most shops, New York is overvalued. FanGraphs likes the Jays chances to make a run, but I’m more optimistic about the always-underrated Rays.

AL East Future Bet: At +750 (DraftKings), I’m taking a shot on Tampa Bay to erase the six-game deficit and chase down New York, much like it did to Boston last season. The Yankees have fewer flaws than last year’s Red Sox did, but Tampa has even more pitching depth this season.

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American League Central

Somehow, Minnesota remains plus-money to win the AL Central. There’s a ton of market respect for the White Sox right now based on the idea that Chicago will get healthy and improve dramatically in the final 115 games of the season.

I wrote early in the season about why there was value in betting Minnesota at +450 or better to win the AL Central because of the White Sox injuries and the general upside for Minnesota’s lineup.

Now with a five game lead, there’s still value in betting Minnesota at +115 to win the AL Central if you’re not already invested. The information we’ve gathered to this point in the season is that Minnesota’s lineup depth is a lot more impressive than Chicago’s. The Twins haven’t gotten much production at all out of Byron Buxton. His 124 OPS+ is good and borderline great but not near last year’s 172 OPS+ in 61 games.

Luis Arraez is hitting .351 with more walks than strikeouts and he puts a ton of balls in play. Both Gio Urshela and Gary Sanchez have seen solid improvements in chase rate and barrel rate, respectively. Max Kepler has provided plenty of pop in the middle in the order and even when Carlos Correa was out, the Twins managed to get by. They’re top 5 in barrel rate, hard hit rate and second in xwOBA offensively. There’s nothing fluky about this lineup at all.

The injury to Chris Paddack really hurts the rotation depth and likely means they’ll need to add a starter in the next few months. Between Joe Ryan, Bailey Ober and Sonny Gray, the top of the rotation is more than good enough. Ryan and Ober don’t have commanding stuff but are deceptive. There should be a few reliable back-end starters on the block at the deadline to bolster.

Chicago will probably get healthy eventually, but Lucas Giolito doesn’t look right. Who knows what Lance Lynn’s fastball will look like after missing a ton of time. He’s reliant more on the fastball than any starter in baseball. Eloy Jimenez was hurt in a minor league game and may face a setback.

To this point in the season, Minnesota has a +46 run differential and Chicago is -34. Based on Pythagorean expected wins, Chicago has been the luckiest team in all of baseball. The gap should really be closer to nine games than five.

FanGraphs expects a healthy White Sox team to run this division, but there’s nothing fluky about the Twins’ lineup. That should mash them to a title and I am not at all buying a White Sox renaissance this summer. You’re banking on a lot of players performing up to past standards post injury, which is a big risk in a single season sample when the players are returning in the middle of it.

AL Central Future Bet: Buy the Twins at plus money (+115) as their chances of winning the division remain severely undervalued. This number will only go down.

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