Our Staff’s Favorite MLB Futures for the 2020 Season
Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images. Pictured: Rafael Devers
It’s that time of year again.
There’s still a crisp in the air It’s late July and finally we’ll have a major sport back in our lives.
When Major League Baseball announced its plan to implement a 60-game regular season about a month ago, sportsbooks were faced with a new challenge of trying to correctly price teams and players over a significantly smaller-than-normal sample size.
Bettors, on the other hand, were given an opportunity to take some chances they might otherwise not due to the unpredictability of the shortened year.
All of that has led to an interesting MLB futures market over the past month — one that’s seen its share of movement, but also still offers plenty of value in the eyes of our experts.
Here are our staff’s favorite available 2020 MLB futures.
Stuckey: Oakland Athletics to Win the World Series (+2500)
All of the pieces are in place for the A’s to make a run in this high-variance 60-game sprint. I love the overall team depth and pitching potential. Throw in a top-10 lineup and defense and I’m buying the upside.
For World Series futures, I show an edge at anything 20-1 or better but make sure you price shop to get the best number possible. That holds true for tickets on the A’s to win the American League Pennant and the AL West, both of which I’ve also invested in.
Jake Hurwitz: Tampa Bay Rays to win the American League (+800)
In a year of no fans, there is no better team to back than the Rays. The Rays home-road splits in 2019 were the exact same at 48-33. Let’s not dance around it, the Rays have some of the worst home attendance numbers in the league. This team will not have an issue playing in an empty home stadium.
In August and September, they went 34-18, which in a full year would make a 106-win team. The Rays do not get a lot of love because they are not flashy and do not have big-name players like Aaron Judge or Jose Altuve. They do, however, have the best starting pitching in the league, led by Charlie Morton, Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow.
Snell is one year removed from a Cy Young Award, Morton is coming off a career year, and even still some experts (keep reading) think Glasnow is the best of them all. The Rays also have one of the deepest bullpens in the league led by Nick Anderson, Diego Castillo and Jose Alverado.
In the offseason, they only got stronger. They added Yoshitomo Tsutugo, Hunter Renfroe, Jose Martinez and Manuel Margot to name a few. Pitching is key every year, but especially in a year of uncertainty, so we’re going to back the team with the most pitching depth. The pick is the Rays at +800.
Danny Donahue: Arizona Diamondbacks to Win the National League (+3000)
The Diamondbacks were good last year. I’m not sure everyone realizes that (I suppose finishing 21 games back in your division makes it somewhat tough to get noticed). But it’s not like I’m taking some 70-win team to make a huge surprise turnaround.
The Snakes won 85 games last in 2019 and should’ve won more — their +70 run differential was sixth in the NL and translates to a Pythagorean (expected) record of 88-74, yet they’re priced as the 11th-most likely NL Pennant winner this year.
In fact, here are the only teams whose NL odds are worse, along with their 2019 Pythagorean records: the Rockies (71-91), Pirates (68-104), Giants (71-91) and Marlins (61-101). Huh?
All of this goes without even mentioning that other minor point that the Diamondbacks actually got better! They added Starling Marte and Kole Calhoun, along with a fella named Madison Bumgarner who I hear might be of some help if they can in fact push through to the postseason.
Mike Vitanza: Rafael Devers to Win AL MVP (+2500)
Anyone can get hot during a 60-game season, so why not take a 25-1 shot on a player that finished top-five last season in offensive WAR, batting average, hits and runs batted in. If that’s not enough, he also led the league in extra base hits and total bases last year.
Still only 23, Devers has plenty of room to improve upon those numbers on a per-at-bat basis in 2020. According to Statcast data, he led all of baseball with 244 hard hit balls (95+ mph) and his average exit velocity of 92.4 mph was 13th amongst all hitters.
The Red Sox lineup still has plenty of pop around him between J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi and newcomer Alex Verdugo, so he’ll have plenty of opportunities to fill up the offensive stat columns again this year. I like this down to +2000.
Michael Leboff: Keston Hiura to Win NL MVP (+10000)
Hiura’s long-term upside is sky high, but I like him in the short term, too.
His rookie season went about as well as the Brewers could have hoped, as the former UC-Irvine Anteater posted a .938 OPS, 138 wRC+ and hit 19 home runs in just 84 games. Hiura’s BABIP was high and he struck out a lot, but his ability to consistently make hard contact (44.2% hard-hit rate in 2019) makes him a good candidate to improve on those numbers even if you think he’s due for some ball-in-play regression.
Any player who can consistently make loud contact is live for an MVP play this year, and I think Hiura is well worth a shot at 100-1 in a season where anybody can win.
Michael Arinze: Tyler Glasnow to Win AL Cy Young (+1300)
Bet now: odds available at PointsBet
Tyler Glasnow will look to finish what he started last season before a forearm strain sidelined him for four months. The Rays pitcher was 6-1 with a 1.86 ERA prior to picking up the injury, and if he gets off to a similar start this season he could join Blake Snell and David Price as Rays pitchers to win the coveted award.
In January, the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas first released odds with Glasnow at 14-1, and while that number has been trimmed down a touch to 13-1, I still like the play. Glasnow was throwing even harder when he returned from injury last year, and this offseason he worked on adding a splitter to go along with his already devastating fastball and curveball.
Given the time off last year along with the delayed start to this season, Glasnow should have one of the freshest arms in Major League Baseball. The sprint setup of this season could favor Glasnow even more as a player who can look ultra dominant in a small sample size.
At 13-1, Glasnow still offers plenty of value as your 2020 American League Cy Young winner, and I’d be willing to take this bet down to 10-1.
Sean Zerillo: Robbie Ray to win NL Cy Young (+5000)
I have already made a bunch of dart throws at potential longshot Cy Young winners in a shortened season, so we might as well close my offseason futures card with one more.
I generally don’t put much stock into spring training buzz unless I can back it up with data or scouting — and I don’t want to overhype a few strong “summer camp” outings from Arizona’s Robbie Ray — but he has made a change.
Ray was already one of the most prolific strikeout artists in the game. Since the start of the 2017 season, he ranks fifth in strikeout rate (31.9%), behind only Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer and Chris Sale — and a full percentage point better than Jacob deGrom.
Walks and high pitch counts have plagued him, however — averaging fewer than six innings per start over the past three seasons, while providing free passes to more than four batters per nine innings (career 4.05 BB/9).
Ray is headed for free agency this offseason, and perhaps in a last-ditch effort to maximize his market value, he made a tweak to his mechanics and shortened his arm action:
Lot of buzz around Robbie Ray these last few days. His arm-action change is pretty substantial. Sky is the limit if his walks come down.
— Lance Brozdowski (@LanceBroz) July 19, 2020
He also looks to be in better shape than he has been in previous years, and that sweet lettuce peering out from under his hat is something you love to see.
Lucas Giolito made a similar change prior to his breakout 2019 campaign.
Ray was already a very solid starter, and if the new mechanics can help to halve his walk rate, he is certainly Cy Young caliber.
Collin Wilson: Trevor Story Home Run Leader (+5000)
Odds available at Westgate. Rockies fans, bet Story +3600 in CO at FanDuel!
If you have not already listened to The Action Network MLB Podcast, you’ll find plenty of gambling takeaways in there, from Reds and White Sox futures to a reliever winning the Cy Young to Oakland and Toronto winning their respective divisions. One prop we did not touch base on, however, was the home run leader. And with the season running from the end of July through September, it would be cretinous to simply consider season-long trends.
Per 2019 Action Network Park Factors, Coors Field is by far the most friendly to hitters through the August and September months. Any person familiar with betting baseball knows Rockies home games are a bandbox in the summer, but consider the road schedule as well. Chase Field is sixth during August and second in September in Park Factors, and the Diamondbacks account for 23% of the Rockies road schedule.
As far as taking Story over Arenado, it is all about price point. ZiPS projects Story at 13 home runs, just one shy of Arenado and three shy of projected leaders Pete Alonso and Giancarlo Stanton. A 50-1 future on a Rockies hitter who is projected to finish just a couple of bombs away from the lead is certainly worth an investment.