MLB Playoff Odds vs. Projections: White Sox, Braves, Brewers Provide Value In Futures Market
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images. Pictured: White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson
The 2021 MLB playoffs are here. And if you have followed me since the beginning of the season, we have several World Series futures spread around the bracket at very juicy prices.
The Astros and Brewers were two of my favorite preseason bets. We already cashed our divisional futures on those teams and have championship tickets as high as +3000 and +7500 still in play.
The Mets, as is typically the case, died on impact in the second half, playing at a 63.5-win pace after leading the NL East at the All-Star break. Still, in an equally surprising turn, our +3000 Cardinals ticket somehow has life, with a better chance of advancing in a single-elimination playoff against the reigning champions than they otherwise would in a more extended series.
If the Cardinals can pull off the upset on Wednesday, it would open the National League pennant to chaos. Even with the additional round of play for the Dodgers, I still project them as World Series favorites (14.4%) — and would move that number north of 20% if they stave off elimination.
The American League pennant is significantly more unpredictable. I currently project only a 1.5% difference separating the chances among the Astros, Rays and White Sox. And I wouldn’t slot the wild card-winner between the Red Sox and the Yankees far behind the three divisional winners.
We’ll be rooting for the Yankees — who I saw as a buy-low opportunity in June — and recommended as a World Series future alongside the Rays in my updated midseason projections.
A Yankees win guarantees one future into the ALCS. And if the Astros can advance against the White Sox, we would guarantee one ticket playing for the World Series, too.
If you aren’t already on the baseball futures train and are just tuning in now — that’s ok too. There is still some value left in the MLB playoff betting market.
Let’s find out where.
Performance to Date
The adage that “pitching wins championships” may not necessarily be accurate, but one thing is clear: pitchers drive betting odds.
And the difference between starting pitching and bullpen quality can cause massive fluctuations between betting odds for the first five innings compared to the whole game.
The remaining teams ordered by pitching effectiveness (per expected FIP or xFIP) this season isn’t all that surprising if you follow the sport closely, but it still paints an interesting picture as to how these teams stack up on the mound:
The data supports the optics. The Giants, Dodgers, Brewers and White Sox have the best starting rotations. The Yankees rely on Gerrit Cole and their bullpen to win games, and the Rays and the White Sox offer balanced pitching staffs.
As you’ll come to see in my projections, the relative chances — and the betting value — of these teams align closely with the pitching rankings.
That said, a team like Houston — which has a well-balanced group of position players — or St. Louis — which offers excellent team defense — can overcome some of their pitching deficits:
The above graphic combines weighted runs created plus (or wRC+) — where 100 is league average — with Defensive Runs Saved or (DRS).
The Braves, Brewers and Cardinals all finished below average offensively, while the White Sox and Yankees finished with severely negative DRS totals.
Both clubs have shed some dead defensive weight from their regular lineup. Zack Collins (-18) and Brian Goodwin (-10) essentially filled injury needs this season, but Cesar Hernandez (-11) still presents a hole at second base.
The Yankees may not see Clint Frazier (-11) again. Still, even a pair of elite defensive outfielders in Joey Gallo (+15) and Aaron Judge (+9) isn’t enough to overcome liabilities like Brett Gardner (-3), Anthony Rizzo (-6), Gio Urshela (-6), Gary Sanchez (-6) and Gleyber Torres (-12).
Looking at my updated projections, three teams — the Atlanta Braves, Chicago White Sox and Milwaukee Brewers — offer value to win their respective pennants.
Instead of betting against the Dodgers in the NL Wild Card Game, consider taking a pennant future on one of their potential NLCS opponents.
I have been with Milwaukee all year, and this is probably your last chance if you don’t already have a future. FanGraphs puts the Brewers’ pennant chances at 24.4% — just a touch lower.
I’m possibly the low man on the Braves (22.2% per FanGraphs) and the White Sox (27.9% per FanGraphs), both of whom offer value at current odds.
Chicago is surging behind Luis Robert (.350 average, 1.011 OPS, 173 wrC+ since returning in early August), with the healthiest team it has had all season.
Atlanta baffles me. The Braves retooled their outfield at the All-Star break but only rank 13th in wRC+ (98) since those trades. Their pitching has ranked in the top five in the second half of the season, but I still have significant concerns about their fourth starter and bullpen. This team has star power and consistently overachieves, but they are merely the survivor from a bad NL East division — and finished with two fewer wins than the Cardinals.
You can probably find a fair price on Tampa Bay if you shop around, too. This organization always outplays its projections and has finally unleashed its No. 1 rated farm system upon the competition.
The Rays have two rookies in Wander Franco and Shane Baz, who may reach greater heights than potential Rookie of the Year winner Randy Arozarena, with plenty of other young studs on the way.
World Series Projections
The same teams that offer value in the pennant market — Atlanta, Chicago and Milwaukee — also provide value in the World Series market. And to reiterate, if you shop around, you can probably find a +EV play on Tampa Bay (at +700 or better) too.
I’m in a bit of a conundrum. Do I ride my preexisting futures, or play the value with the White Sox, and try to guarantee a futures ticket in the World Series?
For context, Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA is higher on the Rays (20.3%) and Brewers (11.5%) than my projections, in lockstep on the Braves (7.8%) and far lower on the White Sox (9.6%). Meanwhile, FanGraphs is lower on the Rays (7.0%), in lockstep with me on the Brewers (10.9%), and higher on both the Braves (9.7%) and the White Sox (14.5%).
In terms of exact matchup props, I would target those same four teams in different combinations. Here is how I project the probability of each matchup:
- Tampa Bay vs. Milwaukee: 6.78% (+1375 implied): +1600 at BetMGM
- Chicago vs. Milwaukee: 6.75% (+1382 implied): +1700 at FanDuel
- Tampa Bay vs. Atlanta: 5.50% (+1718 implied): +2200 at BetMGM
- Chicago vs. Atlanta: 5.47% (+1728 implied): +2300 at FanDuel
Below is a visual showing how my World Series projections have changed at three key points of the season — I will continue to update this graphic during the playoffs, and you will see it pop up in additional pieces:
Divisional Series Projections
Below are my projected series prices for the divisional round, including the series prices that I would use depending on which wild-card team advances to play the No. 1 seeded Giants (NL) and Rays (AL).
I project out every potential series on a matchup by matchup basis.
The White Sox offer betting value on the series moneyline against the Astros. I make them slight favorites in this five-game series, even though they will only play Games 3 and 4 at home. I would bet that line down to +110.
Surprisingly, I have a more optimistic projection for the Red Sox than the Yankees against the Rays, even though I rate the Yankees as the better team overall.
The Giants, Brewers and the Astros or the White Sox present the most challenging path to a second consecutive World Series for the Dodgers. Given the quality of Milwaukee’s starting rotation, I would give the Brewers a 45.2% chance in a seven-game NLCS with the Dodgers — which is about as close as I can get with any Dodgers matchup.
Best Value Bets
- Chicago White Sox, Series Moneyline (+112 at FanDuel) vs. Houston
- AL Pennant: Chicago White Sox (+300 at FanDuel)
- AL Pennant: Tampa Bay Rays (+290 at DraftKings)
- NL Pennant: Atlanta Braves (+500 at BetMGM)
- NL Pennant: Milwaukee Brewers (+350 at FanDuel)
- World Series: Atlanta Braves (+1200 at FanDuel)
- World Series: Chicago White Sox (+700 at FanDuel)
- World Series: Milwaukee Brewers (+900 at FanDuel)
- World Series: Tampa Bay Rays (+750 at DraftKings)
- World Series Matchup: Tampa Bay vs. Milwaukee (+1600 at BetMGM)
- World Series Matchup: Chicago vs. Milwaukee (+1700 at FanDuel)
- World Series Matchup: Tampa Bay vs. Atlanta (+2200 at BetMGM)
- World Series Matchup: Chicago vs. Atlanta (+2300 at FanDuel)