Best bets for the Dodgers-Braves NLCS

By Derek Carty  (VSiN.com) 

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The Los Angeles Dodgers steamrolled an overrated San Diego Padres offense in the NLDS, and they face another overrated NL team in the Atlanta Braves this time around.  Will the Dodgers keep on rolling?

Here is my betting preview of the series:

Offense

The Dodgers have the best offense in baseball … and it’s not even close.  You may not think it by looking at the 2020 stats, but it’s true.  By 2020 measures, the Braves actually led all MLB with a .355 team wOBA (L.A. was .350), but that number and ranking greatly exaggerates the actual quality of this offense, as they were aided by quite a bit of 60-game small-sample-size variance. 

As great as Freddie Freeman, Marcell Ozuna, and Ronald Acuna are, each finished with a wOBA above .400, and nobody in baseball (except Mike Trout) projects as a true .400 hitter.  No player better encapsulates this good fortune, however, than journeyman catcher Travis d’Arnaud, who finished with a .392 wOBA despite posting a league average just once in his career prior. 

According to my projection system, THE BAT X (accounting for context, sample size, multiple years of data, weighting, etc), the Braves are much more likely a .335 team than a .355 one.  The Dodgers, meanwhile, only overperformed their team wOBA by 5 points rather than Atlanta’s 20.

Los Angeles has a stacked roster full of players who have performed at a high level for more than just two months, and they are the clear best offense in baseball by any metric that isn’t recency-biased.

Starting pitching

The Dodgers have the superior pitching in this matchup, and it’s not close or debatable.  It’s actually quite shocking that the Braves finished the 2020 season with the third-worst rotation ERA in baseball (5.51, behind only the Angels and Tigers) and have made it to the NLCS.  Not only that, but their best starters actually got quite lucky this year.  Max Fried’s 2.25 ERA belies his 4.05 xFIP and 4.04 THE BAT projected ERA;  Ian Anderson’s 1.95 ERA was quite a bit better than his 3.45 xFIP and 4.05 THE BAT projected ERA; and Kyle Wright’s 5.21 ERA was more or less in line with his 5.33 xFIP but those numbers are really bad.  After those three, it’s not even clear who else the Braves would turn to. Best case would be a bullpen day or two with Huascar Ynoa opening… and they don’t even have a good long-man!

The Dodgers have no such issues with two true aces in Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler and three well above-average pitchers rounding things out.  Los Angeles’ third-best starter (May, 4.06 THE BAT ERA) is of the same quality as Atlanta’s ace, and its fourth (Tony Gonsolin, 4.20) and fifth (Julio Urias, 4.24) aren’t far behind. While L.A. certainly has an advantage with its aces in Games 1 and 2, its pitching depth also gives them a big advantage in a series that winds up going 6 or 7.

Bullpen

It’s almost not fair for the Dodgers to have the best offense in baseball, one of the best pitching staffs and also the second-best bullpen.  Atlanta, meanwhile, is firmly average, posting the 13th best xFIP in baseball this year and projecting 15th in THE BAT.  Like with the rotation, L.A.’s third best reliever (Adam Kolarek) is about equal to Atlanta’s best (Will Smith), and the depth is far superior.  Every single Dodgers reliever is above average, while Atlanta has several below-average arms.  The Braves could try to ride their best relievers and leave their worst on the bench all series, but their lack of a truly elite reliever caps the upside of the strategy.

Final Report Card

 

Dodgers

Braves

Offense

A

B

Rotation

A-

C

Bullpen

A

C

Defense

C-

C

Baserunning

C-

B-

Best bet

Any way you slice it, the Dodgers are the clear favorite here.  That doesn’t necessarily make them a good bet; as anyone who has followed my work this year knows, underdogs are often the smartest bets, but that’s simply not the case here.  The Dodgers are -225 to win the series, which implies a less than 70% chance to do it; that’s simply too low.  It’s not sexy to bet a heavy favorite, but that’s where the value is.  The Braves are overrated both on offense and in terms of their pitching, and L.A. simply has no holes.

If you’re looking for something with a better payout when you win, the Dodgers’ “Score After 3 Games Odds” is where I’d look. Odds of + 370 implies they’d need to be just a 60% favorite in each of the first three games to be even money, and between the offensive disparity and Kershaw/Buehler going in Games 1 and 2, there is no chance they’re as low as a true 60% favorite in Games 1 and 2.

Picks: Dodgers to win series (-225) and Dodgers 3-0 after three Games (+ 370)

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