Though media buzzed, betting markets barely blinked when the New York Yankees acquired American League home run leader Edwin Encarnacion from the Seattle Mariners this past weekend.
Was that a mistake that bettors can exploit? Are the Yankees significantly bigger favorites to win the AL East, AL, or World Series with Encarnacion in the daily lineup? Should they be even pricier than they already are in daily money lines?
Among the reasons odds didn’t react:
- The Yankees were already on the short list of potential World Series champions. The acquisition may have only made a strong team fractionally stronger in a way that wouldn’t meaningfully impact win/championship percentages.
- There’s a perception that New York’s biggest area of need right now is pitching. Encarnacion’s arrival didn’t help with that.
- History has made it clear that adding “name” sluggers in their mid-30s or older tends to generate more publicity than actual wins. They usually don’t bring any help to the defense (and occasionally hurt the defense), and the slowest are prone to hit into too many double plays (Encarnacion is averaging 18 per year since he turned 30). Global betting markets are driven by sharps using analytics. That kind of better doesn’t get excited by this kind of move.
- While Encarnacion led the AL in homers up on his arrival, he’s only a three-time All-Star through 15 years as a major leaguer. Markets aren’t in awe of his overall skill set, particularly at his age.
All that said, Encarnacion does have a chance to shore up what’s been a surprising weakness for the Yanks. Look at position-by-position 2019 slugging percentages entering the new week of action according to stat website Baseball-reference.com:
Positional slugging percentages: Shortstop .530, Left Field .506, Designated Hitter .490, Third Base .459, Catcher .440, Second Base .429, Center Field .422, Right Field .404, First Base .397.
First base has been the least productive slugging position. Sticks out like a sore thumb.
Encarnacion joined the Yankees with a .531 slugging percentage. If he gets a lot of time at first base, that could have a meaningful impact on scoring. Even if the bulk of his at bats come as a DH, but that frees up a better hitter to play first…those numbers could rise to AL norms.
Also worth mentioning that Yankees’ pinch hitting has been anemic this season. Pinch hitters were slugging only .231 in 30 plate appearances, with one double, no triples, and no homers entering the week.
So, while history hasn’t suggested that one-dimensional veterans provide value worth betting, the 2019 Yankees may be shoring up weak spots that could have been a gaping hole by the time playoff battles with the likes of Houston, Minnesota, or Tampa Bay rolled around in October.
In the meantime, bettors should study daily Yankees lineups and production to evaluate what kind of impact (good or bad) Encarnacion may be having. Pay particular attention to what’s happening at the first base position and with pinch hitters.