If you are a baseball purist who likes to wager, then the College World Series is for you.
"I can't wait for the CWS to get started,” said Derek Stevens, a Las Vegas casino owner who just opened a new sports book called Circa Sports. “It's the most pure form of baseball and you're on the edge of your seat on every pitch. It's exciting to see the growing interest in watching and betting on college baseball as I think this will be the next big thing.”
Matt Lindeman, manager of sports trading at Caesars Entertainment, agrees.
“I definitely think there’s potential for college baseball to become a more legitimate market with the expansion of legalized betting,” said Lindeman. “It’s the game baseball purists love – teams are focused on grinding out at bats, manufacturing runs, and putting pressure on the opponent via baserunners. Things we take for granted in the majors, such as stellar defense and consistent strike throwing, aren’t always a given. No lead is safe, and that leads to a far more entertaining product.”
Mandatory for handicapping the CWS, which begins Saturday at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb. is gaining an understanding of the bracket system for this tournament (how advantageous it is to win the first two games), the nuances of the ballpark, and finally the analytics behind each team.
The tournament is played in a small ballpark that sits low next to the Missouri River. The wind blows directly into a hitter’s teeth, so teams that play small ball succeed over unbalanced teams that rely on the HR and power.
Here are odds to win the tournament for each of the eight qualifying teams with a bettors’ scouting report.
Arkansas (plus 300) is a team that I bet prior to the regionals 1200. Arkansas was here last year and was one game away from the championship. The Hogs’ numbers indicate that they are in the top half of their tourney field in all important categories. They are focused and they are fortunate enough to play in the bracket with no other SEC club.
Texas Tech (plus 500) is a perennial Omaha participant as it went 1-2 in 2016 then 2-2 in ’17 before missing last year. Tech is a “hardball program” and while its team is relatively young and inexperienced, the pitching staff is comprised of players who have been to Omaha before, though most of the talented arms are underclassmen. The Red Raiders pack offensive pop, can field and their experience should help overcome their relative lack of effective pitching. If they can get by a dangerous Michigan club in the first game, these Red Raiders could be ready to surprise.
Florida State (plus 1000) will be a crowd favorite only because the fans in Omaha recognize true greatness when they have a chance to acknowledge it. FSU coach Mike Martin will retire this year after being at the helm at FSU for 39 years. He has brought FSU to this tourney on many occasions (last visit was 2017) and has won the championship eight times since 1996. Unfortunately for FSU, it is my opinion that this team did all it could just to earn its way here. This marvelous group of overachievers tore through Georgia and LSU to punch one more ticket for Martin in Omaha. As much as I love the story and want a memorable tourney for Martin, it’s my judgment that they’ll have little left for these other seven squads
Michigan (plus 2000) could well be diamond in the rough. When handicapping this tourney, I had already tossed this group of wily Wolverines out until I actually performed the research. Michigan has two of the top seven pitchers by ERA in this tourney. While the Wolverines are completely without CWS experience, they did manage to outpitch UCLA. Michigan is mispriced in my opinion, and it presents great value not only as a long shot in this tourney, but as a live dog against Texas Tech in Game 1. If the Wolverines do win the first game, you best believe Michigan could damage brackets in Omaha.
Vanderbilt (plus 300) is superbly coached by Tim Corbin, its past experience in Omaha runs deep as it won title in 2015 and last year were eliminated by CWS Champion Oregon St. in Corvallis in the Super Regionals. By the numbers, Vandy has it all and deserves to be labeled tourney chalk. The one hesitation I have for the Commodores is that they lack CWS experience, and they are on the side of the bracket that has the other SEC power in it.
Mississippi St. (plus 400) happens to be the other SEC team and it dominates the defensive numbers I track such as Team ERA (3.59, second best in the tourney), WHIP, hits allowed per nine innings and fielding percentage. Supplementing those defensive numbers is the fact that the Bulldogs were in Omaha last year and competed well, they return a core of their group and march into this Tournament poised to complete a chore they began last year. Led by the top pitching talent in the Tourney in Ethan Small (1.80 ERA, 90 innings pitched) MSU is a legitimate threat to win this tournament and arrives as hot as any team in the field.
Louisville (plus 800) is an underrated team in a brutal first round set-up. While it is hiding behind the bluster of the SEC, let’s not overlook a team that’s been knocking on the door of this championship for years. Louisville is as dominant by the numbers in all the categories already mentioned as MSU, but the Cardinals do not get the first game draw that MSU does (they play No. 1-ranked Vanderbilt). Louisville is a team that earned its way to Omaha in 2017, going 1-2, so there are some Cardinal upperclassmen who have been here prior. Louisville is a super sleeper in this side of the bracket IF it can vex Vanderbilt in Game 1. The Cardinal arrives high on belief and deep with talent. Contender.
Auburn (plus 1500) is a team that played outstanding baseball late as well benefited by competing against the dynamic talent and depth of championship baseball played in the SEC. Analytically, Auburn is the weak sister not only in this bracket, but in this tourney and I look for the Tigers (without a lick of CWS experience) to go “two and BBQ,” which in Omaha means two games and out.
My picks in addition to my earlier play on Arkansas:
Bracket I: Arkansas plus 300
I hate to eat this price, but the Razorbacks are the only SEC team in this bracket and they were within one game of the championship last year. They know the importance of winning the first two contests and they arrive with monumental momentum.
Bracket II: MSU plus 350
It’s really Mississippi State that I believe will be the one to beat in this bracket for the same reasons as Arkansas. They were in this tourney last year, they pitch well, field/play defense and will install ace Small as the Game 1 pitcher against an overmatched Auburn group.
Michigan (plus 125) vs. Texas Tech in Game 1
Michigan is mispriced. The Wolverines can play baseball with this athletic roster and if they had a touch of experience, I’d really be all over them.
Stevens is on Michigan as well, but he may be a bit biased. “What's especially exciting for me is to see Michigan and a great bunch of kids I've followed since Little League make it to the tournament,” said Stevens, a Michigan native whose son played Division I college baseball.