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How Roxy sizes up the baseball season

March 11, 2020 11:08 PM
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Roxy Roxborough and Gill Alexander

Gill Alexander recently talked baseball betting with Roxy Roxborough on “A Numbers Game.” Here is an edited transcript, focusing on major-league win totals.

Alexander:

For this year, you have seven that you like. You like to do them division by division. 

Roxborough:

The reason I like to do it by divisions is, look, you're playing 76 games inside your own division. And so to me, it's correlated. If your figures say, well, you like every team in a division Over, it's possible, but you're probably missing something somewhere.

Alexander:

Not only that, the market is shaded to the Over to begin with, so if you're in a flurry of Overs, it might not be the greatest strategy.

Roxborough:

Maybe not.

Alexander:

All right. So we go to the AL Central. This is a very in-vogue club. Everybody, for the second straight year, but especially this year, everybody loves the Chicago White Sox. Not you. Not you.

Roxborough:

I don't like the White Sox for a lot of reasons. This has been a team that has probably been projected wrong by players and bookmakers for a long time. They've gone Under seven straight years, and there are only two teams that have ever had that streak of going Under. That's not why I'm playing them Under, because I don't believe so much in the historical numbers, but they've always been overrated, I think. Let's say this. They won 72 games last year. Now you ask them to win 86, so they pick up a lot of players, but if you could buy your way to five games over .500 from winning 72 games, everybody would do it.

Alexander:

That's very true.

Roxborough:

I mean, the Phillies tried to do it last year. … You just can't. On paper, some of these players might add up to give you 14 more games, and they do have some young players, which I'll cut them a little slack for, but I don't see it. This division also is better than last year. I have this division at an average of about 78.5  wins, where last year it was 75. So I also think the division is slightly better. It's not the pushover it was last year.

Alexander:

Like a third of their lineup had unbelievable batting averages on balls in play. So, for those of us who love Fangraphs, they had a real outlying thing with Yoan Moncada, Tim Anderson and Leury Garcia, who were all in the top 10 or 15 of BABIP guys, which is just a reflection of good fortune more than it is a skill set that you can repeat.

Roxborough:

Well, yes, and actually Fangraphs isn't a fan of this team either this year. … They have them right there at 84.5. I happen to like base runs. I think they're significant during the year, too, when you're looking at futures and you're looking to dig your way out in props as the year goes on. I also have an Over in this division, which is Kansas City, who won 59 games last year. Well, our projections come out about a 70-win team. 

Alexander:

This is a very bold one for you.

Roxborough:

Yeah, it is, because I try to get away from making bad teams win. … In the Overs and Unders, I really believe that once a team starts to fall apart, they just pack it in. … There's a difference between a rebuild and just a tankapalooza. I actually think the Royals think they're turning the corner with some players, and I just think this will be a different Royals team this year. I don't see them as a team that's just looking for draft choices. I think they're going to put a fairly competitive team on, and so we're asking them to win more than 66 games, which goes against my M.O.

Alexander:

With the Royals, if you look at their contracts, who would they trade at the trade deadline based on contracts? Maybe their closer, Ian Kennedy, but it's not like Whit Merrifield, because he's locked into a cheap contract. … (Jorge) Soler is still locked in, and so they probably will go with this group of players. You know, the White Sox and the Royals together, when you go to the pitchers … is their performance from one year sustainable to the next? In the case of the White Sox, to the good, is Lucas Giolito more likely to have his 2019 season or his horrific 2018? In the case of the Royals, are those guys like Jake Junis and Brad Keller ... can they possibly be as bad as they were? And the answer probably is no. … (The Royals) did have a good bullpen last year, though. That's obviously something for an Over on season win totals.

Roxborough:

They've probably done bullpens better than anybody, if you look at the last 10 years. … They've also been good about the acquisitions they've made for the pen, and I like the way they move their pen. … Basically they've set the standard for the way everybody uses their pen.

Alexander:

In 2014 and 2015 they went (Kelvin) Herrera, (Wade) Davis and (Greg) Holland in the seventh, eighth and ninth, which was their way of sort of backfitting the game. … Everybody tried to copy it. The Royals were like, "Hey, look, if we had a bigger payroll, we wouldn't have done this, but this is how we hack the game." … All right, we go to the American League West. Texas Rangers. You have a call on them.

Roxborough: I like them Under. And the Astros are sort of an enigma. … Nobody knows what's going to happen to the Astros this year. … We know they're going to be under a lot of pressure. I mean, how much were they cheating last year was sort of important…. 2017 doesn't make any difference, really. 2017 is gone. How much did they cheat last year is what we really need to know. … Talent-wise, they're by far the best in the division, if you just add up the talent, so I think they're a 95-win team anyway. And the A's are the massive overperformer some years. They could easily win 90 games, and I think the Angels are a lot better team this year. They're going to score, and if they can solve any pitching, they could be in there for a wild card, and maybe they could be an 88-win team. So somebody's got to lose, and Texas is a tough one, because Texas won 78 last year, and we bet them Under 71, and now they've gone out and made good acquisitions.

Alexander:

Their base runs were 71 last year.

Roxborough:

Yes, they were, and I thought there's a regression factor for this year, and they've done a good job of counteracting that regression with the players they brought in. But somebody has to lose in that division, and new ballpark or not, I think they're the ones who are going to go Under 79.5.

Alexander:

OK. So then it follows that you have the Mariners Under as well.

Roxborough:

I can't see any hope for the Mariners. They won 68 games last year, and remember they had that ridiculously fast start.

Alexander:

13-2. … And 55-92 the rest of the way.

Roxborough:

So where are they going to go from here? I don't think their young players are that good. They have a lot of guys that should be better and aren't, and after a few years, you just figure, OK, they're not going to be better. I just don't see where they go.

Alexander:

So the American League picks: White Sox Under, Royals Over and the Rangers and the Mariners Under.

… You've got three more in the National League. Again, like the AL East, you're taking a pass on the NL East. … You have a futures opinion in the NL East?

Roxborough:

The Marlins are a team that's going to be better this year. The problem is, the four teams ahead of them are all trying to be better, too, and it's really tough for them. If they won 70 games, it wouldn't surprise me.

Alexander:

All right, NL Central. You're going a little bit against the grain here. You like the Cardinals Under.

Roxy Roxborough:

This probably would be my best play. I have the Cardinals projected around 81, 82 wins. I really don't like teams that don't do anything during the offseason. ... I don't see how they can get better. I thought the number was too high. It's a competitive division. The Reds are, by the way, a team that's also gone Under seven years in a row, and I've been trying to make them go Over a few times, but I pass this time.

Alexander:

And in the NL West …

Roxborough:

The Rockies Under for the same reason: They did absolutely nothing. They have the problem with third baseman Nolan Arenado. … They've already said he'll be on the block before the trade deadline. I just don't see how they get better, and I think it's a hard, long season for them. They have a responsibility, probably, to make a better team, because they have the fifth-largest attendance. So they have people who come to the games, and they have spent a lot of money through the years, and they just haven't got anything from it. So I see the bottom falling out on them. … The other thing is ... outside of playing the Giants, they're going to have a hard time. I think Arizona's a little better and San Diego's better, and the Dodgers are the Dodgers, probably the greatest 162-game-team ever constructed.

Alexander:

So Under on the Cardinals, Under on the Rockies. You do like the Padres Over.

Roxborough:

This projection is a little different. As much as I like teams trying to buy their way to get better, this is a team that actually has the players on the team right now to get better. I don't think we saw the best of them last year. Between a lot of injuries and a lot of young players trying to play the game, I don't think we saw the best of them last year. This is going to be a struggle to get over 83, but my numbers came up 87, and that's a big gap between what you can bet Over and what they are. … And then as a bonus play … There's a matchup bet at Westgate where I'm taking Kansas City plus 20 games against the Cards. To me, that's also another way to get more money on the two teams I like.

Alexander:

There you go, creative ways of doing it. … Find derivative markets, find other creative props where you can creatively figure out a way to essentially ... get more money down on your conviction.

Roxborough:

Yeah, because ... you keep betting Under or Over and the numbers keep moving, and eventually you're going to lose value on every bet where the line moves, you're going to lose some value. And the question is: When is it time to stop? And then when you've decided you don't want to bet anymore, you have to look for some creative ways. Teams that make the playoffs, for example, might be one, because you can bet against them to make the playoffs, and the matchup bets are another. … The problem with the futures now is the league's so bifurcated that you just have all the low-price teams look like they ought to be low-price teams, and there's not a high enough price on any of the long shots for me that are compelling. … I would say if you had an opinion in the National League East, that would be the one that you could attack for futures books — division, pennant, World Series — because there's four teams in there with a chance, and you have to sort of think that the wild cards are coming out of that division.

 

Alexander:

OK, and those picks are, once again, the White Sox, Rangers, Mariners, Cardinals and Rockies Under and the Royals and the Padres Over.

 

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