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Projecting MLB season with strength ratings

By Steve Makinen  (Point Spread Weekly editor) 

July 8, 2020 12:03 AM
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Gerrit Cole
© Imagn

Earlier in the quarantine hiatus for sports, I offered some of my MLB strength ratings with the lineup, starting pitching and bullpen rankings for all 30 teams. When the schedule for the abbreviated 60-game season was released Monday, it was a perfect time to put it all together and run my ratings against the schedule to see if any major difference, and thus wagering value, could be found.

 

For this exercise, I assumed the pitching rotations and then plugged them in alongside my bullpen and home/road ratings. I also made some adjustments to the numbers based on players who have opted out of the season for coronavirus concerns.

 

Before diving into the projected standings, here are some notes I made as I analyzed the season win total wagering odds available at William Hill Sportsbook:

— The most crucial factor, I believe, will be the availability of players. For instance, with starting pitcher David Price having opted out already, my numbers dropped a little over one win for the Dodgers as compared to his replacement making an expected 12 starts. What if a major offensive star is lost? Let’s look at Mike Trout of the Angels. According to how I have moved numbers in making odds previously in Trout’s absence, he would account for about a five-game drop for the Angels if he missed the entire season. These situations must be considered when placing wagers. Perhaps consider teams with better depth and less top-line star power as less volatile options.

— The plan is to begin the season without fans in the stands. What does this do to home-field advantage? I assume it will be reduced, but I did my projections as if nothing will change. But what if some teams bring in fans later on? What if these teams have more home games late in the season than early? In this case, they might get a bit of a bump to their projected wins, and opponents might face longer odds.

— What is the impact of the presence of the designated hitter for all 30 teams? Does this give the American League teams a further advantage, since their rosters were built for this scenario? Do the NL bullpens naturally take on less of a load, meaning they could prove more effective? These are important ideas to follow early in the season.

— How does the vastly shortened 60-game season affect urgency? Does it make the more talented teams even better? Does it give a chance to younger teams that might catch a hot streak for a greater percentage of the season?

— Finally, how will the schedule — facing only division opponents and those from the opposite league’s division — impact the standings? On paper, it would seem that a power team from the West, such as the Astros or Dodgers, might have the easiest road and thus the best chance to exceed the posted win totals. My ratings obviously reflect schedule strength, but this factor could change things for some teams.

 

Here are the projected divisional standings using my Effective Strength Ratings and projected starting rotations. Be sure to follow my daily game projections all season on VSiN.com.

 

AL East

1. New York Yankees: 36.85-23.15 (61.4%). William Hill win total: 37.5. Difference: -0.65

2. Tampa Bay Rays: 33.8-26.2 (56.3%). William Hill win total: 34. Difference: -0.2

3. Boston Red Sox: 30.59-29.41 (51.0%). William Hill win total: 31.5. Difference: -0.91

4. Toronto Blue Jays: 27.99-32.01 (46.7%). William Hill win total: 27.5. Difference: + 0.49

5. Baltimore Orioles: 21.84-38.16 (36.4%). William Hill win total: 20.5. Difference: + 1.34

 

Analysis: The Yankees are the American League favorites for good reason, as I had them at or near the top of the league in lineup, starting pitching and bullpen strength. Even so, the William Hill guys give them a bit bigger edge than I do. Still, between the AL and NL East divisions, I have seven of 10 teams finishing above .500, meaning these teams will need to take care of business when facing the other three. This is a tough scenario, and winning or losing series against the bottom teams will definitely impact win totals. I give Baltimore a little more credit than the oddsmakers do, as well as Toronto, which will be sending a heavily rebuilt roster to the field in 2020. If some of the young talent hits, the Blue Jays could be the easiest win total going Over in the AL East.

 

AL Central

1. Cleveland Indians: 33.14-26.86 (55.2%). William Hill win total: 32.5. Difference: + 0.64

2. Minnesota Twins: 33.07-26.93 (55.1%). William Hill win total: 34. Difference: -0.93

3. Chicago White Sox: 30.47-29.53 (50.8%). William Hill win total: 31.5. Difference: -1.03

4. Kansas City Royals: 25.44-34.56 (42.4%). William Hill win total: 25. Difference: + 0.44

5. Detroit Tigers: 23.04-36.96 (38.4%). William Hill win total: 22. Difference: + 1.04

 

Analysis: Cleveland has been able to withstand major blows to its rotation in recent years, losing guys like Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer. But the Indians have still kept a good enough staff in place to be considered the favorites in the AL Central. Oddsmakers like two other teams in this division, though. Minnesota, which set the MLB record for home runs last year, wins in a much different fashion from the Indians. The White Sox are a young, upstart team that made some serious moves in the offseason to upgrade their pitching and could benefit from the shortened schedule. I have the Twins and White Sox going Under their season win totals, as I believe the schedule versus the NL Central will be taxing for teams in this division.

 AL West

1. Houston Astros: 35.12-24.88 (58.5%). William Hill win total: 35, Difference: + 0.12

2. Oakland Athletics: 33.01-26.99 (55.0%). William Hill win total: 32.5. Difference: + 0.51

3. Los Angeles Angels: 30.07-29.93 (50.1%). William Hill win total: 31. Difference: -0.93

4. Texas Rangers: 29.49-30.51 (49.2%). William Hill win total: 28.5. Difference: + 0.99

5. Seattle Mariners: 23.62-36.38 (39.4%). William Hill win total: 23.5. Difference: + 0.12

 

Analysis: After the sign-stealing scandal emerged following last year’s World Series, a lot of fans will root against the Astros. Fortunately for Houston, it figures to avoid much of that wrath without fans at the park. Despite the controversy, you can’t deny this team’s talent, even without Gerrit Cole. Oakland also boasts a solid lineup and an underrated pitching staff. The interesting teams in this division will be the Angels and Rangers. Los Angeles is a perennial underachiever that added World Series MVP Anthony Rendon. The Angels’ hopes revolve around the performance of their reworked starting staff and the healthy return of Shohei Ohtani. Texas has been hit hard by the coronavirus but has some good pieces in place to make a run at the postseason, including newly acquired ace Corey Kluber.

 

NL East 

1. Washington Nationals: 33.29-26.71 (55.5%). William Hill win total: 33. Difference: + 0.29

2. Atlanta Braves: 32.08-27.92 (53.5%). William Hill win total: 33.5. Difference: -1.42

3. New York Mets: 30.64-29.36 (51.1%). William Hill win total: 31.5. Difference: -0.86

4. Philadelphia Phillies: 30.52-29.48 (50.9%). William Hill win total: 31.5. Difference: -0.98

5. Miami Marlins: 23.39-36.61 (39.0%). William Hill win total: 24.5. Difference: -1.11

 

Analysis: I have the Nationals winning the NL East. William Hill has the Braves, although the margin is just one-half game. This could easily turn into a four-team race, as the Mets and Phillies also boast playoff aspirations and two of the best sluggers in the game in Pete Alonso and Bryce Harper, respectively. According to my earlier study, Washington had the top-ranked starting pitching staff in baseball. And coming off a World Series title, the Nats could be playing with chips on their shoulders from a lack of respect by the experts. The loss of third baseman Anthony Rendon will be a lot to overcome, though. The Braves are facing some of the biggest coronavirus concerns, with Nick Markakis and Felix Hernandez already opting out and Freddie Freeman recovering after testing positive.

 

NL Central

1. Chicago Cubs: 32.43-27.57 (54.1%). William Hill win total: 32.5. Difference: -0.07

2. Cincinnati Reds: 32.39-27.61 (54.0%). William Hill win total: 31.5. Difference: + 0.89

3. St. Louis Cardinals: 32.05-27.95 (53.4%). William Hill win total: 31.5. Difference: + 0.55

4. Milwaukee Brewers: 31.88-28.12 (53.1%). William Hill win total: 30.5. Difference: + 1.38

5. Pittsburgh Pirates: 25.11-34.89 (41.9%). William Hill win total: 25.5. Difference: -0.39

 

Analysis: The NL Central is expected to be the most hotly contested divisional race in baseball. The William Hill experts show a difference of just two games on their season win total props between the first- and fourth-place teams. My projections show a margin of just .55 wins among those four teams. Keep in mind that I use three key rating systems for these projections. The teams have different strengths and weaknesses, but collectively, they are that close. Cincinnati is expected to make the biggest jump after adding Mike Moustakas, Shogo Akiyama, Nick Castellanos and Trevor Bauer. The Cubs lost more than they added but have been fixtures at the top of this division of late. You could say similar things about the Cardinals, and to a lesser degree the Brewers, who will take on a different look with several free-agent additions replacing departed starters. The Brewers also still boast one of the league’s top bullpens, led by Josh Hader. The Pirates are probably a better team than their 25.5-win prop indicates, but their schedule figures to be the toughest in baseball.

 

NL West

1. Los Angeles Dodgers: 36.06-23.94 (60.1%). William Hill win total: 38. Difference: -1.94

2. Arizona Diamondbacks: 30.42-29.58 (50.7%). William Hill win total: 31. Difference: -0.58

3. San Diego Padres: 30.38-29.62 (50.6%). William Hill win total: 30.5. Difference: -0.12

4. Colorado Rockies: 27.78-32.22 (46.3%). William Hill win total: 27.5. Difference: + 0.28

5. San Francisco Giants: 24.05-35.95 (40.1%). William Hill win total: 25. Difference: -0.95

 

Analysis: The weakest division in MLB probably is the NL West, and it figures to be dominated by the Dodgers once again. However, a lot of experts are high on the Diamondbacks, who have some solid up-and-coming talent and added an ace in Madison Bumgarner. Their gain was the Giants’ loss, and things are looking dreary for San Francisco’s prospects in 2020 as I, as well as William Hill, have them finishing better than only the Marlins in the National League. Padres fans have some hope, but after last year’s more lofty expectations weren’t met, it’s a guarded optimism. The Padres are legitimately good across the board, and closer Kirby Yates is great.  The Rockies should be better than the Giants. I can’t say much more.

 

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