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Prop of thrones: Big 5 vs. field for college crown

Jeff Fogle
VSiN.com

Taking a deeper look at the South Point’s Power Five college football prop, plus the analytics angle on the playoff chase and our Wednesday tutorial. 

College Football: What futures prices suggest about South Point’s “Big Five” prop
Once again this season, Chris Andrews of the South Point has posted a special betting prop that groups one team from each of the Power 5 conferences into a fistful of fury against the rest of the country. 

Alabama (SEC)
USC (Pac 12)
Florida State (ACC)
Oklahoma (Big 12)
Wisconsin (Big 10)

You can bet on that grouping…and if ANY of the five teams wins the National Championship, you win your bet. Or, you can bet “the field,” which gives you everyone else in the country (including the likes of Ohio State, Washington, Penn State, Michigan, Clemson, LSU, Auburn, and Oklahoma State). 

The Power Five opened at -175 to win (because Alabama and USC are such popular choices), with “the field” returning plus 155. Check out Chris’s appearances on VSiN’s daily programming to hear the latest odds as sharps and the public take their shots. 

How does the prop line up with South Point’s futures prices? Let’s take a look…

Alabama: 5/2 (29% to win on the percentage equivalent)
USC: 4/1 (20% to win)
Oklahoma: 10/1 (9% to win)
Florida State: 12/1 (8% to win)
Wisconsin: 25/1 (4% to win)

You can see that those five add up to 70% to win already. Why aren’t they about -230 on the moneyline (since 70 divided by 30 is 2.33)? Remember that sportsbooks bake in a form of vigorish in futures prices to create a house edge. There’s actually a lot more than 100% to go around. Let’s look at some of the top threats in “the field.”

Ohio State: 3/1 (25% to win)
Michigan: 8/1 (13% to win)
Penn State: 12/1 (8% to win)
LSU: 12/1 (8% to win)
Louisville: 18/1 (5% to win)
Clemson: 25/1 (4% to win)
Washington: 25/1 (4% to win)
Oklahoma State: 25/1 (4% to win)

Those eight teams add up to 71%, which is already more than the 70% total from the big five (creating a universe larger than 140%!). When you throw in the rest of the country (on the off chance somebody like Stanford, Texas, or an SEC surprise is much better than expected), you can see that futures prices alone would have something closer to pick-em. 

Why the discrepancy? Many reasons. First, the South Point reacts to money…and it’s possible that high futures bet totals are coming in on “field” teams whose fans are overly optimistic. If Michigan, Penn State, LSU, and Louisville are more realistically 25/1 shots because they’re not going to match up well with the true elites…then the Power 5 prop price makes more sense. 

Also, the South Point must defend against the public’s tendency to bet chalk. The combination of Alabama and USC is going to look very attractive to casual fans who believe both are destined for great years. USC was playing like a Final Four team down the stretch a year ago. Alabama is loaded again. The Power 5 entry is expected to be popular with the public. 

Bettors have to decide if Chris’s Power 5 teams are likely to dominate the brackets while “the best of the rest” are less likely to threaten than the futures prices suggest. Or, if this battle is more like a true pick-em because having Ohio State and a lot of friends is more powerful than having Alabama, USC, and three friends. 

MLB: Fangraphs has St. Louis Cardinals, LA Angels each around 3/1 to make the playoffs
Even though it can feel to some that much of the drama is out of the divisional races…with the LA Dodgers, Washington Nationals and Houston Astros already locks to win, then the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians starting to pull away…there’s still a demolition derby in play to decide who’s going to join them.

Because handicapping late summer baseball involves trying to anticipate what’s about to happen, it behooves bettors to study a respected analytics site like fangraphs to see what it’s predicting. We haven’t looked at their “cool standings” page in awhile. Let’s get caught up. 

Starting in the simpler National League…there’s only one divisional race in the air. Fangraphs has so much respect for the Cubs that they don’t even see that one as being in the air! (All percentages shown in today’s newsletter are through Monday’s action because of publication deadlines.)

To win the NL Central: Chicago Cubs 80.4%, St. Louis 16.2%, Milwaukee 1.9%, Pittsburgh 1.4%

Hard to know if the fangraphs algorithm is properly factoring in being shorthanded at catcher, feeling the pressure of choking, or whatever else has been causing this extended World Series championship hangover. The recent St. Louis surge has lifted the Cards up to 16% to win the division and the auto-bid into the brackets. 

NL Wildcard Contenders to Make Playoffs (two will qualify)
Arizona 84.6%
Colorado 78.5%
St. Louis 36.0%
Milwaukee 5.2%
Pittsburgh 3.8%

Fangraphs has St. Louis at about 20% to earn a Wildcard, which adds up to 36% to make the playoffs as either a divisional winner or a Wildcard. Yes, Arizona and Colorado may feel like locks for the play-in game. There’s still a 1-in-5 chance Colorado won’t make it, a 1 in 5.5 chance that Arizona won’t. 

The American League is messier. Let’s take a quick peak at the East and Central, where Boston and Cleveland are looking lock-ish after recent surges. Analytic models love pitching, and both the Red Sox and Indians shine in evaluations of rotation and bullpen. 

To win the AL East: Boston 88.4%, NYY 10.3%, Tampa Bay 0.7%, Baltimore 0.4%.
To win the AL Central: Cleveland 96.5%, Kansas City 2.2%, Minnesota 1.3%

Those favorites only lead by about five games in your newspaper standings. It’s tougher for teams with deep pitching to have the kind of collapse it would take to fall out of a lead that size. 

AL Wildcard Contenders to Make Playoffs (two will qualify)
NY Yankees 69.1%
LA Angels 32.2%
Kansas City 29.3%
Minnesota 21.0%
Tampa Bay 15.6%
Texas 9.6%
Baltimore 9.4%
Seattle 8.0%

Kansas City cooled off, Tampa Bay lost its bats, Seattle slumped after a nice run. Suddenly it’s the Los Angeles Angels with rested Mike Trout positioned to make the most of the final furlong. A week from now a different horse may have bolted to the top. 

Even though the Angels and Cardinals have mostly been off the radar all season, each is now about 3-1 to reach the postseason according to fangraphs.

Wednesday Tutorial: The danger of thinking about “how many points” a player is worth in football
There’s been a lot of talk in recent days about “how many points” Ezekiel Elliot is worth to the Dallas Cowboys. Do they drop a couple of points in Power Ratings? Do they not drop at all because the Cowboys have the depth to deal with a 4-6 game absence? What should the Week One line at home against the New York Giants be? 

The danger in thinking about the issue in “points” is that all points aren’t created equal in football! Let’s take a quick look at the estimated win percentages for each victory margin in the NFL

NFL
-1.0: 51.3%
-1.5: 52.5%
-2.0: 53.5%
-2.5: 54.5%
-3.0: 59.4%
-3.5: 64.3%
-4.0: 65.8%

Whoa! The difference between dead even and two points is only 3.5 percentage points. But, the difference between two points and four points is almost 11 percentage points! Three is such a common (and critical) number in pro football and the betting landscape that a player “being worth two points” doesn’t make any sense at all if the game will cross that threshold. He’s worth 11 percentage points sometimes but only 3.5 percentage points in a toss-up? 

Let’s finish out the scale up past the key numbers of SEVEN and TEN…

-4.5: 67.3%
-5.0: 68.10
-5.5: 69.0%
-6.0: 70.7%
-6.5: 72.4%
-7.0: 75.2%
-7.5: 78.1%
-8.0: 79.1%
-8.5: 80.2%
-9.0: 80.7%
-9.5: 81.1%
-10.0: 83.6%
-10.5: 86.0%
-11.0: 87.1%

You can see that the scale takes baby steps up to the seven…then a leap before and after. Same thing to a lesser extent around the ten. 

Can a player be worth “2 points” to a pointspread when:
The move from -1.5 to -3.5 increases win percentage 52.5 to 64.3%
The move from -3.5 to -5.5 increases win percentage from 64.3% to 69.0%
The move from -5.5 to -7.5 increases win percentage from 69.0% to 78.1%
The move from -7.5 to -9.5 increases win percentage from 78.1% to 81.1%

That’s a hopscotch of 11.8, 4.7, 9.1, and 3 even though the point increments were equal. 

There aren’t any “key numbers” in baseball moneylines that would cause the same kind of monkey wrench. But, there is an issue regarding “how many cents” a star player is worth, or how important a line move is. You may recall a discussion about the line impact of Mike Trout back when he was injured earlier this season. The issue with moneylines in all sports is that the impact in “cents” is different depending on how competitive a game is expected to be. 

Here’s the win equivalent moving 10 cents at a time. 

MLB
-110: 52.4%
-120: 54.5%
-130: 56.5%
-140: 58.3%
-150: 60%
-160: 61.5%
-170: 63%
-180: 64.3%
-190: 66.5%
-200: 66.7%
-210: 67.7%
-220: 68.8%
-230: 69.7%
-240: 70.6%
-250: 71.4%

Imagine you see a 40-cent move in a baseball game. A jump from -120 to -160 would be huge, moving from 54.5% to 61.5%. But a move from -180 to -220 is less significant…representing a move from 64.3% to 68.8% (that’s 7 percentage points compared to just 4.5 percentage points). Both are 40 cents, but all cents aren’t created equal. 

So, as you try to answer the question of Ezekiel Elliott’s worth…think about win percentage. How often would the Cowboys win that season opener against the Giants with him? How often without him? A line of Cowboys -4.5 would mean winning about 67% of the time. Does losing Elliot mean nothing? Does losing Elliot drop that to 60% (about -3), or 55% (about -2.5)?

Before wrapping up, a quick word on how sharps bet injuries or suspensions. First, you have to remember that many sharps are “market players” who bet A LOT of games for value.  Simplifying…they’re not trying to find one game that wins. They’re trying to find nine games that go 5-4 or even 13 games that go 7-6 at -110 or better pricing. They’ve told VSiN City on background that they’ll generally bet quickly against any settled line when a player is ruled out. The assumption is that any starter is worth SOMETHING, even if it’s only a fraction of a point or a few ticks in win percentage. 

Imagine that a settled line shows the favorite -6 (football or basketball). That means the market has basically determined that six is the “right” number for the game. Then, a starter or key bench player is ruled out for the favorite. Sharps will bet plus six on the news if they can before sportsbooks adjust. Maybe the new “right” numbers is only plus 5.8. Getting the full six is going to pay off over the long haul. Sharps may bet hundreds of games in a calendar year. The fractions add up. 

It’s generally true that the betting public “overrates” the impact of injuries or suspensions, assuming disasters that aren’t going to happen and over-betting in a way that puts way too much weight on that one game. Sharps make value bets on ALL personnel news on the assumption that players have value, even if it’s only fractional. Oddsmakers try to move the lines quickly on news in a way that discourages sharps from grinding while encouraging the public to overreact. Tricky tightrope. 

We’re now just a day away from SuperContest Weekend at the Westgate. All VSiN programming will air from the Westgate Thursday through Saturday as football fans and guest experts from around the country are welcomed in for this annual event. VSiN is honored to be the official media outlet for the SuperContest (and the new SuperContest Gold). Don’t forget that we’ll be holding a drawing on Saturday August 19 to award a free entry to the SuperContest (a $1,500 value) to a VSiN City subscriber. Click here to subscribe for free so you’re automatically entered into the drawing! (And, check out our sponsor footballcontest.com for information on using a proxy if you don’t live in Las Vegas). 

Programming and news bulletins are posted throughout the day on our twitter site. Click here to follow us. If you have any questions or comments, please drop us a note (or comment on the Facebook widget below). 

We’ll see you Thursday as we gear up for another big football weekend. Space permitting, we’ll preview the four-game MLB weekend series matching the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates as well.

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