The MLB season is less than two weeks from the All-Star break, and for those trying to stay afloat navigating the big minus favorites and nightly bullpen meltdowns, it might be time to find other ways to make baseball plays.
One way to expand your baseball portfolio, albeit late in the game, is getting into the player awards market. The best numbers are long gone, but sometimes a small piece of bruised fruit can still be sweet.
These futures, perhaps more than any other bet, rely heavily on qualitative data. Handicapping here means getting into the minds of the voters, not just breaking down who is excelling the most in certain statistical categories.
Don’t just bet on the player you think should win the Most Valuable Player or Cy Young awards, because unless you have a vote, that is a fundamental mistake.
This is where qualitative analysis becomes imperative. Watch and listen to which players are getting the most media attention and what the voters are talking and writing about.
As media members, the voters value content, clicks and eyeballs. Handicapping awards futures must incorporate the ongoing media narratives and the amount of coverage potential winners elicit.
Let the NBA Rookie of the Year Award be the case study.
When favorite LaMelo Ball went down with an injury in late March, that gave a lot of confidence to those backing Anthony Edwards for the award. This was natural: Ball was sidelined, while Edwards racked up stats throughout April.
In the end, that didn’t happen for a bet rooted in subjectivity.
Edwards looked good in the traditional categories at 19.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game, compared with Ball’s line of 15.7, 5.9 and 6.1. Edwards also had the edge in what seemed especially important, games played, with 72 to Ball’s 51.
Voters still went with Ball because of his advanced metrics (Edwards’ defense held him back with a plus-minus of -228) and possibly in last-name brand equity.
Taking the qualitative and quantitative approaches, media exposure was skewed toward Ball.
Using Google News mentions as a metric in breaking down player awards futures, “LaMelo Ball NBA” generated over 261,000 results compared with 194,000 for “Anthony Edwards NBA.”
Bookmakers were aware of this angle, and once word emerged that Ball could return in May, his odds shot back into the -200 range.
It’s not that Ball wasn’t deserving of the award; he was. It’s just worth noting that stories about him throughout the voting period are going to get more attention than the ones about the player doing his work with little fanfare in the Twin Cities.
With this in mind, let’s handicap the MLB awards with the media narratives as the basis.
Making any MLB player awards futures at this juncture should be done on a limited basis. It is about segmenting portions of your bankroll for some smaller supplements that won’t pay out for three months. Also, think about using media narratives for handicapping future awards markets.
This is an interesting race to judge on media exposure — but one with no remaining value.
The top two candidates, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (+ 105 on DraftKings and + 100 on BetMGM) and Shohei Ohtani (-106 on DraftKings and + 105 on BetMGM), are the type of players who will continue to receive media attention based on their performance and cachet.
Guerrero is in the Triple Crown hunt and has famous lineage, while Ohtani is an international two-way phenom. Both draw eyeballs. Those low odds are unplayable, but handicapping this race with media narrative as a prime variable should help you save some units if you have an itch to make a long bomb play.
Large-market stars Xander Bogaerts (+ 2800 DraftKings), Aaron Judge (+ 3500 DraftKings) and Jose Abreu (+ 4000 DraftKings) can quickly post impressive numbers, but not enough to take Guerrero and Ohtani out of many media conversations.
Looking at Google News mentions, “Shohei Ohtani” has 234,000, “Vladimir Guerrero Jr.” has 220,000 and “Xander Bogaerts” has 66,000. No surprise, “Aaron Judge” has the most mentions with over 3 million. Looking at this through a qualitative prism displays that many stories are critical of Judge, making it difficult for him to change the narrative even with a productive second half.
Current options for AL MVP: It’s too late to make a straight play on Guerrero or Ohtani. Any part of your baseball bankroll is better used on daily wagers instead of the crew in the long-shot field. If you have any MVP futures on Guerrero or Ohtani, look to make a hedge on the other one soon because if one goes down, the odds will make a noticeable shift and prevent this move.
Jacob deGrom is having a historic season. Just look on social media, listen to sports radio or watch TV and you will hear all about his success on the mound and at the plate.
Each start brings more attention to deGrom, and that spotlight is correlated with his rapidly dropping odds on DraftKings from + 3000 at the start of the season to + 700 one month in to the current + 125.
MVP odds move fast with headlines like “How I know Jacob deGrom belongs in the greatest-ever conversation” (New York Post) and “There is no statistical comparison for the brilliance of Jacob deGrom” (Sports Illustrated).
While deGrom gets attention and lower odds, the former leaders in this market, Ronald Acuna Jr. (+ 450 DraftKings and + 375 BetMGM) and Fernando Tatis Jr. (+ 200 DraftKings and + 150 BetMGM) are trailing.
What is happening at shortstop in San Diego is MVP-esque. The Padres winning and doing so with brashness is creating more national media attention that otherwise isn’t normally directed to California teams. Sorry, West Coasters, that’s just the case with so many journalists east of the Mississippi River.
Understanding the media tells me eventually the deGrom stories will slow down and the narrative will change. Soon there will be stories about whether an MVP should have limited innings on a pitch count.
Then on to the next shiny object, and that would be Tatis.
Action on Tatis makes sense and needs to be done before the media shifts its attention. It is a play based on his performance, on the probability against deGrom keeping up this pace and on the amount of time left in the season for a new story to emerge.
Current options for NL MVP: Avoid making any deGrom bets. If you already have some action on deGrom, hedge with Tatis.
If you are looking to enter this market, invest some of your baseball units on Tatis at DraftKings and think about adding on with any available liquidity over the next couple of weeks. Of all the awards, this is the one books are adjusting the most.
Perhaps a hot week of daily wagers raised your baseball units and you want to hit a home run of your own (just don’t overextend). The Kris Bryant MVP narrative (+ 3000 DraftKings and BetMGM) should have some legs. First he was on the verge of being traded and now is leading Chicago toward a playoff run.
Cincinnati teammates Nick Castellanos and Jesse Winker can be had for that same long price. But it’s not that tempting, since one has to step past the other, then past Acuna in the next tier and then in front of deGrom and Tatis.
AL Cy Young
Favored Gerrit Cole (-167 DraftKings and -175 BetMGM) is embroiled in the Spider Tack controversy. Anytime talk of cheating emerges, media members jump into holier-than-thou mode.
There is a reason the Houston Astros’ fantastic first-half performance has gone largely unnoticed by the national media.
Even though bettors have every reason to doubt the chances of the favorite whose spin rate just isn’t the same, that doesn’t translate into making plays on others.
Next on the board is Chicago’s Carlos Rodon (+ 350 on DraftKings and + 300 BetMGM). His April no-hitter feels lost in the shuffle, and Rodon has little media juice with 40,000 Google News mentions compared with teammate Lance Lynn, who is third on the board (+ 700 DraftKings and + 650 BetMGM) with over 105,000 mentions.
Yes, Lynn has been in the majors longer than Rodon, so he has been in the news for a longer period, but it still shows a lack of publicity.
Injuries to Shane Bieber and Tyler Glasnow drained all the value from this market.
Current options for AL Cy Young: At this point, it is a no-fly zone.
NL Cy Young
This is all about deGrom (-560 DraftKings and -450 BetMGM) and an award he will still likely win even if he misses time due to injury.
Any bet against deGrom would be the ultimate contrarian play, so if you do it, you must have the potential for a healthy payout. If you are compelled to swim upstream against the strong deGrom current, San Francisco’s Kevin Gausman (+ 2000 DraftKings and + 1500 BetMGM) should get consideration.
He is No. 1 in the Giants’ rotation while they remain atop the NL West, ahead of the Dodgers and Padres. Even though San Francisco has led the division from the start, the media spotlight has yet to reach the Bay Area because of the general belief it’s only a matter of time before the Dodgers or Padres leapfrog them in the standings.
What if that doesn’t happen and the Giants hold the course to an improbable division title?
Gausman would play the starring role. Still, a Gausman Cy Young Award would be contingent on him maintaining his performance, the Giants winning the division and deGrom getting injured. This late in the season, the payday for this de-facto correlated parlay is 20-1.
The early-season hype surrounding Milwaukee’s Brandon Woodruff (+ 1200 DraftKings and + 800 BetMGM) and Corbin Burnes (+ 1600 DraftKings and + 1500 BetMGM) was unsustainable and unlikely to return. And Los Angeles’ tandem of Walker Buehler (+ 3300 DraftKings and + 3500 BetMGM) and Trevor Bauer (+ 2500 DraftKings and + 4000 BetMGM) are finding themselves in too many stories discussing declining spin rates.
The Phillies’ Zack Wheeler (+ 2500 DraftKings and + 1800 BetMGM) has the peripheral stats that captivate voters. He is an option to consider toward the end of July.
Current options for NL Cy Young: Be smarter with your money than making a -450 bet regardless of who it is. If you are in the mood to gamble, look at Gausman, but don’t rush. This market doesn’t have enough movement to justify tying up units while going against deGrom.
AL and NL Rookie of the Year
DraftKings and BetMGM no longer have either on the board.