The best bets for the 2021 MLB season
By Sam Panayotovich
FOX Sports Betting Analyst
One of the most overused words in the sports betting space is "value."
Content creators love to throw it around, even though some of them don’t really understand what it means. Many just say there’s "value" when they like a bet, which is infuriating.
The ones that use it right, however, truly understand the importance of getting the best bang for your buck.
Let's take baseball futures, for example. When you’re looking for a World Series wager, as many fans are, less than a month away from Opening Day, you should always aim to get ahead of a team’s eventual push for a pennant or World Series title. If that team starts out hot in April or May, the odds will shorten. That’s how it works in this racket.
And if your team is already at the front of the pack? Well, good luck.
Heading into the 2021 Major League Baseball season, the reigning champion Los Angeles Dodgers have almost zero betting value because of how high their chances – and how low their betting odds are – to win it all. You’re paying for past performance, plus the improvement the Dodgers made even on paper by adding Trevor Bauer to an already loaded rotation.
"There’s no doubt that any time you bet a marquee team, whether it’s a future or a game that week, you’re probably getting charged a little extra," William Hill U.S. director of trading Nick Bogdanovich told FOX Sports.
"Hopefully, it’s subliminal, so it’s not noticeable," he joked.
"Take the Dodgers for instance," Bogdanovich continued. "We’ve got them 2-to-1 to win the World Series now. We opened their win total at 104.5 and immediately got bet to 104. Sharps thought we were too high – and we probably did shade it too high. They’re the champions, and we knew they were going to get bet. There’s probably a tax of a half a game or a game on the real good teams."
Los Angeles opened around +350 when the future markets first came online, but that hasn't stopped people from lining up behind the boys in blue. William Hill reported that they’ve already written the most future tickets on the Dodgers – and twice as much money as any other team in the league – to drive that number down to +200.
After the Dodgers at +200, the other heavy hitters at Bogdanovich’s book are the New York Yankees (+650), San Diego Padres (+700), Chicago White Sox (+750), New York Mets (+1200) and Atlanta Braves (+1400). So a $100 bet wins you $200, $650, $700, $750, $1,200 or $1,400, respectively.
The prices at FOX Bet are very similar, with a little more value on teams like the Padres (at +900). In fact, those six teams are at the top of almost every betting board across America.
It certainly helps that they all had pretty decent seasons last year (except for the Mets, of course, but they garnered plenty of offseason attention after acquiring Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco from Cleveland). Bookmakers recognize the hype, potential and talent they all possess.
"In a normal year, we look at the previous year’s results or maybe the last two years on the number of wins," Bogdanovich said. "We see what kind of roster moves they’ve made and also moves that other teams in the division made. This year is a little trickier. We did the best we could [with the future odds] and we’ll always move the numbers real fast off the money. Usually, there’s a little bit of historical twist, but going off of last year’s results with COVID was impossible."
Booking win totals and booking futures are night and day. With a win total, the average juice is usually around -110 or -115 either way. So you can’t really get crushed too badly behind the counter, especially if you adjust the totals accordingly and balance the budget.
But if a bookmaker misses the mark on a team in the future pool, the payouts can be deadly.
"When the Braves and Twins met in the early 90s, it ruined baseball futures forever," Bogdanovich remembered. "What a stroll down memory lane. Both teams were like 200-to-1, and they met in the World Series. Every book got barbecued either way.
"Everybody got cautious and started to shorten the odds up. When a team was supposed to be 200-to-1, they were [actually] 120-to-1 for a while there. Then everybody realized how much gravy they made on those teams when they didn’t cut the odds. So it’s all cyclical."
Bogdanovich admitted that it’s very difficult to price the long shots. He tends to do extra mathematical gymnastics in his head on teams that should realistically have no shot to hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy.
"That’s the bookmaker’s dilemma every year," Bogdanovich said. "When a team is 500-to-1, you’re giving them hardly any chance. But then why give the bettors 500 when you can give 400? It’s hard to price those teams. When you’re at 600-to-1, is there any difference between 600 and 700?
"Pricing those teams to where people still think there’s a reason to bet them is very artful and tricky. And the liability adds up so fast, so the bookmaker has to do a double take. You better have some support of management when you’re just blindly putting teams up at 300 or 500,000-to-1. If one of those cashes, you better have some backing upstairs for sure."
If long shots live on one end of the spectrum, the trendy teams reside on the other end. Teams like the Padres and White Sox were around 40-to-1 to win last year's World Series on Opening Day 2020. The sportsbooks viewed them both as organizations on the up and up, but still a year or two from really competing.
This year they’re both short of 10-to-1, so the numbers say they’re ready.
But are the White Sox too sexy?
"Like the Browns two years ago," Bogdanovich cracked. "They were doing Hard Knocks and everything was expected of them. Every year, there’s a couple teams like that. They spend a lot of money in the offseason and maybe the division got a little weaker. Then everybody starts to tout them. The White Sox definitely fit that bill heading into this season."
As a diehard White Sox fan, I feel obligated to counter all this blasphemy by reminding you that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the sexiest team of last year’s NFL offseason. All they did was win the Super Bowl. So it can happen.
I had to ask Bogdanovich what he thought about the state of the game. There are many people in baseball circles that believe the disparity between the top teams and everybody else hasn’t been this gaping in a while. A handful of teams spend all the money and too many ball clubs are in some stage of a rebuilding process.
Bogdanovich doesn’t think the gap is that drastic.
"You have to do one or the other," he explained. "You’ve either got to spend the money or say you’re going to start over. If you’re in the middle, you’re lost. Because you can’t compete and then you get obliterated by the media. I still think baseball is somewhat competitive, though. It’s not as bad as the NBA was for three or four years with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors. It’s not just the Dodgers and Yankees and the rest. There are probably seven or eight teams that can win the World Series."
I’m extremely bullish on Atlanta (+1400) this season because I absolutely love their lineup. Adding Marcell Ozuna to the middle of an offense that scored the second-most runs in the league makes me very excited to see the fireworks this year. Plus, they get top-of-the-rotation starter Mike Soroka back real soon from his Achilles injury.
Once the Braves dispatch those overhyped Mets down the stretch and win the National League East, their future odds will drop to +450 or +500. So I believe there’s tremendous upside and value at the current number. And that’s when you take your shot.
Here’s hoping they save some stones to sling at the Dodgers.
Sam Panayotovich is a sports betting analyst for FOX Sports and NESN. He previously worked for WGN Radio, NBC Sports and VSiN. He'll probably pick against your favorite team. Follow him on Twitter @spshoot.