MLB odds: Is now a good time to bet on Los Angeles Dodgers futures?
By Edward Egros
FOX Sports MLB Betting Analyst
The last time the Los Angeles Dodgers did not make the postseason was the year of "Gangnam Style," "The Walking Dead" and the Twilight Saga’s merciful end (as someone who heard "Team Edward" frequently during that stretch, it was indeed merciful).
The year was 2012, and even at the end of that season, enough baseball fans noticed an uptick with Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez and others to where the Dodgers became one of the favorites to win the National League pennant in 2013. In the nine seasons since then, L.A. has never had longer than 12-1 odds in the preseason to win the World Series, and yet, they’ve only finished as World Champions once.
Currently, the Dodgers are considerable favorites to win their division (-227 per FOX Bet), have the shortest odds to win the pennant (+215) and are significant favorites to win the World Series (+450). But, one question no one is asking right now is: Given the lack of championships, is there value in betting on L.A. right now to win all of the above?
First, Major League Baseball’s postseason is more random than the other four major professional sports. As NFL Director of Football and Data Analytics Michael Lopez wrote, the results of MLB’s postseason are much closer to a coin flip than they are pre-determined, based upon the strengths seen during the regular season. Approximately 60% of the time, the better team wins a "best-of-7" series, and in "best-of-5" series or single-elimination matchups, those probabilities inch closer to that coin flip of 50%.
In a previous post, I explained how expected batting average (xBA) could better gauge a team’s present and future offensive success than basic box score statistics. We can use a ball club's xBA and their opponents’ xBA to determine who may be due for regression (positive or negative) by taking the difference between xBA and batting average (B.A.). Unfortunately, because Statcast data only extends back to 2015, not every Dodgers postseason during this run can be analyzed.
In 2021, at the end of the regular season, the National League ball club with the highest xBA – B.A. difference — suggesting they were due for positive regression — was the eventual champion Atlanta Braves. In part, the Dodgers’ difference in that same metric ranked in the middle of MLB because of injuries, including to guys like Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager.
In 2020, the only season during the Statcast era when the Boys in Blue won it all, L.A. finished second in xBA and sixth in xBA – B.A. difference. Before 2020, the Dodgers never came close to finishing near the top of the MLB standings in xBA, and other than 2016, when they were second, they were never one of the bigger candidates for positive regression.
What about pitching and defense, precisely what have the Dodgers allowed in terms of expected batting average? With hurlers like Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler, Big Blue has had more Statcast success in this area. From 2015-17, the Dodgers finished first in opponent xBA, second in 2018 and 2019, fourth in 2020 when they won it all and back to first last season. Pitching has never been an issue for this team, as it’s been the inability to make enough quality contact offensively against the best pitchers still playing.
Currently, the Dodgers sit eighth in xBA in the majors (.261), 20th in xBA – B.A. difference (0.012), first in opponent xBA (.225) and 12th in opponent xBA – B.A. difference (0.012). These differences suggest that while L.A. is off to a fantastic start, regression may be coming everywhere.
However, I am confident this regression will not be sizable enough for the Dodgers to miss out on the postseason and probably not enough to miss out on another division crown.
Another way to determine positive or negative regression is with Pythagorean winning percentage. This formula uses runs scored and runs allowed and converts it to a winning percentage that is meant to show how many wins a ball club "should" have. The difference between the actual record and the Pythagorean record can also predict future success. The Boys in Blue currently have a difference of -2 wins, meaning they should be two wins better than their record indicates. This mark is also the ninth-lowest in the majors. L.A. fans can thank Freddie Freeman for a consistent start or Mookie Betts with a multi-homerun game Tuesday night.
Now, let’s use this information regarding gambling for this season. Even if L.A. is due for a muted regression, all of their odds are too short for serious consideration. It may be better to wait for a slump (if it happens) before pouncing on the Dodgers. In the meantime, my approach with the NL West is to give serious consideration to the San Diego Padres with much longer odds (+320 at FOX Bet).
Aside from also being near the top of the standings, San Diego will get Fernando Tatis Jr. back, who finished in the top 30 individually last season in xBA. The Padres do not have a stellar xBA, but their xBA – BA difference of 0.008 suggests improvement. They also have a few starting pitchers in the top 35 in xBA allowed: Joe Musgrove (14th), Sean Manaea (19th) and Yu Darvish (32nd). At this price, betting on the Padres now definitely presents some value.
As for the Dodgers, volatility may be their biggest opponent at the moment, which makes the prices too steep. In other words, consider passing on the Dodgers right now as a compliment.
They are still really good, like Team Edward good.
Edward Egros is a sports analytics broadcaster/writer, a sports betting analyst, a data scientist and an adjunct professor of statistics at Pepperdine University. These passions have led him to become a cold brew aficionado. Edward previously worked in local television, notably at the Fox affiliate in Dallas covering the Rangers, Cowboys and high school football. Follow him on Twitter @EdWithSports.