Over/Under Win Totals 2020: Fading Favorites

Over/Under Win Totals 2020: Fading Favorites

Before each season the last 19 years I've written a story at RotoWire with my best bets for the season-long win totals (this is the 20th edition). I'm a big fan of the season win total bets since I started making them in person in Las Vegas back in the late 1990s. I've used several standards of sabrametrical analysis to find teams that appeared to be good historical bets.

I've had a good track record, winning 50 of 87 bets (with one push) for a 57.4 percent win rate. (Here are last year's picks.) My best bet each season is 18-14 (I had multiple biggest bets some years). I'm a little better on bets of $100 or more (I vary my bet size to emphasize how strongly I feel about the pick) where I'm 13-9 (59.1 percent). I'm most impressive when looking at the total amount bet, where I've been correct 64 percent of the time ($3,200 in winning bets, $2,000 in losers — not factoring in the vig*).

However, this season is quite different. I was almost finished with my season-long win total picks article just before the MLB season shut down due to the pandemic. I'd even placed some of these wagers at a legal sportsbook in Iowa (welcome to the new U.S. Sports betting landscape). Of course, they're now all void with the move to the shorter season, which starts Thursday.

Faced with a 60-game season, do my methods, which largely depend on a regression to the mean, still hold up? Probably not as much, but that doesn't mean I won't try.

Here's my take on each team with more analysis below on those I selected as my "bets."

           TEAM2019 WINS2020 O/U    162-GAME EQUIVMY PICK
Arizona Diamondbacks       85      31.5                 85.1   Under
Atlanta Braves       97      33.5                 90.5    Over
Baltimore Orioles       54      20.5                 55.4   Under
Boston Red Sox       84      30.5                 82.4   Under
Chicago Cubs       84      31.5                 85.1      Under
Chicago White Sox       72      31.5                 85.1   Under
Cincinnati Reds       75      31.5                 85.1   Under
Cleveland Indians       93      33.5                 90.5    Over
Colorado Rockies       71      26.5                 71.6   Under
Detroit Tigers       47      21.5                 58.1   Under
Houston Astros      107      35.5                 95.9    Over
Kansas City Royals       59      24.5                 66.2   Under
Los Angeles Angels       72      31.5                 85.1    Over
Los Angeles Dodgers      106      37.5                101.3   Under
Miami Marlins       57      24.5                 66.2   Under
Milwaukee Brewers       89      30.5                 82.4    Over
Minnesota Twins      101      34.5                 93.2    Over
New York Mets       86      32.5                 87.8   Under
New York Yankees      103      37.5                101.3   Under
Oakland Athletics       97      33.5                 90.5    Over
Philadelphia Phillies       81      31.5                 85.1    Over
Pittsburgh Pirates       69      25.5                 68.9   Under
San Diego Padres       77      30.5                 82.4    Over
San Francisco Giants       77      25.5                 68.9   Under
Seattle Mariners       68      24.5                 66.2   Under
St. Louis Cardinals       91      31.5                 85.1    Over
Tampa Bay Rays       96      33.5                 90.5    Over
Texas Rangers       78      28.5                 77.0    Over
Toronto Blue Jays       67      27.5                 74.3    Over
Washington Nationals       93      33.5                 90.5    Over

For this exercise, I'm using Odds from FanDuel Sportsbook, which I grabbed July 20.

When I look at a upcoming baseball season, there are eight methods I use to judge which teams might be a good bet: Three are statistical, four are observations I've had watching the bookies set season-long lines for MLB and other sports and lately I've thrown in a wild-card pick with no particular theoretical basis. Here's the breakdown on these theories and the teams I decided to actually wager on.

The Johnson Effect

The Johnson Effect argues that a team that scores more runs or allows fewer runs than most statistical formulas would suggest, is bound to regress the next season. For example, if one team scores more runs than sabrmetrical formulas such as Runs Created or OPS might suggest, then it will score less the next season. The theory works based on the fact that sometimes a team has more success than it should just based on pure luck. A bad bounce here, a fluke play there — they can add up in one season and make a team look more powerful than it should be.

My favorite type of statistic for this analysis is a tool called the Pythagorean Theory. You probably learned the Pythagorean theory in trigonometry, but in baseball it means that the ratio of a team's wins and losses will be similar to the relationship between the square of its runs scored and the square of its runs allowed. If the runs a team scores and gives up in any given season don't translate into the expected win total from the Pythagorean Theory, that means something odd took place that should turn around next season.

Using the Johnson Effect and applying the Pythagorean Theory, which teams look like they'll rebound in 2020? Here are the top teams that should have seen more or fewer wins based on their 2019 runs allowed/created than they actually tallied:

Milwaukee Brewers       +8
San Diego Padres        +7
Baltimore Orioles        -6
Chicago Cubs        -6

I usually like to look for teams that have a differential of 10 or more games. None of these teams fit the profile, so I'll pass on this bet. The Brewers are a team I expect to bounce back even though their run differential suggests they should be worse this season, so this would give me pause to bet their over of 30.5 wins.

The Plexiglas Principle

This theory says that any team that improves dramatically in one season is likely to decline the next season.

What teams made dramatically improved from 2018 to 2019?

Minnesota Twins        +23
Los Angeles Dodgers        +14
Washington Nationals        +11
Texas Rangers        +11
San Diego Padres        +11
Chicago White Sox        +10

Since 1970, teams that have improved by 19 or more games declined by 7.1 wins the following season. The decline is even sharper for teams that have improved by 23 or more games (-10.97 games). The Twins have a 7.85-win decline built into their line. It may be a worthy bet just on principle, but two factors have me hesitating. Last year's Twins team broke the all-time record for home runs, which would point to a reason for them to be one to buck the trend. They also added another 30-home run hitter (their sixth in the lineup) in Josh Donaldson. The Twins also benefit from the easiest schedule in the 60-game format as they play all their games against the two weakest divisions (their own AL central and the NL central). So, I'll pass on this bet. (Fair warning that I'm a Twins fan and the past few years I have been wrong on betting their win total.)

The Reverse Plexiglas Principle

When a team has consistently been a winner and then experiences a sudden drop off, there is a strong likelihood that its win total will rebound. Or at least that's my theory. I haven't had a lot of success with this bet (1 for 4).

Here are the teams that declined the most in 2019:

Boston Red Sox       -24
Seattle Mariners      -21
Colorado Rockies      -20
Detroit Tigers      -17
Pittsburgh Pirates      -13
Chicago Cubs      -11

I don't see any bets here. The Red Sox declined last season and then got worse in the offseason by trading Mookie Betts and David Price. All the other teams are the downward slope of a rebuild. Only the Cubs stand out, and their decline wasn't too sharp and fits their downward trend since their 2016 world series victory.

The last thing I look at is what teams the bookies think will have the biggest improvement or decline.

The Bottom Feeder Bet

This is totally from a non-scientific study of watching the bookies set the lines on expected wins over the years. People tend to care less about the bad teams in any sport, so the line is set a bit lower to entice folks to bet on these doormats. I've won 6 of 9 bets since 2001 with this theory. Let's look at this year's candidates.

TEAM      2020 O/U     162-GAME EQUIV
Pittsburgh Pirates          25.5                 68.85
San Francisco Giants          25.5                 68.85
Kansas City Royals          24.5                 66.15
Miami Marlins          24.5                 66.15
Seattle Mariners          24.5                 66.15
Detroit Tigers          21.5                 58.05
Baltimore Orioles          20.5                 55.35

Since 2001, there have been five teams projected by oddsmakers to win fewer than 64 games. Four of those teams won fewer games the next season for an average decline of 2.3 games. It's a small sample size, but I won a bet taking the under on the Orioles winning just 58.5 games last season.

Will the Tigers and Orioles continue the recent trend? Even a bad team can get hot for short stretches. The Mariners began last season 18-14 before losing 94 games. The Rangers were 32-28 after 60 games, but missed the playoffs and won just 78 games. While the shorter season introduces more variance, losing teams also have less incentive to call up prospects as they look toward 2021 since they can't give them lengthy stretches of playing time. Plus, those prospects will just be practicing in minor league camp, not facing the rigors of a minor league season, which limits their ability to hit the ground up when called up. The youth and prospect boost these teams often get late in the season may not be a factor. Still, given the short season and variance, I don't think I can take the under on either the Orioles or Tigers, even with the Orioles facing a tough schedule against only AL East and NL East opponents.

The Book's Biggest Movers

Los Angeles Angels     13.05
Chicago White Sox     13.05
Cincinnati Reds     11.05
Detroit Tigers     10.05
Houston Astros    -11.15

The White Sox won the offseason (or at least most improved) with high-profile signings of Edwin Encarnacion, Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel, Gio Gonzalez and trading for Nomar Mazara. Plus, they have a young core that appears poised to take a big leap. Still, this is usually the team to fade as the young core may not all develop at the same time. And a leap of more than 10 games (or the 60-game equivalent) in one season is difficult. They may be a year or two away. I'll bet $25 the White Sox don't win 31.5 games. The Angels may be another fade, but their top-end talent this season gives them more opportunity. More on that in a bit.

The Book's Non Movers

New York Mets +1.75
Baltimore Orioles +1.35
Chicago Cubs +1.05
Colorado Rockies +0.55
Arizona Diamondbacks +0.05
Pittsburgh Pirates -0.15
Texas Rangers -1.05
Boston Red Sox -1.65
New York Yankees -1.75
Seattle Mariners -1.85

The sportsbooks have a lot of teams they think will stay the same. It was similar last year when the sportsbooks projected nine teams within two games of their previous year's record. One team that stands out for me on this list is the Pirates. The sportsbooks basically have the Pirates staying the same, but all signs from trades (trading Starling Marte) and injuries (losing Chris Archer for the season) point to them taking another step backward in their rebuild before moving forward. I'll bet $100 that Pittsburgh wins less than 25.5 games.

Wild Card

Always bet less than 100 wins.

Since I've been keeping track in 2001, only one team was picked by the sportsbooks to win more than 100 games: the 2005 Yankees, who were listed at 102 wins. I took the under on the Yankees that year and was rewarded when they "only" won 95 games.

This year we have two teams projected to win the equivalent of more than 100 games by the sportsbooks:

        TEAM       2020 O/U     162-GAME EQUIV
New York Yankees             37.5               101.25
Los Angeles Dodgers            37.5               101.25

I get why the totals are so high. Last year, the haves and have-nots (or the trying and not-trying) divide in the AL was stark. Three teams won more than 100 games in a league for the first time in history. However, there are some signs the AL may not be as crazy polarized in 2020. The White Sox are trying. The Blue Jays signed a free-agent pitcher and have a wealth of high-pedigree hitters just reaching the majors. The Angels spent some money. Just those three teams alone could make it so the top teams take a few steps back.

But also, just on principle, I have to take the under on any team projected to win more than 100 games. So much needs to go right to win 100 games in any scenario. I can see the downside for both teams. The Yankees already have starting pitching injuries. I doubt it has that much impact, but who knows. And maybe all the negative press they're getting will rattle their psyche and cause them to slip back a bit. Even winning 99 games is a superb season, so it's not like I think either of these teams will stumble. I think both will win their division. I just think 100 games is too high to be a given. I'll wager $25 the Dodgers and Yankees don't win 37.5 games.

Lastly, some other wild-card bets. My theory is that in a short season with some potential roster chaos due to the epidemic, that it's likely a good year to take some long shots to win a league title or world series championship. With a 60-game season, depth may not be as much as an issue.

The Angels may have the best player in baseball (Mike Trout) and the best athlete in baseball (Shohei Ohtani) along with some elite talent (Anthony Rendon when healthy, Andrelton Simmons with his glove). Their pitching staff has some talented arms but health concerns ( Griffin Canning, Andrew Heaney). A lack of depth would have had me usually take the under as their stars likely couldn't offset many holes in a 162-game marathon season. In a short sprint of 60 games, perhaps that won't matter and the pitchers can stay healthy. The team has plenty off issues as the regular season begins, such as if Mike Trout will miss a significant part of the season to ensure he's COVID-19 free for the birth of his child and Rendon's oblique injury. It's a long shot, but perhaps Trout is only absent a few games and the top players carry the day for a few weeks and the playoffs. I'll take them to win the AL at +1800.

And since taking all unders is boring, I'm taking the over on the Tamp Bay Rays. It was a bet I made in March, and I'll do so again. If any team appears ready for a 60-game season, it's the team that discards traditional ways of operating. I could see the team using plenty of openers and frequent substitutions to take advantage of the larger rosters the first half of the season (30-man rosters for two weeks and then 28 for another two weeks). Tampa Bay also may be second only to the Dodgers for depth with tons of pitching prospects and perhaps the top prospect in the game in Wander Franco. If the Angels is a bet that depth doesn't matter, the Rays is a bet that depth will pay dividends if used creatively. I'll bet $50 the Rays win more than 33.5 games.

That's not a bet based on any kind of sabremetrical theory or sportsbook pattern, but I'll break the mold a bit for such an oddball season. It should be fun.

To recap, here are my over/under win total bets for 2020.

        TEAM                   BET        THEORY
Pittsburgh Pirates$100 on less than 25.5 gamesBook Non-Mover
Chicago White Sox$25 on less than 31.5 gamesBook Mover
New York Yankees$25 on less than 37.5 gamesWild Card
Los Angeles Dodgers$25 on less than 37.5 gamesWild Card
Tamp Bay Rays$50 on more than 33.5 gamesWild Card

*One note: My bets/track record doesn't try to account for the variations in extra juice you need to pay. Most lines are -110, meaning the sportsbook takes about five percent on each bet. The "vig" tends to be higher on these bets than for single games. Sometimes the vig can vary widely, such as when 2016 Texas Rangers under of 83.5 wins was at -140 (the under was +110). It's another method for the bookmakers to alter how the money is coming in on each side so it gets to their comfort level. Or it's a way to change the odds without moving the win total.

If you are making a lot of bets, this is a serious factor in the math. But I don't bother to take that into account because I'm more focused on the overall wins number for a team perspective. Plus, I forgot to keep track of the vig in early years.

I vary the dollar amounts below as a way to show how confident I am in the bet (the $300 bet on the 2004 Royals is my all-time high), so there are some holes in the math if you added in all the varying vigs.

And why should you care what I think? I've made money 11 of the last 19 years (with one push). Here's the breakdown:

YEARW/L         TEAM                 BET             THEORY
2019WonKansas City Royals$50 on less than 69.5 winsBook Mover
2019LostSan Francisco Giants$50 on less than 73 wins Book Non Mover
2019LostTexas Rangers$25 on less than 70 gamesBook Non Mover
2019WonBaltimore Orioles$50 on less than 58.5 winsBottom Feeder
2019WonWashington Nationals$25 more than 88.5 gamesReverse Plexiglas Principle
2018WonArizona Diamondbacks $100 to win fewer than 85 games Plexiglas Principle 
2018WonDetroit Tigers $50 on less than 66.5 wins Book's Non Movers 
2018WonSan Diego Padres $25 on less than 72.5 games Johnson Effect 
2017WonTampa Bay Rays$50 win more than 78.5 gamesJohnson Effect
2017LostPittsburgh Pirates$100 win more than 82 gamesReverse Plexiglas
2017LostLos Angeles Angels$50 on less than 79 winsBook's Non Movers
2017LostTexas Rangers$25 on win more than 84.5 gamesBook's Biggest Movers
2017LostBaltimore Orioles$50 win more than 80 gamesWild Card
2016LostChicago Cubs$25 win less than 93.5 gamesPlexiglas Principle
2016LostMilwaukee Brewers$50 win less than 70 gamesBottom Feeder Bet
2016LostNew York Yankees$25 win over than 85 gamesWild Card
2015LostHouston Astros$25 win less than 75.5 gamesPlexiglas Principle
2015WonLos Angels Angels$25 win less than 88.5 gamesPlexiglas Principle
2015WonTexas Rangers$25 win over than 76.5 gamesReverse Plexiglas Principle
2015LostBoston Red Sox$25 win over than 86.5 gamesReverse Plexiglas Principle
2015LostBaltimore Orioles$75 win over than 82.5 gamesBook's Biggest Movers
2015WonCincinnati Reds$25 win less than 77.5 gamesBook's Non Movers
2015WonTampa Bay Rays$50 win more than 78.5 gamesBook's Non Movers
2015WonOakland A's$100 win more than 81.5 gamesBilly Beane Theory
2014LostCleveland Indians$25 win less than 82 gamesPlexiglas Principle
2014WonHouston Astros$25 more than 62.5 gamesBottom Feeder
2014WonPhiladelphia Phillies$50 under on 74.5 gamesBook Non Mover
2014WonOakland A's$25 over on 86.5 gamesBilly Beane Theory
2014LostTampa Bay Rays$100 over on 89 gamesBilly Beane Theory
2013WonToronto Blue Jays$50 under on 89 gamesBook Mover
2013WonOakland A's$25 over on 84.5 gamesBilly Beane Theory
2013WonTampa Bay Rays$50 over on 86.5 gamesBilly Beane Theory
2013LostKansas City Royals$50 under on 78.5 gamesBilly Beane Theory
2013WonBaltimore Orioles$25 over on 78.5 gamesWildcard
2012WonArizona Diamondbacks$200 under on 86 gamesPlexiglas Principle
2012LostMinnesota Twins$100 over on 72.5 gamesReverse Plexiglas Principle
2011LostKansas City$100 under on 68 gamesBook Non Mover
2011WonHouston Astros$50 under on 72 gamesJohnson Effect
2011WonMilwaukee Brewers$25 over on 86.5 gamesBook Mover
2011LostLos Angeles Angels$50 under on 82.5 gamesWild Card
2010LostHouston Astros$150 under on 75.5 gamesJohnson Effect & Book Non Mover
2010WonMinnesota Twins$100 over on 82.5 gamesWildcard
2010WonWashington Nationals$50 under on 72 gamesBook Mover
2009LostLos Angeles Angels$50 under on 88.5 winsJohnson Effect & Plexiglas Principle
2009WonDetroit Tigers$50 over on 81.5 winsReverse Plexiglas
2009LostBaltimore Orioles$50 over on 72.5 winsBottom Feeder
2009LostKansas City Royals$25 over on 76.5 winsBook Non Mover
2009LostPhiladelphia Phillies$50 under on 88.5 winsBook Non Mover
2009LostOakland A's$25 over on 82.5 winsBilly Beane Theory
2008WonSeattle Mariners$200 under on 84 winsJohnson Effect
2008LostChicago Cubs$50 under on 87.5 winsPlexiglas Principle
2008WonOakland A's$50 over on 73.5 winsReverse Plexiglas Principle
2008PushSan Francisco$50 under on 72 winsBook Non Mover
2007WonCleveland Indians$50 over on 85.5 winsJohnson Effect
2007LostChicago Cubs$50 under on 83.5 winsBook Mover
2007LostOakland A's$50 over on 85.5 winsBook Mover
2007LostMinnesota Twins$100 over on 84 winsBook Mover
2007WonArizona Diamondbacks$100 over on 78.5 winsBook Non Mover
2006WonChicago White Sox$100 under on 92 winsJohnson Effect & Plexiglas Principle
2006LostArizona Diamondbacks$25 under on 73 winsJohnson Effect & Plexiglas Principle
2006LostTampa Bay Devil Rays$100 over on 68 winsBottom Feeder
2006LostMilwaukee Brewers$50 over on 81 winsBook Non Mover
2006WonMinnesota Twins$50 over on 83 winsBook Non Mover
2005WonNew York Yankees$150 under on 102 winsJohnson Effect
2005WonMilwaukee Brewers$50 over on 69.5 winsBottom Feeder
2005WonSan Diego Padres$25 under on 86.5 winsPlexiglas Principle
2005LostMinnesota Twins$25 over on 89.5 winsBook Non Mover
2004WonKansas City Royals$300 under on 81 winsPlexiglas Principle
2004WonHouston Astros$50 over on 91 winsJohnson Effect
2004LostDetroit Tigers$100 under on 66.5 winsBook Mover
2004WonSan Francisco Giants$50 over on 85 winsBook Mover
2004WonFlorida Marlins$50 over on 83 winsBook Mover
2003WonAnaheim Angels$100 under on 91 winsPlexiglas Principle
2003WonOakland A's$50 over on 93.5 winsBook Mover
2003WonNew York Mets$50 under on 86 winsBook Mover
2003WonToronto Blue Jays$50 over on 79 winsBook Non Mover
2003WonBoston Red Sox$50 over on 91 winsJohnson Effect
2002WonOakland A's$200 over on 90.5 winsBook Mover
2002WonPhiladelphia Phillies$100 under on 82.5 winsPlexiglas Principle
2002WonPittsburgh Pirates$50 over on 68 winsBottom Feeder
2002LostSeattle Mariners$50 over on 94 winsReverse Plexiglas Principle
2002LostColorado Rockies$50 over on 77 winsJohnson Effect
2002LostNew York Yankees$50 under on 99 winsReverse Bottom Feeder
2001LostSt. Louis Cardinals$100 under on 89.5 winsPlexiglas Principle
2001WonChicago White Sox$100 under on 88 winsPlexiglas Principle
2001WonHouston Astros$100 over on 82.5 winsJohnson Effect & Plexiglas Principle
2001WonPhiladelphia Phillies$25 over on 74.5 winsBottom Feeder & Johnson Effect
2001WonMinnesota Twins$25 over on 73 wins Bottom Feeder
2000WonArizona Diamondbacks$100 under on 93 winsPlexiglas Principle
2000WonMinnesota Twins$100 over on 64 winsBottom Feeder

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Peter Schoenke
Peter Schoenke is the president and co-founder of RotoWire.com. He's been elected to the hall of fame for both the Fantasy Sports Trade Association and Fantasy Sports Writers Association and also won the Best Fantasy Baseball Article on the Internet in 2005 from the FSWA. He roots for for the Minnesota Twins, Vikings and T-Wolves.
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