Over/Under Win Total Bets for 2016: Can the Cubs Improve?

Over/Under Win Total Bets for 2016: Can the Cubs Improve?

It's time to take a look at the 2016 MLB season from a wagering perspective. I'm a big fan of the season win total bets ever since I started making them in person in Las Vegas back in the late 1990s.

It's a good exercise before the start of each season not only to make predictions on where you think the teams will finish, but also test those against the conventional wisdom expressed through money wagered in sportsbooks.

Over the last 15 years, I've come out ahead. My overall record is 43 for 72 (with one push) for 59.7 percent. My best bet each season is 15-11 (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 12-8. Although I lost my best bet and $100 bet last year, the over on Oakland (the over was 81.5 games and they won just 68. Yikes). I'm most impressive on a weighted or cash basis, where I've been correct 64 percent of the time ($2,850 in winning bets, $1,600 in losers - not factoring in the vig). Last year I was pretty mediocre going 4-4 in bets with a loss of $100.

I grabbed these odds on March 30.

TeamOver/under winsChange from 2015
Arizona Diamondbacks82.53.5
Atlanta Braves66.5-0.5
Baltimore Orioles78-3
Boston Red Sox87.59.5
Chicago Cubs93.5-3.5
Chicago White Sox

It's time to take a look at the 2016 MLB season from a wagering perspective. I'm a big fan of the season win total bets ever since I started making them in person in Las Vegas back in the late 1990s.

It's a good exercise before the start of each season not only to make predictions on where you think the teams will finish, but also test those against the conventional wisdom expressed through money wagered in sportsbooks.

Over the last 15 years, I've come out ahead. My overall record is 43 for 72 (with one push) for 59.7 percent. My best bet each season is 15-11 (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 12-8. Although I lost my best bet and $100 bet last year, the over on Oakland (the over was 81.5 games and they won just 68. Yikes). I'm most impressive on a weighted or cash basis, where I've been correct 64 percent of the time ($2,850 in winning bets, $1,600 in losers - not factoring in the vig). Last year I was pretty mediocre going 4-4 in bets with a loss of $100.

I grabbed these odds on March 30.

TeamOver/under winsChange from 2015
Arizona Diamondbacks82.53.5
Atlanta Braves66.5-0.5
Baltimore Orioles78-3
Boston Red Sox87.59.5
Chicago Cubs93.5-3.5
Chicago White Sox81.55.5
Cincinnati Reds68.54.5
Cleveland Indians876
Colorado Rockies713
Detroit Tigers82.58.5
Houston Astros87.51.5
Kansas City Royals85-10
Los Angeles Angels79.5-5.5
Los Angeles Dodgers89.5-2.5
Miami Marlins79.58.5
Milwaukee Brewers702
Minnesota Twins80-3
New York Mets90.50.5
New York Yankees85-2
Oakland Athletics76.58.5
Philadelphia Phillies674
Pittsburgh Pirates86-12
San Diego Padres72-2
San Francisco Giants88.54.5
Seattle Mariners826
St. Louis Cardinals86.5-13.5
Tampa Bay Rays822
Texas Rangers83.5-4.5
Toronto Blue Jays87-6
Washington Nationals89.56.5

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 here - 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, who looks like they'll rebound in 2016? Here are the top teams that should have seen more or less wins based on their 2015 runs allowed/created than they actually tallied:

Chicago Cubs -7
Atlanta Braves -6
Los Angeles Angels -6
Washington Nationals +6
Houston Astros +6
Oakland Athletics +9
Toronto Blue Jays +9

I like to look for teams that have a differential of ten or more games. Last year Oakland, with 11 less wins than expected from their Pythagorean forecast, was just the seventh team since 2001 with a disparity (positive or negative) of more than ten games. However, they fared the worst of that group by falling back 20 games rather than winning more games. The A's are again on this list and it's tempting to try them again, but I'll pass given their volatility. It's amazing that the Blue Jays should have won 102 games based on their Pythagorean data, but I think it's risky to expect teams to improve in any way above the mid-90s in wins to 100. It's hard even for very good teams to win more than 100 games. I don't see a bet to make among this group based on this theory.

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 such dramatic moves from 2014 to 2015?

Chicago Cubs +24
Texas Rangers +21
Houston Astros +16
Arizona Diamondbacks +15
Minnesota Twins +13

The Cubs and Rangers made large improvements last season that are large by historical standards. Only 61 teams since 1970 have improved by 19 or more games. On average those teams decline by 7.6 wins the next year. Teams that win 20 or more games decline even more, an average of 8.6 wins the next year. Teams that improve by 23 or more games take a step back the following season by an average of 11.7 games, and just four of these 29 teams won more games the following season. The Cubs would appear to be set for a decline based on this metric. However, the Cubs enter 2016 as the favorite of sportsbooks to win the World Series (at 9/2) and are loaded with perhaps the most young talent of any team. However, they are expected to decline to by 3.5 wins to 93.5 wins.

The only teams I've seen beat this trend of declining after big jumps in win totals are teams with young starting pitching staffs. The 1991 Braves (Glavine & Smoltz), the 1968 Oakland A's (Hunter) and the 1984 New York Mets (Gooden & co.) are good examples. However, the Cubs don't have a young pitching staff. Jake Arrieta is 29. John Lester is 31. Jason Hammel is 32. John Lackey is 36. Only fifth starter Kyle Hendricks is young at 25. I still think the Cubs are going to be this decade what the Yankees were in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Once they break the curse I see the Cubs contenting for multiple championships. And maybe even this year. But the odds seem strong they regress at least 3.5 wins along the way. Therefore I'll make a $25 bet the Cubs win less than 93.5 games (-115).

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 2015:

Oakland Athletics -20
Detroit Tigers -16
Baltimore Orioles -15
Milwaukee Brewers -14

Oakland once again sticks out. While sportsbooks consistently underrate Oakland GM Billy Beane [he's beat their expected win total at a 73 percent (11-for-15) clip since 2001], it's hard to get excited about this team's roster. Who is the best player on the A's after Sonny Gray? Maybe Stephen Vogt? Can you get excited about a rotation that after Gray includes Rich Hill, Chris Bassitt, Kendall Graveman and Felix Doubront? The metrics say they'll improve, but the 8.5 jump in wins from the sportsbooks is too rich.

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 8 bets since 2001 with this theory. Let's look at this year's candidates.

San Diego Padres 72
Colorado Rockies 71
Milwaukee Brewers 70
Cincinnati Reds 68.5
Philadelphia Phillies 67
Atlanta Braves 66.5

The Phillies may have bottomed out in their rebuilding project, but they're projected to improve by four games. The Reds, Braves and Brewers are all still on the way down in their rebuilding. The Brewers stand out here as they've shed the fewest parts (Ryan Braun still on the roster) and have the least amount of talent ready to reach the majors. It seems like a decent bet they'll get worse as the season moves along as they trade any moving part that has value for another franchise. The Rockies are not clearly rebuilding though they've been terribly managed and going nowhere (the Troy Tulowitzki trade never made sense to me and they sold their key rebuilding asset too late. Ditto Carlos Gonzalez if/when they trade him as well). It's also not clear the Padres are going downward, though they failed to live up to last year's expectations. They're likely just going to be mediocre. I'll make a $50 bet the Brewers win less than 70 games (-110).

The Book's Biggest Movers

Boston Red Sox 9
Detroit Tigers 8.5
Florida Marlins 8.5
Oakland Athletics 8.5
Kansas City Royals -10
Pittsburgh Pirates -12
St. Louis Cardinals -13

The Sportsbooks once again are down on the Royals, forecasting a ten-game decline. That's in line with many projection systems. Baseball Prospectus, for example, forecasts the Royals to finish last in the AL Central with 75 wins. Of course, the same projection systems have forecast that the Royals would decline the past two seasons only to see them repeat as AL Champs. (Detailed very well by Joe Posnanski). And I lost a bet in 2013 taking the under on the Royals and likely would have the past two seasons if forced. I've given up trying to figure out why the Royals win, so no bet for me this year. That probably means they're headed for 90 losses.

The Book's Non Movers

Tampa Bay Rays 2
Milwaukee Brewers 2
Houston Astros 1.5
New York Mets .5
Atlanta Braves -.5
New York Yankees -2
San Diego Padres -2

The Brewers should be much worse this season, so this list reinforces my earlier wager. The Astros and Mets may take a step back, but they have the young talent, especially in the rotation, to sustain last year's gains. The Rays and Padres are trending sideways and the Braves will scrape along bottom. The Yankees while not obviously trending higher or lower, also don't seem to be set to get much worse.

Wild Card

I've done a wild card three of the last five years based on hunches or other statistical trends I saw. I won two bets and lost a bet. Based on my above observation, I think it's likely the Yankees could even improve from last year's 87 wins. I know Mark Teixeira (36), Alex Rodriguez (40) and Carlos Beltran (38) are old and could get hurt or decline significantly, but there's an intriguing young talent in Luis Severino, I like the acquisitions of Aaron Hicks and Starlin Castro and the three-closer bullpen with Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances could have a major impact when together (Chapman is suspended for 30 games and Miller has a broken bone in his non-throwing hand). Plus the Yankees haven't won fewer than 84 games since 1992 (or the equivalent in the 1994 and 1995 strike years). I'll bet $25 the Yankees win more than 85 games (-115).
To recap, here are my bets for 2016.

Chicago Cubs$25 win less than 93.5 gamesPlexiglas Principle
Milwaukee Brewers$50 win less than 70 gamesBottom Feeder Bet
New York Yankees$25 win over than 85 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 the 2016 Texas Rangers under of 83.5 wins at -140 (the under is +110). I also put the vig next to each bet above. 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 forget 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 nine of the past 15 years (with one push). Here's the breakdown:

YearW/LTeamBetTheory
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 of Anaheim$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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