This is a tradition around these parts. Every year, SB Nation gives you a fake $100 bill and asks you to make a fake baseball bet. Welcome to the 2016 over-under bets. Your job is to pick the one team that will win more or less than the total set by a bookmaker.
This used to be a fun, whimsical tradition. In 2013, our combined bets led to a profit of $290, or 45¢ per person. In 2014, our combined bets led to a profit of $56,535, or $16.50 per person. This led to the joking idea last year that we should create a mutual fund of baseball gambling, quietly socking a few hundred dollars away every year instead using a boring ol' 401(k).
In 2015, our combined bets led to a profit of $36,780, or $10.99 per person. That's a nice profit, alright. As long as we start playing with millions instead of hundreds, an 11 percent return would be the darling of the investment world. If you'll give me your email address, a representative will be in touch*. It's time to monetize this.
*Disclaimer: The representative is Lenny Dykstra, and he will show up at your home
Unless it's a fluke. What I've discovered is that y'all a bunch of homers. For every "under" vote, more than three "over" votes were cast. Last year, the over-unders tended to be on the low side, and a lot of teams surpassed them. The Tigers and A's were disappointing, but the Royals, Rangers, Astros and several others more than made up for them. One of these years, teams will hit more of their unders and wipe you all out.
Unless this happens forever, and we all get rich.
The distribution wasn't that wonky in 2015:
So we've done it. We've gamed the system. If you withhold seven months of mortgage payments to fund your over-under investment plan, you'll be able to pay the bank before they take your house and pay off the penalties and be set for the holidays.* The only thing left is to pick the best over-under bet for 2016.
*Do not do this. You will lose your house.
Here are the over-unders. Remember, your job is to pick which team is the best bet to exceed or fall short of these win-loss totals:
Over-under for wins in 2016 (from Bovada)
Chicago Cubs: 92½
New York Mets: 89½
San Francisco Giants: 89½
Washington Nationals: 89½
Los Angeles Dodgers: 88½
Houston Astros: 87½
St. Louis Cardinals: 87½
Toronto Blue Jays: 87½
Boston Red Sox: 86½
Pittsburgh Pirates: 86½
Kansas City Royals: 85½
New York Yankees: 85½
Cleveland Indians: 84½
Texas Rangers: 84½
Arizona Diamondbacks: 82½
Seattle Mariners: 82½
Detroit Tigers: 81½
Los Angeles Angels: 81½
Tampa Bay Rays: 81½
Chicago White Sox: 80½
Baltimore Orioles: 79½
Miami Marlins: 79½
Minnesota Twins: 78½
Oakland Athletics: 75½
San Diego Padres: 73½
Cincinnati Reds: 70½
Colorado Rockies: 70½
Milwaukee Brewers: 69½
Atlanta Braves: 66½
Philadelphia Phillies: 65½
As usual, there are no slam-bang obvious answers. It's funny that we felt like this last year, too, considering the Royals were clearly good and the A's were clearly lousy. But last year, it was hard to nail down the exact best fit. I chose the A's. I chose poorly. It's also worth noting that just 10 teams out of 30 have an over-under that's set below .500. The folks who want your money have noticed your optimism.
The smartest idea is usually to start at the extremes. Teams projected for gaudy win totals generally fall short, and it's usually a bad idea to project any team for 100 losses or so.
But the Cubs are pretty clearly the most complete team in baseball, with a fourth outfielder who could start on most teams, a fifth starter that could crack almost any rotation, and enough youth in the lineup to project substantial improvements. And the Phillies are ... not that. A 96-loss team seems to be an optimistic scenario, considering they might be the closest team to replacement level in baseball. I'm not comfortable going against either of those over-unders in either direction.
The middle, then? That's where you get that morass of confusing teams. The Indians seem like they'll cruise past 84 wins if the statistical projections are right, but the lineup is about one injury away from looking like it'll score .009 runs per game, and they're counting on players who haven't had a great track record of health recently. The Orioles at 79.5 seem like a fair bat to go over, but they play in a division with four quality teams, and they didn't do a whole lot in the offseason.
The Giants are either too high, or the Dodgers or too low, I can't decide. Maybe they're both too low. The Yankees seemingly beat their over-under every year, but 86 wins sounds high to be the best bet out of 60 different options.
Wait, we could use science. Take the FanGraphs projections, cross-reference them with the over-under totals, and see if there's a wild outlier.
|Projected wins in 2016||Over-under||Difference|
So the Royals are clearly the outlier. No team is as overrated according to the over-under totals.
All you have to do is bet money on them failing.
Just reach into your wallet, take out a $100 bill, and say loudly, "The Royals just aren't as good as we think this year."
That's all you have to do to make money. Go on. What are you waiting for?
Yeah, I'll go a different route. The Cardinals have a reasonable over-under of 87.5, which puts them solidly in the top third of baseball. In the last 16 seasons, they've won at least 88 games in 11 of them, and this is as strong of a team on paper as most of those teams. There's no John Lackey, no Jason Heyward and no Lance Lynn, so it's going to be tough to win 100 games again, certainly. But they'll also play the Brewers and Reds a combined 36 times, which is a fortuitous head start.
Cardinals. Over. It's a bet based on anecdotal information and a subconscious appeal to tradition, but the empirical information is telling me to doubt the Royals again, and I'm no dummy.
Now give us your vote in the poll below. Let's keep winning, folks. I'm sure there's nothing that can stop this momentum, other than the crushing realities of betting against the very intelligent people who set these odds for a living.