Who’s smarter: baseball projection systems such as PECOTA and CHONE or good old fashioned Las Vegas sports books? It’s an interesting question to ponder in an age in which statistical analysis has taken center stage in the game, and the two options are one side of the same coin. Out of Las Vegas’ efforts to predict, via smart wagers, sports outcomes arose statistical analysis and more advanced projection systems.
I pose this question today because a few of the bigger sports books have released their initial over/under lines for the 2010 baseball season. Vegas Watch has the full league table, and I’ve broken down the American League by division. The Yankees, as you’ll see, win the over/under AL East but only by a hair.
Yankees – 94.5
Boston – 94
Tampa Bay – 89.5
Baltimore – 72.5
Toronto – 71
Chicago – 82
Minnesota – 82
Detroit – 81
Cleveland – 73
Kansas City – 71
LAnaheim – 84
Seattle – 83
Texas – 83
Oakland – 78
In perusing this table late last night, I was struck by how few of these win totals I would bet on right now. When a team’s over/under lines up with the bettor’s estimated wins for that team, it’s a bad bet. Would you take the “over” on the Yanks and hope for a 95+ win season amidst a very competitive AL East? The initial line on the Yanks last year was 97.5, and I doubt many people took the “over” in February, March or even April.
I’m further intrigued by the relatively weak AL Central and West divisions. At first glance, we wouldn’t assume that two division winners would be pegged at win totals in the low 80s. After all, the Angels won 97 games last year, and even the Twins topped their 2010 line by four victories through 162 games. In fact, the AL hasn’t sent two sub-90 win teams to the playoffs since 1998 when both the Indians and Rangers failed to top 89 victories. Yet, of the teams pegged to compete for those division titles, I would place a bet only the Rangers, and then, I’d be inclined to take the over. Texas should have a team better than 83 wins, especially in a division as weak as the West.
Right now, though, these lines are published to encourage bets, and they don’t represent the true Vegas predictions. For every $1000 placed, the lines will move half a point. If one team’s win total is grossly under-predicted, the line will quickly move upward to compensate as bettors take the over, and that’s where the crowd-vs.-computer debate takes over. As the lines shift and settle over the next few weeks, can early season oddsmakers and those willing to place bets beat the projection systems? The results should look fairly congruous by year’s end.
In my heart, I want to take the over on the Yankees, and David Pinto wants the under on Boston due to the team’s injury risk. But odds are good the AL East will be a dogfight. First team to 96 wins takes the crown.
Here’s your obligatory disclaimer: These lines and my thoughts are for entertainment purposes only. Don’t bet on baseball with my advice in mind, and if you or someone you know has a gambling problem, please contact the National Council on Problem Gambling.