MLB futures: Why the Nationals might be a sneaky-good value pick to win the World Series

While baseball doesn't lure the sports-betting eyeballs to the extent that football and basketball do, you can still have some (occasionally lucrative) fun with the sport. Yes, the structural parity of the sport and the heavy reliance on randomness make game-outcome betting a tricky proposition, but there are also opportunities to take the long view, allow your smarts to guide you, and find good opportunities. Those are the MLB futures.

One such example of an MLB future is the World Series and the odds on who ultimately wins it. At this relatively late hour of the season, the World Series odds have mostly stabilized, but with an assist from the SportsLine Projection System you can still find the best place to put your money.

"The projection model is a Monte Carlo Simulation," explains SportsLine's Stephen Oh, who designed the system. "It simulates every plate appearance based on advanced proprietary metrics to simulate a single game. We then repeat the game simulation thousands of times to calculate each team's percent chance of winning, covering the spread, over/under, etc. in that single game. We run this for every scheduled game and every possible playoff matchup -- every team versus every other team based on their expected playoff pitcher rotation."

That latter part is key, as teams almost always go into a best-of-seven series with a four-man rotation, as opposed to the five-man alignment that holds sway during the regular season.  

"We run the entire season, determine simulated playoff seeds, and then simulate playoff rounds thousands of times to determine each team's simulation based odds," Oh continues. "We compare our simulation odds to the implied betting probabilities from the sportsbook's odds and calculate what teams and bets are the best values."

What constitutes a good bet? If the SportsLine Projection System gives a team better odds of hoisting the trophy than the oddsmakers do, then it's a sound play. Speaking of all that, let's take a look at current World Series odds and the current sim percentage (i.e., the percentage chance SportsLine gives a given team to win it all). Just teams that won the World Series in at least one of those thousands of simulations are included. 

Team World Series odds SportsLine World Series Sim %

Dodgers

9/4, 30.8%

26.93%

Astros

5/2, 28.6%

25.79%

Yankees

9/2, 18.2%

12.51%

Twins

10/1, 9.1%

6.70%

Braves

10/1, 9.1%

5.40%

Cardinals

18/1, 5.3%

4.09%

Nationals

25/1, 3.8%

6.70%

Cubs

25/1, 3.8%

3.64%

Indians

30/1, 3.2%

3.36%

Athletics

30/1, 3.2%

1.63%

Rays

30/1, 3.2%

1.02%

Brewers

40/1, 2.4%

1.17%

Mets

50/1, 2%

0.29%

Phillies

60/1, 1.6%

0.60%

Red Sox

200/1, 0.5%

0.10%

Giants

200/1, 0.5%

0.06%

Diamondbacks

300/1, 0.3%

0.02%


For the uninitiated, here's how to read what you see above: 

  • The "World Series odds" column are each team's odds of winning the World Series according to bookmakers. Those odds are translated into percentages for ease of comparison. 
  • The "SportsLine World Series Sim %" column tells you how often each team won the World Series in those thousands of sims conducted by the SportsLine Projection Model. 
  • If a team's World Series odds percentage exceeds their SportsLine World Series Sim %, they're probably not a great bet. That's because oddsmakers think they're more likely to win it all that the SportsLine Projection System does. 
  • Conversely, if a team's SportsLine World Series Sim % is the higher of the two figures, then they're a solid World Series bet. That's because SportsLine sees that team as being underestimated by oddsmakers. 

So what opportunities do you see above? Here's what SportsLine MLB expert John Bollman says about the numbers you see above: 

"The thing that stands out to me is the Sim % relative to the World Series odds for both the Indians and the Nationals. These are the only two teams providing positive value. It is also interesting to note that both the Dodgers and Astros are not good betting value at the current odds, according to the sims.

"In regards to general methodology, I never like to bet on heavy favorites to win the World Series. It's baseball, anything can happen on any given night including key injuries. For these reasons, I like to stay away from teams like the Astros and Dodgers this season. When looking for good plays for the World Series, I want value. And the Nationals are currently providing the most value, with the Indians second."

As you can see, the Nationals' Sim % is almost twice their odds percentage, which is why Bollman identifies them as such a strong bet. Yes, they're almost certainly bound for the NL Wild Card Game, but bear in mind that as recently as 2014 we had an all-wild-card World Series between the Giants and Royals

As for Bollman's point about never betting the heavy favorite, history suggests it's a sound one. Of the 114 World Series to date, just 51 -- or 44.7 percent -- have been won by the team with the best record in the regular season. Since 1995, when the playoff expanded to three rounds (LDS, LCS, and World Series) it's happened just six times in 20 World Series (or 30 percent of the time). In a sport like baseball, always take the field, no matter how imposing the top team of the regular season is. 

Again, this is the nature of the sport. Since 1900, just 10 MLB teams have managed a winning percentage of at least .700. In the NBA, you've had 11 teams register a regular season winning percentage of .700 or higher since 2015. In the NFL, you've had 13 such teams over the last three seasons alone. You get the idea: The best teams in MLB don't dominate all comers to the extent that great teams in the NBA and NFL do. That shows up in the playoffs, and that's why it's wise to avoid the heavy favorites in the World Series. The 2019 Fall Classic figures to be no exception, as the numbers above suggest. 

So, armed with the data-backed insights of SportsLine, who ya got?

Get NFL and college football picks from 10,000 simulations, optimal DFS lineups, proven Fantasy cheat sheets and expert predictions for football, basketball, baseball, golf, MMA, horse racing and so much more. Join SportsLine today and use promo code TROPHY to get your first month for only $1. Get every pick now!

CBS Sports Writer

Dayn Perry has been a baseball writer for CBS Sports since early 2012. Prior to that, he wrote for FOXSports.com and ESPN.com. He's the author of three books, the most recent being Reggie Jackson: The... Full Bio

Our Latest Stories