Spring training is in full swing and that means tons of speculation -- both educated and rather uneducated -- about what we’ll see transpire during the 2017 season. We’ll see predictions, odds, power rankings and over/unders.
Let’s dig in on the latter, because one of my favorite things to do before the season is to pick five overs and five unders when looking at the betting over-or-under win totals. Last week, Jonah Keri released his annual over/under picks.
The way I see it, you can’t just cop out and pick all unders or all overs and hit around half. You don’t just go through and pick all 30 either over or under, hoping to guess right on the harder ones. You’re forced to find five of each that you think are the best bets -- because the funny thing is, a lot of times the easy ones miss.
This is the third straight year I’ve done this column/contest. The results for the 2016 contest will be at the bottom. We had a user go 9-1. I didn’t. So I lost and I should definitely quit my job (but I won’t!).
As for this year’s picks, we’re going 10 for 10 (probably not -- but the goal is to win and that means I have to go at least 8-2, though. Probably 9-1 to be safe).
First up, here are the listed over/under betting lines, courtesy of Atlantis (Reno, Nev.).
Remember, you are betting “over” if you think the team wins more than it’s over/under line and under if you think it’ll win fewer. Thanks to the half-wins in there, we won’t have any pushes (ties).
Go make five over and five under picks in the comments to take part in our contest for this year. The prize for winning is pride.
Orioles - Call this a course correction. I routinely have under-estimated the Orioles under Buck Showalter and they have exceeded expectations in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2016. Even in a “down” 2015, they went 81-81. This year’s team seems similar to the one that won 89 games last year. Sure, I hate Adam Jones leading off and don’t trust the depth of the rotation, but I nitpick these guys every year and I’m wrong (almost) every year. No mas. They have the makings of a great bullpen along with great power in the offense, a few exceptional defenders, decent upside in the top three rotation members (Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, in particular) and the power of Buck compels them. I don’t think they get to 90 wins, but I don’t need them to.
Astros - I had the Astros as an over last year and lost, but I’m going back to the well. What’s different? Well, a whole season of Alex Bregman helps, notably along with an overall deeper cache of position players, thanks to the additions of Nori Aoki, Brian McCann, Josh Reddick and the full-time play of Yulieski Gurriel. I’m also counting on a full season of health from Lance McCullers and big bounce-backs from Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh and Mike Fiers in the rotation. Track records say they shouldn’t be nearly as bad as they were last year, especially Keuchel. Also, after a disaster of a first few months, closer Ken Giles seemed to be close to being fixed down the stretch. These guys only need to improve by four wins to hit the over and I think that’s an easy bet.
Mariners - I’ll confess: I have a soft spot when it comes to droughts. I was all over the Pirates breaking the losing-season thing, I wanted the Royals to make the playoffs in 2013 (and then 2014), I was all about the Blue Jays making the 2015 playoffs and now I’m onto the Mariners, who have the longest playoff drought in MLB (2001). Perhaps it’s because I’m a Cubs fan? Regardless, I wanted the Mariners to make the playoffs last year and I’m still on it. They won 86 games last year, so they don’t even have to progress in order to hit the over, but I think they’ll be marginally better. Jean Segura marks a huge offensive upgrade at short, the outfield defense is improved, notably with Jarrod Dyson in left and I really like Danny Valencia’s platoon capabilities. In the rotation, Yovani Gallardo’s health and move to Safeco Field from Camden and the AL East helps, while I love Drew Smyly here. A lot comes down to how much King Felix and Hisashi Iwakuma have left in the tank, but it’s a gamble I’m willing to take. High-80s in wins.
Rays - An awful lot went wrong for the Rays last year and they finished with only 68 wins. That was the first time since they were the Devil Rays that they won fewer than 75.5 games, which is their over/under this year. I don’t love the offense, but it’s not bad, especially once Wilson Ramos comes back from his ACL surgery. I also love the upside in the rotation. The ceiling of Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Alex Cobb, Blake Snell and Jose De Leon is that of a playoff team. It’s probably unrealistic to believe every question gets answered in the positive, but I only need 76 wins here. I’ll get them.
Braves - After July 24, only the Cubs and Nationals had a better record than the Braves among NL teams. After Aug. 20, it was only the Mets and Cubs. In the last two weeks, the Braves had the best record in the majors at 12-2. Bartolo Colon and Jaime Garcia bolster the rotation, which also has some talented prospect options coming soon. Dansby Swanson is only going to get better while Ender Inciarte remains one of the most underrated players in baseball. I don’t think this is a playoff-caliber team at all -- to some degree, in some circles, they are a tad overhyped for 2017 -- but they won’t lose 90 games.
Reds - Still in the lump-taking phase of the rebuild, the Reds don’t yet have their ducks in a row prospect-wise for a big-league turnaround. Plus, they are stuck in the same division with the best team in baseball and two other likely contenders. We could also see players like Zack Cozart, Scott Feldman and Devin Mesoraco (if proven healthy and effective again, which is a big question mark) traded in July. Meantime, the Reds are in “see what we have” mode with many younger players. In order to hit the over, the Reds would need to improve on last year by six games, but I actually think they’re worse.
Royals - Mediocre until July, the Royals realize it’s just not happening with this group and need to trade impending free agents Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar -- maybe even Kelvin Herrera, who is a free agent after 2018. That means the team is pretty bad in the last two months and can’t come close to the 81 wins needed for the over. Low-70s.
Diamondbacks - I do think the Diamondbacks will be better than last year. Zack Greinke will surely bounce back, Robbie Ray has good upside and Shelby Miller can’t possibly be as bad as he was. Taijuan Walker is an annual tease, but he still has great potential. Simply: There’s a possible big uptick in the rotation. A.J. Pollock should be around for a full season in center and that’s a win as well. Overall, though, I’m just not seeing a 10-win improvement and that’s what the D-Backs need to go over. Maybe five wins better, but not 10.
Marlins - A deep-down gut feeling I have is that the Marlins are going to flat-out suck. They ranked 13th in the NL in runs scored last season and have essentially the same offense coming back. Maybe a full season of Dee Gordon helps, but Derek Dietrich hit .279/.374/.425 compared to Gordon’s .268/.305/.335 last year. Maybe Giancarlo Stanton avoids that awful mid-season slump, but he’s also proven to be injury-prone. I love Christian Yelich, but isn’t Marcell Ozuna pretty unpredictable? The bullpen is probably strong, but the rotation is Wei-Yin Chen, Edinson Volquez, Adam Conley, Dan Straily and Tom Koehler. Yikes. I feel pretty strongly about the under on 77.5 here. I could see them losing 90-plus pretty easily.
White Sox - The Sox won 78 last year, but they were 23-10 at one point. They were terrible the rest of the way. Plus, the subtraction of Chris Sale alone is worth at least a five-win deduction to get us down to the under. Further, the total sell-off of veterans in the offseason never continued after Sale and Adam Eaton, but I think it picks back up in the middle of the summer when the White Sox are out of contention. Jose Quintana is the big prize, but Melky Cabrera, Todd Frazier, David Robertson and maybe even Jose Abreu go as the Sox go into total firesale mode. They could hit the under anyway, but dealing those guys cements it.
Now, onto the tabulations for last year’s contest. I went 6-4 with some good picks, a few close calls and one pretty atrocious selection (D-Backs over? What the hell was I thinking?). As for those who took part in the comments sections, let’s get to the results.
We have a new champion with a -- channeling my best race-track qualifications announcer voice -- new track record. User Salt1328 went 9-1, only missing the over on the Athletics, who checked in at 69-93 despite a 75.5 over/under. An interesting point of competition here is that Salt had the Marlins’ under while Duck70 (who went 8-2) had the over. The Marlins went 79-82 with a 79.5 over/under. So they played only 161 games and finished just 0.5 in the under. It just goes to show how amazingly close these things can be.
Congrats, Salt1328! Hope to see you defend your crown below.
The 2016 standings, grouped by record (otherwise the order is meaningless):
Adam Stein (2015 champ)
BryantBauer (notable because all five unders hit while all five overs missed)
Metsy since 72
What’s a Seawolf?
Now remember to submit your picks for five unders and five overs below in the comments for 2017 and I’ll check in again next year with the leaderboard. Good luck to all!