Season-long baseball futures bets aren’t for everyone.
Your money’s tied up for six months. There’s no immediate gratification. So many things can change one way or another from April to September.
Yet, if you can afford to be patient, occasionally an opportunity will come along that may be just too good to pass up — and so it is with Rhys Hoskins’ RBI totals for the 2021 MLB season that starts Thursday. You could even call it a form of investment aRBItrage that would stop all those GameStop investors in their tracks with how lucrative it could be.
Maybe. Let’s explain.
Futures are their own animal, not all the same
Baseball futures bets come in different forms, with nearly all of Pennsylvania’s dozen online sportsbooks giving you odds before the season to bet on the outcome of the World Series or pennant and divisional races.
Many, but not all, sites give you the option of betting over or under a season wins total for a team (with most sites listing the Phillies over/under at a middling 80.5, the Pirates at a league-worst 58.5). And frequently you can bet in advance on awards such as the MVP and Cy Young winners.
But a smaller number set up futures prop bets tied to individual player performance, such as their over/under on home runs, RBIs, or hits. And numbers are not offered on all players — only the more prominent ones — and each sportsbook differs on the ones for whom they post betting options.
In nearly all cases, however, there is a ringing similarity to the numbers when multiple sites post the same player’s futures.
For instance, for Phillies outfielder Bryce Harper, FOX Bet, BetMGM, and the six sites using Kambi odds (DraftKings, BetRivers, PlaySugarHouse, Unibet, Barstool, Parx) all list 36.5 as his home run over/under. Those are the only Pennsylvania sites offering player o/u totals. For RBIs, the only difference is FOX Bet lists Harper at 109.5 and the others use 108.5.
That gap of maybe one RBI, at most, or one homer in other cases, is fairly typical. Ah, but then there’s the Hoskins anomaly.
A difference of 22 RBIs is a head-smacker
For a long time this spring only FOX Bet and the Kambi-backed sites had posted futures markets for this season’s individual player totals, and only FOX Bet had a number for Hoskins’ RBIs. It set his o/u at 110.5, with hefty vig of -118 to bet the number either way.
That RBI number seems high at first glance, considering Hoskins hasn’t knocked in even 100 runs in any season yet in his young career. In his two full seasons, he had 96 RBIs in 2018 and 85 in 2019.
In last year’s COVID-shortened season, he had 26 in 151 at-bats, which would get him to around 100 if extrapolated out to a full season if healthy. Of course, the 28-year-old did not stay healthy last year — he missed the last 17 games after suffering an elbow injury in a collision and had to have surgery on it in October.
So already there was an eyebrow to be raised over that 110.5 number, and then BetMGM came out with its own player props over the weekend. It included one for Hoskins knocking in runs: 88.5, with -110 to bet over and -120 for the under.
Yes, that is a difference of 22 in the Phillies first baseman’s RBI projections between FOX Bet and BetMGM. It is unheard of. It is like the difference between an aria sung by Pavarotti and one by Kid Rock. There’s no accounting for it unless an oddsmaker at either FOX Bet or BetMGM knows something no one else does — which seems unlikely.
So for any bettor counting on still being alive come October, there’s a very sensible opportunity to bet Hoskins over 88.5 RBIs (-110) with BetMGM and under 110.5 RBIs (-118) with FOX Bet, with wide latitude for winning both bets. Keep in mind that this is not a form of arbitrage with a guaranteed profit: If Hoskins achieves fewer than 89 or more than 110 RBIs, it will cost you some vig money. But there’s an unusually high chance to “middle” the bet.
We would even be tempted to bet more with FOX Bet than BetMGM, on the assumption that its under is the more likely option to succeed. He is pegged to bat second for the Phils, which has fewer RBI opportunities than third or cleanup, and he walks a lot, which negates RBI potential. Plus there’s the chance of another injury rendering that 110.5 unachievable. And betting more on the under than over doesn’t diminish the chance of still winning both ways.
What about Joc Pederson’s homers, you ask?
A scan of other baseball futures options on the betting sites presents no other opportunity as glaring as the one for Hoskins, though those willing to tie up money in that bet might find others also worth considering.
One is Chicago Cubs outfielder Joc Pederson’s home runs: BetMGM is offering under 30.5 (standard -110 vig) and DraftKings and the other Kambi sites can be bet over 26.5 (-112).
The 28-year-old Pederson spent the first six years of his career as an L.A. Dodger and signed with the Cubs as a $7 million free agent in the off season. He had an excellent season in 2019, with 36 homers in 450 at-bats, but that is the only time he hit more than 26. He struggled more in the COVID-shortened season, but still hit seven home runs in 121 plate appearances.
Pederson is replacing Kyle Schwarber as the Cubs leftfielder. He has had difficulty hitting lefties in his career and was often benched against them by the Dodgers, but the Cubs say they plan to use him more. He is among spring training’s home run leaders, with seven, for whatever that’s worth.
There’s certainly a chance Pederson could match his 2019 production and hit more than 30 home runs playing half his games in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. However, we like the idea of being able to win a two-way bet if his finishes with 27, 28, 29, or 30. It’s not a Hoskins-level opportunity, but it’s as close as you’re going to come among hitters.
Tigers and Rays have two-way betting potential on wins
The other type of futures bet that can be profitable betting both the over and under at this time of year is on season win totals.
For most teams, the betting sites are identical or close to it. For example, the Phils’ opening day opponent, the Atlanta Braves, are listed at 91.5 across the board by Pennsylvania books.
But there are several teams with a two-game difference of opinion. Some of those have steep vigs involved that serve as disincentives, but there are two teams that may be worth betting both ways with hopes for a tidy profit.
The Detroit Tigers, predicted to once more be among the worst teams in baseball, can be bet over 67.5 wins (with modest -106 vig) at FanDuel and under 69.5 wins (-110) at BetMGM.
The Tigers are still in rebuilding mode, with a record of 23-35 last year and 47-114 in the last full season. We have no strong feelings on how much they may be prepared to leap forward, if at all, from those performances. It’s just reasonable to hope they could land on 68 or 69 wins, with modest vig involved, as an excuse to be invested in following them throughout the year.
Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Rays, last year’s American League pennant winner with a 40-20 record, can be bet under 86.5 wins (-110) with BetMGM and over 84.5 wins (-118) with FOX Bet. To bet them both ways says nothing about whether you think they can match last year’s success, when the division rival New York Yankees are considered stronger.
It just says you are a gambler, and a studious one willing to take a long-term approach, with hopes of playing off different sites against one another to your own advantage.
Usually the odds are stacked against you, after all, but not necessarily when it comes to baseball futures.