Baseball is the ideal U.S. sport for microbetting and in-play wagering, as its relatively slow pace makes it perfect for people looking for action on every single pitch or at-bat.
Baseball’s in-play handle grew 250% year-over-year by the end of the 2022 regular season, with the average MLB game taking $147,000 in in-play bets, according to data supplied by the technology company SimpleBet. That growth figures to continue in 2023 even as the new pitch clock gives bettors fewer seconds to get in their wagers.
That non-stop availability of action is something MLB is banking on to grow its sport among gamblers, but the game also offers plenty of less frenetic betting options.
For example, there’s something to be said for taking a stand on a futures bet just before Opening Day and slow-playing it for the next six months (or more, if the bet extends into the postseason). Whereas a microbet buys you 15 seconds or so of action, a futures bet that isn’t decided until October or November buys you half a year’s worth of engagement.
With that in mind, several members of the US Bets staff picked their favorite MLB futures wagers for the upcoming season, which starts Thursday with a slate of 15 games. If you like any of these plays, make them soon — many will come off the board by the time the first pitch is thrown Thursday. Also, be aware that not all states allow gambling on outcomes that are voted upon, such as Cy Young and MVP races.
Corey Seager MLB hits leader (+6000 at BetRivers)
We’re shooting for big money here. Like, enough to bid against Steve Cohen for free agents. Most sportsbooks have the Texas Rangers’ Seager at 50/1 to lead MLB in hits, but BetRivers and other Kambi-powered sportsbooks have him up at 60/1 — and I see him as a very live contender for this.
It’s no secret that Seager was as negatively impacted by the infield shift as any player in MLB. He faced a historic shift percentage last year, and one estimate had the shift costing him 26 base hits.
He turned into a pure power hitter in 2022, batting a career-low .245 after topping .300 in four of the previous seven seasons while mashing a career-high 33 homers. He became one of those “three true outcomes” players.
But this is a guy who once produced 193 hits in a season. (Freddie Freeman led MLB last year with 199.) If Seager stays healthy and gets back to pulling grounders and line drives that no longer get gobbled up by the shift, he could realistically threaten 200 hits again.
For what it’s worth, Seager hit .400 in the preseason. And we can turn $20 into $1,220 if that keeps up? Sign me up.
Cristian Javier under 199.5 strikeouts (-104 at FanDuel)
This is no indictment of the talent of the 26-year-old Astros pitcher. Javier clearly is a star in the making after striking out 194 batters in 148.2 innings in the regular season for last year’s World Series champions. This is just a numbers thing — looking at how FanDuel contrasts with other sites with its prop on Javier, and how it’s a pretty mean feat these days to strike out 200 hitters (11 did it in MLB last year). Until you’ve shown me you can do it, I’m a lot more likely to bet against you than on you, especially if I’m getting a discounted price on the under.
By comparison, DraftKings sets Javier’s over/under at 195.5, and the discounted price is -105 to bet the over. Barstool Sportsbook‘s number is 194.5, using -113 vig for both over and under. Not only is FanDuel in the minority here as to its higher expectations for Javier, it doubles down by inflating the vig to -122 to bet the over, as though 200 K’s is obviously the more likely outcome for Javier.
Maybe FanDuel’s analysts are smarter than others, and his trajectory just keeps going up in his fourth season in the bigs after being rewarded with a five-year, $64 million contract in February. But aside from the performance issue, I always lean to the under on player props because of how an injury can turn things into a no-sweat bet long before September. In the case of pitchers, especially, we always like having that prospect in play (not that we’d ever root for anything bad to happen to Cristian Javier, nope, never).
As a side note, I’ll mention I’ve acted on BetMGM’s special AL MVP bet to take the “field” at -150 against Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout, who are offered as a combo at +115 if either wins. Nothing against those two, who have a combined four MVP awards since 2014, but there sure are a lot of other good ballplayers in the American League — so many that it makes a price of -150 on the whole pack of them too good to pass up. Keep hitting those dingers, Mr. Judge.
Dustin May to win NL Cy Young (+5500 at DraftKings)
Like my colleague Mr. Raskin, I’m looking to make some real money here. The Dodgers’ big redhead — aka Gingergaard — offers all kinds of value if you’re willing to think outside the box and trust a player development system that leaves no stone unturned or dollar unspent.
The first thing you have to do to embrace this play is throw out the 30 innings May pitched last year after returning from ligament-replacement surgery in his right elbow. Command issues are common for pitchers coming off this procedure, known commonly as Tommy John surgery, and May’s 11% walk rate was, not surprisingly, the main culprit for his 4.50 ERA.
When healthy, this guy makes for a miserable at-bat. His 23.9% career strikeout rate compares favorably with some of the shorter prices on the board, including the NL Cy Young favorite, Sandy Alcantara (+450 at DraftKings), who has a 21.9% career strikeout rate.
But wait, there’s more. The Dodgers are urging May to use more four-seam fastballs (which averaged 97.5 mph last year) and move away from his sinker, which should lead to an uptick in strikeouts. Four-seamers and curveballs are the pitches of choice in a league obsessed with launch angle and home runs. May has one of the nastiest curveballs in the game. According to Baseball Savant, in fact, it was the highest-spin breaking ball in MLB last year.
The problem could be innings, as the Dodgers may look to limit him somewhat as he continues to build endurance coming off surgery, which is why I like this play better than taking +6000 on May to win the strikeout crown. Last year, the Dodgers turned Tony Gonsolin into an All-Star and Cy Young contender. Why can’t they do it again with a pitcher who actually has better raw stuff?
Los Angeles Dodgers to miss the playoffs (+650 at PointsBet)
Winners of nine of the past 10 NL West titles — with that lone runner-up finish accompanied by 106 wins and a wild card berth — the Dodgers would appear to be as close as there is to a lock to make MLB’s recently inflated 12-team postseason. Sportsbooks seem to agree, with the Dodgers’ odds to make the playoffs ranging from -600 at DraftKings to -1000 at PointsBet.
On the other side of that PointsBet wager is +650 odds for the Dodgers to miss the playoffs — and that’s where my money will be. The Dodgers just had what was widely considered to be the worst offseason in the majors in terms of free agency, losing the likes of Trea Turner, Justin Turner, and Tyler Anderson with plans to replace them with either youngsters or inferior veterans.
Perhaps, as FanGraphs speculates, the Dodgers are saving up to make a serious run at Ohtani when he hits free agency next offseason. If that’s the case, it would justify the team taking a conscious step back in 2023 to land the most unique — and most globally marketable — talent Major League Baseball has seen since Babe Ruth, if not ever.
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