MLB Playoff Betting: Four Teams Have Value As Opening Round Begins

We've crunched the numbers, and yes, the Dodgers might just be a sharp World Series winner bet at +350
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There are three things you should know before placing wagers on the Major League Baseball postseason, which begins with a four-game, AL-only slate on Tuesday, followed by a nonstop eight-game slate on Wednesday:

  1. Other than the NHL, MLB traditionally has the most unpredictable playoffs of the four major U.S. sports, with underdogs always live, even in a seven-game series.
  2. This year an extra playoff round has been added and it is best of three, which means the chance of a top team going down early increases significantly. (Oh, and games will be played on a neutral field following that opening round.)
  3. The Dodgers are the most talented team in baseball, and it isn’t all that close.

In this COVID-shortened 60-game season, LA finished 43-17 — three wins better than the next-best team in MLB — with a run differential of +136, 52 runs ahead of the next-best team. The Dodgers had the best offense, with an MLB-high 349 runs scored. And the Dodgers had the best pitching/defense, with an MLB-low 213 runs allowed.

In a normal postseason, the Dodgers would be huge favorites. But this isn’t a normal postseason.

Yet the sportsbooks still see them as huge favorites. Is it correct to bet on them? Or is there a well-priced longshot that offers real value?

“I could never bet anybody at +350”

The Dodgers are +350 — bet $100 to win $350 — to win the World Series at nearly every legal online sportsbook heading into the playoffs.

Last week on the US Bets podcast Gamble On, RotoGrinders contributor and DFS standout Justin Van Zuiden said he didn’t see value in that number. “I could never bet anybody at +350,” Van Zuiden said. “I really can’t fathom betting anyone at less than 10/1 odds this year.”

Van Zuiden speaks for plenty of sharp bettors. But not for all of them. Rich Grisham, the COO of Out of the Park Developments, which MLB teams use for game simulations and scouting, says his company’s modeling supports a Dodgers triumph.

“Once the bracket was finalized, we ran the entire playoffs, each of the series, all set up, and ran it with the latest information,” said Grisham, whose model correctly predicted an Astros World Series win in 2017 and a Red Sox win in 2018 and had the 2019 champion Nationals reaching the World Series (but losing to Houston). “We ran the overall playoff scenarios 1,000 times, saw what happens the most, which team wins the most, and that becomes the official prediction.

“The Dodgers won the most World Series yielded from the most matchups of different combinations. One thing that stood out was the closeness. It was by far the closest. We normally see compelling percentage victories, but in a three-game series, we saw tons more closeness than in the past.”

Best payout for each team

The Dodgers aren’t the only team playing, of course. Sixteen teams made the most wide-open MLB playoffs ever, as the league went out of its way to ensure the best teams got in at the end of a small-sample-size season, even if that meant turning the playoffs into almost a complete crapshoot.

We scoured every legal sports betting site for the best odds on each team, and here’s what we found:

LA Dodgers+350Multiple
New York Yankees+800Multiple
Tampa Bay Rays+900Caesars
San Diego Padres+1000Multiple
Oakland A's+1100PointsBet
Atlanta Braves+1200Multiple
Minnesota Twins+1400FOX Bet
Chicago White Sox+1500Multiple
Chicago Cubs+1600FanDuel
Cleveland Indians+1700FOX Bet
Houston Astros+2500Multiple
Cincinnati Reds+3500BetMGM
St. Louis Cardinals+4000Multiple
Miami Marlins+4000Multiple
Milwaukee Brewers+4000Multiple
Toronto Blue Jays+4000Multiple

As always, we recommend bettors compare prices before they bet. Tampa Bay is as low as 6/1 at some sportsbooks, but you can get 9/1 at Caesars. The Reds are between 22/1 and 25/1 at most books, but BetMGM offers them at 35/1. And so on.

Four teams with the right odds

The question for sports gamblers is whether any of those teams are paying out at a price that’s better than their actual chances of winning the World Series.

ESPN’s Bradford Doolittle calculated the percentage chance of each of the 16 teams winning rings, and while his numbers should by no means be taken as gospel, they provide a reasonable mathematical baseline.

Here’s a look at each team’s chance of winning, according to ESPN, as well as the winning probability they’d need to justify betting them at the highest available odds:

LA Dodgers29.8%22.2%
New York Yankees5%11.1%
Tampa Bay Rays8.8%10%
San Diego Padres11.1%9.1%
Oakland A's4.8%8.3%
Atlanta Braves7.6%7.7%
Minnesota Twins8.7%6.7%
Chicago White Sox6%6.3%
Chicago Cubs4.5%5.9%
Cleveland Indians6.5%5.6%
Houston Astros1.5%3.8%
Cincinnati Reds1.7%2.8%
St. Louis Cardinals1.9%2.4%
Miami Marlins0.5%2.4%
Milwaukee Brewers0.7%2.4%
Toronto Blue Jays1.1%2.4%

The first thing that should jump out here is the Dodgers’ numbers. If Doolittle is right that they have nearly a 30% chance of winning the title, then despite how Van Zuiden feels, there is value on them at +350.

And there’s value on three other teams as well: San Diego is a good bet at 10/1, Minnesota at 14/1 is solid, and there’s a smidgen of value on Cleveland at 17/1.

Meanwhile, the Yankees, priced like the public team they always are, offer horrendous value with just a 1-in-20 shot, according to Doolittle, of winning it all, and you’d basically be throwing money away with any of the 25/1-or-higher longshots (although St. Louis comes close to value). Interestingly, the Braves are priced at almost exactly even value.

Dodging disappointment

The trickiest thing to factor into any bet is the chance of a good team stumbling out of the gate in these absurdly short opening series. Yes, the better team gets home-field advantage (without fans, mind you) in all three games. In the 2020 regular season, home teams went 500-398, for a 55.68% win rate. That’s solid. It suggests home field advantage does still exist.

But the Dodgers had better be way more than 55.68% likely to get past the Brewers in the opening round if it’s going to be worthwhile to bet on them. We all know about Clayton Kershaw’s past October struggles. If LA happens to lose with Walker Buehler on the mound Wednesday, Dodgers bettors will be rightfully freaking out heading into Kershaw’s Thursday start.

So here’s one piece of advice if you want to bet on the Dodgers: Wait and see if they win Game 1. If they do, the three-game set with the Brewers isn’t so scary, and they’re a solid bet to beat anyone else across five or seven games. If that +350 doesn’t drop below +300 after a Game 1 win, there’s probably good value in the number.

Of course, if you don’t want to wait for Thursday morning to bet the Dodgers, or to wait several weeks to know if your bet is a winner, there are individual games to jump on, and they’ll be going on all day Tuesday:

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / USA Today Sports

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