For either a casual bettor or a seasoned pro, few wagers can provide more value than an MLB futures prop.
That’s not to say the odds are particularly customer-friendly all the time. Sportsbooks have an easier time obscuring their hold and can at times offer some pretty crummy payouts on long-range bets with multiple options.
But if the object is to add some excitement to your life, these wagers provide more than a half-year of daily engagement. And shrewd players can use loads of publicly available data to find hidden gems and outfox the sportsbooks.
If in-game betting is the hare, with an immediate payoff and fleeting excitement, futures betting is the tortoise — slow and steady fun stretched over months. Now that the Major League Baseball season has passed the halfway mark — with the All-Star Game approaching — this seems like a good time to look at some of the best-performing prop bets so far this season:
National League MVP: Paul Goldschmidt (+5000)
It seems so obvious looking back, doesn’t it? Long one of MLB’s most criminally underrated players during his years in Arizona, Goldschmidt has settled in nicely in his fourth season in St. Louis. How could we not all have seen this as a massive bargain back in April considering that Goldschmidt finished top six in MVP voting four times between 2013 and 2018?
Well, there’s actually a pretty good answer for that: It’s really not that common to see an elite player have a career year at age 34. Goldschmidt is defying everything we’ve learned about decline phases. After never quite hitting the .900 OPS mark since leaving the hitters’ paradise of Arizona, Goldschmidt has a 1.047 OPS in nearly 300 plate appearances this season, absolutely remarkable given that Busch Stadium is one of the most pitcher-friendly ballparks in baseball. Now as short as even money, his MVP odds at BetMGM are 1/50th of what they were three months ago, which gives you an idea of how remarkable this late-career renaissance is.
Even so, Goldschmidt seems like a solid play given that voters will credit him for his Gold Glove defense and surprisingly effective baserunning. His biggest competition figures to be Manny Machado, who plays a far more demanding and important position. Still, to be holding a Goldschmidt MVP ticket right now would be awfully sweet no matter how many units are on the line. Pat yourself on the back if you’re one of the few people to have one.
Over 36.5 home runs: Aaron Judge
In writing about this offering back in April, DraftKings writer Teddy Ricketson noted that Judge would be able to serve as designated hitter in road interleague games in 2022 given the arrival of the universal DH and that a potential contract extension could make the over an easy call on this one.
“Take the over on his home run count, especially if he locks up that extension,” Ricketson wrote.
Well, Judge still isn’t signed with the Yankees beyond 2022, but he certainly has made that advice look sound. He already has 29 home runs to lead MLB, and at his current pace he would reach the 37-homer mark by the first few days of August.
The Goldschmidt play would have been wise given the odds. The Judge play would have been wise given a functioning human brain. He’s not as fragile as many people think he is: Only once in his career has he failed to reach at least 445 plate appearances in a full season. He’s still in his prime at age 30 and more than 31% of the fly balls he has hit in his career have been home runs.
Also, the lack of an extension might actually be pushing this along, as he seems to be intent on proving the Yankees wrong for not offering him the deal he was seeking before Opening Day. How do we not all hold this ticket?
AL Cy Young: Alek Manoah (+3000)
The top four AL Cy Young favorites entering the season were Gerrit Cole (+438), Shane Bieber (+775), Lucas Giolito (+1050), and Robbie Ray (+1200). The Blue Jays’ Manoah (now priced at +650) has a higher WAR (2.1 at FanGraphs) thus far than all those guys aside from Bieber, and his toughest competition might be teammate Kevin Gausman, who leads the majors with 3.7 WAR.
He did serve notice last season by striking out 127 batters in 111 2/3 innings, but he’s a semi-later bloomer at 24, and it seems fair to say few people outside his immediate family expected him to be among the league leaders in ERA (2.33, third in the AL) this deep into the season. If you had the vision to place this bet back in April, congratulations — you are either a savvy baseball bettor or a very big Blue Jays fan.
MLB strikeout leader: Dylan Cease (+1500)
This wager would have fallen somewhere between the visionary excellence of a Goldschmidt MVP bet and the retrospectively obvious Judge home run call. It would have simply been a well-reasoned wager at the time.
Why? Because Cole entered the season having to prove he could get the whiffs he got before the crackdown on “sticky stuff,” Max Scherzer is 37 years old, and Ray had to prove he could do it all over again after his breakout 2021.
Of the top 10 pitchers in K/9 in 2021, Cease was the youngest, and he has some of the most bedeviling raw stuff in baseball. He seems to make up nasty off-speed pitches on the fly to go with a fastball that has averaged 96.8 mph with spin rate in the 96th percentile.
This bet is far from a lock. You could have made a similar case for Shane McClanahan — who leads Cease by eight strikeouts at the moment for the MLB lead — and Corbin Burnes, Cole, Ray, and Aaron Nola all are breathing down Cease’s neck. Still, this is a pretty sweet ticket to hold at 15/1.
Over 91.5 wins: New York Yankees
The sportsbooks were pretty much lined up on this one, with seven of eight New York operators, for example, offering the Bombers at 91.5 wins going into Opening Day and FanDuel Sportsbook & Casino bumping the total up to 92.5.
What would it take for the Yankees to miss 92 wins now that they’ve already racked up 58 and played .725 baseball for three months? Well, they would have to go 33-49 or worse the rest of the way, a .402 winning percentage, which seems practically impossible given the depth of their roster and their willingness to spend lavishly at the trade deadline.
This is one of those tickets that causes stress only because you have to wait a few months to collect on it.
Was it predictable? That kind of depends how you felt about the rest of the AL East, which at this point has not lived up to the preseason hype. The Yankees now have passed the Dodgers as World Series favorites at most books and one could argue their +550 preseason odds (now +400) belong here over the win total. But hey, there’s something to be said for holding a near-lock in your hands when, with three wild-card teams, there should be even more volatility in the playoffs starting this fall.
Take the sure things anytime you can. They don’t come along very often.
Photo: Gregory Fisher/USA TODAY