A new list of World Series and playoff odds is up at Bovada. There are, at this point, few surprises. By September, we have a good idea of who the contenders and pretenders are; we know the teams on the periphery and we know the teams right in the thick of races. Seeing Texas and Cincinnati favored to win their leagues shouldn’t surprise anybody.
There is one particular bet, however, that caught my eye.
MLB Special – Will the Baltimore Orioles make the playoffs in 2012?
Yes -115 (bet 115 to make 100)
The Orioles at even odds to make the playoffs? You would be laughed out of the room back in April, but in September, with Baltimore tied atop the AL East and 3.5 games clear of the Angels for the Wild Card, it’s a sign that Vegas still isn’t buying the Orioles.
Even with the litany of numbers-based arguments against the Orioles’ quality — most prominently Pythagorean record and run differential — numbers-based playoff odds calculators give the Orioles a much better chance than Vegas. The number that matters most for the Orioles right now is 3.5, the lead over the Angels. As such, there are reasonable scenarios that see the Orioles still making the playoffs going under .500 down the stretch.
CoolStandings puts the Orioles’ playoff odds at a healthy 72.0%; Baseball Prospectus prognosticates a lower but still robust 62.4%. If you believe either of these, there’s a significant amount of expected value to be had in betting the Orioles to reach the postseason. The expected value of a $115 bet on the Orioles to make the playoffs comes out to $154.80 (.72*215) with the CoolStandings odds and $134.16 (.624*215) with the Baseball Prospectus odds. Bookmakers rarely offer 135% or even 117% return on investment bets like this — Vegas wouldn’t survive if they did.
And so that’s why I do a double take when I see an offer like this. CoolStandings sees Baltimore as a negligibly under .500 team. Baseball Prospectus sees Baltimore as a .455 team going forward. What does that mean Vegas has them at? A .400 team? .350? Is Vegas doing a better job of accounting for things like the Nick Markakis injury? Or is the betting public just slow to react to Baltimore grabbing hold of the second Wild Card? Baseball Prospectus says the Orioles added 36% to their odds with Thursday’s victory over the Rays; CoolStandings says each victory in the Orioles’ sweep over the Rays was worth about an extra 10%.
Is Vegas right? I’m not sure. They usually are, though, and so when I see a betting line like this one that differs significantly from what our other data sources are telling us, I think it can be telling — either telling of our data sources or telling about what the betting public thinks. In this case, I think we’re seeing just how little the sporting world believes in Baltimore. The Orioles get their chance over the next 19 games to prove them wrong.
Jack Moore's work can be seen at VICE Sports and anywhere else you're willing to pay him to write. Buy his e-book.