This article is part of our MLB Picks series.
MLB Over/Under Win Totals: Orioles, D-Backs Should Regress
Before each season the last 22 years I've written a story at RotoWire with my best bets for the season-long win totals. I'm a big fan of the season win total bets ever since I started making them in person in Las Vegas back in the late 1990s. I've used several concepts of sabrermetrical analysis to try to find teams that appeared to be good historical bets.
I've had a good track record, winning 58 of 106 (with one push) bets for a 54.7 percent win rate. My best bet each season is 19-16 (I had multiple biggest bets some years). I'm a little better on bets of $100 or more (I vary my bet size to emphasize how strongly I feel about the pick) where I'm 14-11 (56 percent). I'm most impressive when looking at the total amount bet, where I've been correct 58.75 percent of the time ($3,525 in winning bets, $2,475 in losers - not factoring in the vig*).
Last season was incredibly frustrating as I was essentially correct about my top pick but lost. After winning 100 games in 2021, the sportsbooks expected the Rays to fall to 89.5 wins. However, Tampa Bay was a strong team and made the playoffs. Tampa Bay had 85 wins with eight left to play, but lost seven of their final eight contests and finished with 86 wins. With a large lead for a final wild card spot, the Rays may have eased up the final week. That pattern may be something to watch with the new, six-team expanded playoffs in each league. Teams may care less about the extra wins for seeding or records (100+ games) with a goal to stay healthy for the longer playoff grind.
Let's look at the 2023 season from a wagering perspective.
Though the 2023 season will be the first time in three years we can compare a full season vs. a full season the year before, the change to a near-balanced schedule (playing all 31-other teams, and seven less division games) could influence team win totals. It wouldn't be surprising if a division winner had a losing record or some other anomaly. It may be a reason, for example, to take the unders on all the AL central teams.
Here's my take on each team with more analysis below on those I selected as my "bets."
For this exercise, I'm using odds from Fanduel sportsbook on March 21.
|Team||2023 O/U||My Pick|
|Boston Red Sox||78.5||Under|
|Chicago White Sox||83.5||Under|
|Kansas City Royals||68.5||Under|
|Los Angeles Angels||82.5||Over|
|Los Angeles Dodgers||96.5||Under|
|New York Mets||93.5||Over|
|New York Yankees||93.5||Under|
|San Diego Padres||93.5||Over|
|San Francisco Giants||81.5||Over|
|St. Louis Cardinals||88.5||Over|
|Tampa Bay Rays||89.5||Over|
|Toronto Blue Jays||91.5||Over|
When I look at an upcoming baseball season, there are eight methods I use to judge which teams might be a good bet: Three are statistical, four are observations I've had watching the bookies set season-long lines for MLB and other sports and lately I've thrown in a wild-card pick with no particular theoretical basis. Here's the breakdown on these theories and the teams I decided to actually wager on.
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The Johnson Effect
The Johnson Effect argues that a team that scores more runs or allows fewer runs than most statistical formulas would suggest, is bound to regress the next season. For example, if one team scores more runs than sabermetrical formulas such as Runs Created or OPS might suggest, then it will score less the next season. The theory works based on the fact that sometimes a team has more success than it should just based on pure luck. A bad bounce here, a fluke play here - they can add up in one season and make a team look more powerful than it should be.
My favorite type of statistic for this analysis is a tool called the Pythagorean Theory. You probably learned the Pythagorean theory in trigonometry, but in baseball it means that the ratio of a team's wins and losses will be similar to the relationship between the square of its runs scored and the square of its runs allowed. If the runs a team scores and gives up in any given season don't translate into the expected win total from the Pythagorean Theory, that means something odd took place that should turn around next season.
Using the Johnson Effect and applying the Pythagorean Theory, who looks like they'll rebound in 2023? Here are the top teams that should have had more or less wins based on their 2022 runs allowed/created than they actually tallied:
|Los Angeles Dodgers||-5|
|New York Yankees||-7|
I usually like to look for teams that have a differential of ten or more games. No team fits the bill. Usually, a team to back on this theory has an outlier bad year with their bullpen, which can be erratic from year to year. However, the Yankees were third in bullpen ERA last year and Texas was 12th. Neither was terrible by other metrics as well.
The Plexiglass Principle
This theory says that any team that improves dramatically in one season is likely to decline the next season.
What teams made such dramatic moves from 2021 to 2022?
|New York Mets||24|
|San Diego Padres||10|
Since 1970, teams that have improved by 19 or more games declined by 7.91 wins the following season. The decline is even sharper for teams that have improved by 24 or more games (-12.12 games).
The Orioles had one of the largest single-season improvements in history. Baltimore's 31-game increase was the largest since the 1999 Diamondbacks and just the fourth 30-game or better increase since 1970. Those other 30+ win improvement teams all declined sharply the next season (an average of 15.75 wins):
|Team||Year||Win||Increase Year 2|
Meanwhile, this year's Orioles team is seen by sportsbooks as declining by just 6.5 wins. Baltimore features a bumper crop of young hitting talent that made an impact last season (Ryan Mountcastle, Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson) with more coming. The Orioles have five other hitters in RotoWire's top 70 prospects. However, the big increase was largely fueled by an improvement to 7th in runs per game allowed in the AL (4.25 r/g) from dead last in the AL (5.90 r/g), and by a wide margin, in 2021.
That big improvement in runs per game wasn't due to the prospects in the pitching staff. The Orioles coaxed career seasons out of 27-year old Dean Kremer (124 ERA+), 31-year old journeyman Jordan Lyles (12 wins, 91+ ERA), 27-year old Tyler Wells (94+ ERA) and 30-year old journeyman Austin Voth (132 ERA+). Only 26-year old Kyle Bradish was a contributor who could be a called a top prospect (reaching 100 on RotoWire's list in 2022). The bullpen was a little younger, but equally free of top prospects.
That's important because the teams that have been able to sustain large increases in win totals usually do it via starting pitching. The only two teams with more than a 26-game improvement since 1970 that improved the following season were the 1980 Oakland As and 1991 Atlanta Braves. They illustrate the point. The 1991 Braves were the breakout season of one of the dominant pitching staffs of all time (John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Steve Avery and later Greg Maddux). The 1980 A's had five starters make 32 or more starts (Rick Langford, Mike Norris, Matt Keough, Steve McCatty, Brian Kingman). While the A's starters would burn out after such high usage, they held together in 1981 and Oakland made the playoffs in a strike-shortened season. In short, the only two recent exceptions had outlier starting pitching. That certainly doesn't appear to be this year's Orioles staff.
It's possible that Baltimore's offense takes a quantum leap and more than offsets a mediocre pitching staff. Teams can win by being superior at scoring runs more than preventing them. It's also possible that the Orioles call up a plethora of pitching prospects who make an impact. However, even if Grayson Rodriguez (RotoWire's No. 17 overall prospect) has a breakout year in the majors, his innings are likely to be capped. I'd imagine other top pitching prospects would be similarly limited. Perhaps the Orioles have figured out how to improve older journeyman starters, but that historically would be a bad bet (just ask the 2022 San Francisco Giants).
Furthermore, the Orioles did little to improve their team in the offseason. The team's biggest move was signing free agent Kyle Gibson along with trading for Cole Irvin. Neither looks like a significant upgrade from last year's starting staff as they lack the track record or prospect pedigree seen on teams that sustained large win-total gains.
These concerns don't appear to influence many of the experts out there including RotoWire's own Drew Silva (who is taking the over) and The Athletic's Eno Sarris (who has the Orioles making the playoffs). I just don't see it. This looks like the largest discrepancy in win total predictions since I made my largest bet for this column in 2004 taking the under on the Royals. Kansas City improved 21 games to 83 wins in 2003 and the sportsbooks saw the team declining to 81 wins. The 2004 team had less talent on offense and an equally journeyman pitching staff (a young Zach Greinke in his first year being the exception). I see a lot of similarities with the 2023 Orioles. I'll bet $200 the Orioles win less than 76.5 games.
The Mets are seen declining by 7.5 wins. That margin doesn't appear enough to make a bet with the Mets spending a MLB record in free agency.
The Diamondbacks are seeing improving by 1.5 wins. Arizona appears to be more of a team that can sustain a big jump with a number of hitting prospects (led by Corbin Carroll) and high-pedigree pitching talent. Ryne Nelson, Drey Jameson, and Brandon Pfaadt could all make an impact and are in RotoWire's top 120 prospects. Still, just six of the 56 teams (11%) that improved by 22 or more games since 1970 increased their win total the next season. I'll bet $50 the Diamondbacks win less than 75.5 games.
The Reverse Plexiglas Principle
When a team has consistently been a winner and then experiences a sudden drop off, there is a strong likelihood that its win total will rebound. Or at least that's my theory.
Here are the teams that declined the most in 2022:
|San Francisco Giants||-26|
|Boston Red Sox||-14|
|Tampa Bay Rays||-14|
The A's and Reds had fire sales last season, so large declines were expected. Neither are expected to turn things around this season. San Francisco's 107-win 2021 season now looks like a fluke. I'm angry at myself that I didn't take the under as in hindsight they look like the prototypical team to take a step back. The Red Sox appear to be a lost organization (are they trying to save money or rebuild or try to spend to improve?). Only the Rays look like a fit for this theory. Tampa Bay had won 90 or more games in four seasons before last year (pro-rated for 2020). The Rays didn't lose much talent in the offseason (unlike most other years) and top prospect Wander Franco has yet to hit his stride in the majors. Their current crop of top talent underperformed last season, but recent history suggests that's an outlier. The sportsbooks see them improving by 3.5 wins. I'll go back to the well and bet $25 the Rays win more than 89.5 games.
The next thing I look at is what teams the bookies think will have the biggest improvement or decline.
The Bottom Feeder Bet
Which teams are projected to have the lowest win totals?
|Kansas City Royals||68.5|
The theory here is that sportsbooks really need to set the totals low to entice bets on unexciting teams. However, in the past 21 years, teams that the sportsbooks peg to win less than 64 games cover 70% of the time (7 of 10). It's a small sample but makes some sense. Even so, it's just hard to make a case for either Washington or Oakland. Both teams haven't bottomed out from rebuilding efforts and top prospects seem a year or two away from making an impact. I'll reluctantly pass.
The Book's Biggest Movers
Which teams do the sportsbooks think will make the biggest moves this season?
|Los Angeles Dodgers||-11.5|
|Los Angeles Angels||9.5|
The Rangers may have been a bit unluckly last season as their Pythagorean wins total shows. The team also signed arguably baseball's best pitcher in Jacob deGrom. Even so, a 13.5-win jump appears to price in everything going without a hitch. I'll pass. It's always been a good bet to underestimate the Angels even with the duo of Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani. Still the Angels appear to finally have better depth than in recent memory. The Dodgers and Astros are the two most talented teams in the league, so they are hard to bet against. I don't see any values on this theory.
The Book's Non Movers
|Toronto Blue Jays||-0.5|
|San Francisco Giants||0.5|
|Boston Red Sox||0.5|
|Chicago White Sox||2.5|
|Tampa Bay Rays||3.5|
|Kansas City Royals||3.5|
The first thing that stands out is how many teams the sportsbooks will largely be unchanged from last season. The sportsbooks expect 16 teams to finish within 3.5 games of their 2022 win total. Compare that to the 9 teams in 2022 and 7 teams in 2021 the sportsbooks expected to be within 3.5 games of the prior year.
That said, it's hard to find a team on this list that has clearly made moves to improve or decline. Toronto appears to be one team that has improved with aggressive offseason moves (improving outfield defense) but their odds moved up this spring to 91.5 wins. I'll bet $25 that Toronto wins more than 91.5 games, mostly since I think the AL East teams will benefit from more out-of-division games.
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I've occasionally chosen a bet for this article that doesn't fit any statistical theory but rather is one trend I've followed. This year that theory would be that the stronger divisions are being underpriced by a few wins due to the balanced schedule. It's a factor in my taking the over on the Rays and Blue Jays. I don't have any other bets of this type (though maybe the over on some of the other non-Central Division favorites is warranted as well).
MLB Win Total Best Bets for 2023 Recap
|Baltimore Orioles||$200 under 76.5 wins||Plexiglas Principle|
|Arizona Diamondbacks||$50 under 75.5 wins||Plexiglas Principle|
|Tampa Bay Rays||$25 over 89.5 wins||Reverse Plexiglas|
|Toronto Blue Jayes $25 over 91.5 games||$25 over 91.5 wins||Book Non-Mover|
*One note: My bets/track record doesn't account for the variations in extra juice you need to pay. Most lines are -110, meaning the sportsbook takes about five percent on each bet. The "vig" tends to be higher on these bets than for single games. Sometimes the vig can vary widely, such as when the 2016 Rangers' under of 83.5 wins was at -140 (the under was +110). It's another method for the bookmakers to alter how the money is coming in on each side so it gets to their comfort level. Or it's a way to change the odds without moving the win total.
If you are making a lot of bets, this is a serious factor in the math. But I don't bother to take that into account because I'm more focused on the overall wins number for a team perspective. Plus, I forgot to keep track of the vig in the early years.
I vary the dollar amounts below as a way to show how confident I am in the bet (the $300 bet on the 2004 Royals is my all-time high), so there are some holes in the math if you added in all the varying vigs.
And why should you care what I think? I've made money 12 of the last 21 years (with one push). Here's the breakdown:
|2022||Won||Oakland||$25 under on 69.5 wins||Wild Card|
|2022||Lost||Tampa Bay||$100 over on 89.5 wins||Book Mover|
|2022||Lost||Baltimore||$25 under on 61.5 wins||Bottom Feeder|
|2022||Won||Boston||$25 under on 85.5 wins||Plexiglas Principle|
|2022||Lost||Seattle||$25 under on 83.5 wins||Plexiglas Principle|
|2021||Lost||Chicago White Sox||$50 under on 90.5 wins||Plexiglas Principle|
|2021||Lost||Washington Nationals||$25 over on 84.5 wins||Reverse Plexiglas Principle|
|2021||Won||Houston Astros||$25 over on 87.5 wins||Reverse Plexiglas Principle|
|2021||Lost||Detroit Tigers||$100 under on 68.5 wins||Bottom Feeder|
|2021||Won||Texas Rangers||$25 under on 66.5 games||Bottom Feeder|
|2021||Lost||Toronto Blue Jays||$25 under on 86.5 games||Book Non-Mover|
|2021||Lost||Minnesota Twins||$50 over on 88.5 wins||Book Mover|
|2021||Won||Tampa Bay Rays||$50 over on 85.5 wins||Book Mover|
|2021||Lost||Lost Angeles Dodgers||$25 under on 102.5 wins||Wild Card|
|2020||Lost||Chicago White Sox||$25 on less than 31.5 games||Book Mover|
|2020||Won||New York Yankees||$25 on less than 37.5 games||Wild Card|
|2020||Lost||Los Angeles Dodgers||$25 on less than 37.5 games||Wild Card|
|2020||Won||Tampa Bay Rays||$50 on more than 33.5 games||Wild Card|
|2019||Won||Kansas City Royals||$50 on less than 69.5 wins||Book Mover|
|2019||Lost||San Francisco Giants||$50 on less than 73 wins||Book Non Mover|
|2019||Lost||Texas Rangers||$25 on less than 70 games||Book Non Mover|
|2019||Won||Baltimore Orioles||$50 on less than 58.5 wins||Bottom Feeder|
|2019||Won||Washington Nationals||$25 more than 88.5 games||Reverse Plexiglas Principle|
|2018||Won||Arizona Diamondbacks||$100 to win fewer than 85 games||Plexiglas Principle|
|2018||Won||Detroit Tigers||$50 on less than 66.5 wins||Book's Non Movers|
|2018||Won||San Diego Padres||$25 on less than 72.5 games||Johnson Effect|
|2017||Won||Tampa Bay Rays||$50 win more than 78.5 games||Johnson Effect|
|2017||Lost||Pittsburgh Pirates||$100 win more than 82 games||Reverse Plexiglas|
|2017||Lost||Los Angeles Angels||$50 on less than 79 wins||Book's Non Movers|
|2017||Lost||Texas Rangers||$25 on win more than 84.5 games||Book's Biggest Movers|
|2017||Lost||Baltimore Orioles||$50 win more than 80 games||Wild Card|
|2016||Lost||Chicago Cubs||$25 win less than 93.5 games||Plexiglas Principle|
|2016||Lost||Milwaukee Brewers||$50 win less than 70 games||Bottom Feeder Bet|
|2016||Lost||New York Yankees||$25 win over than 85 games||Wild Card|
|2015||Lost||Houston Astros||$25 win less than 75.5 games||Plexiglas Principle|
|2015||Won||Los Angels Angels||$25 win less than 88.5 games||Plexiglas Principle|
|2015||Won||Texas Rangers||$25 win over than 76.5 games||Reverse Plexiglas Principle|
|2015||Lost||Boston Red Sox||$25 win over than 86.5 games||Reverse Plexiglas Principle|
|2015||Lost||Baltimore Orioles||$75 win over than 82.5 games||Book's Biggest Movers|
|2015||Won||Cincinnati Reds||$25 win less than 77.5 games||Book's Non Movers|
|2015||Won||Tampa Bay Rays||$50 win more than 78.5 games||Book's Non Movers|
|2015||Won||Oakland A's||$100 win more than 81.5 games||Billy Beane Theory|
|2014||Lost||Cleveland Indians||$25 win less than 82 games||Plexiglas Principle|
|2014||Won||Houston Astros||$25 more than 62.5 games||Bottom Feeder|
|2014||Won||Philadelphia Phillies||$50 under on 74.5 games||Book Non Mover|
|2014||Won||Oakland A's||$25 over on 86.5 games||Billy Beane Theory|
|2014||Lost||Tampa Bay Rays||$100 over on 89 games||Billy Beane Theory|
|2013||Won||Toronto Blue Jays||$50 under on 89 games||Book Mover|
|2013||Won||Oakland A's||$25 over on 84.5 games||Billy Beane Theory|
|2013||Won||Tampa Bay Rays||$50 over on 86.5 games||Billy Beane Theory|
|2013||Lost||Kansas City Royals||$50 under on 78.5 games||Billy Beane Theory|
|2013||Won||Baltimore Orioles||$25 over on 78.5 games||Wildcard|
|2012||Won||Arizona Diamondbacks||$200 under on 86 games||Plexiglas Principle|
|2012||Lost||Minnesota Twins||$100 over on 72.5 games||Reverse Plexiglas Principle|
|2011||Lost||Kansas City||$100 under on 68 games||Book Non Mover|
|2011||Won||Houston Astros||$50 under on 72 games||Johnson Effect|
|2011||Won||Milwaukee Brewers||$25 over on 86.5 games||Book Mover|
|2011||Lost||Los Angeles Angels||$50 under on 82.5 games||Wild Card|
|2010||Lost||Houston Astros||$150 under on 75.5 games||Johnson Effect & Book Non Mover|
|2010||Won||Minnesota Twins||$100 over on 82.5 games||Wildcard|
|2010||Won||Washington Nationals||$50 under on 72 games||Book Mover|
|2009||Lost||Los Angeles Angels||$50 under on 88.5 wins||Johnson Effect & Plexiglas Principle|
|2009||Won||Detroit Tigers||$50 over on 81.5 wins||Reverse Plexiglas|
|2009||Lost||Baltimore Orioles||$50 over on 72.5 wins||Bottom Feeder|
|2009||Lost||Kansas City Royals||$25 over on 76.5 wins||Book Non Mover|
|2009||Lost||Philadelphia Phillies||$50 under on 88.5 wins||Book Non Mover|
|2009||Lost||Oakland A's||$25 over on 82.5 wins||Billy Beane Theory|
|2008||Won||Seattle Mariners||$200 under on 84 wins||Johnson Effect|
|2008||Lost||Chicago Cubs||$50 under on 87.5 wins||Plexiglas Principle|
|2008||Won||Oakland A's||$50 over on 73.5 wins||Reverse Plexiglas Principle|
|2008||Push||San Francisco||$50 under on 72 wins||Book Non Mover|
|2007||Won||Cleveland Indians||$50 over on 85.5 wins||Johnson Effect|
|2007||Lost||Chicago Cubs||$50 under on 83.5 wins||Book Mover|
|2007||Lost||Oakland A's||$50 over on 85.5 wins||Book Mover|
|2007||Lost||Minnesota Twins||$100 over on 84 wins||Book Mover|
|2007||Won||Arizona Diamondbacks||$100 over on 78.5 wins||Book Non Mover|
|2006||Won||Chicago White Sox||$100 under on 92 wins||Johnson Effect & Plexiglas Principle|
|2006||Lost||Arizona Diamondbacks||$25 under on 73 wins||Johnson Effect & Plexiglas Principle|
|2006||Lost||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||$100 over on 68 wins||Bottom Feeder|
|2006||Lost||Milwaukee Brewers||$50 over on 81 wins||Book Non Mover|
|2006||Won||Minnesota Twins||$50 over on 83 wins||Book Non Mover|
|2005||Won||New York Yankees||$150 under on 102 wins||Johnson Effect|
|2005||Won||Milwaukee Brewers||$50 over on 69.5 wins||Bottom Feeder|
|2005||Won||San Diego Padres||$25 under on 86.5 wins||Plexiglas Principle|
|2005||Lost||Minnesota Twins||$25 over on 89.5 wins||Book Non Mover|
|2004||Won||Kansas City Royals||$300 under on 81 wins||Plexiglas Principle|
|2004||Won||Houston Astros||$50 over on 91 wins||Johnson Effect|
|2004||Lost||Detroit Tigers||$100 under on 66.5 wins||Book Mover|
|2004||Won||San Francisco Giants||$50 over on 85 wins||Book Mover|
|2004||Won||Florida Marlins||$50 over on 83 wins||Book Mover|
|2003||Won||Anaheim Angels||$100 under on 91 wins||Plexiglas Principle|
|2003||Won||Oakland A's||$50 over on 93.5 wins||Book Mover|
|2003||Won||New York Mets||$50 under on 86 wins||Book Mover|
|2003||Won||Toronto Blue Jays||$50 over on 79 wins||Book Non Mover|
|2003||Won||Boston Red Sox||$50 over on 91 wins||Johnson Effect|
|2002||Won||Oakland A's||$200 over on 90.5 wins||Book Mover|
|2002||Won||Philadelphia Phillies||$100 under on 82.5 wins||Plexiglas Principle|
|2002||Won||Pittsburgh Pirates||$50 over on 68 wins||Bottom Feeder|
|2002||Lost||Seattle Mariners||$50 over on 94 wins||Reverse Plexiglas Principle|
|2002||Lost||Colorado Rockies||$50 over on 77 wins||Johnson Effect|
|2002||Lost||New York Yankees||$50 under on 99 wins||Reverse Bottom Feeder|
|2001||Lost||St. Louis Cardinals||$100 under on 89.5 wins||Plexiglas Principle|
|2001||Won||Chicago White Sox||$100 under on 88 wins||Plexiglas Principle|
|2001||Won||Houston Astros||$100 over on 82.5 wins||Johnson Effect & Plexiglas Principle|
|2001||Won||Philadelphia Phillies||$25 over on 74.5 wins||Bottom Feeder & Johnson Effect|
|2001||Won||Minnesota Twins||$25 over on 73 wins||Bottom Feeder|
|2000||Won||Arizona Diamondbacks||$100 under on 93 wins||Plexiglas Principle|
|2000||Won||Minnesota Twins||$100 over on 64 wins||Bottom Feeder|