We were recently approached on twitter asking which MLB players (non-pitchers), when missing from their respective lineups, have the biggest effect on MLB money lines? Read this MLB betting article to understand how missing MVPs influence the moneyline and why this is important for baseball bettors.
In a recent game between the Oakland A’s – who hold the MLB’s best record – and the Texas Rangers – who have the worst record – Oakland’s starter was Scott Kazmir, their most consistent pitcher, who went in on a run of 5 strong starts. Texas, meanwhile, started Mike Mikolas, a journeyman with 4 career starts in the major leagues and poor numbers to show for it. While Texas were at home, this was about as big a mismatch as you’d find on the MLB calendar this season. Oakland were at 1.493 on Money Line.
The above paragraph illustrates the relative parity in baseball and betting. No team has won two-thirds of its regular season games since 2001, and with a 162-game schedule, there are too many variables in a single game sample size to assume a result.
In addition to the effect of parity on MLB money lines, it’s important to note that the difference between a star player and a replacement in baseball might be a 30% production uptick (A crude example would see a star’s 0.390 on-base percentage replaced by a back-up’s 0.300 on-base percentage) over the course of a single game in which a player will average approximately four plate appearances.
Starting pitchers are easily the most influential players on markets, so while MLB’s best non-pitchers bring star appeal and potential explosiveness, as one of just eight position players (in the American league, effectively nine), their influence on single-game lines is a matter of cents. Of course, a few cents either way with any consistency can have a big impact on a bettor.
The top five MLB players whose absence affects the money line the most
With the above context provided, who are the top market movers and what can we take from their examples? These players all tend to move the Money Line approximately ten cents with their absences:
1) Mike Trout – Simply, MLB’s best all-around player, be it using old- or new-school stats or the eye-test. The cream rises to the top in betting.
2) Miguel Cabrera – The two-time reigning American League MVP, Cabrera hasn’t quite been the same player in 2014 as he was in 2012-13. After posting WAR** of at least 6.2 for every season since 2010 (and 7.6 a year ago), Cabrera is projecting to “just” 5.8, which would put him 18th amongst position players. This may not be a fluke; Cabrera is 31-years-old, carries a heavy frame, had injury issues in late 2013 and has posted his highest strikeout rate and lowest walk rate since 2008, recognizable signs of decline.
So why is Cabrera still on this list? It may be due to reliability and a touch of name recognition. Baseball is a large sample game and from those seventeen players ahead of him on the WAR leaderboard, only Trout, Andrew McCutcheon and Josh Donaldson (who all provide more defensive value than Cabrera) finished ahead of Cabrera in WAR a year ago. Bettors are betting on Cabrera’s name, bat and five-year steadiness.
** WAR is a statistic that measures a player’s overall value above the average replacement-level player, and especially useful statistic for our purposes here. For this article, we’re using WAR data from fangraphs.com
3) Troy Tulowitzki – Currently injured, Tulowitski’s value can be summed up in positional scarcity. Finding a replacement outfielder or first baseman that can hit isn’t the greatest of rarities, but a shortstop (the game’s most important defensive position) that can hit nearly as well as the best in the game is a generational talent. Replacing such a rarity is impossible, a reality that’s reflected in market movement.
4) Buster Posey – Yadier Molina barely missed our top 5, but it’s interesting to note that our senior MLB trader told me Yadi’s recent injury was more influential than Edwin Encarnacion’s, despite the latter being the MLB home run leader at the time. The reason? Catchers inspire a different valuation than other non-pitchers because of their roles as field generals.
For top catchers like Posey and Molina, responsibilities include preparing their pitchers for a given day’s opponents, relaying managerial dictums to the rest of the field, calling pitches during a game and co-ordination between a pitcher and their defense. While other fielders can be summed up by surface numbers, the value a top catcher brings is more difficult to measure without descending into minutia, leaving bettors an opportunity to capitalize on market laziness. Properly assess a catcher’s value to their team and you may have the kind of edge that can consistently produce results.
5) Ryan Braun – Of the names on this list, Braun’s is the most surprising. After his MVP season in 2012, Braun came under scrutiny for performance enhancing drug use, after which a rash of injuries demolished his 2013 season. 2014 has seen him post his lowest on-base percentage since 2008 with reduced power numbers. On July 22nd, ESPN’s Buster Olney published a blog that revealed Braun’s average pulled fly ball is travelling 41 feet fewer than in 2013 and that the one-time slugger has been forced to adapt by hitting to the opposite field. In short, his power has been greatly reduced, likely either by a lingering thumb injury, his no longer using performance enhancing drugs, or both. Also the fact his stolen base numbers are down might make the more conspiracy-minded observer think it’s not the thumb.
One of baseball’s most consistent hitters for the last half-decade, Braun’s presence on this list, like Cabrera’s, loans to the importance of perceived predictability and name recognition, but it also means something else.
Braun’s old-school stats—home runs, RBI, batting average—have always made him look stronger than advanced stats do (he only has two elite seasons of > 5 WAR). If that’s the case, the market may not be optimizing baseball’s advance data analysis revolution. That means that, if you were to do so, the bottom line could make the benefits apparent.