Saints and Snakes

I love gambling and futures markets (although I've never placed more than a $20 bet on anything in my life). With that in mind, and the Major League Baseball season winding down, I'd like to recommend a couple of bets to make on which team wins the World Series this year.

Linesmaker.com has the current odds:
Red Sox - 3/1
Yankees - 3/1
Mets - 4/1
Angels - 9/2
Indians - 7/1
Cubs - 8/1
Diamondbacks - 9/1
Padres - 12/1
Phillies - 15/1
Brewers - 25/1

Studies have shown that there are only three strong statistical predictors of playoff success: (1) team defensive efficiency, (2) the quality of a team's top three starting pitchers and (3) the quality of a team’s closer. This makes sense if the best hitters in the league feast on poor pitching and produce a disproportionate number of their counting stats against the third, fourth and fifth starters on average to poor teams. In the post season, with the best teams moving to four (and even three) man starting rotations the disproportional increase in the quality of pitching (relative to the increase in the quality of hitting) reduces the importance of offense and to some degree closes whatever gap in run production exists between opponents. Here are how the aforementioned ten teams stack up:

A. Defensive Efficiency*
1. Cubs - 71.3%
2. Red Sox - 71.2%
3. Mets - 71.0%
4. Padres - 70.7%
5. Diamondbacks - 70.5%
6. Yankees - 69.5%
7. Indians - 69.3%
8. Phillies - 69.1%
9. Angels - 68.9%
10. Brewers - 68.4%

B. Fielding Independent Pitching of Top Three Starters**
1. Padres (Peavy/Young/Maddux) - 3.16
2. Angels (Escobar/Lackey/Weaver) - 3.79
3. Indians (Sabathia/Carmona/Westbrook) - 3.92
4. Brewers (Gallardo/Sheets/Suppan) - 3.94
5. Red Sox (Beckett/Schilling/Matsuzaka) - 3.97
6. Yankees (Wang/Pettitte/Clemens) - 4.00
7. Diamondbacks (Webb/Davis/Owings) - 4.24
8. Cubs (Lilly/Hill/Zambrano) - 4.43
9. Mets (Glavine/Maine/Perez) - 4.49
10. Phillies (Hamels/Moyer/Lohse) - 4.61

C. Fielding Independent Pitching of Closer
1. Brewers (Cordero) - 1.67
2. Red Sox (Papelbon) - 2.58
3. Mets (Wagner) - 2.74
4. Yankees (Rivera) - 2.74
5. Angels (Rodriguez) - 2.75
6. Padres (Hoffman) - 2.85
7. Diamondbacks (Valverde) - 3.63
8. Phillies (Myers) 3.71
9. Indians (Borowski) - 3.82
10. Cubs (Dempster) - 3.89

Bear in mind that I'm not applying the proper weight to each of the three metrics. There is no way a team's closer is as important as their top three starters. But still, this should provide a quick overview of how teams compare to each other respectively. Pair that up with some observations and I've got a decent idea of where the good wagers lie.

Red Sox - 3/1
The Red Sox have to be the favorites to win the World Series. They have a very underrated defense and a strong rotation and closer to go with a solid offense. The safe bet at 3/1.

Yankees - 3/1
The Yankees are an older club that doesn't field the ball exceptionally well and lacks a dominant starting rotation. They've bashed their way through the regular season and are hot as of late, but there isn't much evidence to support the claim that momentum heading into the playoffs is of much importance. The first round is a best-of-five and the team that wins the first game digs a huge hole for their opponent, well big enough to wipe out any momentum gained by a late season surge. Stay away from betting on the Yankees this fall. Worst of any odds at 3/1.

Mets - 4/1
The Mets have the best record in the National League, field the ball well, have a solid closer and a very powerful offense. However, their rotation has two huge question marks. Their top two starters weren't factored into the numbers listed above as it remains to be seen how effective Pedro Martinez will be after missing the majority of the season (he's only made two starts since coming off the disabled list) and if Orlando "El Duqe" Hernandez*** will be able to pitch in the post season. Martinez' velocity continues to decline through injury and age but he's been able to rely on movement and pitched very well in his first two starts coming back. Hernandez on the other hand is in danger of being shelved for the year because of bunions. The team has ordered custom shoes as a last-ditch effort to have him pitch this October. The Mets have been the class of the National League all season, but the competition is no where near as tough as in the American League, and they've got too many question marks in their rotation. Too risky at 4/1.

Angels - 9/2
If only the Angels fielded the ball a little better... I'd tell everyone I know to throw $20 on them to win the World Series this season. They have the most underrated pitching of any playoff team. Escobar is a borderline Cy Young candidate and Lackey and Weaver don't get the national respect they deserve. Their top three match up well with any other team's. Good odds at 9/2.

Indians - 7/1
Their top two starters, Sabathia and Carmona, are legitimate but the rest of the rotation doesn't deserve to pitch in the post-season. Couple the lack of a third starter with a club that doesn't play stellar defense and you've got a team that is going to have a hard time winning a best-of-seven. They might make the American League Championship Series, but they'll have a tough time advancing to the World Series let alone winning it. Not big enough at 7/1.

Cubs - 8/1
Unless Carlos Zambrano can snap back into form after a very troubled season, the Cubs won't have the pitching necessary to couple with their stellar defense. Seeing as Zambrano has gone Section VIII, I wouldn't put my money on it. Not enough arms to warrant 8/1.

Diamondbacks - 9/1
The starters that follow Brandon Webb in the rotation don't intimidate anyone and the team is pretty average in every other respect. While being the dark horse pick to win the weakest division in baseball made them a great pre-season bet to reach the post-season, the Snakes are going to fall apart against the tougher competition they'll face. Not big enough at 9/1.

Padres - 12/1
Their odds are a little inflated because there is still a chance the Phillies could edge them out for the wild card and the Padres would wind up missing the playoffs. They've got everything you'd want statistically from an October-bound team. They just have no offense. Still, at 12/1 the price is definitely right. Not as good a bet as the Angels, but worth a roll of the dice at 12/1.

Phillies - 15/1
Odds are the Phillies will lose the wild card race to the Padres and even if they make it, they don't have enough pitching to win it all. Not big enough at 15/1.

Brewers - 25/1
These odds should be bigger. The Brewers' ace Ben Sheets isn't healthy and this team can't survive without him at full strength. It was a nice run but they won't overtake the Cubs in the National League Central and won't make the playoffs. Not big enough at 25/1.

I'm going to throw $20 down on the Angels and maybe $2-5 on the Padres. I'm way ahead after picking the Diamondbacks (7/1) and Indians (5/1) to win their respective divisions before the season began (both $20 bets). I suppose I could roll the $240 over into my world series bets, but I'd rather spend the winnings and stick with my self imposed $20 limit.

* The percentage of balls put in play (ingores walks, hit batsmen, out-of-the-park homeruns and strike outs) that the defense converts into outs. Statistics taken from Baseball Prospectus.

** Fielding Independent Pitching is a measure of all those things for which a pitcher is specifically responsible. The formula is (HR*13+(BB+HBP)*3-K*2)/IP, plus a league-specific factor (usually around 3.2) to round out the number to an equivalent ERA number. FIP helps you understand how well a pitcher pitched, regardless of how well his fielders fielded. FIP was invented by Tom Tango. Statistics taken from the Hardball Times.

*** Orlando Hernandez has to be the official baseball player of The 'Verse. When his half-brother Livan Hernadez, who currently pitches for the Diamondbacks, defected from Cuba to play professionally in America, Orlando was detained by the Cuban government and three months later banned from pitching. He defected from Cuba via boat and became famous for his post-season pitching during the three consecutive World Series titles won by his New York Yankees from 1998-2000.

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