Who Does the Delay in Start Date Help The Most in MLB Odds?
By: Matt Watkins
Baseball is nine innings and has been since 1854. MLB has played a 162-game season since 1961. Before that it was still 154 games. Those have always been somewhat inviolate numbers.
With the baseball season under indefinite delay as the ban on public activities now extends through the end of April, plus time to get things restarted in a second spring training, there will, in all likelihood, be a modified schedule. One that includes a shortened season as well as the potential for seven-inning doubleheader games, as it’s done in the minors.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the teams who can benefit the most from the season starting, at the earliest, in mid-May.
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Which MLB Teams Benefit the Most from the Delay
Opening playoff odds – 20%; Current Money Line – +2000
When you look at the list of teams for whom health was a concern entering the year, the Phillies top the list. Andrew McCutchen wasn’t going to be ready for the start of the regular season, Jake Arrieta was scratched from his prior spring training start due to shoulder stiffness, while Victor Arano and Tommy Hunter were iffy to begin the season on the 26-man roster.
For the Phillies, we all know a boost in the bullpen with Arano and Hunter would be big (as well as more defined bullpen roles with Joe Girardi calling the shots as opposed to Gabe Kapler, who seemed to have everyone warm up every night). Combine that with a healthy Arrieta and you can make a nice 3-spot in the rotation behind Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler and just ahead of Zach Eflin, its McCutchen’s availability that makes the Phillies dangerous once we get underway.
Granted, he’s not the same player he was in his MVP candidate seasons, but he added definition to the lineup at the top of the order. In the two months he played, the Phillies were 33-26, at the top of the NL East, and averaging 4.86 runs per game. The rest of the way they went 48-55, fell to fourth in the division, and leadoff hitters for Philadelphia had a .300 on-base percentage.
Bryce Harper tends to start seasons well (.298/.428/.597) in April, then tails in May (.254/.370/.532), before rebounding from June through the end of the season (.276/.380/.412). Will he start in June (?) with his April numbers, tail in July, and then rebound with a strong August/September or will be start with his consistent June-September totals?
New York Yankees Odds with the MLB Season Delay
Opening playoff odds – 85%; Current Money Line – +300
New York’s last exhibition game before things were stopped was on March 12, so that means with no games or official workouts, four Yankees have gone on the IL.
Ok, not really, but no team could be as injured quite as much as the Yanks were last season. They set a Major League record with 36 player trips to the IL… by August 30. Giancarlo Stanton played in just 18 games. Aaron Hicks played in 59. Aaron Judge was in 102. Let all of them play in 130+ games and a team that already won 103 games last year becomes more potent.
So how does the delay help? Big bodies tend to break down easier. Power hitters tend to start slower. Given some extra time, any nagging issues should have a chance to fully heal. Also, while hitting off a tee, going against a pitching machine, or even batting practice doesn’t fully simulate the true in-game experience, more reps to get ready and work out any kinks that may have developed as a result of injury will help greatly.
It also helps a bullpen, which saved the team in many ways last season. It would be difficult to ask a 34-year old Adam Ottavino and a 32-year old Zach Britton to repeat their performances from last year when both appeared in 66+ games and had an ERA under two. The longer their arms can stay fresh by not having to throw meaningful, high-leverage innings, the better it is for the Yankees to shorten games and get it to Aroldis Chapman, who, by the way, could also benefit from a reduced workload in the regular season.
Giancarlo Stanton: When he’s healthy, he’s one of the most dangerous hitters in the game. But with a big swing can come big holes and big slumps. While we said that the extended time can help him work on swing mechanics, I would, in the same breath, worry about his ability to be fully ready for the season. Think about it, in order for him to be ready he would have to do so without getting to see enough live pitching after totaling 90 plate appearances between the regular and postseasons in 2019. Otherwise, it could be a repeat of April 2018…
Los Angeles Angels Odds Looking at a Modified MLB Season
Opening playoff odds – 20%; Current Money Line – +1800
Two words describe the importance of the delay for the Angels: Shohei Ohtani. After Tommy John surgery kept him off the mound last season, we, in theory get to see the full effect of “Sho-Time” this year. In 2018, he started 10 games, averaged 10.97 K/9IP, had a 1.16 WHIP, a 3.31 ERA, and in just a third of a season on the mound, already had built a 1.2 WAR. He was expected to stay of the mound in game action until mid-May, which means he may not miss any starts at all. Add to that a developing bat that’s gotten acclimated to the US game (.286/.351/.532 career with 21 doubles and 20 homers a season), and he could very easily be worth the posting price for the Halos.
Beyond Ohtani, the extra time should help Griffin Canning return to the hill. Canning was solid as a rookie last season, striking out 96 during 90.1 innings in 17 starts.
An added factor to a shortened season could also be that some players who don’t set the world on fire early, can possibly slide into a midseason groove right out of the gate. We’re looking squarely at you, Albert Pujols. Maybe not having to play April and May where in the last three seasons he has combined to hit .245, plus fewer overall games on a 40-year old body, will help production down the stretch.
It could also help the recently signed Anthony Rendon. While it would be unfair to call his April/May numbers in the last three season a slow start (.294 batting average), Rendon’s power always comes around in June where he’s clubbed 21 homers since 2017. The average also rises in June, July, and August for the third baseman, who has hit a robust .323 in those three months the last three years.
Los Angeles Angels X-Factor:
Ohtani: If he can do what he did at the plate each of his first two seasons, it’s a big weapon for the Angels. If he can come back successfully from TJ surgery, then he can be incredibly special and help LAA in countless more ways and solidify a solid, but not spectacular rotation.
OTHER TEAMS IN THE MIX
Houston Astros – Getting Justin Verlander healthy for opening day is always a good thing (although we have to see how they handle all the booing from the cheating scandal).
Washington Nationals – More time to recover from a World Series hangover with the timing being more akin to a team that didn’t make the playoffs.
Cleveland Indians – 60% of the Indians projected staff was nursing injuries during spring training. The delay should help at least Mike Clevenger and Carlos Carrasco get back on the mound by opening day and will give Emmanuel Clause a change to see time just a week or two into the season.