Predicting the Surprising and Disappointing Teams of the 2018 MLB Regular Season

Written by: Ray Butler

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This was a much harder piece to write than I thought it would be, and it’s mostly because Vegas did a great job of matching their team win total props to that of top projections systems, as evidenced by this tweet by ZiPS guru Dan Szymborski:

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It’s almost as if handicappers may use ZiPS and other top-tier projections systems in their process of creating baseball props.

Regardless of the lack of obvious value, I believe there are still a few teams that will outperform or underperform expectations this season. If you’re into sports investments, I’d consider the props below one unit bets (with one exception). I’d also suggest shopping around to get the best juice possible since there seems to be quite a bit of variance on season-long props.

Note: The following team win totals are ranked by confidence in descending order.

Here we go:

Philadelphia Phillies: 75.5 wins

You know what they say: Save the best for first. I think the Phillies are a season away from truly competing with the Nationals for the NL East crown, but I still think they’ll exceed expectations in 2018. There are several reasons behind this thought process: I think Jorge Alfaro emerges as a viable big league catcher (offensively and defensively), I think players like Rhys Hoskins, Odubel Herrera, Aaron Altherr, J.P. Crawford and Carlos Santana will be consistent contributors to an underrated offense, and most importantly, I think the Phillies’ starting pitchers will form one of the most underrated rotations in the major leagues. Jake Arrieta doesn’t have to be his vintage-self to be an asset, Aaron Nola is a strong bet to take the next step in his development this season, and Nick Pivetta, Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez are solid mid/back-end rotation arms with some upside who I think will bounce back (barring injury) after shaky 2017 campaigns. Maikel Franco simply being an average offensive third baseman would be huge for this prop, but even if he stinks, Scott Kingery could be a strong offensive piece at some point during the regular season. New manager Gabe Kapler has made it no secret that he’s a player’s coach who is trying to change the mindset of the organization, and I think the Phillies will finish around .500 (if not exceed .500) in his first season at the helm. This is my favorite team wins total prop of the 2018 regular season, so if sports investments are your cup of tea, attack this one with fury.

Prediction: OVER 75.5 wins

Washington Nationals: 92.5 wins

I’m genuinely perplexed by this prop. The Nationals won 97 games last season (despite some major bullpen issues throughout the first few months), and while the rest of the NL East might be a little better than they were in 2017, shouldn’t the Nationals be a little better too? Adam Eaton missed a gigantic chunk of last season with a torn ACL. Trea Turner missed more than a month last season with a fractured wrist. Gio Gonzalez almost certainly won’t be as good as he was last season (his strand % was the stuff of legends in 2017), but Tanner Roark is a solid positive regression candidate in 2018. The fifth-starter spot appeared to be a black hole for awhile, but recently-signed Jeremy Hellickson should be a fantastic filler. You can literally count the number of first-year managers to win the World Series on one finger (of all people, it was Bob Brenly with the Diamondbacks in 2001), but Dave Martinez and the Nationals should be plenty-good enough to finish much closer to 100 regular season wins than their team wins total prop would suggest.

Prediction: OVER 92.5 wins

Tampa Bay Rays: 77.5 wins

I did a double take when I Googled how many wins Tampa Bay finished with last year. I’m still not sure I believe they got to 80 wins in 2017. Diehard Rays fans may swear they’re not rebuilding in 2018, but geez. They’ve lost Evan Longoria. They’ve lost Corey Dickerson. They’ve lost Jake Odorizzi. They’ve lost Steven Souza Jr. They’ve lost a somehow-viable Logan Morrison. They’ve added C.J. Cron and Carlos Gomez, and they’re planning on rolling with a four man rotation for the foreseeable future (it should be noted that Tampa Bay has moved these pieces while only acquiring Anthony Banda and Christian Arroyo as their top farm system pieces in return). You’ll read about this later, but I think the Orioles will be the main sufferer thanks to the Yankees and Red Sox both building mega-teams. The Blue Jays have just-enough talent (and coaching) to remain average, but the Rays will feel some of the pain of the strength of their division. I don’t trust Kevin Cash, and there’s an outside chance that Chris Archer is moved at any-given-moment (that chance increases if things don’t go so well in April and May). I think Yonny Chirinos will be a bright spot as a long reliever in Tampa Bay, but do you really want a long reliever to be a bright spot? Blake Snell will almost certainly improve, and Nathan Eovaldi will be a fringe back-end-of-the-rotation fantasy starting pitcher. How is Alex Colome still a Ray? Will he still be a Ray following the trade deadline? My guess is no, mostly because Tampa Bay will be an afterthought in the AL East. The Rays would need to finish with a 78-84 record for us to be losers, but I think a 70-92 finishing mark is much more realistic with all facets considered. Bet against a small-market team that doesn’t fit the mold of a Cinderella story.

Prediction: UNDER 77.5 wins

San Francisco Giants: 81.5 wins

I know the Giants finished 64-98 last season (which was a hilarious FORTY games out of first place in the NL West), but the pieces on that team were much more talented than their final record suggested. Madison Bumgarner missed a gigantic chunk of the season following a freak ATV accident, Johnny Cueto wasn’t his normal self as he dealt with blister issues for most of the season, and Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, and Hunter Pence combined to miss 104 games thanks to various ailments. It was a perfect storm of suckiness that led to a horrible season in San Francisco, and I expect some positive regression in 2018. The Giants have added Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria, two former stars who are both past their prime but likely much better than the alternative solution. Bumgarner, Cueto, and Jeff Samardzija are a formidable trio of starting pitchers, even if the backend of the rotation is shaky and will likely require the Giants to trade for pitching in order to truly contend. Buster Posey, Belt, Crawford, Pence, McCutchen, Longoria and Joe Panik will make up more than two thirds of the Giants starting lineup, which bodes well for any team offensively. The hardly-talked-about, underrated acquisition of Tony Watson adds a fantastic eighth-inning piece to a bullpen that should be above average. Let’s also not forget that 2018 is, in fact, an even year. The Giants won’t seriously compete with the Dodgers for the NL West crown, but they’ll almost certainly be in the mix for a Wild Card spot down the stretch.

Prediction: OVER 81.5 wins

San Diego Padres: 69.5 wins

I’m not saying the Padres will go .500 this season, but I do think they’re closer to the .500 mark than they’re being given credit for this preseason. While I don’t think Eric Hosmer is a great player, he is a solid acquisition who has the ability to impact games while also impacting the morale of the Padres’ clubhouse. The durability of Wil Myers is a huge deal for this prop bet; my understanding is that he’s never played a season as an outfielder without missing time due to injury. The acquisitions of Hosmer and Freddy Galvis make the Padres better defensively, and Franchy Cordero is a guy I think breaks through this season and announces his arrival as one of the more toolsy players in the major leagues. The obvious question mark is the rotation, but I’m already on record as to who I think will emerge as a big-time starting pitcher. Clayton Richard and Luis Perdomo are due for some positive regression this season as well. Brad Hand offers an elite ninth inning arm, but it’s certainly feasible to think the Friars could trade him to add positional farm talent before this season’s trade deadline. Again, this certainly isn’t a prediction that San Diego finishes 81-81 this season, but I do think a 75-87 record isn’t out of the question for a Padres team that will flirt with 90 wins a season at the turn of a new decade.

Prediction: OVER 69.5 wins

Baltimore Orioles: 73 wins

For what it’s worth, I think Manny Machado is absolute dynamite. Trey Mancini will never not hit. I’m lukewarm (at best) about everything else in the Orioles’ organization (okay, maybe healthy Zach Britton gets a pass), so here we are. Chris Davis certainly seems to be over the hill. Mark Trumbo will probably miss (at least) the first month of the regular season. Adam Jones, Tim Beckham and Jonathan Schoop are fine, but are they anywhere close to leading a club to a division crown? Of course not. The Orioles starting rotation is currently hilarious, with Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman leading a group-of-five that includes Andrew Cashner and Chris Tillman. Maybe Austin Hays, Ryan Mountcastle, and Hunter Harvey arrive at some point this regular season to act as a saving grace for Baltimore? Maybe the Orioles sign Alex Cobb to tie a knot in the rotation? I don’t really care. At the end of the day, as much as I don’t trust the Orioles’ front office, they’d be foolish to not move Manny Machado at the trade deadline to fortify a waning farm system. If the third baseman is eventually traded, Baltimore may go full-on tank mode. Someone in the AL East is going to lose a crap-ton of games, and my money is on the Orioles. Vegas projects them to go 73-89, but I think they’ll eventually finish closer to 65-97. That’s a monstrosity of a gap when it comes to MLB team wins totals.

Prediction: UNDER 73 wins

Follow us on Twitter! @Prospects365

Win totals courtesy of Bovada

Featured image courtesy of Sports Beast

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