Earlier in the week, the folks at Baseball Prospectus unveiled the PECOTA projections for the year, with a typically-deflated Orioles win total of 73. On Friday, a different sort of projection maker - a Nevada sportsbook - weighed in with much more respect for the Orioles, setting an over/under on wins at 84.5.
The Atlantis Casino in Reno has, for over a decade, been the first of the sportsbooks to set MLB win total bets. So it’s just one casino and it’s just the preliminary numbers, but it’s interesting to see where the Orioles come in on this stuff.
If you don’t know how over/under bets work, the name explains a lot. The casino sets a number. People bet over or under, which is why they’re all expressed in half wins, so there can be no ties.
Generally, the idea is to set the number in such a way that the action is 50/50 for either side. That way, no matter what happens, the casino makes a little money once it takes its cut. If their number is too high and everyone obviously bets the under, the casino might lose money. Same if they set the number too low and everyone obviously bets the over.
So in setting an Orioles over/under at 84.5, they think half of people will judge the Orioles to be an 85 win or better team and half will judge them to be an 84 win or worse team.
Not coincidentally, last year’s Orioles team had a Pythagorean win-loss record (based on run differential) of 84-78, so with most of the entire same team coming back, that’s a pretty good starting point. Whether a Pythagorean record means anything can be debated, but to those who find it meaningful, it’s representative of the talent the Orioles would be carrying into this year.
With something like the 73 win projection from PECOTA, that’s a trivial choice to bet over. There would have to be a complete disaster to end up below that. Getting such a precise over/under number right will require a lot more thought.
If you’re feeling optimistic about the Orioles, and particularly if you feel that last year’s team actually underachieved to end up at 89 wins and the road spot in the AL Wild Card game, 85 wins or over probably seems like a no-brainer as well. Not that it would feel like a very successful season if the Orioles "only" win 85 games.
On the other hand, there are plenty of reasonable scenarios where the Orioles are muddling along towards a low-to-mid-80s win total. If the starting rotation is as bad as last year, can they overcome that again? Will the bullpen, particularly back end guys like Zach Britton and Brad Brach, be able to be as good as they were?
Even more importantly, can the team avoid serious injuries that expose their almost complete lack of depth at every position? If the answer to any of those questions is no, the idea of the Orioles topping 85 wins is a stretch.
We’ve seen in 2013 and 2015 that the Orioles can field a team that is not bad but is also not good enough. They won 85 games in ‘13 and 81 in ‘15. These were not bad baseball teams compared to the dark years of the franchise, but they weren’t teams that were seriously in the race, either.
Whatever happens with the team this year, you probably wouldn’t be able to start counting your money until the last week or so of the regular season.
Here’s how the rest of the AL East lines up:
The World Series champion Cubs have the highest over/under at 95.5. That’s not a huge surprise after the team 103 games last year. The lowest is the Padres at 64.5. Even a bad baseball team has a hard time winning so few games, but the Padres sure seem to be aiming for that.
Not that it means anything, but I like that the Orioles get a higher over/under than the Yankees.
Gambling on sports is a bad idea. Don’t do it! Just for fun, though, would you take the over or the under?