The betting company Bodog released its first official 2012 World Series odds earlier this month, and the top picks weren’t surprising. The Phillies, fresh off a 102-win season, are ranked as the most likely next champions at 4-to-1 odds. The Yankees (13/2) and Red Sox (8/1) come next, and seven of the top eight ranked teams made the playoffs this year.
In general, it’s a decent breakdown of the league. There are specific teams one can quibble with and each club’s outlook could change dramatically as the offseason progresses, but overall it looks like at least a respectable list—at least, outside the AL Central.
Unsurprisingly, the Tigers are given the best odds (14/1) after they won 95 games and finished 15 games ahead in the division. Next come the White Sox (30/1)—I doubt they’ll finish higher than Cleveland in 2012, but it’s a defensible pick. The real shock is third place: instead of this year’s runner-up Indians or the young, exciting Royals, Bodog puts the Twins (35/1), who had the worst record in the American League this year and finished 32 games back.
That leaves the Indians with just 50-to-1 odds of winning the World Series (the Royals are given 75/1 odds). Is it just me, or does that seem ridiculously low?
FanGraphs’ Carson Cistulli broke down each of the odds into relative percentages, which we can use to get a better idea of just what they mean. Assuming for simplicity’s sake that every AL Central team would have roughly the same chance of winning the World Series if they made the playoffs and that the Wild Card will come from another division, that leaves the Indians with just a 12-percent chance of playing into October. Maybe I’m just too optimistic, but I think a reigning second-place team that is young and has already improved its roster should have more than a 1-in-8 chance of making the playoffs next year.
It would be defensible if Bodog had projected the Tigers as clear favorites—they finished 15 games ahead of the pack this year, and they’re definitely the team to beat in the division. But these odds imply that they have just a 42-percent chance of returning to the playoffs next year—which also seems like a big understatement.
The problem is that the other AL Central challengers are ranked way too highly. With so many players underperforming last year the White Sox could rebound somewhat in 2012, but barring a series of surprise moves this winter I don’t think they’ll be strong contenders, and the 20-percent chance these odds give them of making the playoffs seems like a reach. And while the Royals’ 8-percent odds are too low to really quibble over, the implication that they’re just 4 percent less likely than the Indians to win the division is problematic.
But the real issue is Minnesota. The Twins finished 63-99 this year. They were 32 games out of first place. They were eight games behind the fourth-place Royals and 17 games behind the apparently underrated Indians. They just fired their GM. At least a few of Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Joe Nathan, and Matt Capps are on their way out, and there isn’t an influx of top prospects waiting in the upper minors to fill in the many holes in the roster.
And yet, they apparently have an 18-percent chance of leapfrogging the other four teams in the division. The odds of October baseball being played and won at Target Field in 2012 are supposedly higher than they are for Progressive Field. I don’t have a crystal ball and I’m certainly not always on target with my predictions, but I’m not sure how any oddsmaker could defend having the Twins as more likely World Champions next year than the Tribe.
Perhaps my indignation is disproportionate for the source—this is a gambling company, not Bill James or Nate Silver. But even if these odds aren’t the results of particularly rigorous analysis (though with money on the line, I would assume Bodog takes them seriously), they presumably reflect some real sentiment. I’m sure there are some bettors who will bet that the Twins have a 22-percent chance of making the playoffs (the break-even points for bets don’t match up exactly with the implied odds), and others who will think the Indians’ 16-percent odds are too high.
Were I a betting man, I’d have no qualms about putting money on the Indians at 50/1 odds to win it all next year, and I’d be very happy to pay out at 35/1 odds for the Twins. Baseball is unpredictable and I don’t claim to be Nostradamus, but I’d call Cleveland finishing ahead of Minnesota a pretty safe bet.