This article is part of our MLB Betting series.
Previous day: 1-0, +1.08 RWBucks
Season: 4-0, +3.67 RWBucks
There will undoubtedly be plenty of days where I'm on the right side for the right reasons and take a loss, so when I'm on the right side for the wrong reasons and steal a win, no backsies. The theory that managers would be reluctant to use relievers on back-to-back days early in this season was proven wrong across the league on Friday, and particularly so in the White Sox/Angels game. Fortunately, the good guys scored 12 runs and so I join the Orioles, Astros, and Phillies in taking an undefeated mark into the season's second week.
One of the big issues in the game right now is the baseball itself. It was as lively as it has ever been in 2019, and while comparable in 2020, Rob Arthur's research showed that the performance of the ball was inconsistent. Not knowing what kind of baseballs might be used in a given game is a major problem for totals bettors, who are projecting underlying run elements as much as the total runs themselves. MLB has made noises about wanting the baseball to fly less in 2021, though it didn't seem like they'd achieved that goal this spring.
Through four days of ball, MLB's overall numbers are nearly identical to 2020, and remember that the 2020 season didn't include the cold-weather month of April. The league wOBA and wRC+ right in the range of recent years, with yet another uptick in strikeout rate and walk rate. HR/FB rate is back down to 2018 levels (12.9%), but that's not a meaningful number yet. Over the weekend, Arthur noted that the first few days of the season fit the pattern observed this spring: higher exit velocity, lower distance, higher spin rate.
I mention all of this to make the point that totals betting, which was once my preferred way to approach baseball, is a minefield right now. If you can't predict the performance of the baseball, it becomes extremely difficult to project run-scoring at the game level. Right now, we don't know what the big-picture characteristics of the 2021 baseball are, and we have less confidence than ever that any given game will be played with a baseball that has those particular characteristics.
There are a few totals on today's card, as we stretch our legs a bit.
4 p.m. Rangers +128 over Blue Jays. This line is an overreaction to the weekend's events, with the Jays taking two of three at Yankee Stadium and the Rangers allowing nine runs a game to the Royals. Today, Mike Foltynewicz tries to get his career back on track after making just a single start in 2020. He had lost velocity relative to his 2018 peak, but the Braves – who eventually had to trade for Tommy Milone just to get through the season – gave up on him too soon.
The Jays are still down George Springer, and Steven Matz hasn't been an actual good starter since 2016. Jays' relief sensation Julian Merryweather, who saved both of the team's wins in the Bronx, is not expected to be available today. .5 RWBucks
4 p.m. Royals/Indians under 9 (-114). Getting an Indians game at home with a total of 9 feels trappy. Progressive Field has been a good run prevention park, though, and the Indians are still struggling to put a major-league lineup on the field. The Royals are second in the majors in runs scored, but they don't get to bring the Rangers' pitching staff to Cleveland with them. 1 RWBuck
9:40 p.m. Dodgers/A's under 8.5 (+102). There's a known effect of playing your first game or two after leaving Colorado, first researched by Rany Jazayerli in the 2000s, where hitters are diminished a bit back at sea level. The Dodgers come down from the mountain and get Frankie Montas, who looked like his pre-suspension 2019 self this March, and play on a 50-degree night in Oakland. 1 RWBuck
It's a long season and we can discuss alternate lines another time, but the value of "9" in MLB is high enough that I at least looked. At -124, the under 9 is too expensive here. I'm sticking with DraftKings lines for purposes of this column, but look around for under 9 at a good price.