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September 30, 2014

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Betting baseball’s over- and underachievers

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The Yankees’ Derek Jeter — yeah, he’s awesome.

Josh Hamilton is smashing the expectations of baseball bettors, oddsmakers and Strat-O-Matic fanatics with his sensational season for the Texas Rangers, garnering plenty of well-deserved attention along the way. Let’s look beyond Hamilton at other 2012 overachievers—and one big disappointment—vis-à-vis the betting lines.

Baltimore Orioles Even a cursory glance at the standings makes it clear the O’s are the majors’ most surprising team. A look at the odds board underscores just how surprising. The over/under on Baltimore’s number of regular-season wins opened at 69 in Las Vegas. The Orioles are on pace to win 104 games. A single-unit bettor backing the Orioles in each of their games would be up nearly 18 units—the top performance in baseball. But the gambling market is showing little respect for the O’s—so far, anyway. Heading into this week’s action, Baltimore was an underdog in 18 of its past 20 games.

Derek Jeter The over/under on the number of Jeter’s hits in 2012 opened at 150.5 in Las Vegas, a reasonable total for a 37-year-old shortstop. Yet Jeter is on pace to finish with 233 hits, which would be enough to break into the top 10 list of all-time career hits leaders. His success hasn’t helped Yankees bettors at the windows. The Yanks finished the weekend at 21-20, but as betting favorites in the overwhelming majority of their games, they have cost single-unit bettors more than 7 units. Historically one of baseball’s best in interleague play, the Yankees should pick up the pace in June.

Albert Pujols The bar was set high for Pujols, befitting a guy who had signed a 10-year contract with the Angels worth at least $240 million. The over/under on the number of Pujols’ home runs was installed at 35.5, and the number of his hits at 175.5. Pujols is on pace to yield just 12 homers and 135 hits. A single-unit bettor backing the Angels each game would be down more than 15 units—the worst in baseball.

I’m inclined to view Pujols’ performance as a fairly routine, if brutal, slump, rather than a fundamental erosion of his skills as a baseball player. At some point, in other words, you might want to hold your nose and start betting on the Angels.

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