With sports betting becoming legal state-by-state, we’ve partnered with Total Sports Picks to share our favorite futures bets ahead of this week’s long-awaited start to the 2020 MLB season. Yesterday we talked about Team Futures and we’re back today to share our favorite MLB picks ahead of Opening Day. Let’s breakdown the player props we’re targeting.
In our team futures article yesterday we discussed the need to think beyond standard lines of thinking. Thinking outside of the box is even more appropriate when it comes to identifying value when it comes to betting player futures in 2020. If you go back and look at the leaderboards for the majority of MLB seasons in the past decade you will notice a trend: the best players are always around the top 10 to 15 players come season’s end. 162 games is a long time, and it is hard for streaky players to outperform the best the game has when it comes to a full season of baseball.
However, if you go and find the leaderboards for a random selection of 60 games at any point during those seasons then things start to look very different. There are wild swings in the leaderboards, with streaky players dotted all over the place. Well, that random selection of 60 games is what the 2020 MLB season essentially is. Therefore, with many of the prices set to highlight the very best at the top, some great value can be found further down the list. Let’s take a look at some MLB player futures that appear to be a good value entering the 2020 season.
Mike Moustakas to lead the league in home runs | +4500 on DraftKings and PointsBet
2019 was a strange year for Moustakas. As 2019 opened, Moustakas struggled to find a home in free agency, eventually returning to the Milwaukee Brewers on a one-year deal. He proceeded to perform superbly on the field, blasting 35 home runs and earning a four-year $64 million deal with the Cincinnati Reds, That contract with the Reds makes Moustakas a fascinating value when it comes to leading the league in home runs.
Over the course of the season, Moustakas’ ISO of .262 was fine, but it was never going to be enough for him to lead the league in home runs. To be in contention for leading the league in home runs, an ISO over .300 was required, with all of the top six in home runs going over that mark across the season. However, if you look at Moustakas’ ISO across the first three months it was right in that .300 region, demonstrating that over the course of a 60-game span he has the ability to light up the league when it comes to clearing the fences. Cincinnati has the second-most favorable schedule in the league for home runs based on RotoFanatic’s schedule factors.
Somewhat surprisingly, Moustakas struggled to make a mark at home during his time with the Brewers, displaying better power on the road. This is where the move to Great American Ballpark really suits Moustakas. If you look at his batted ball profile for his time in the league, he predominantly hits his homers to right field. While Miller Park is perfectly adequate for hitting home runs to right field for left-handed hitters, ranking eighth in RotoFanatic’s Park Factors, hitting to right-center field is tougher, ranking 18th.
In contrast, Great American Ballpark ranks third in home runs for left-handed hitters going to right field and second to right-center field. Therefore, playing half his home games in Cincinnati should give Moustakas a greater margin of error when hitting out to right field. If he can turn even a small percentage of his deep fly ball outs in right-center field to home runs in 2020, we could be looking at a player who is a great bet to lead the league in home runs in 2020.
Moustakas to win NL MVP | +12500 on DraftKings and PointsBet
The same argument as above really applies here. If Moustakas leads the league in home runs while playing adequate defense at second base on a Cincinnati Reds team that gets to the playoffs in 2020, contention for MVP is more than possible. He proved in Milwaukee he can do the adequate defense part of that equation and we have already discussed why he has a shot to lead the league in home runs.
The belief in the Reds this year is extremely high across the board. However, there is very little value in betting on the team to succeed given that the hype is already reflected in the odds. Therefore, Moustakas for MVP or as the leader in home runs offers a way to get tremendous value on a team receiving a lot of hype entering the season.
Eugenio Suarez to lead the league in home runs | +2500 on DraftKings and PointsBet
Sticking with the Reds here and this is just a case of some odds that do not add up. Suarez hit the second-most home runs in MLB last season with 49 yet his odds reflect a player expected to finish much lower this season. In the last four years, Suarez’ game has developed year on year to a point where his ISO rose above that golden .300 mark during his most recent campaign. Suarez hits to the opposite side of Moustakas but left field still offers tremendous returns for hitting home runs, ranking second and sixth to left field and left-center field respectively.
Overall, Great American Ballpark is the best-rated park in the majors for hitting home runs as a right-handed hitter, making these odds an absolute steal for a player who has already proven he can contend in the home run race. Even on the road, the Reds schedule is favorable to a right-handed hitter, with their schedule ranking as the best for home runs according to RotoFanatic’s schedule factors.
Shogo Akiyama to win NL Rookie of the Year | +1100 on DraftKings
This is the last time I will talk about the Cincinnati Reds, I promise. However, it is impossible to pass up the potential of Akiyama as ROY if he leads off for this Reds lineup. Leading off in front of a group that contains on-base machine Joey Votto and power hitters such as Suarez, Moustakas, and Nicholas Castellanos is a great place to be.
A lot is expected of this Reds lineup and if they fire on all cylinders they could return the Big Red Machine to the playoffs for the first time since 2013. If Akiyama is a big part of that in terms of scoring runs, hitting some crucial home runs, and stealing a handful of bases, then he could be a great option in a year where rookie opportunities may be limited. In each of his final three seasons in Japan, Akiyama hit at least 20 homers and stole double-digit bases while hitting over .300 with an OBP over .390. While those numbers will likely see some regression as he transfers his game to the MLB, he has the potential to be a very effective leadoff hitter for the Reds in 2020.
Eric Thames to lead the league in home runs | +15000 on DraftKings (Needs to be requested)
If a situation calls for gambling on a streaky hitter then Thames is your man. When Thames is on there are not many more frightful power hitters in the game and he has proven he can get hot for a half-season stretch. In 2018, he hit 13 home runs in the first 50 games and had 23 through the first 79 in his return to MLB in 2017. One concern for Thames is always keeping him on the field and where he gets put. With the DH now a part of the National League for 2020, Thames should have a spot in the lineup most days, which could be devastating to pitchers if he gets 200 or more plate appearances.
*cranks speaker up*
🎶 Eric Thames. Crush that ball! Eric Thames. Home run! Oh oh oh oh oh oh oh … 🎵
— FOX Sports Wisconsin (@fswisconsin) October 2, 2019
In terms of the move from Milwaukee to Washington, there are pros and cons. Nationals Park suits Thames in terms of hitting to center field, but he does lose out a little to right-center field and extreme right field. While the ballpark remains important to some extent, this pick is more about the opportunity to have a hitter that can go deep on a regular basis and has a chance to play all 60 games. At odds of +15000, this is a hard value to pass up.
Bryan Reynolds to lead the league in hits | +3300 on DraftKings and PointsBet
The next two picks come off the back of the superb research that gathered by Matt Williams in his article examining which hitter has the best chance to hit .400 this season. Matt identified some key components that a hitter needs to optimize his batting average and those same components ring true when looking at hits. Reynolds ticked four of Matt’s five boxes, LD%, FB%, Hard%, and sprint speed. The only remaining question is how many times Reynolds gets to the plate after lagging just behind the big names in plate appearances last season. Reynolds is currently slated to hit second for the Pirates this season and is not expected to be in a platoon, meaning we should see him go to the plate more than 200 times.
Entering the 2020 MLB season, the Pirates have the sixth-best schedule in terms of batting average for left-handed hitters. As a switch hitter, he will on occasion take to the plate right-handed, for which the Pirates have just the 22nd best schedule. Given the ratio of left- and right-handed starting pitchers, expect to see Reynolds line up more as a left-handed hitter this season, having seen over 70% of his plate appearances as a left-handed hitter in 2019. With the expected rise in volume and the favorable schedule, Reynolds only needs to improve slightly on his .314 batting average to be a contender to lead the league in hits in 2020.
Cody Bellinger to lead the league in hits | +5000 on DraftKings and PointsBet
Again we are going back to Matt’s article for this one. Reynolds was in Matt’s top tier of options and Bellinger is close behind in the top tier. Bellinger also ticked four of Matt’s criteria, with only a 42% fly-ball rate counting against him. Bellinger saw his hits go to a career-high 170 last year, and while that is still over 30 behind the winner of that particular category, it was a 25 hit improvement on the year before. If we go in and look at Bellinger’s season broken down into two halves, things look even rosier. Bellinger had 107 hits through 377 plate appearances last year, with a batting average of .336. If he can hit for that kind of average, or perhaps even above that, then +5000 is fantastic value for Bellinger to lead the league in hits in 2020
Charlie Morton to lead the league in strikeouts | +3300 on DraftKings and PointsBet
Morton is an interesting name when it comes to a potential strikeout leader in 2020. To see a player who ranked ninth in strikeouts and K/9 in 2019 with odds as wide of these was somewhat of a shock. Of the other pitchers in the top ten in strikeouts last season, only Max Scherzer threw fewer innings. However, this season we should see more parity between pitchers in terms of innings. With each pitcher likely to start in the region of twelve games as opposed to more than 30, only so much variation can occur and that plays into the hands of Morton.
Making that leap up towards the 35 K% mark is not going to be easy, with last year being a career-high. Nonetheless, if he ends up pitching a similar number of innings to those that finished above him last year, natural variation could see him come very close to those other pitchers over the course of a season. Morton is an outside pick to lead the league in strikeouts for sure but he has a better chance than +3300, making this a play with nice value in a field that is very cramped in terms of odds at the top of the market.
Chris Paddack to win the NL Cy Young | +3300 on DraftKings and PointsBet
The Cy Young Award can often be about narratives and a young pitcher making the San Diego Padres relevant in the West would be a wonderful narrative. In his rookie season, Paddack put up some solid numbers, with 153 strikeouts and a 3.33 ERA. The biggest issue last season was returning just nine wins from 26 starts, but in the environment we will see in 2020 that could change. Paddack will likely have some tough starts against the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros, but outside of those two teams, the schedule is not full of stacked lineups. Sure the Angels and Rockies lineups can get to pitchers sometimes, but they can also provide plenty of strikeouts. Paddack induced swings outside the zone on 36% of his pitches last year, a number that ranked joint-seventh among pitchers to throw 140 innings or more, and he led first-pitch strike percentage with 71.3%.
Paddack is coming off an impressive rookie year and will be one of the stars on the Padres team in this shortened season. Given that it is just twelve starts there is every chance we see him make the full allotment. After averaging just 5.38 innings per start last season, this shortened season gives Paddack the chance to go deeper into games, increasing the chance of a win and further bolstering the overall strikeout numbers. In general, the Cy Young Award is going to be difficult to judge in both leagues due to the condensing of statistical differences in a shortened season, meaning that Paddack making the next step in his development and producing performances that make the Padres relevant could be enough to tip the scales in his favor when voting comes around.
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