Variance. It is the baseball betting buzzword entering a season condensed by COVID-19, but, at least last season, 60 games were plenty for the cream of the crop to rise to the top.
The only six American League teams to go 40-20 or better during a 60-game stretch -- the New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, Minnesota Twins, Cleveland Indians, Houston Astros and Oakland Athletics -- reached the postseason and went on to win 90-plus games.
Conversely, the only six AL teams that experienced a stretch of 20-40 or worse -- the Los Angeles Angels, Toronto Blue Jays, Seattle Mariners, Kansas City Royals, Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers -- finished as the bottom six teams in the league, all accumulating 90-plus losses.
The results were similar in the National League. The quality teams distinguished themselves from the bad squads in 60 games.
The coronavirus is a giant variable, however, and the uncertainty that it causes has led many bettors to believe that the playing field offers value on some giant underdogs.
"If the [coronavirus] has any impact, it'll effect the stronger teams more," Mark DeRosa, a respected sports bettor, wrote on Twitter. "For example, if a superstar gets the virus and misses 3-4 starts, the difference to his replacement would be a lot more than teams going from mediocre player to slight worse mediocre player.
"So, I basically played Pirates, Royals [and] Tigers at huge odds for division but also Indians and Brewers to win their pennants and World Series, as the stronger teams in those divisions could feast. Anything can happen this year."
DeRosa is not the only one backing some long shots to make noise during the unique season.
"We are pummeled to the Giants, Marlins, Orioles, Royals, Tigers and Mariners," Jeff Davis, director of trading for Caesars Sportsbook in Nevada, told ESPN.
Here is a look around the baseball betting market as we head into a season like no other.
Las Vegas casino owner Derek Stevens, a Detroit native, placed four futures bets in July with the SuperBook at Westgate Las Vegas. Each bet would win $1 million.
• $5,000 on the Miami Marlins to win the National League at 200-1.
• $2,500 on the Marlins to win the World Series at 400-1.
• $4,000 on the Tigers to win the American League at 250-1.
• $2,000 on the Tigers to win the World Series at 500-1.
Other notable bets:
• $50,000 on the Dodgers to win the NL West at -500 at BetMGM. Would pay $10,000.
• $9,000 on the Yankees to win the World Series at +375 at FanDuel. Would pay $33,750.
• $7,500 on the Yankees to win the World Series at +350 at William Hill. Would pay $26,250.
• $5,000 on the Twins to win the World Series at 18-1 at FanDuel. Would pay $90,000.
• $4,600 on the Angels to win the World Series at 50-1 at FanDuel. Would pay $230,000.
• $3,000 on the Chicago Cubs to win the World Series at 30-1 at FanDuel. Would pay $90,000.
• $2,000 on the White Sox at 75-1 to win the World Series at William Hill. Would pay $150,000.
• $1,896 on the Blue Jays to win the World Series at 100-1 at PointsBet. Would pay $189,960.
• $1,000 on the San Francisco Giants to win the World Series at 125-1 at William Hill. Would pay $125,000.
• $1,000 on the Chicago White Sox to win the World Series at 33-1 at PointsBet. Would pay out $33,000.
• $300 on any player to hit 30-plus home runs during the regular season at 50-1 at PointsBet. (Prop was initially priced at 100-1 but attracted bets from sharper customers, causing the odds to shorten to 50-1.)
Teams that have attracted the most bets to win the World Series at FanDuel's sportsbook:
Teams that have attracted the most money to win the World Series at FanDuel's sportsbook:
• The Yankees have attracted five times as much money and nearly four times as many bets to win the World Series as any other team at DraftKings sportsbook.
• The White Sox have been a popular World Series bet at multiple Las Vegas sportsbooks. CG Technology and the SuperBook each reported this week that more bets had been placed on the White Sox to win the World Series than had been placed on any other team.
• As of Wednesday, BetMGM had yet to take a wager on the under on the White Sox's season-win total (31.5).
• The Pirates have attracted the fewest bets to win the World Series at William Hill sportsbooks.
• The SuperBook in Las Vegas is offering a Yes/No proposition wager on "Will a player hit .400 for the regular season?" The "No" opened as a -1400 favorite, with the "Yes" opening at +800. As of Tuesday, 91% of the bets and 59% of the money were on the "Yes," including a $1,000 bet placed soon after the prop was posted. The updated price is "No" -700/"Yes" +500.
• Sportsbook PointsBet reported taking bets from respected accounts on the following season-win totals:
Yankees under 38.5 -- number was bet down to 37 (-115 over).
Red Sox under 32.5 -- number was bet down to 29.5.
Nationals under 33.5 -- number was bet down to 32.
Royals over 23.5 (-120 over) -- number was bet up to 25.
Padres 30.5 over -- number was bet up 31.5.
• At the BetRivers sportsbook in Illinois, the White Sox have attracted 13 times more bets to win the American League than any other team. The Rays have the second-most bets. The White Sox (25-1) also have the most bets to win the World Series, with Cubs (22-1) second in number of bets.
• At the BetRivers sportsbook in New Jersey, the Yankees have attracted 66% of all bets to win the American League. The Phillies are the most popular bet to win the NL.
• At BetMGM books, the Rockies' Nolan Arenado (16-1) and the Mets' Pete Alonso (40-1) have attracted the most bets to win the National League MVP, and the Yankees' Giancarlo Stanton (40-1) has attracted the most bets to win the American League MVP.
• "I think with the teams playing only with their division and the opposing league's corresponding division, it really helps the Central Division teams [and it hurts the favorites in the East and West]. The stronger East and West will beat each other up and maybe suppress high win totals for whomever wins those divisions. You could see the third- or fourth-best team in the league have the best overall record." -- DeRosa, professional sports bettor
• "[Monitoring for lineup changes] is going to be tricky, and it's baseball, so they're playing every single day; it's going to be nonstop news that you have to keep up with." -- Chris Bennett, baseball oddsmaker, Circa Sports Las Vegas
• "Given the shortened season, we are also seeing a good amount of action in on long shots. We have started to rack up a pretty big liability on teams like the Blue Jays and Royals." -- Patrick Eichner, communications director at PointsBet
• "You have to be an elite-level player [non-pitcher], in my opinion, to really influence the price. If the team's best player goes out, a guy like [Mike] Trout, those guys can move the line 30 cents. It's almost always an overreaction, in my opinion." -- Randy Blum, baseball oddsmaker, SuperBook Las Vegas
• "The uncertainty of the effect the shortened season will have on starting pitchers and bullpens; the potential change to the perceived home-field advantage due to the absence of fans; regular changes in roster availability and difficulty that will cause projecting lineups ...This is going to be one of the most challenging seasons for bettors and oddsmakers." -- Zack Skelton, baseball bettor and product manager for Swish Analytics
• "The fact that there has been little preparation like full-on spring training, alongside with tighter schedules and not many rest days, plus fears that if a key player has a positive test they could miss two weeks, is impacting MLB betting activity. Over a regular season, two weeks out is manageable; however, in a COVID-19 schedule, that means they would effectively miss around 20% of the whole season just over those two weeks. The Yankees, for example, get only four days in August without a game and only two days off in September, and they have a stretch from fourth through the 27th of September where they play 23 games in 24 days -- a 10-game stretch, then one day off before a 14-game stretch." -- David Main, head of sports trading, BetMGM U.S.
• "We got some over money on the Indians [season-win totals], some over money on the Dodgers, some under money on the Blue Jays and the Rangers." -- Chris Bennett, baseball oddsmaker, Circa Sports Las Vegas
• "As for the DH in the National League, we discussed how that might affect the totals. We don't see it as a huge effect. We give it maybe a quarter of a run in value." -- Blum, SuperBook Las Vegas
Six umpires to watch for
The plate umpire and entire crew are announced in the hours leading up to a first game of a series. In most cases, as a series progresses, umpires rotate clockwise around the diamond, with the plate umpire rotating to third base and first base ump behind home plate, for example.
An umpire's strike zone can impact scoring. Umpires who maintain a larger zone and call a higher percentage of strikes might contribute to lower-scoring games, while umps with tight strike zones might contribute to more walks and more runs being scored.
Here are six umpires to watch for when they're behind home plate:
Manny Gonzalez: In the past five seasons, Gonzalez's 149 games behind home plate have averaged 10.11 runs, the most in the league for umpires with at least 100 appearances behind the plate. Approximately 60.8% of Gonzalez's games behind home plate went over the total.
Jim Wolf: The only plate ump to call a higher percentage of games that went over the total than Gonzalez, Wolf's games averaged 9.7 runs and 2.65 home runs and eclipsed the total in 61% of his appearances.
Alfonso Marquez: With one of the tightest zones in baseball, Marquez has a 62.78 strike percentage, the lowest in baseball. His games behind home plate have averaged 9.82 runs and gone over the total 59.3% of the time.
Lance Barksdale: Of his 150 appearances behind home plate over the past five seasons, 59.2% have stayed under the total, averaging 8.87 runs. His has a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2.21, the lowest in MLB.
Rob Drake: Right there with Barksdale, 59.2% of Drake's appearances behind the plate have stayed under the total. His games have averaged 8.30 runs, the second-lowest average among umps with at least 100 starts.
Mike Estabrook: His percentage of called strikes (64.29%) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.07) are among the highest in MLB, among umpires with at least 100 appearances behind home plate. Accordingly, his games have averaged 8.36 runs and have stayed under the total 57.5% of the time.
Umpire data courtesy of Covers.com. | Note: Several unnamed umpires have opted out of the season for health reasons.
Pitching stats high-level bettors, fantasy players use
Two pitching metrics remain the most popular with sophisticated sports bettors and high-level fantasy baseball players: xFIP and SIERA.
xFIP stands for expected fielding independent of pitching and removes defense from a pitcher's performance. According to Fangraphs.com, xFIP is "generally a better representation of performance than ERA."
xFIP leaders since 2018:
SIERA stands for skill-interactive ERA and is considered slightly more complex and predictive than xFIP.
SIERA leaders since 2018:
Shane Bieber 3.39
• MLB games averaged 9.66 runs last season, the most since 2006. Games averaged 9.30 in both 2018 and 2017.
Average runs per game by month over past three seasons:
• Top over teams in past three seasons (percentage of games that went over the total since 2017 season):
• Top under teams in past three seasons (percentage of games that stayed under the total since 2017):
• Rangers home games have gone over the total 54.3% of the time over the past three seasons, the highest percentage of overs of any ballpark.
• Rockies home games have produced the highest percentage of unders (55.5%) other than Toronto home games. The Blue Jays will not be allowed to host home games due to COVID-19 protocols.
ESPN Stats & Information, including associate director Michael Protos and researcher Ryan Bissel, and TeamRankings.com contributed to this story.