The 2023 Baseball Season Begins at Circa Sports
A Conversation with Baseball Oddsmaker Chris Bennett Before the Baseball Season
Sitting in the risk room on Wednesday afternoon, Circa Sports® Director of Risk Chris Bennett was getting excited while looking over the 2023 baseball season futures. Everyone in the room has their specialties. For Chris, it’s baseball. As he says on his Twitter profile: “Meaningless baseball games are my jam.” When it comes to baseball at Circa, he’s the guy.
New Baseball Rules, New Totals Challenges
With every new season comes new challenges for oddsmakers. In this case, the biggest question is how the new rules are going to impact the game. Rules were placed on shifts. There’s a pitch clock now. The bases are a little bit bigger, which could impact stolen bases. Bennett seemed rather nonplussed while talking through everything when it comes to setting the lines for the games.
“The bases being bigger do help scoring. Larger base is easier to steal. We need to watch to see how the new shift rules impact runs…The biggest challenge is with totals.”
Despite a new season, with player turnover and new-look teams, Chris was at ease putting up lines for Opening Day. Teams, numbers and formulas are what they are. However, the totals are a little bit different for a number of reasons.
“At the beginning of the season, so many things can impact totals. Moneylines and assessing the relative quality, that’s way more straightforward. The impacts of weather and the actual composition of the baseball affects teams the same. What it can impact dramatically is the total runs scored. I want to have a good feel for weather conditions.”
The baseballs in particular troubled Chris. MLB used multiple different baseballs throughout the year. At the beginning of the year, there was one being used that was deadened, and balls did not travel off the bat. MLB, of course, didn’t let anyone know that. Throughout the season, balls were changed out, seemingly at random.
“They didn’t use the same ball for every game last year. If that continues to happen, it makes it really tough as the bookmaker. I don’t have the information. That’s what I’m concerned about. The totals. If the ball is more lively than I’m assuming. If the ball is more dead. There could be an informational advantage to certain bettors. If they just make straight bets, we can move the lines…but if people have information and there’s correlated parlays. That’s the concern.”
More Balanced Baseball Schedules
Beyond the individual games, Chris works on all of the baseball futures. Another rule change for this season in baseball is that teams are going to have more balanced schedules. Every team will play each other at least once, and there will be fewer games against their divisions. There has been some talk among the betting community that this could impact the win totals, as the teams in the East divisions have slightly easier schedules and the schedules for the teams in the Central divisions could be a bit more daunting. But Chris isn’t necessarily as sure about that.
“Balanced schedules do matter a little bit. Not everything is equally strong. But teams play 162 games. It’s so many games. There’s so much randomness and variance. It’s not going to be as big of an effect as the average person thinks. So when we make the season win numbers, it’s about looking at every team and figuring out the projection of their relative strength. I don’t think the difference in the schedule is going to be that relevant.”
Predicting MLB Team Behavior
One thing that Chris does think has a far bigger impact on futures, particularly win totals, than the public generally factors in is trying to figure out how the team will act during the season. Will they be buyers at the trade deadline? Will they try to make the splashy move? Even if a team might surprise early on, there are certain teams, like the Oakland Athletics, who won’t try to trade for a top player at the deadline. That’s baked into their 59.5 win total.
Despite having a firm grasp on many of the teams, there are some teams that he’s less sure on. One of them? The Boston Red Sox. In 2021, the Red Sox went 92-70 and made the ALCS. In 2022, after departures and injuries, they went 78-84. This year they have a win total set at 77.
I can see the bull case. I can see the bear case,” Chris said. “I look at their lineup. If they’re going to be good, Mastaka Yoshida [who the Red Sox signed from Japan this offseason] is going to have to be really good. Tristan Casas is going to have to be really good. Rafael Devers is a star. The other guys, I don’t think you can rely on them. And their pitching…Chris Sale is coming back from injury. James Paxton coming back from another injury. I could see them going either way. Kenley Jansen. What if he’s not washed up? It wouldn’t surprise me if they win 70 games. It wouldn’t surprise me if they win 88.”
Generally, Chris feels that you can tell almost everything about a team by the end of May at the latest. 40 games is the big number to him, as that’s a quarter of the way through the season.
As he looked through the futures screens, he did find a few things that surprised him as it came in. The first was that people were surprisingly bullish on the Pittsburgh Pirates. Their win total sits at 68, and people continue to bet them.
“We’ve seen bets on the Pirates to win the NL Central and on the over on their win total. I’ve found that a little surprising,” Chris said. “They didn’t go out and sign any good free agents. I didn’t see anything to suggest that they’d contend. The statistical entities. do seem to like them. I’m really struggling with it though.”
He also noted that the Padres and Mariners were favorites of the public.
Creating an Enticing Baseball Betting Market
Finally, Chris wanted to create a market that would entice more people to bet on baseball. He acknowledged that people are more hesitant to bet on baseball futures, compared to other sports, because of the length of the season. When you’re waiting until early-October to cash win totals or division bets, or mid-November to cash awards, many people don’t want their money sitting around that long. So he decided to put up a market for the people who want a faster return and put up a market around the team who will have the most wins by the end of April. He’s hoping that will entice some of the casual fans to make a futures bet.
“The shortest odds are 750 [for the Braves and Dodgers]. That makes it a fun, exciting market for casual fans. I never made odds on this before, and hadn’t seen them anywhere else. I had to make the numbers on my own. For this market [as opposed to full-season wins], I did look at everyone’s schedule. Not everyone is scheduled to play the same number of games. There will certainly be postponements. All of that factored in.”
Initial 2023 Baseball Odds
Here were the odds when they were initially released:
- Braves +900
- Dodgers +900
- Astros +1000
- Padres +1000
- Mets +1400
- Rays +1400
- Yankees +1600
- Blue Jays +1800
- Cardinals +1800
- Phillies +1800
- Mariners +1800
- Guardians +1800
- Twins +2200
- Brewers +2400
- Angels +2400
- White Sox +3000
- Rangers +3000
- Giants +4000
- Orioles +4000
- Cubs +5000
- Red Sox +5000
- Diamondbacks +8000
- Marlins +8000
- Royals +12500
- Pirates +12500
- Tigers +17500
- Reds +17500
- Rockies +20000
- Athletics +22500
- Nationals +50000
As the 2023 baseball season begins and we learn more about the teams, the odds will adjust and the game lines will become easier to make. For now though, we watch, we learn and we enjoy those meaningless baseball games, whether you’re in Las Vegas, New York, Denver, Atlanta, on your phone, or anywhere else.