Are The Phillies a Good Second Half Bet?
The Phillies wrapped up what was a somewhat disappointing first half at 47-43, good for only third-place in the NL East standings. Their obvious issues have been routinely documented - a rotation without any reliable starters behind Aaron Nola, a depleted bullpen, and an inconsistent offense among them - yet they still find themselves in postseason position with just over three weeks to go before the trade deadline.
The All-Star break seems like a natural time to assess not only what has transpired to this point but what is likely to happen moving forward. It's also a good time to evaluate the current baseball futures betting market. As you may have guessed, the market reflects lowered expectations for the Phillies. That's probably bad news for those that were bullish on the team back in March, but it's good news for those looking for some potential value now. Let's first take a closer look at how the odds have moved over the past few months at DraftKings Sportsbook:
|World Series Odds||+1000||+2200|
|Bryce Harper MVP Odds||+400||+7000|
Phillies Win Total
The Phillies' preseason win total was set at a strong 88.5 leading up to Opening Day. That number seems pretty aggressive in hindsight, but it looked like they would meet the hype through the first two months before cooling with a disappointing 11-16 June. On May 29, the Phillies beat the Cardinals, 11-4, improving to 33-22. They were playing .600 baseball, good for a 97-win pace. Since then, however, they are just 14-21 and are now on pace for only 85 wins. That makes the current 84-win total an intriguing number. As I see it, there are three possibilities at play:
- The Phillies are most closely like the team that's playing .400 baseball over its last 35 games.
- The Phillies are closer to the team that looked like one the NL's best for two months.
- The Phillies are somewhere in between these two extremes.
There are multiple factors to consider prior to diagnosing their outlook.
The Phillies have one dependable starting pitcher (Aaron Nola), one solid option (Zach Eflin), two wild cards who are often more disappointing than they are effective (Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta), and one who has been largely ineffective and is pitching with an elbow injury that will reportedly require surgery at some point. If that doesn't sound like good a formula for success, that's because it's not.
The starting rotation's 4.56 ERA is tied for fifth-worst in the National League, and it's 5.06 FIP is dead-last. With only 8.06 K/9, it's also a rotation that routinely fails to miss bats, which doesn't usually bode well, particularly when, per FanGraphs, they are allowing the third-highest hard-hit percentage in the National League. Not good. It should probably come as no surprise that the rotation's collective performance has been even worse in recent weeks. Since June 1, it has a 5.11 ERA and its 1.1 fWAR is tied with the Pirates for last in the NL.
Of course, the Phillies are also coming off an aggressive offseason in which they are likely feeling both considerable internal and external pressure to reach the postseason, so it's possible the team's front office explores trades in the coming weeks to bolster its rotation. While that seems like obvious play, the Phillies are also a team that is seemingly more than a single acquisition away from fixing its multiple issues, so it's not a slam dunk that they will be ultra aggressive on the trade front leading up to July 31.
Meanwhile, an injury ravaged bullpen has had its share of struggles as well, posting a 4.76 ERA in just under 300 IP this season. Tommy Hunter has looked solid since making his season debut late last month, while David Robertson is expected to return from the IL before the end of July. Will this bullpen, which was originally expected to be a strength entering the season, get back on track, or will it continue its recent struggles? Since June 1, the 6.22 ERA posted by the Phillies bullpen is the NL's second-worst and better only than the 7.20 ERA of Mets relievers.
Finally, the bats. Let's talk about an offense that has been surprisingly below-average in terms of both slugging percentage and OPS. The Phillies, with only 115 home runs, have the fifth-fewest in the National League, a shockingly low output for a lineup expected to slug its way past the competition. But the offensive woes are not all on the regulars - part of the problem has been the Phillies' brutal bench performance. Phillies pinch-hitters are batting .174 this season, the NL's second-worst mark, which is 51 points below league average. Will their core players heat up? Will Matt Klentak bolster the bench with some savvy, lower-cost additions? There are many questions at play here, and the answers to these questions may very well decide if the Phillies will eclipse the 84-win mark this season.
Advice: I don't see any way that the Phillies hit the over on the original 88.5 win total, but improved health, reasonable expectations of improved performance, and an addition or two makes it possible that they eclipse 84 wins, so I would be inclined to take a shot on the over.
Phillies Division and World Series Odds
Those of you in New Jersey looking to wager at an NJ sportsbook, let's take a look at how the NL East odds market has shifted.
The Phillies came into the season with the best odds to win the NL East at +175 , so the current +850 number illustrates not only how underwhelming they have been, but also just how good Atlanta has played. In fact, +850 probably isn't high enough when taking into account current baseball projection models. The current odds represent a 10.5 percent implied probability of the Phillies winning the division, which is a rosier outlook than the 2.7 percent chance FanGraphs currently gives them. Here is a visual showing how drastically the two teams' paths have diverged, courtesy of FanGraphs:
Atlanta, meanwhile, has watched its odds jump from +300 back in March to -670 currently. The Braves hold a six-game lead in the NL East over the Nationals, who, like the Phillies, are also +850 to win the division. In case you're wondering, a -670 price holds an implied probability of 87 percent. Both FanGraphs (73.2 percent) and FiveThirtyEight (72 percent) overwhelmingly like the Braves to capture the division. Still, there's no value in taking them at price. Only The Nationals at +850, with a 23.8 percent probability at FanGraphs and 19 percent probability at FiveThirtyEight, represent a value play based on computer simulation projection models.
As for the World Series - which by the way you might be able to bet on quite naturally when FOX Sports, broadcaster of the World Series, launches its FOX Bet app - no matter how hard you squint, it's tough to see this team grabbing a wild card spot and then somehow beating Los Angeles in the NLDS. They opened the season at +1000 and now sit at +2200. Those odds represent an implied probability of 4.3%, which is still significantly greater than the 0.5% probability projected by FanGraphs and the 2% odds to win it all projected by FiveThirtyEight.
Advice: If you took the Phillies at +175 to start the season, you just have to grin and bear it, while also keeping an eye on how the market evolves in the coming weeks. A hedge with the Braves at their current price doesn't make sense. Meanwhile, even the biggest optimist would tell you that the Phillies wiping away a 6 1/2 game division deficit seems unrealistic. The current division winner market is just not one I would get involved with right now. Meanwhile, the Phils' current +2200 World Series odds don't represent value by the numbers, but there have been far worse strategical lottery ticket bets than a minimal nibble on the Phillies at that price.
Phillies Playoffs Odds
DraftKings Sportsbook currently prices the Phillies to make the playoffs at +205 (a 32.8 percent implied probability) and -265 (a 72.6 percent implied probability) to miss the playoffs. That's in the neighborhood of the baseball simulation projection models. FanGraphs gives the Phillies a 26 percent chance to reach the playoffs, while FiveThirtyEight gives them a 38 percent chance.
Advice: I actually like the "Yes" play here. The Phillies have both underachieved and lost substantial ground in the playoff chase over the past few weeks, but getting 2/1 odds on a team that is currently qualifying for the playoffs and will likely add at the deadline is an enticing proposition.
Bryce Harper MVP Odds
This might seem ridiculous now, but Harper entered the season as the favorite to win the NL MVP at +400. That's what hype will do for a betting market. He enters the second half at +7000. It's not that Harper has been bad this season, but he's nowhere near a realistic MVP candidate at this point. He's 28th in the National League in fWAR, 29th in OPS, and tied for 32nd in homers. Those numbers don't exactly mix for an MVP run, but if he goes crazy in the second half and leads the Phillies to the postseason, he could probably reach the fringes of contention. Harper has a solid career .872 OPS after the All-Star Break, but he did have a .972 OPS with 11 homers in 65 second-half games last season, which the Phillies would gladly take over the next three months. The bigger problem for Harper is the existence of Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich, each of whom have an OPS exceeding 1.000 at the break. It's hard to imagine a scenario in which one of these guys don't win it. Bellinger is on pace for 53 homers and 125 RBIs, while Yelich--the reigning NL MVP--is on pace for 55 homers and 119 RBIs.
Advice: Harper has no shot to win the NL MVP this season. Save your money.
Other Bryce Harper Props
Here are some other Harper-specific props that were offered back in March with some quick thoughts. All odds listed are as of Opening Day.
Most MLB Home Runs: +1400
Harper is on a 29-homer pace. He has no chance to lead baseball in homers this season. Like none. Yelich, Bellinger, and Pete Alonso each have already eclipsed Harper's full season projection.
Most MLB Runs: +1600
Harper is on pace to score 95 runs this season. He's currently tied for 45th in runs scored. No shot.
League RBI Leader: +2200
Harper is 10th in the NL with 62 RBIs and on pace for 119 RBIs this season. That's pretty damn good. Problem: Josh Bell currently has 84 RBIs--13 more than the next closest player--and is on pace for 153 RBIs. I can't see Harper catching up.
HR Total Over/Under 34.5
Harper has homered once every 24.7 plate appearances this season. If he plays in all remaining 72 games, he should get roughly 310-325 more plate appearances. In order to eclipse the 34.5 total, he will need to homer 19 more times. That is a home run once every 16.63 plate appearances. For his career, he's homered once every 24.8 plate appearances in the second half. Doesn't look good for the over.
RBI over/under 96.5: -115 and -115
As noted above, Harper is on pace for roughly 119 RBIs. It looks like a pretty good bet that he's going over this total.
Player with most home runs head to head: Harper +105, Rhys Hoskins -139
Hoskins enters the final 72 games with a four home run lead here. He's homering once every 19.6 plate appearances this season. In his first two seasons with the Phillies, he's homered once every 13.2 plate appearances in the second half. Hoskins looks like the right side.