The Phillies Are Top Moneymakers

The Philadelphia Phillies have been the pleasant surprise of the 2016 MLB season, so it's no surprise that they've also been the biggest moneymaker for baseball bettors. Based on $100 increments, the Phillies have netted (+$1,156) on the moneyline to date.

To give that figure some perspective, the second-best moneymaker, the Baltimore Orioles are at (+$847) and the Chicago Cubs, the team off to the hottest start is (+$735). Clearly its boom times for Phils backers. Now the question becomes - can it last, or is it time to back off?

Philadelphia is winning right now because of quality starting pitching from the top of its rotation. Aaron Nola, Jeremy Hellickson and Vincent Velazquez are the Big Three of this staff. Here are the numbers...

Nola: 2.85 ERA in nine starts
Hellickson: 3.99 ERA in nine starts
Velazquez: 2.42 ERA in eight starts

Nola and Velazquez are highly regarded young arms. The 22-year-old Nola is a product of the outstanding LSU baseball program and broke into the majors last year with thirteen starts and a nice 3.59 ERA. Velazquez, 23-years-old, was acquired from Houston last season where he posted a 4.37 ERA in a mix of starting and relieving.

With both of these pitchers, it's fair to take the optimistic approach and ask why they can't enjoy solid seasons. Live young arms breaking onto the scene isn't exactly radical and both of these pitchers have the talent to continue to perform well.

Hellickson is the more interesting case. In 2011-12 he was the rising star in the Tampa Bay Rays' rotation before his career took a turn for the worse. It's easy to write him off, but he's only 29-years-old. What's more, with an ERA touching 4, he's been steady, but not dominant. A pitcher still in his prime stabilizing his career and becoming a reliable #3 is another non-radical concept, so why can't Hellickson keep this up.

Philadelphia ranks fifth in the National League in ERA thanks to these three starting pitchers and a bullpen that's been steady and balanced. What they're going to need to keep outperforming expectations is some help from the offense.

The Phils are 14th in the 15-team National League in runs scored and the only player doing anything is Odubel Herrera. The talented centerfielder has a dazzling .438 on-base percentage. But he needs help.

For offensive help, the Phillies have to hope for the growth and improvement of more young players. The most notable among these are second baseman Cesar Hernandez, third baseman Maikel Franco and leftfielder Tyler Goeddel. And there is more reason for optimism on this front.

Hernandez is stuck on a mediocre .316 on-base percentage, but last year he played 127 games and finished with a .339 OBP. Franco, in part-time duty last year posted a .343 OBP. This year he's lagging along at .284. Goeddel, a rookie, is at a poor .282 OBP. But he's hitting - the ball respectably - the batting average is on .262. It's the plate discipline and walks that are missing.

All of these players are young - Hernandez, at age 26, is the oldest. We don't want to take improvement for granted - pitchers adjust to young hitters and find ways to get them out. But we also want to acknowledge that all these players are fully capable of doing better things in the weeks and months ahead. Hernandez and Franco can at least return to last year's numbers.

Goeddel can grow in his patience at the plate. And if the Phils could rise to even 10th or 11th in the league in runs scored, it can keep the good times going and offset any decline that might happen in the pitching staff.

The betting market has not bought in on the Phillies' strong start. When you look at their futures odds for winning the World Series, the only teams they are considered superior to are the Padres, Twins, Brewers, Reds and Braves. Philadelphia ranks behind teams like Colorado, Oakland and NL East rival Miami in the esteem of the market.

We don't suggest considering the Phillies as a futures candidate right now. The task of competing with the Mets and Nationals for the division title or a wild-card berth is still too imposing.

What we do suggest is that there's no evidence that the value of the Phils on a game-to-game basis shows no signs of abetting. They have to at least be on the radar of sharp handicappers who know how to target their spots.

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