The Blue Jays Are a Money Burner
The Toronto Blue Jays have been modestly disappointing on the field so far in 2016, but that's nothing compared to the disaster they've been at the betting window. The Blue Jays are 22-24 on the field, which while disappointing for the defending AL East champs, is nothing that can't be quickly turned around. The bigger problem for baseball bettors is that the Blue Jays are a money-burner, having produced a loss of (-$720) based on $100 betting increments for each game. That's 12th in the American League.
This is a classic case of a basically decent team being overvalued by the market and we see that in a dramatic home/road split. On the field, the Blue Jays are 9-13 at home, while 13-11 on the road. A difference to be sure, but nothing that justifies being (-$731) in the red in their home games, while actually producing a small (+$11) profit in the road games. That tells us that the markets are pricing Toronto at home as though they're the Torre-era Yankees, virtually unstoppable.
When you dig into the numbers, there's plenty of reasons to feel good about Toronto's chances to win games and get into the mix with Baltimore and Boston for the AL East title. The Blue Jays are third in the American League in staff ERA, while ranking only eighth in runs scored. The conventional view of this team is one with a feared lineup, so the presumption is that the bats will come around.
That may well be true, but even here it's important to be careful. Toronto is already getting good years from Josh Donaldson, last year's AL MVP. The third baseman has a stat line of .348 on-base percentage and .517 slugging percentage. Rightfielder Jose Bautista has good numbers of .373/.497. While both are capable of going higher, they are hitting well and we shouldn't necessarily assume the numbers will increase.
Even amidst an overall disappointing offensive performance, there are players who have overachieved. Michael Saunders has a stat line of .388/.570, numbers that are MVP-level. First baseman Justin Smoak, an underachiever through his career, has a .402 on-base percentage as he steps in for the suspended Chris Colabello. Smoak is 29-years-old and the possibility that he's a late bloomer can't be overlooked, but it's also not a natural place to expect a sudden jump in production.
So while Troy Tulowitzki has been awful, Edwin Encarcion inconsistent and those things can be expected to change for the better, there's also drop-offs to be expected. That leaves ultimate improvement up to whether Kevin Pillar, Ryan Goins and Russell Martin can start to hit. Could they? Sure. They did last season. But is it something everyone should casually expect? No.
Thus, if the offense either stays stagnant or makes only modest improvement, the pitching has to hold steady. We can expect dynamic young arms like Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez in the rotation along with Roberto Osuna in the bullpen to pitch well. Veteran knuckleballer R.A. Dickey has a 4.50 ERA, mediocre, but sustainable and Dickey can certainly eat up innings over the long summer.
The problem for Toronto is whether J.A. Happ at age 33, and Marco Estrada, 32-years-old can each continue to pitch above what are their career norms. The answer is that while each might be respectable, it's imprudent to assume two mostly mediocre vets will suddenly have career years simultaneously.
That's the problem for Toronto. It's nothing that can't be overcome. If we took a microscope to the Orioles and Red Sox we could find our share of problems. No team looks great when a bright light is shone on their warts. But the problem for baseball bettors is that for the Blue Jays to become a value bet again, there has to be a market correction. And there's no significant sign of that happening.
When you look at the futures market - a reliable gauge for how linesmakers will price Toronto on a nightly basis, we still see the Jays held in high regard. They're rated as better than Seattle (first place in the AL West), Cleveland (second place in the AL Central) and Kansas City (the two-time defending AL pennant winners). Toronto is also perceived as superior to National League teams like the Pirates and Cardinals.
You can make a good case that Toronto really is better than all those teams, but that doesn't solve the problem of handicapping value. And if that problem doesn't get solved, the Blue Jays are going to continue to burn up money at a rate not indicated by their record.
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