Baseball fans have a lot of projections at their disposal — PECOTA, Zips, Steamer, Cairo, etc. etc. One projection system is sometimes overlooked in certain circles, and I suspect because people view it as having a different purpose than projection — Vegas Lines. People think Vegas Lines are just trying to exploit the perceptions of casual fans. But, because of how Vegas makes a profit — trying to get equal action on both sides of the line and simply taking a cut off the top — the market can "correct" lines until you get a sort of Wisdom of the Crowds result with the input of some very knowledgable people. Depending on the year, you can get different results — but in short, Over/Unders from Vegas are a worthwhile resource when trying to figure out what will happen in the coming year.
Before proceeding, it's my understanding (happy to be corrected) that lines grow more "accurate" the longer they have been released. In other words, the initial line is set, and then it is tweaked as bets come in — raising or lowering it to keep trying to reach equilibrium. Once the number "solidifies" it indicates that the input of potentially thousands of people who are willing to put their money on it has been incorporated into the number.
I always wince a little when I hear people talking about a line and saying, "Ha! [Team I Like] is really good at home — they'll win by more than that!" The fact is, there are people who do this for a living, and they are probably aware of a team's home/road splits, and if the line was off, they would bet on it until it corrected. For every casual fan who remarks on the odds they see in the paper, there is a serious professionals out there doing constant, real time arbitrage.
This article is about an initial line — I'm sure these will move considerably as time goes on and the season gets closer. See below:
Just another data point to keep in mind as Spring Training approaches — although my impression is that most of our staff is worried about the Cleveland Indians at this point, the line here still considers the Tigers as the class of the AL Central. It could very well be that rumors of Justin Verlander's demise are greatly overstated. It could be that we are overestimating the talent and underestimating the volatility of the back half of the Indians rotation. Similarly, I think this line is more optimistic about the Royals' chances in 2015 than many people on the Catbird Seat staff.
Again, this has the "Top Four" in the AL Central all within 5 games of each other and the Twins as a distant fifth.
Depending on how you look at the White Sox roster, it's easy to talk yourself into seeing a strong playoff contender — "Look at the front of that rotation! Look at the top of that lineup! Melky instead of Viciedo? $$$$$!" Conversely, it's also easy to see how things could go wrong. What if Samardzija is a one-year wonder? What if Noesi and Danks have ERAs of like 6.00? What if Zach Duke implodes? Do the weak spots at catcher and second base torpedo the offense? So many possibilities.
It sounds lazy, but this projection sort of jives with the net result of all of those forces tugging at the future of this team is that they look like a .500-ish team. As disappointing as it might be, an 81-win team would signify an 8-win improvement on 2014 and an 18-win improvement on 2013. Similarly, if an 81-win team gets lucky it's definitely enough to put you in the playoff conversation.
And besides, sometimes these are just way off one way or the other. Baseball is slippery and hard to pin down and the fortunes of a team in a single season is subject to thousands of variables. In 2013, Vegas thought the White Sox would win 80.5 games, and that Oakland would win 84.5. Instead, we all remember Chicago stumbling to a 63-win disaster whereas Oakland won 96. But 82 is still closer to 90 than to 60.
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