Earlier this month, we watched PECOTA projections pick the Los Angeles Dodgers – not the Chicago Cubs – as the best team in baseball.
And frankly, it wasn’t even close.
According to those projections, the Dodgers were going to lead baseball with 99 wins, followed by the Houston Astros (94) and Cleveland Indians (92).
The Cubs, by that measure, are projected to be just the fourth best team in baseball, with 91 wins in 2017. From the response to that news, I got the sense that, even though the Cubs are projected to take the NL Central by a healthy margin, some fans were a bit taken aback when they didn’t find the Cubs on top.
I may not have a new set of statistical projections crowning the Cubs as the best team in baseball for you today, but I do have the next best thing. According to Steve Mikkelson, the head oddsmaker and sportsbook director of the Atlantis Casino in Reno, Nevada, the Chicago Cubs are the team to beat in 2017.
The Atlantis Casino plays an important role in shaping projections, as it is always the first sportsbook to release its win total annually. From there, sportsbooks in Las Vegas make their calls, which are shaped by the Atlantis’ reveal.
In a report at ESPN, Ben Fawkes discusses those recently released MLB win totals, which peg the Cubs as the best team in baseball by three wins over their 2016 World Series foes:
- Chicago Cubs: 95.5 wins
- Cleveland Indians: 92.5 wins
- Los Angeles Dodgers: 91.5 wins
- Washington Nationals: 90.5 wins
- Boston Red Sox: 90.5 wins
- New York Mets: 89.5 wins
- Houston Astros: 87.5 wins
- St. Louis Cardinals: 87.5 wins
- San Francisco Giants: 87.5 wins
- Toronto Blue Jays/Texas Rangers: 86.5 wins
As you can see, these win totals actually vary quite dramatically for certain teams, compared to the PECOTA projections. The St. Louis Cardinals, for an extreme example, received an 11.5 win bump, from what the stats project (Mike Matheny would be pleased). Similarly, the Dodgers drop from 99 projected wins to just 91.5. The Astros also lost a rather significant seven games in the win column from PECOTA to the totals above.
Looking around the NL Central, you’ll notice some other really big differences, too.
For example, PECOTA projects the Brewers to finish with 76 wins, tied with the Cardinals for third place, but the Atlantis Casino is giving them just 72.5 wins. That’s one less than the Reds, and good for last place in the Central.
But like we’ve discussed before, sometimes win totals themselves are slightly less relevant than the broader picture being painted. Because whether or not you agree with the raw numbers, I don’t think you’ll find many willing to bet against any of the Cubs (NL Central), Dodgers (NL West), or Indians (AL Central) winning their respective divisions. Similarly, don’t the Nationals (NL East), Astros (AL West), and Red Sox (AL East) sound right heading into 2017?
If they do, it’s probably because with one exception (the Mets over the Nationals by one win), those are the exact same six projected winners according to PECOTA.
And in addition (but similar) to the Atlantis Casino sportsbook, the online sports gambling site Bovada also considers the Cubs (right along with the Boston Red Sox) to be the teams to beat in 2017:
Updated World Series odds via Bovada have the Cubs and Red Sox on top. Who's taking the Padres at 150:1?
(Not I.) pic.twitter.com/PxDxs2RhVV
— Baseball is Fun (@flippingbats) February 13, 2017
The Cubs ultimately took a step back since the December odds were released, but are still right up there.
The real takeaway today, then, is that by yet another two measures, the Chicago Cubs are favored to win the NL Central. Unfortunately, with every other team scheduled to play 162 games of their own next season, that’s as much as we can worry about at this time.
Win the NL Central, make the playoffs, roll the dice. That’s the plan again this year. Worked last year.