“The Empire Slate” is a weekly look at betting angles and trends involving New York sports.
Shortly after my colleague, Eric Raskin, penned this story on the “coin flip” in the American League MVP race between Aaron Judge and Shohei Ohtani, the sportsbooks flipped the script entirely.
If this were, in fact, a matter of flipping a coin, Judge would get four tries for Ohtani’s one. By Tuesday of this week, Judge went from essentially even money to where he stands now: -450 at BetMGM and elsewhere. Those odds imply a probability of winning the award of 81.8%. And Ohtani, the greatest two-way player at least since Babe Ruth, went from even money to around +400 by consensus, an implied probability of 20%.
It’s still a two-man race, at least according to the oddsmakers, but why did they lower the hammer so definitively on Judge’s odds?
Well, for one thing, Judge went absolutely bananas after skipping the All-Star Game to rest, mashing five home runs (and producing a 1.217 slugging percentage) to put himself in position to do what only Roger Maris and Ruth ever have done as Yankees: hit 60 or more home runs in a season. Judge’s 43 homers are 10 clear of the next-closest slugger, Philadelphia’s Kyle Schwarber, for the MLB lead. Judge now has 56 games to hit another 17 and make Yankees history.
That shift in the narrative – still a part of the MVP process, even in this age of data – is part of the reason the odds changed so dramatically. But it appears to be a bit of a sensitive topic for sportsbooks that were undoubtedly protecting themselves from some heavy exposure on Judge. New York teams and athletes have a way of hurting the books, largely because of the volume coming from Empire State sports bettors.
The muscle New York bettors show in moving markets is all the more remarkable considering the state bans wagers on MVP bets or anything else that involves voting. That means New Yorkers have to travel to New Jersey, Pennsylvania, or elsewhere to wager legally on Judge.
What the sportsbooks are saying
Of the three mobile sportsbooks that NY Online Gambling reached out to for comment on the sudden odds change, WynnBET politely declined to participate, but DraftKings replied with a statement from spokesman Stephen Miraglia:
“He’s now won AL Player of the Week in back to back weeks and has been on a tear since returning from the All-Star break. He’s also now on pace to hit the most home runs ever in a single season by a Yankee. Add in the fact he’s one of the biggest stars in one of the biggest markets, and firms are always likely to be more aggressive moving his odds. You could definitely argue the cut has been too aggressive and is to be opposed at such a low number, but that’s a different conversation.”
Meanwhile, BetMGM issued a statement which read, “The line movement is a result of action we have received on Judge this week,” and divulged that Judge drew 16% of all AL MVP tickets and 19.3% of the handle this week — significant jumps from the previous week, when he drew 15.4% of tickets and 15.6% of the handle.
Worth shopping for value?
As Miraglia mentioned, slashing Judge’s odds could make for some intriguing longshots. With more than one-third of the season left, it hardly seems like he has better than an 80% of shot of winning it, particularly given his injury history. And while the Angels’ tumble out of the standings might endanger Ohtani’s chances to some degree, most members of the Baseball Writers Association of America – the voters in this process – now make it a matter of statistical analysis.
By some measures, the Astros’ Yordan Alvarez (+5000) has been a slightly better hitter, with a wRC+ of 196 to Judge’s 194. José Ramirez (+6600) and Rafael Devers (+10000) certainly aren’t eliminated at this stage of the season and are being offered at gaudy odds.
There’s an old phrase in journalism that applies equally well to the sports betting industry: Follow the money. It’s been pouring in on Judge, which always gains the sportsbooks’ attention.
Trade raises questions
The Yankees’ most impactful move before Tuesday’s trade deadline was the acquisition of Frankie Montas, one of the best starting pitchers on the market. He’ll make his Yankees debut Sunday in St. Louis after spending some time on the bereavement list after the death of his mother-in-law.
The transaction that has raised the most eyebrows was trading lefty Jordan Montgomery to the Cardinals for injured center fielder Harrison Bader. Such trades between contenders are rare at the deadline, and some people wonder whether the Yankees are taking an unnecessary gamble with their pitching depth to land a Gold Glover with an iffy bat who probably won’t play until September.
Montgomery arguably wouldn’t have made the Yanks’ postseason rotation anyway, but one respected analyst, Eno Sarris of The Athletic, put it this way: “The trade seemingly injected risk where there didn’t need to be risk. Now, with a rotation made up of a pitcher who has had two Tommy John surgeries, a newcomer who has hit the IL this year with shoulder troubles, an incumbent who has done the same, another who is currently on the IL for shoulder issues, and a youngster who is a few starts from a career high in innings, they suddenly have one less bulk option should one of those pitchers have a poor injury outcome in the next couple of months.”
While the Padres cut their World Series odds nearly in half after adding Juan Soto, Josh Hader, Brandon Drury, and Josh Bell, the Yankees’ odds didn’t really budge. They’re tied with the Dodgers as co-favorites at +350 at most books. Of course, given the Yankees’ record and their position atop the odds board, there wasn’t much room to slash their odds. And considering the Dodgers’ biggest move was acquiring Joey Gallo from the Yanks, you can at least feel better about a Yanks World Series ticket now.
Mets tinker at the margins
The sum of the Mets’ moves was to add reliever Mychal Givens and swap J.D. Davis for Darin Ruf after trades for Daniel Vogelbach and Tyler Naquin. Not surprisingly, their World Series odds didn’t change much either: They’re the No. 4 choice with odds as good as +650 (at DraftKings and Caesars Sportsbook) to win it all.
But the Mets might have gotten the most impactful addition in baseball last week, as Jacob deGrom returned against the Washington Nationals and looked awfully dominant even though the Mets lost, allowing just three hits in five innings, breaking the 100 mph mark several times, and striking out six.
The Mets’ main competition in the NL East, the Braves, added reliever Raisel Iglesias, but were otherwise quiet at the deadline. Atlanta’s odds to repeat as World Series champs are now up as high as +1200 (at BetMGM).
Any way you slice it, the stage is set for some fascinating baseball in the two months to come, with the New York teams at the center of the action. What’s not to like about that?
Photo: Danny Medley/USA TODAY