The Empire Slate: Judge Mashing, Mets Slipping

Yanks outfielder usually has the shortest odds in the game to homer
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“The Empire Slate” is a weekly look at betting angles and trends involving New York sports.

In the last couple of decades, MLBTradeRumors.com and similar sites have made baseball fans so much smarter when it comes to the business of contract negotiations and trade discussions.

But when does the availability of so much information begin to chip away at fans’ appreciation for the game itself? It feels like the Aaron Judge situation in the Bronx might have jumped the shark on that one.

At times, it seems as if every Judge home run prompts another story about how much he’ll command when he hits free agency in November: Is it $300 million, or will he settle for a shorter deal with a higher average annual value? And there’s all the discussion of whether the Yankees’ front office blew it by not agreeing to his terms before the season began.

This seems like a good moment to pause and put aside the amateur GM glasses long enough to marvel at what Judge has accomplished in helping lead the Yankees to MLB’s best 62-game start since the 2001 Seattle Mariners improbably went 49-13.

Judge’s 25 home runs are seven more than the next-closest MLB contender, the Mets’ Pete Alonso. The sportsbooks set Judge’s season total at just 36.5 before the season, making that wager a virtual lock assuming he avoids a major injury.

By one definition of a hitter’s job — to hit the ball hard — he clearly has become one of the best hitters, if not the best hitter, in baseball. Probably the best single statistic for measuring consistent hard contact is the percentage of barrels a hitter accomplishes per plate appearance. Judge’s 17% Brls/PA% mark is well ahead of the next-closest contender, teammate Giancarlo Stanton, who is at 15.1%.

Yes, Judge is making himself some money with his hot hitting, and each home run probably has a dollar value for the Yankees’ front office. But remember, the idea is to win a 27th world championship, and Judge is helping push that piece down the board aggressively.

Hammer the over?

One measure of just how dangerous Judge has been is the daily home run prop bet offered by many sportsbooks.

They set the line at 0.5 home runs and, going into Thursday night’s Yankees game vs. Tampa Bay, the over at DraftKings on Judge was being offered at odds of +245. The next-shortest odds in the game were on teammate Anthony Rizzo, who is +340. Of the dozens of hitters DraftKings featured in Thursday action, only the Rockies’ C.J. Cron had shorter odds at +220.

Cron already has four home runs this month and he’s hitting in the thin air at Coors Field. Judge is hitting at Yankee Stadium, which has been sort of middle-of-the-pack when it comes to hitter friendliness as defined by ballpark factors. He’s also facing a young pitcher Thursday, lefty Jalen Beeks, with a 1.38 ERA.

The way he’s going, taking the under (at -350) seems like folly.

Rangers loss pleases sportsbooks

The only NHL team that would have given the sportsbooks a bigger liability than the Colorado Avalanche in these Stanley Cup Finals was the Rangers, who lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals.

Just like in Colorado, where the Avalanche have driven a hearty volume of local betting since they caught fire in early April, New York bettors were continuing to line up behind the Rangers. No area of the country has the power to move lines and influence bookmakers like New York, where monthly revenue reports routinely show more than $1 billion in action.

The Rangers exceeded expectations just three years into their rebuild, which also helped put the books in a precarious spot. Their Stanley Cup odds began the season at +3000 before dropping to +500 before that Lightning series.

Asked if the Rangers were a bigger liability at his book than the Avalanche, DraftKings lead bookmaker Johnny Avello said, “Definitely. Globally, yes, and certainly isolated to that New York area, it was even worse.”

Mets facing pressure from below

It wasn’t long ago that the Mets seemed to be running away with their division and the sportsbooks were trying to keep up by lowering their World Series odds on an almost weekly basis. Just like the Rangers were, the Mets are a serious liability for the books given their locale.

At WynnBET, for example, the Mets’ World Series odds went from 12/1 to 10/1 to 8/1, where they still sit. On June 1, they had a 10.5-game lead in their division. With the Braves on a 14-game winning streak and the Phillies seeming to respond to the firing of Joe Girardi as manager, their lead over those teams is now just four and eight games, respectively.

Bettors might consider backing the Mets (PointsBET offers them at +800, too) at this point. The Braves aren’t going to stay this hot forever, and the Mets have superstar reinforcements on the horizon no matter what happens at the trade deadline. Jacob deGrom is four bullpen sessions into his return and expected back by mid-July. Max Scherzer is further along and could return in a couple of weeks.

As to their competition to win the NL, the two leading NL Central teams aren’t that good, with their win totals inflated by having three awful teams in their division. The Dodgers, meanwhile, haven’t been quite as dominant in 2022. It just might be the year of the Mets.

Photo: Danny Medley/USA TODAY

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