AL East Odds: Breaking Down Gap Between Red Sox, Yankees

Is there value betting the Red Sox to finish second in the AL East?

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Last week, I wrote about the Red Sox’s issue with runners in scoring position. I used the Yankees as an example of success in one-run games as a comparison to discuss Boston’s potential ceiling. It got me thinking, just how big is the gap between these two teams? 

Right now at DraftKings Sportsbook, you can bet the Yankees to finish first in the American League East and Boston to finish second at +700. I think there is value here, so I figured why not dig into a Red Sox-Yankees comparison focusing on strength of schedule, hitting stats and run differential.  

The current Major League Baseball schedule has teams playing 76 of 162 games against division opponents, nearly 47% of their total games. The AL East is considered one of the toughest divisions in all of baseball.

I know what you’re thinking. The Yankees have the best record in baseball and they’re in the same division as the Red Sox. This is true, but if we look at a simple strength of schedule breakdown, Boston has the ninth-toughest strength of schedule and the Yankees have the 23rd.  

Boston started the season with six straight road games and faced a handful of top teams (Yankees, Blue Jays and Rays) in the first month. The Yankees started with seven straight home games and faced a number of teams projected to finish last or near the bottom of their division (Baltimore, Detroit and Kansas City).   

A reminder of my point here: I’m not selling the Yankees short. They are undeniably one of the best teams in baseball, but the Red Sox’s ceiling is higher than you think.  

Boston’s potential has more to do with offense than pitching, but we can’t talk about one without the other when identifying a team’s stock. Both the Yankees’ rotation and bullpen rank second in baseball with an ERA of 2.79 and 2.83, respectively. The Red Sox rotation ranks seventh with a 3.49 ERA and their bullpen has improved since the start of the season, now with the 11th-lowest ERA at 3.68.

Remember, Boston is still without Chris Sale. Getting Sale back into the rotation and making some additions to the bullpen (which is a possibility with the talent in the farm system and midseason trades) could raise the Red Sox pitching staff’s potential even closer to the Yankees’ stellar showing this season. 

Now, for the offense. Over the last 10 days, the Yankees have the league’s best record (9-1) while the Red Sox are just a game behind at 8-2. So far this season, Boston is first in the AL in hits (547), second in the league in runs (290) behind the Yankees (309), second in batting average (.255) behind the Blue Jays (.257) and third in slugging (.413) behind the Yankees (.438) and Blue Jays (.428). Notice all the AL East teams at the top of the AL? There’s a reason they say it’s the toughest division in baseball.  

So the offense is there for the Red Sox. Why is it that the Yankees offense gets all the limelight? Well, Aaron Judge hitting home runs practically every night helps. Having the best run differential in baseball (+129) doesn’t hurt, either. The Yankees have separated themselves drastically from the rest of baseball with this stat. New York and the Dodgers (+108) are the only two teams with a run differential over 100. Still, Boston ranks sixth in all of baseball and second in the AL at +45. This is impressive when you take Boston’s slow start into account.  

Furthermore, let’s consider 3rd Order Win Percentage, which is a team’s projected winning percentage, based on underlying statistics and adjusted for quality of opponents. This ties in with our first discussion about strength of schedule. According to 3rd Order Win Percentage, the Yankees should have four fewer wins and the Red Sox should have almost three more victories. With these standings, Boston would be just 9.5 games behind the Yankees instead of 12.5. It might not sound like a lot over a 162-game season, but when it comes to October, every win matters.  

Bottom line: The Yankees are the clear-cut leader of the AL East and it will be tough for the rest of the division to change that. With that said, I think the Red Sox will continue their dominance on offense and the rotation will show improvement.  

Bookmakers at DraftKings have made New York -425 favorites to win the division, with the Blue Jays at +450, the Rays at 17-to-1 and the Red Sox at 40-to-1. Instead of laying -425 (risking $425 to win $100) on the Yankees, consider betting the “straight forecast” found on DraftKings of New York to finish first and Boston second at +700. Since this is considered more of a long-shot bet, I wouldn’t bet a full unit, but it’s worth a “sprinkle.”

To “sprinkle” basically means to bet less than your usual amount, which limits risk on a result projected less likely to happen. However, if it does cash, $50 wins you $350. More importantly, it means the gap between the Red Sox and Yankees isn’t all that wide.

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