What Can a Baseball Team’s Performance the Previous Season Tell Us About Their Future Success?

The Cubs were dynamite last season. They were dominant all season long and ended up breaking their World Series curse in one of the wildest baseball games anyone will ever see. They’re the unanimous favorite to have the most wins and repeat this season, but does that mean you should be frequently betting on them throughout the season?

This article contains several tables showing how the teams in the World Series did that season and the following season. It also shows how a gambler would do if they faded those teams the following season. Further down, I took a look at the best and worst teams from a gambling perspective and how one would do if they bet on or faded those teams the following year.

World Series Teams

Year World Series Champ Record Units World Series Loser Record Units
2005 Chicago White Sox 99-63* +22.7 Houston Astros 89-73 +7.4
2006 St. Louis Cardinals 83-78 -17.3 Detroit Tigers 95-67 +11.6
2007 Boston Red Sox 96-66 +5.0 Colorado Rockies 90-73 +24.8*
2008 Philadelphia Phillies 91-71 +3.0 Tampa Bay Rays 97-65 +18.2
2009 New York Yankees 103-59 +9.8 Philadelphia Phillies 93-69 +7.4
2010 San Francisco Giants 92-70 +10.3 Texas Rangers 90-72 +0.9
2011 St. Louis Cardinals 90-72 +4.2 Texas Rangers 96-66 +8.5
2012 San Francisco Giants 94-68 +15.1 Detroit Tigers 88-74 -8.4
2013 Boston Red Sox 97-65 +11.8 St. Louis Cardinals 97-65 +9.2
2014 San Francisco Giants 88-74 +2.2 Kansas City Royals 89-73 +7.0
2015 Kansas City Royals 95-67 +20.9 New York Mets 90-72 +2.4
2016 Chicago Cubs 103-58 +1.6 Cleveland Indians 94-67 +2.7
Total 1131-811 (58.2%) +89.3 (4.6% ROI) 1108-836 (57.0%) +91.7 (4.7% ROI)

*Most profitable team that season

As you can see, all World Series teams are not made equally. It is clear that bookmakers did not expect the Royals to follow up their 2014 World Series appearance, as they were up over 20 units when they won in 2015. The 2006 Cardinals clearly underperformed in the regular season, but were still able to bring home the trophy.

Last season featured two of the least profitable teams in our database to make the World Series. Despite winning 103 games, betting $100 on the Cubs every game last season would have only netted about $160. This is because the books knew the Cubs were very good AND they knew that the public would be all over the Cubs essentially every night, and they were right.

The Cubs closed as underdogs just 12 times last season, winning 4 of those contests. On the other end of the spectrum, they went 20-5 when they closed at -250 or higher. In other words, they were twice as likely to be favored by -250 than to be an underdog. Also, they received less than 50% of bets just 11 times. Even though these public bettors were winning about 2/3 of the time, they weren’t really making a profit. Expect more of the same this season.

World Series Teams the Following Year

Year Reigning WS Champ Record Units Reigning WS Loser Record Units
2005 Boston Red Sox 95-67 +3.9 St. Louis Cardinals 100-62 +7.6
2006 Chicago White Sox 90-72 -1.0 Houston Astros 82-80 -9.8
2007 St. Louis Cardinals 78-84 -2.7 Detroit Tigers 88-74 +2.8
2008 Boston Red Sox 95-67 +5.4 Colorado Rockies 74-88 -16.6
2009 Philadelphia Phillies 93-69 +7.4 Tampa Bay Rays 84-78 -10.6
2010 New York Yankees 95-67 -7.0 Philadelphia Phillies 97-65 +11.3
2011 San Francisco Giants 86-76 -2.4 Texas Rangers 96-66 +8.5
2012 St. Louis Cardinals 88-74 -6.4 Texas Rangers 93-69 -5.6
2013 San Francisco Giants 76-86 -14.9 Detroit Tigers 93-69 -9.4
2014 Boston Red Sox 71-91 -21.1 St. Louis Cardinals 90-72 +0.6
2015 San Francisco Giants 84-78 +0.4 Kansas City Royals 95-67 +20.9
2016 Kansas City Royals 81-81 -1.9 New York Mets 87-75 -2.8
Total 1032-912 (53.1%) -40.3 (-2.1% ROI) 1079-865 (55.5%) -3.1 (-0.1% ROI)

As we can see, World Series Champions have not fared well in their following year. There have only been a couple of teams that accumulated over five units in the following year, with the Phillies in ’09 being the high water mark at +7.4 units. I don’t expect the Cubs to collapse like Red Sox or Giants from a few years back, but it would not be surprising to see them have a season like the 2010 Yankees. Despite winning 95 games, they finished seven units in the red.

Although the Royals have been the only team to lose the World Series and come back to win the following season, as a whole, the losers have had more success during their next season. Perhaps since they got so close, they are just that much more thirsty to win it. Their winning percentage, units, and ROI are all noticeably better than the teams that beat them, which is a good sign for the Indians.

Since these teams haven’t been profitable, perhaps fading them might be. Let’s take a look.

Fading World Series Teams the Following Year

Year Reigning WS Champ Record Units Reigning WS Loser Record Units
2005 Boston Red Sox 67-95 -11.5 St. Louis Cardinals 62-100 -17.3
2006 Chicago White Sox 72-90 -3.0 Houston Astros 80-82 +5.7
2007 St. Louis Cardinals 84-78 +0.4 Detroit Tigers 74-88 -5.7
2008 Boston Red Sox 67-95 -16.3 Colorado Rockies 88-74 +10.8
2009 Philadelphia Phillies 69-93 -5.4 Tampa Bay Rays 78-84 +5.3
2010 New York Yankees 67-95 -1.2 Philadelphia Phillies 65-97 -11.9
2011 San Francisco Giants 76-86 -1.2 Texas Rangers 66-96 -18.7
2012 St. Louis Cardinals 74-88 -1.4 Texas Rangers 69-93 -2.8
2013 San Francisco Giants 86-76 +10.7 Detroit Tigers 69-93 +3.0
2014 Boston Red Sox 91-71 +18.4 St. Louis Cardinals 72-90 -8.5
2015 San Francisco Giants 78-84 -6.8 Kansas City Royals 67-95 -25.2
2016 Kansas City Royals 81-81 -11.8 New York Mets 75-87 -1.0
Total 912-1032 (46.9%) -29.1 (-1.5% ROI) 865-1079 (44.5%) -66.3 (-3.4% ROI)

Still no long term profits, but the results are still pretty interesting. As we could’ve guessed from the previous table, fading the champs turns out to be better than fading the runner-up. However, it is tough to turn a profit when only winning about 47% or 45% of the time.

Instead of looking at World Series teams, what if we looked at the most and least profitable team each year from a gambling standpoint. Every year, there are teams that are undervalued by the books and end up winning at a much higher rate than expected. The same goes for the opposite. Below are the most and least profitable teams each year.

Most and Least Profitable Teams Each Year

Year Most Profitable Team Record Units Least Profitable Team Record Units
2005 Chicago White Sox 99-63 +22.7 Los Angeles Dodgers 71-91 -20.8
2006 Oakland Athletics 93-69 +19.0 Tampa Bay Rays 61-101 -20.2
2007 Colorado Rockies 90-73 +24.8 San Francisco Giants 70-92 -18.3
2008 Los Angeles Angels 100-62 +26.6 San Diego Padres 62-100 -33.1
2009 Los Angeles Angels 97-65 +24.3 Cleveland Indians 65-97 -27.6
2010 San Diego Padres 90-72 +17.0 Seattle Mariners 61-101 -34.7
2011 Arizona Diamondbacks 94-68 +24.1 Houston Astros 56-106 -33.0
2012 Baltimore Orioles 93-69 +37.0 Houston Astros 55-107 -31.5
2013 Pittsburgh Pirates 94-68 +23.7 Chicago White Sox 63-99 -30.1
2014 Baltimore Orioles 96-66 +31.9 Arizona Diamondbacks 64-98 -28.5
2015 Texas Rangers 88-74 +27.4 Cincinnati Reds 64-98 -29.8
2016 Texas Rangers 95-67 +27.7 Minnesota Twins 59-103 -28.2
Total 1129-816 (58.0%) +306.2 (15.7% ROI) 751-1193 (38.6%) -335.8 (-17.3% ROI)

None of the popular teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, or Dodgers find themselves on the list of the most profitable teams. This is because books are going to shade those lines because they know public bettors will be on them.

There were a couple instances of a team repeating as the most profitable team of the year, including last year’s Rangers team. They were able to do that by going 36-11 in one run games, the best mark in the history in baseball. They only outscored their opponents by eight runs last season, which would point to them being around a .500 team rather than a 95-win team. I don’t expect them to three-peat this year.

The least profitable teams are, for the most part, absolute trainwrecks. Could they redeem themselves the next season?

Most and Least Profitable Teams Following Year

Year Most Profitable Team Record Units Least Profitable Team Record Units
2006 Chicago White Sox 90-72 -1 Los Angeles Dodgers 88-74 +5.1
2007 Oakland Athletics 76-86 -10.8 Tampa Bay Rays 65-97 -15.0
2008 Colorado Rockies 74-88 -16.6 San Francisco Giants 72-90 -6.2
2009 Los Angeles Angels 97-65 +24.6 San Diego Padres 75-87 +3.8
2010 Los Angeles Angels 80-82 -4.1 Cleveland Indians 69-93 -2.6
2011 San Diego Padres 71-91 -12.0 Seattle Mariners 67-95 -21.4
2012 Arizona Diamondbacks 81-81 -8.6 Houston Astros 55-107 -31.5
2013 Baltimore Orioles 85-77 +2.7 Houston Astros 51-111 -24.7
2014 Pittsburgh Pirates 88-74 +1.0 Chicago White Sox 73-89 -1.6
2015 Baltimore Orioles 81-81 -4.0 Arizona Diamondbacks 79-83 -0.1
2016 Texas Rangers 95-67 +27.7 Cincinnati Reds 68-94 -8.6
Total 918-864 (51.5%) -1.1 (-0.1% ROI) 762-1020 (42.8%) -102.8 (-5.8% ROI)

No…they couldn’t. One might think that since they are so bad, they might catch the books off guard and do surprisingly well the next year. However, only one team bounced back to have a winning record and good chunk of them still couldn’t reach 70 wins the following season.

There aren’t any expectations for the Twinkies this upcoming season — good ones at least. They probably aren’t going to be the 2011-2013 Astros, but they’re not going to be in any pennant races soon, either. 

Now, what if we fade these teams?

Fading Most and Least Profitable Teams Following Year

Year Most Profitable Team Record Units Least Profitable Team Record Units
2006 Chicago White Sox 72-90 -3.0 Los Angeles Dodgers 74-88 -10.5
2007 Oakland Athletics 86-76 +10.4 Tampa Bay Rays 97-65 +9.4
2008 Colorado Rockies 88-74 +10.8 San Francisco Giants 90-72 -0.6
2009 Los Angeles Angels 65-97 -22.0 San Diego Padres 87-75 -8.2
2010 Los Angeles Angels 82-80 +2.8 Cleveland Indians 93-69 +1.0
2011 San Diego Padres 91-71 +6.5 Seattle Mariners 95-67 +11.9
2012 Arizona Diamondbacks 81-81 +6.0 Houston Astros 107-55 +11.5
2013 Baltimore Orioles 77-85 -5.3 Houston Astros 111-51 +11.7
2014 Pittsburgh Pirates 74-88 -13.6 Chicago White Sox 89-73 -2.4
2015 Baltimore Orioles 81-81 -1.6 Arizona Diamondbacks 83-79 -8.0
2016 Texas Rangers 67-95 -30.8 Cincinnati Reds 94-68 -4.1
Total 864-918 (48.5%) -39.8 (-2.2% ROI) 1020-762 (57.2%) +11.7 (0.7% ROI)

Ah, look. A positive sum! Nothing to bet the house on, but fading the worst teams has yielded a small profit over the past decade. This is largely in part to the aforementioned Astros abominations, but nevertheless a profit. The thing is, that small ROI is coming from a really high winning percentage for baseball. It is tough to win that often even if you are always taking the best teams or fading the worst ones.

Fading the best teams would look a lot better if it weren’t for last year’s Rangers team and the 2009 Angels squad, but still not a great strategy.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that there are any magic shortcuts to win money based on a team’s performance the previous season. I was hoping one of these tables would spit out a reliable and relatively profitable trend that we could keep our eye on going into the season, but evidently, sportsbooks are smart. Who knew?

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If you have any thoughts or questions, feel free to reach out to the Sports Insights staff by utilizing our live chat feature, commenting below, or emailing us at help@sportsinsights.com.

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