I enjoy prop bets. For nearly every 2019 regular season game, Fish Stripes customized several “Fish Picks” related to the Marlins or their opponent (Fish Picks will be returning for 2020). I’m not about to pursue a professional handicapping career, but looking at the contest results, the props generated plenty of two-way action!
For Caesars Sportsbook, there is obviously more at stake—they lose real money by setting their props sloppily. That’s why I was genuinely surprised by this:
In January 2018, embarking on a full organizational rebuild, Caesars set the Marlins’ over/under at 64.5. In January 2019, with most of their high-upside prospects still a ways away from debuting, they set the over/under at 65.5.
And yet, on the heels of an active offseason that has focused mainly on plugging major league roster holes, one of the industry’s leading sportsbooks is setting their expectations lower than the previous two years?
First base production should improve in 2020 with Jesús Aguilar essentially replacing Neil Walker. Ditto for catcher (Francisco Cervelli is in as the new backup, Bryan Holaday is out) and left field (Corey Dickerson). Coming off a four-win season, Jonathan Villar is—on paper—a significant upgrade over the utility guys that the Fish cycled through previously. Martín Prado’s reported retirement is, with the utmost respect, addition by subtraction. Standout position players like Brian Anderson and Miguel Rojas are still here and entering camp 100% healthy. And Lewis Brinson cannot possibly perform worse than he already has...right?
On the pitching side, Miami’s talent is comparable to before, though the in-season call-up candidates—Sixto Sánchez, Nick Neidert, Alex Vesia, etc.—should be competent in filling the vacancies created by trades and injuries. Such was not the case for their arms down the stretch of 2019’s 105-loss campaign.
Caesars doesn’t necessarily believe that the Marlins are trending in the wrong direction. Rather, they are banking on fierce competition from the rest of the NL East. Their win totals for the Braves, Mets, Nationals and Phillies are all up from the 2019 preseason by a combined 14 1⁄2 wins. The Fish fell short of last season’s betting total largely because of their woeful 24-52 record in intradivision play (10-9 vs. the Phillies somehow).
For the first time under new Marlins ownership, there is urgency to perform better at the major league level. While many fans understood the long-term benefits of parting with productive stars and the trade-off that comes with losing games to improve MLB Draft position, they do not have eternal patience. The South Florida market in general (consumers and potential sponsors alike) won’t invest in unestablished, anonymous players. This rebuild needs to begin turning the corner and the front office recognizes that.
I would not recommend that anybody bet the over at 63.5 right now—this roster is still at least one veteran reliever away from raising its 2020 floor above that mark. But once that bullpen depth is more adequately addressed, fire away.