By Edward Egros
FOX Sports MLB Betting Analyst
The last time we met up in this space, we went over some early World Baseball Classic teams to bet on to win this year’s title. While we didn’t have completed rosters for every team, we were trying to get an early edge based on the information that we did have.
But now that the rosters are set, let’s take another look at the WBC from a betting perspective. As always, new information makes the market more efficient and, thus, tougher to find value. For instance, Clayton Kershaw’s unexpected announcement that he will not play is one reason why the Dominican Republic is now the pre-tournament favorite (+200 on FOX Bet). While they will be absolutely loaded with Juan Soto, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Sandy Alcantara, et al., I’m looking elsewhere for plays that present value.
I’m also keeping in mind the format for the WBC. When betting, it’s always important to look at every angle, and the path for these teams is something to really take into consideration when betting on this tournament. There are four pools with five teams each. The winner and runner-up from each pool advance to a single-elimination tournament, happening in Tokyo and Miami.
With all of that being said, here are three futures bets you should make now, with odds courtesy of FOX Bet:
Looking at the odds alone, it’s clear who belongs in the top tier of this tournament: the Dominican Republic, the United States and Japan. However, the first two have clear and present dangers Japan does not have. The Dominicans suffered dreadful luck drawing Pool D with Puerto Rico and Venezuela (spoiler alert: Venezuela is a bet I like). The other three pools do not have that kind of competition.
As for the Stars and Stripes, it’s not just losing Kershaw that should give you pause. Yankees’ hurler Nestor Cortes will also not compete after straining his right hamstring during spring training, and none of the pitchers for Team USA ranked in the top 25 in expected fielding independent pitching last season. While most of those hurlers are not competing in the tournament at all, Japan does boast Shohei Ohtani and Yu Darvish.
Outside of MLB, several players in Japan’s professional baseball league, the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization, should provide a lot of production. Yoshinobu Yamamoto is the two-time reigning Sawamura Award winner (Japan’s version of the Cy Young), Roki Sasaki can throw triple-digits and Shota Imanaga posted a 2.26 ERA last season.
Japan has the most talented and deepest pitching staff in the WBC. They also get home-field advantage through the Quarterfinals.
There are three strong teams in Pool D: the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela. Only two of them can advance to the Quarterfinals, so there will be a sweat betting on anyone in this trio. But those teams that do move on will automatically be contenders to win the whole thing.
Ronald Acuña, Jr. leads the way for Venezuela. Last season, he put together the 11th-highest expected weighted on-base average (.366), averaging one of the fastest running times from home plate to first base (4.27 seconds). Jose Altuve ranked 18th in 2022 in xwOBA (.354) and Eugenio Suárez was 45th (.339). There’s also elite starting and relief pitching that includes Pablo López and Ranger Suárez.
If you also want a less analytical approach, Miguel Cabrera is also competing. He says he plans to retire after this season, so leading his home country to a WBC title may be his exclamation point on a Hall of Fame career.
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Cuba’s odds have lengthened from +1500 to +3500 since we last checked in. Perhaps the biggest reason is the absence of sluggers who made headlines trying to make the team, including Yordan Alvarez and Jose Abreu.
However, the other reasons why they are still a darkhorse are still true. Cuba has, by far, the shortest odds to win the WBC among all teams in Pool A. They can finish in the top two and make the Quarterfinals. After that, three upset wins would not be outlandish.
Cuba has other sluggers who have shown flashes of excellence over the last several years, even if they are not playing or are recovering from injury. Yoenis Céspedes had seasons of greater than 130 wRC+ in 2016 and 2017. Luis Robert Jr. had an expected batting average of .272 last season (85th percentile), and Yoán Moncada has had one of the higher walk rates in the last few seasons. Add to that potential the arms of Ronald Bolaños and Miguel Romero, and you have a team that should not be overlooked, especially at these odds.
It’s hard to tell if past performance at the WBC matters here. It would help our bets if it does, as Japan has finished at least third in every other tournament, Venezuela was third in 2009 and Cuba was the runner-up in 2006.
Regardless, I’m riding with those three futures bets right now to win the WBC.
Edward Egros is a sports analytics broadcaster/writer, a sports betting analyst, a data scientist and an adjunct professor of statistics at Pepperdine University. These passions have led him to become a cold brew aficionado. Edward previously worked in local television, notably at the Fox affiliate in Dallas covering the Rangers, Cowboys and high school football. Follow him on Twitter @EdWithSports.
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