Every MLB season sees at least one team surprise with a winning year that few people expected. While it may seem like these turnaround seasons come out of nowhere, I believe that they are actually very easy to predict. And if you can do so then you’ll make some money betting baseball during the first part of the season.
The things I like to analyze to find the most improved teams are roster changes, late-season performance from the previous year, injuries and coaching changes. If a team displays the right traits, then they are far more likely to have a surprise season and beat the MLB odds than another team in the league.
Key off-season acquisitions are my favorite thing to look for when doing my MLB handicapping on trying to find an improved team. Signing an all-star free-agent will get a lot of press, but it is actually the less publicized moves that change a team the most. Casual fans will not get excited about a few additions to the bullpen, but it is impossible to win without solid relievers. Strengthening a bullpen is the best ways to build a winning baseball team because it is impossible to consistently win games if the relief pitchers are giving up the lead every night.
In addition to a great bullpen, it is also impossible to win in the MLB with a major weakness in the starting lineup. Signing a consistently average player will get ignored in the off-season, but this can actually be a great signing. If the average player is replacing a bad player at the same position, then this underappreciated signing can be worth a few wins at the end of the season.
I also love to look at the performance of a team during the last two months of the previous season. Bad teams tend to get ignored in August and September when there are important playoff races to watch, but surprise teams often show great improvement during this time. A struggling team going nowhere is far more likely to play their young prospects than a team in a playoff race. These young players often close out the season with great stats without much press, so everyone gets shocked when they put on the same performance at the beginning of the next season.
Examining injuries from the previous season will also help when predicting the MLB teams poised to improved. Tommy John surgery recipients are my first choice when searching for injured players that can have an impact in the upcoming season. A lot of pitchers that receive Tommy John surgery are forgotten because they are forced to miss games for at least one year. These pitchers often come back stronger than they were before the surgery, so they are ready to immediately help their team win baseball games. While I think these pitchers can have the biggest surprise impact, any team that lost a few key players to injury is destined to improve in the upcoming season.
Coaches in the NBA and NFL seem to get a lot of credit when their teams win, but the same is not always true in the MLB. If coaching was not important in baseball, then the same managers would not make the playoffs on a regular basis. Disappointing MLB teams love to replace their manager in the off-season, and I believe this coaching change can be worth at least a few wins if a highly regarded coach is hired. The increase in wins is caused by the improved strategy of a more talented manager and the entire roster wanting to play hard for their new coach.
If a MLB team makes a few of these positive adjustments to the roster and coaching staff, then they will be well on their way to a surprisingly successful season.