Which National League Teams Have Been the Most Profitable Bets in 2018?

Which National League teams have yielded bettors the greatest returns, and will they continue to do so for the rest of the season?

Although the National League hasn’t had as many profitable teams as the American League has had so far this season, there are some teams that stand out as good betting teams from game to game.

However, just because a team has yielded good returns through the first half of the season, it doesn’t mean that it will continue through the second half.

Below we'll examine the top three teams from OddsShark’s National League money standings to determine which have sustainable betting value and which were first-half flukes.

1. Colorado Rockies

The Colorado Rockies have kept themselves in a tight division race; they’re currently one game behind the Los Angeles Dodgers at 57-47. However, they’ve overperformed their Pythagorean win record by five games (52-52) due to a negative run differential, and they rank 20th in our model. These are major indications of negative regression for the rest of the season.

Colorado is 8th in runs scored in the majors with 500, despite having an 87 weighted runs created plus (wRC+), which is good for 25th in the league. Statistics like wRC+ measure offense at a deeper level and can be relied on to determine the sustainability of the surface level statistics like runs, home runs and so on.

However, wRC+ adjusts for ballpark, which brings up an interesting scenario for the Rockies, who play at the most hitter-friendly park in the league. So, while statistics like wRC+ show the Rockies’ offense as somewhat of a fluke, it’s possible that we’d actually expect Colorado to have inflated numbers due to their home-field advantage.

The Rockies have similar home run and RBI splits at home versus on the road, which has amounted to a slightly better road record this season. However, there is a major drop in statistics like on-base plus slugging (OPS) and batting average on balls in play (BABIP) when the Rox are playing on the road. This type of batting split discrepancy spells out possible regression for the Rockies away from home.

Bettors should be wary of the Rockies for the remainder of the season but could target situations where Colorado is an underdog at home, where they play 30 of their remaining 58 games.

2. Atlanta Braves

Behind a combination of veterans and young talent, the Atlanta Braves find themselves competing for the National League East, just a half-game behind the Philadelphia Phillies. However, they’ve underperformed their Pythagorean win record by two games and rank eighth by our model, so they could actually improve and make noise in the playoff race.

The Braves rank 14th in fielding independent pitching (FIP) amongst starters and 13th in wRC+ in the major leagues. However, even though the Braves are about average in pitching and hitting, their major strength is their fielding.

Ender Inciarte is one of the rangiest center fielders in the big leagues, and Atlanta employs one of the stingiest infields, as well. According to Fangraphs’ ultimate zone rating (UZR), each Braves infielder is at least three runs better than the average fielder at their position. Atlanta's average FIP signifies that their fielding ability is unlikely to regress, and their balance on defense makes them flexible to support their starting pitching, whether it’s a ground-ball pitcher like Sean Newcomb or a fly-ball pitcher like Julio Teheran.

Defense remains a vastly underrated aspect of a team’s play for oddsmakers due to the limited available statistics. Every team that ranks in the top five in Fangraphs’ defense metric (DEF) has been profitable for bettors this season, including the Chicago Cubs, whose odds are typically inflated due to public bettors. While the Cubs take the spotlight, bettors can continue to ride the undervalued Atlanta defense through August and September.

3. Milwaukee Brewers

It’s difficult to analyze elite defenses and not come across the Milwaukee Brewers, who rank first overall in Fangraphs’ DEF metric. Most of the Brewers’ fielding success can be attributed to shortstop Orlando Arcia and center fielder Lorenzo Cain. Cain has been a sleeper MVP candidate this season, as he has returned to the peak form we saw on the 2015 World Series Champion Kansas City Royals.

Once the Brewers get into the later innings, they turn to one of the best bullpens in the game (ranked fifth in FIP), paced by Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffress and Corey Knebel. Also, behind Cain and fellow outfielder Christian Yelich, the Brewers rank highly in another underrated aspect of baseball -- baserunning. Milwaukee sits fourth in Fangraphs’ baserunning metric (BsR) and leads the majors in stolen bases with 84.

While the Brewers are doing their best 2015 Royals impression with Cain, who led Kansas City in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) that year, and newly acquired Mike Moustakas, who was second in WAR for KC in 2015, bettors can reap the benefits. Moustakas adds needed offensive depth at third base, assuming the Brewers move Travis Shaw to second to keep Shaw's bat in the lineup.

Milwaukee’s prowess on defense, out of the bullpen, and on the bases make them dangerous even though they don’t have an elite lineup or starting rotation. Bettors should continue to rely on our model’s ninth-ranked team and can even consider them as a sleeper bet to win the National League.