Friday Four-Pack 2.2.24
Theo is back. The Pats have an OC. Horse racing's off-target focus. Early Super Bowl props!
When the Red Sox fired Chaim Bloom this past fall, many observers (myself included) wondered if the team would call on a former GM to fix what has become an on as well as off-field dumpster fire over on Jersey Street. Instead, the team installed the inexperienced Craig Breslow in the position.
Now the team has brought back the guy who first hired Breslow in Chicago and was his mentor as an executive. He also happened to help the Sox win their first World Series in 86 years.
Theo Epstein is returning to the Red Sox, as a part-owner in Fenway Sports Group and advisor on their business holdings. From Sportico, who broke the news Friday morning.
On the baseball side, Epstein says he’ll act as a sounding board and executive coach, if needed, to the Red Sox baseball operations people. Notably, he hired Red Sox chief baseball officer Craig Breslow while at the Cubs. “I’m a full believer in him and what he and his team are going to mean for the Red Sox,” Epstein said of Breslow, who joined the Red Sox in October. “With the other sports, where I have a lot to learn, hopefully my experience not only with teams but with Major League Baseball and with private equity will come in handy, at least as a supportive resource for the people at FSG.”
My instant reaction is this is a good PR move, but not really a baseball move.
Red Sox ownership has never been this vilified. Their product has never felt so abandoned. Bringing back the beloved Epstein at least gives the appearance that ownership cares about their product.
If Theo is able to convince John Henry to start spending money again, fans should consider that a win. As it is, the team is expected to be under MLB’s ‘Competitive Balance Tax’ threshold for a second consecutive year. They’ve turned into a mid-market spender.
But is Theo going to come in and undermine his protege in Breslow? No chance. He probably advised the Sox to hire Breslow.
It’s a good deal for Theo. He gets an ownership stake in FSG and will never be blamed for the team’s failures. It’s also a good deal for the team, as they bring back a fan-favorite.
A good deal for the fans? If Epstein can shake ownership out of this spending freeze and back to acting like a big-market team, sure.
If you’re excited, some good news - you can walk into your local Costo and buy some tickets for the upcoming season.
My guess is there are plenty of good seats available.
Meanwhile, the Pats have a new OC. We have some early Super Bowl props. And a tough week for horseplayers who want racing executives to focus on making the sport a better gambling game.
All in today’s loaded Four-Pack.
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On the Patriots new offensive coordinator…
Alex Van Pelt was not on my list. But he’s the new Patriots OC.
Sounds like it came together pretty quickly. Per the Herald’s Andrew Callahan, Van Pelt first interviewed Wednesday night, then spent all day in Foxboro on Thursday. He was then hired Thursday night.
For a team that was reportedly looking at at least 10 different guys for the job, it’s a pretty quick hire, no?
Tough to judge the hire or Van Pelt as a coordinator because he didn’t call all the plays in Cleveland. That duty went to head coach Kevin Stefanski. He did call plays for the 2009 Buffalo Bills, a team that was not very good. That was also 15 years ago. Before coaching, he spent 10 years playing in the NFL.
Last year with RB Nick Chubb healthy, the offense was 11th overall DVOA. This year, with injuries to Chubb and QB Deshaun Watson, they ended up 28th overall (27th pass/23rd run).
On the positive side, he was part of the coaching staff that got Joe Flacco back in there and looking like old Joe Flacco pretty quickly in Cleveland. And they let Flacco chuck it - he averaged over 40 attempts in his six starts.
Given his stints in different organizations and his lack of play-calling experience, it’s hard to tell what style of offense the team is getting with Van Pelt.
He seems like a player’s coach. Late in the season, Browns WR Amari Cooper was approaching a career-high in receiving yards. Van Pelt acknowledged to the media he wanted Cooper to get his numbers.
"It means something to me," Van Pelt said. "I want to see these guys hit their personal bests. That is important to me. I think it is important to (coach) Kevin (Stefanski). These guys put all of the work in. Why not have their best years when we have the ability to capture those? Aware of where he is and aware of where (running back) Nick (Chubb) is, and (tight end) David (Njoku) needs some catches to be there, as well. That is in the forefront of mind at least. They deserve it.”
Not something we’ve heard the last 20+ years in Foxboro.
Besides the extensive playing and coaching experience Van Pelt brings, maybe the fact he’s 53 years old makes it less likely he’ll bolt for a head coaching job if the Pats’ offense thrives. It’s happening all around the NFL - a team hires a young offensive mind and that guy bolts after one great season. That doesn’t do the team any good.
His hiring might also mean a quarterback he coached in Cleveland - Baker Mayfield - could be an option for the Pats in the offseason.
You have a coordinator. Now go get the guy some talent. The Patriots lack any sort of explosive playmakers on offense. It’s not going to matter who calls the plays until they find some.
On some early Super Bowl LVIII betting ideas…
Betting on sports - and winning - is hard.
The latest example being the AFC Championship game. The Ravens best chance to beat the Chiefs was running the football. Kansas City was 27th DVOA against the run in the regular season. They were 28th in EPA/play against the run. Their defense had just given up 182 yards to the Bills the previous week.
Run. The. Ball. Or not.
Even a week later, there is possible defense of Ravens OC Todd Monkens’s game plan. Maybe the mere sight of Patrick Mahomes on the other side of the field made him lose his mind. We saw it all the time with Tom Brady.
Watching the game unfold was like betting on the lone speed horse and then watching in disgust as the jockey takes the horse off the lead. The Ravens never even tried to run the ball. Put way too much on Lamar Jackson against a good Chiefs pass defense. Just painful.
As for Super Bowl LVIII, a hell of a matchup. We opened Chiefs +2.5. That moved pretty quickly to Chiefs +1. Then mid-week we got the 49ers’ money.
As of Friday morning, FanDuel is back to Chiefs +2.5 (-115). Fanatics back to Chiefs +2.5 (-110). A bunch of books at KC +2.
I have a small future on the Chiefs at 9-1. We’ll see how motivated I get to bet the side or total. Could be more of a props game for me. A couple of props I’ve already bet - and boy the books went out of their way to get the props out early this year.
DEEBO SAMUEL OVER 15.5 RUSHING YARDS (-110, ESPNBET). Even with a shoulder that was not 100%, the 49ers gave Deebo three carries last week. They love giving him carries. He’s had a rushing game of 30+ yards each of the last two postseasons. Unlike the Ravens, I expect Kyle Shanahan to attempt a handful of running plays against the soft KC run defense.
CHRISTIAN MCCAFFERY O125.5 RUSH + REC YARDS. (Fanatics, -115). Outlier line here as the rest of the market is sitting 130.5. The best player on a well-coached team. Against a defense that was 21st DVOA against opposing running backs. CMC cleared this number in 11 of 17 games this season. To quote the great Evan Silva, “smash spot.”
CHRISTIAN MCCAFFERY SB MVP (+450). See above.
BRANDON AIYUK SB MVP (+6000). In a scenario where the Chiefs key in on CMC and L’Jarius Sneed blankets Deebo, I like Aiyuk as an MVP flier. KC defense 25th DVOA v. #2 receivers and allowed the 9th most yards/game to the position. Pizza money play.
More Super Bowl thoughts next week.
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On a very frustrating read as a horseplayer…
Belinda Stronach is the Chairwoman and Chief Executive Officer of the Stronach Group, which does business as 1/ST racing. They’re a huge company in horse racing, as owner/operator of among other things Gulfstream Park, Santa Anita Race Course, as well as the betting platform Xpressbet. They’re a big deal.
This past weekend, Gulfstream Park hosted the Pegasus Stakes. And this year’s Pegasus Stakes got more attention off the track than on it.
Influencer Alix Earle was a featured part of the event, paid to promote her day at the races on social media. She was on the mic for the call of “Riders Up” for the Pegasus, a race won by National Treasure, a mere footnote on this day of racing.
In addition to Earle, Calvin Harris was brought in to play a 90-minute post-race concert for VIPs at the event. Admittedly, I don’t know who that is. But I’m sure it was awesome.
This is the focus of one of the biggest racing companies in America. Influencers. Concerts. Glitz. Glamour. Hollywood.
The bettors - who along with the owners actually allow the sport to exist - we’re still dealing with a myriad of issues. From computer-assisted wagering groups getting beneficial treatment in the wagering pools to stewards inconsistently enforcing pretty straightforward rules to poor customer service to outdated wagering menus….I could go on and on.
The national racing handle for 2023 was down almost 4% from the previous year, the biggest year-to-year decline in 12 years.
So trust me, I’m not the only horseplayer who sees this. The focus of those in charge appears to be on the wrong things.
In the aftermath of the Pegasus, Rolling Stone published a story about the event and Belinda Stronach. It does nothing to make me believe that we’re headed in the right direction as a sport.
For Belinda Stronach, Chairwoman and Chief Executive Officer, 1/ST, this year’s edition of Pegasus continued her goal of modernizing the centuries-old sport of horse racing, while also delivering an event fit for Miami’s glittery social scene. “Our goal this year was really to level up everything, from the music to the food to the cocktails, and really create an entertainment experience,” Stronach says. “We of course want to keep the traditions [of horse racing] alive where they’re relevant, but let’s not be held back by tradition. We have to change.”
Ah yes, those pesky traditions of horse racing. Like caring about the daily customer who bets on your product every weekend.
Stronach likens the experience to other buzzy sporting events in the country, offering that, “We have to be competitive with an NBA game or F1.” And while she stresses that “animal welfare and concern for the horses remains at the core of what we do,” everything else, she says, is open to change, and 1/ST is ready to “shake it up from time to time.”
People will still go to an NBA game if they can’t bet on it. If people stop betting on racing, there’s no more racing. It would help if the new people you’re attracting to the game bet on the game.
“This has been traditionally an old boys club, so I think women in the sport still fight that [perception],” she says. “The frustrating or tough part is that there are those in our industry that want to keep it like it was in the 1930s or 50s. Well, we’re not going to do that,” she asserts. “We have technology now. We love partnerships. Let’s bring in the best partners and work together and create that synergy. And that’s what we do.”
Synergy! Like when Gulfstream and Oaklawn each run a race at the same time! Fun! I get it, some fans are stuck in the past but for the most part, players are looking for positive changes in the betting product. There have not been many.
Up next for Stronach and 1/ST (the Stronach Group’s content, technology and entertainment arm): a new race in Los Angeles’ Santa Anita Park this fall. Tentatively dubbed the “California Crown,” Stronach teases that the race will feature the “best three-year-old and up horses” in the country, but will also “be about food and fashion and a little bit of that old school Hollywood glamor.”
“We’re paying homage to the tradition of the venue, which has been around since 1934,” Stronach says, “but adding some newness with great music and great partners.” The perfect partner for California Crown: LA’s hospitality icons, The h.wood Group.
The business mogul and animal advocate is excited for the California Crown, and the future of horse racing events in general. To wit: Stronach has hired an in-house mixologist to create custom cocktail menus for every 1/ST event; she’s spoken with production partners who want to film the races for documentaries and reality shows; and she wants to create a star ecosystem that highlights the “incredible horses,” jockeys and trainers.
So, full-time mixologist - yes. Ability to correctly time races at Gulfstream - sadly, still no.
This entire section was painful to read, especially the announcement that they’re creating a SECOND Pegasus-like event for California just a few weeks before the Breeders’ Cup.
The whole thing - from the event to this feature to the announcement of a second event - all reminders that the people in charge of one of the biggest powerbrokers in the sport don’t really care about the folks betting on it.
So if you’re a part or full-time player and you’re annoyed about influencers and the direction of this event, I get it.
Free advice for Belinda - if you want to hire an influencer and have them feature your sport on social media, hire Dave.
Fair warning he does this weird thing - he bets on races. It’s entertaining to watch. And for sure, it would bring along an audience of Stoolies and pizza fans who would be happy to bet with (or against) him. Dave was there at Pegasus Day firing away with his racing sidekick Elio Imbornone, who finished third in the Xpressbet Pegasus Betting Challenge. Way to go Mr. Ice!
With that finish, Elio qualified for the NHC, racing’s National Handicapping Championship. Friend of MutStack Mike D texted Sunday amidst all this racing/influencer debate, “Someone in the industry should already be planning the content to follow Elio around Vegas at the NHC, get Portnoy involved.”
It’s a great idea, Mike. Maybe the sport will get around to it once their in-house mixologist creates a special drink for the Florida Derby.
On the rest of your Punxsutawney Phil leftovers…
Thanks to Chuck Simon and Barry Spears for having me on their weekly horse racing podcast, Going in Circles. We talked about many of the issues I wrote about above. It was a blast. What I appreciate most about their show is the willingness to be critical of an industry that is super sensitive to it. Especially when it comes from people within the game. Listen here - and a small clip of the show below.
When Dave Portnoy bought back Barstool Sports last year, we wrote at the time, “If you’re a Barstool fan, you’re getting a return to the type of content that made the brand so popular.” This week was a great example of that. A week ago, Dave just decided he didn’t like the direction of Barstool Radio and just canceled it on the spot. Then this week, it was announced three of the most brash personalities at the company - Dave, Kirk Minihane and Ryan Whitney - are going to do a one-hour show together each week. That’s about as old-school Barstool as it gets. And must-listen beginning next Thursday.
For a second straight year, the decision-makers on the Mass Gaming Commission have decreed you can’t bet on the Super Bowl coin toss in Massachusetts. And so for a second straight year, I’ll drive to NH to bet on tails. It’s a tradition. You can bet on whether the jersey number of the first touchdown scorer is odd or even, but not the coin toss. 🙄🙄🙄
We found out yesterday via the same Mass Gaming Commission that BetMGM took 15,000 bets totaling $200,000 on college football player props this fall. The problem - those bets are not allowed in Massachusetts. Even worse for BetMGM, they didn’t self-report the violations. They were found through an audit by the MGC. I expect the MGC to come with a heavy punishment on this one and won’t be shocked if they suspend BetMGM’s operating license as part of the punishment.
There are FOUR Kentucky Derby Prep races tomorrow. That means it’s time to bring back our Saturday Debry Prep posts. The goal is to win some money but also be ultra-prepared for crushing Derby 2024. The plan to to be published here mid-morning tomorrow. If you’re subscribed, you’ll have it then. So subscribe.
We’ve said it all. Comments are open below for all your Sox, Pats and racing takes. Back Saturday with Derby Prep analysis.
As always, thanks for reading.