Parallel excellence is the rare gift two MLB stars bring New Jersey bettors. Millville Mike Trout and Philly-by-way-of-Vegas star Bryce Harper have followed a similar 10-year journey.
These players rarely intersect but are similar in that they both bridge the legal sports betting and pre-PASPA repeal age. They both played their first full season in 2012 and, between them, have produced five MVP Awards.
The last two -Trout’s 2019 MVP and Harper’s 2021 crown – have actually rewarded the NJ gamblers. They could not place wagers when Trout earned the honors in 2014 and 2016, or when Harper prevailed in 2015.
The parallel stars begin 2022 with interesting vantage points.
Trout, +350 at DraftKings, is the second MVP choice behind teammate and defending champion Shohei Ohtani (+300). He is a ballplayer’s ballplayer, this generation’s Mickey Mantle and a star who seemingly draws half of Millville to Citizens Bank on rare occasions when his Los Angeles Angels visit the Philadelphia Phillies.
Millville Mike is the fastest player to ever hit 300 homers and steal 200 bases. Faster even than Willie Mays.
He faces a critical career phase this year. Trout hopes to rebound from the 2021 calf injury that prematurely ended his season. He’d been the odds-on betting favorite to win another MVP when the season began before suffering what became a lost season.
Bryce Harper MVP odds at NJ sportsbooks
Other National League MVP contenders
Harper will open up by battling the same group he outgunned down the 2021 stretch.
Based on DraftKings Sportsbook odds Juan Soto of the Washington Nationals started as the +350 chalk along with San Diego Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr..
Ronald Acuna Jr. of the world-champion Atlanta Braves opened at +900.
Harper and Mookie Betts of the Los Angeles Dodgers were next +1000.
Bryce Harper’s incredible journey
Harper was on another planet compared to the rest of the league during a package of excellence for the ages.
He spent much of 2021 in the +1500 range and higher at DraftKings. And then Harper surged like gangbusters, singlehandedly keeping the Phillies in the National League East race until the final week and helping “over” bettors cash their 81.5 season win total at many books.
For New Jersey sports gamblers, he was money.
Harper unveiled the best stretch of his career in a magical three-month period. During the second half of the season, he posted an eye-opening OPS (on-base plus slugging) of 1.188.
The colossal stat gains context in two ways.
It can be measured against the .684 of his teammates, meaning he was about 60% more productive than the entire group.
Or, it can be measured by two words: Babe Ruth.
The Great Bambino has baseball’s all-time career mark of 116.36. Granted, Ruth compiled his over many years. But for half a season, Harper surpassed Ruth. That’s saying a lot.
And they were only the numbers. Much of Harper’s adulation stems from his ability to deliver in the clutch. He highlighted game-changing rallies. He produced late in contests.
As the Phillies teetered on elimination, Harper won a game by scoring from first base on a two-out ninth-inning double in an all-out sprint. One night later, he threw out the tying run at home plate in another one-run Phillies triumph.
It was a storybook, a fairy tale and the run of a lifetime.
Is there another one?
Mike Trout MVP odds at NJ sportsbooks
A closer look at the Bryce Harper and other National League stars
Harper’s career numbers are good, not great. He has 267 home runs, not quite 27 per season. Based on his credentials and stature, one would expect him to hit 40-45 homers every year. He had 35 in each of two full seasons with the Phillies.
Many consider him a player with great tools who only performs a little above average. But he broke through last year.
“He’s from our area and I followed his career quite closely when he was coming up,” Las Vegas-based Johnny Avello, the director of race and sportsbook operations, told PlayNJ.
“He has done a lot of good things, certainly, but it always looked like he was going to make a bigger impact than he has.
“Last year he showed people that any of these guys who makes a big late run can win the MVP. Baseball has a lot of guys with good numbers.
“We saw it last year with Soto, with Tatis (who fell out of contention with a shoulder injury) and Acuna. Guys took turns being in the top spot.”
In June, even Jacob deGrom of the New York Mets became the chalk. He was enroute to notching baseball’s greatest pitching season, perhaps ever, before injury cut it short.
‘Mike Trout is a staple’ in AL MVP race
While Harper’s sustained dominance sneaked up on many people, Trout’s excellence is never a surprise, Avello asserted.
“Mike Trout is a staple in this every year,” Avello said. “Barring an injury, which was the case last year, we know what we are going to get out of Trout. He has been consistent since he came into the majors. He does it all.”
Ironically, Trout’s injury elevated the stage for Ohtani, who had a storybook campaign as a hitter and pitcher. For those who haven’t seen the Japanese superstar, he’s Ichiro Suzuki with a physique. The West Coast betting public was all over him in spring training, driving his odds from +6000 to the +1500 range at most books.
Trout was still in the way to block an Ohtani MVP award until he wasn’t.
“It’s kind of funny thinking about two guys on the same team being in the MVP consideration, “Avello said. “If they both stay healthy, maybe this Angels team is going to have a strong season.”
Trout’s lost season concerns those who equate injuries with the beginning of decline for a veteran player.
“For you and me, yes, this is certainly a problem,” Avello laughed. “But for top athletes like this, who have individual trainers and the best medical staff there is, it may not be as detrimental as you might think.”
NJ sports bettors could be looking at a shortened season
But they are rooting for multi-millionaire players and billionaire owners to amicably divide enormous profits and make a deal.
Barring a sudden breakthrough, the season likely won’t start on March 31. Owners said on Wednesday that Feb. 28 was the deal deadline to insure 162 games.
New Jersey gamblers can live with a slightly-shortened season. But they want to watch two of their own, Trout and Harper, enjoy career peaks.
Many will also try to get into Citizens Bank Park June 3-5. That’s when the Angels are scheduled to play a three-game series against the Phils.
AP Photo/Alex Brandon