This post is a bit of an experiment. During the day, while working on various writing topics and filtering through different ideas, I’ll often come up with something that isn’t quite worthy of a full 1,000 word post, but is interesting enough to share on its own. A lot of times, these things just end up on Twitter, but sometimes, they just don’t go anywhere.
Instead of just leaving these in the back room, I’m going to start putting them up just as stand-alone, low-commentary posts and see if there’s enough interest in the data points as conversation generators to continue posting them. If it turns out that you guys don’t like them, I won’t keep doing them, so critical feedback is certainly welcome, but perhaps there’s room on FanGraphs for posts that aren’t quite fully fleshed ideas, but instead just interesting statistical nuggets. We’ll see, I guess.
If you go to the site’s Playoff Odds page, you’ll see some pretty staggering numbers for the teams at the top. Our model currently forecasts the Tigers to have a 94% chance of reaching the postseason, for instance, both Bay Area teams are strong favorites to reach at least the Wild Card game as well. These numbers are surprisingly high given that we’re still in May, and there’s fourth months of baseball left to play. A lot can happen in four months.
But to illustrate why those numbers are so high, it helps to take a look at the projected final records in graph form, because there are some huge gaps between the teams at the top and the teams in the middle or bottom.
Here’s the American League first.
And now the National League.
The favorites in both league have very high playoff odds figures, but for different reasons.
In the AL, it’s because there is a huge gap in expected win totals between the top four and the next eight, with an overstuffed middle class fighting for what looks like one wild card spot, with none of them expected to be all that close to catching any of the current division leaders.
In the NL, the story is essentially the opposite, as there is basically no middle class to speak of. There are good teams and there are bad teams, and not much in between. While the Pirates aren’t completely dead in the water yet, it looks like the Brewers and Rockies are the only super serious threats to overtaking the established Big Five.
You can see the differences in league parity when the two leagues are plotted together.
Look at how weak the back half of the NL is in comparison to the second half of the AL; there are a half dozen NL teams that already have no real chance at reaching the playoffs. In the AL, pretty much everyone besides the Astros, Twins, and White Sox is considered a possible playoff team, but the huge blob in the middle means there’s no real serious outside threat to the top teams.
Injuries, trades, and just the unpredictable nature of the game will likely make it so that something unpredictable happens between now and the end of the season, but I would not be surprised at all if the nine teams that look to be strong favorites to reach the postseason all end up reaching that goal.
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