The Brewers, the Pirates, and the Meaning of a Month

As promised a while ago, our Playoff Odds page is, in time, going to feature the old Cool Standings functionality, where you’d be able to click on a team and track its past odds day by day. That way you’d be able to monitor winning and losing streaks, as well as, somewhat indirectly, the impact of injuries and acquisitions. I suspect that it’s going to become one of FanGraphs’ more popular tools.

As promised a while ago, the Cool Standings functionality is coming in time, and that time remains in the future. It’s a priority, but it’s not a top priority, and the result is posts like these, periodic check-ins on how the odds have changed since the start of the season. On April 4, when I did this the first time, the Mariners’ odds were up about eight percentage points, and the Angels’ odds were down about ten. What does the picture look like today, on May 5? Let’s dive right in.


Surprise! There are bigger swings after a month than there are after a series. Previously, only the Angels had seen their odds shift by at least ten percentage points. Now a dozen teams have seen their odds shift by at least that much, and five teams have had shifts of at least 20 percentage points. As a complete and utter non-shock, the strongest swing belongs to the Brewers, who own baseball’s best record after projecting as maybe an average roster.

The Brewers’ odds are up about 35 percentage points, from under 15% to over 49%. They aren’t yet to where the projections believe the division is a coin flip between them and the Cardinals, but they’re getting mighty close, as they’ve achieved a five-game lead while crossing out a fifth of the regular season. Given what we know about numbers, we know better than to assume the Brewers are the best team in the league based on a month, and the projections don’t particularly love them, but the projections still think they’re as likely to make the playoffs as they are to miss them, and if you like the Brewers more than the projections, the math is even more in their favor.

The Brewers’ gain is the Pirates’ loss. And also, the Pirates’ loss is the Brewers’ gain, as the Pirates stand at 12-19 and 8.5 games back of first place. Here’s an interesting thing: between now and the end of the season, our projections think the Brewers will win 48.3% of the time. Meanwhile, they think the Pirates will win 50.2% of the time. In other words, the projections here think more highly of the Pirates than the Brewers, but the Brewers have substantially higher playoff odds because they’ve built a massive early edge. Pirates fans can clamor for Gregory Polanco all they want, and he would presumably represent an improvement, but he can’t change that much, and this is why people say you can eliminate yourself in April. It’s incredibly difficult to dig out of a deep early hole, and it’s not like the Pirates were ever considered among the league elite.

If this weren’t about the Brewers and Pirates, this might be about the Giants and Padres, who find themselves in somewhat similar situations. The Giants have more than doubled their odds of winning the division, while the Padres’ odds have been devastated with regard to both the division and the wild card. Then one also notes some interesting presumed contenders — the Indians and Rays are both down about 18 percentage points. The Cardinals are down about 14. The A’s are up, of course, and the Tigers are up almost as much, and right now they have the clearest path to the postseason by far. Of all the divisions, the AL Central might look the closest to expectations, as you have the Tigers and then all the rest.

Not real visible in the chart: the Twins and the Astros. But let’s not ignore what the Astros have done — they’ve dropped from 0.2% odds to 0.0% odds. Now, of course, those aren’t real 0.0% odds. They might be 0.0499999999% odds. Making the playoffs is not an impossibility, as they could conceivably win all of their remaining games! But right now, the Astros are the first team in baseball to achieve the big Zero. It’s May 5.

As things stand today, 23 different teams have at least a 1-in-10 shot at the playoffs. Of those, 16 different teams have at least a 1-in-5 shot at the playoffs, and nine teams are at least 1-in-2. The odds aren’t perfect, due to the human-controlled depth charts, the limited number of season simulations, and the general unpredictability of life, but the numbers provide at least a good overview, and if Brewers fans needed any more reason to be pleased, there you go. Always remember that, when you’re trying to figure out the future, you have to take into account what’s already happened. It matters what you think of the Brewers, but it also matters what the Brewers have already done to opponents.

Real quick, I thought it might be additionally interesting to look at the teams who’ve changed the most in terms of projections. At the start of the year, we have an expected winning percentage. Now we have an updated expected rest-of-season winning percentage, which is essentially based on updated projections and updated depth charts. This doesn’t take into account wins and losses that have already happened. This is just about how differently the teams project, and here’s a full table:

Team Win%_diff Per 162
Marlins 0.021 3.3
Braves 0.015 2.4
Tigers 0.012 1.9
Phillies 0.010 1.7
Astros 0.010 1.6
Blue Jays 0.010 1.6
Orioles 0.008 1.3
Brewers 0.006 1.0
Giants 0.005 0.8
Athletics 0.005 0.8
Rockies 0.003 0.5
Royals 0.003 0.5
Red Sox 0.003 0.4
Twins 0.002 0.4
Angels 0.000 0.0
Indians -0.001 -0.2
Diamondbacks -0.002 -0.3
Reds -0.003 -0.4
Cubs -0.006 -1.0
Rangers -0.006 -1.0
Nationals -0.006 -1.0
Mariners -0.007 -1.1
Yankees -0.007 -1.1
Pirates -0.007 -1.2
White Sox -0.007 -1.2
Cardinals -0.008 -1.2
Dodgers -0.009 -1.5
Rays -0.011 -1.7
Padres -0.013 -2.1
Mets -0.018 -2.9

The Marlins project as a better team than they did, which makes sense, since before they looked like one of the worst teams in the league, and now they’re over .500 with one of baseball’s better offenses. The Braves, too, project better, perhaps in part because of improved projections for Ervin Santana. They’re also starting to get healthier. At the other end, it’s interesting to see the Mets at the bottom considering they’re also over .500, but that’s an investigation for another post. It could be something, it could be nothing, or it could have to do with their April and remaining schedules. It’s not a surprise the Padres project worse, and a big part, probably, if the Rays’ reduction is the season-long loss of Matt Moore.

Most projections haven’t changed very much, which shouldn’t surprise, since a month should never do much to alter a good projection system. On the one hand, it could be a lesson in maintaining perspective despite whatever might’ve happened over five or six weeks. On the other hand, it could be a lesson in how projections can lag, and how the eye might be able to spot things first. I’m not going to get involved in that, but I am going to stop this post here, to encourage you to think conflicting thoughts.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

15 Responses to “The Brewers, the Pirates, and the Meaning of a Month”

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  1. Steve says:

    Someone needs to do a write-up on the Marlin offense. You guys wrote about the Twins a few weeks ago… maybe I just missed the one for Miami. Dramatic turnaround over there for the fish.

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    • atoms says:

      Doesn’t seem to be that big of a mystery. Stanton is healthy this year and in his prime, Yelich and Ozuna are making big strides after being arguably promoted too early last year, Ed Lucas at 3B was replaced by currently-productive Casey McGehee, the unproductive Logan Morrison/Greg Dobbs 1B combo is now a productive Garrett Jones, and Mathis/Brantley was upgraded to Saltalamacchia behind the plate. All of that adds up to a pretty significant offensive upgrade.

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      • Blinders On says:

        The Marlins have a league high .334 babip. Expect regression from Saltalamacchia, McGehee, and Hechavarria at the least. Ozuna, Jones, and Stanton will also likely see some regression.

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  2. rsavits says:

    As a Mets fan, I demand to know why I was right predicting that everything would fall apart despite playing better than .500 ball…

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  3. Corey says:

    How does the altered projection change with injured players? The Mariners for example lost Hisashi Iwakuma for the first month, he’s now back, does he project the same as the start of the season? The Mariners also lost James Paxton, he pitched well and should be back at some point (not sure anyone knows when) is the projection projecting Paxton a) to pitch moving forward and b) to match, exceed, fail to match his preseason projection? The Mariners pitching has to have been considerably worse than projected for the first month due to injuries, but they’re getting those people back, though we don’t know when generally, so how does the projection account for that?

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  4. ralph says:

    Additional insight into the meaning of the month: Rajai Davis leads Tiger hitters in WAR as of right now.

    But cool chart. Glad to see these things being tracked over time like this.

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  5. Rubén Amaro, Jr. says:

    Brewers are 7th in HR’s, but only 19th in RBI.

    They really need more RBI’s.

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  6. Ender says:

    Just curious, do these future win percentages take into account the schedule? I think what helps the most for the Brewers is that they have played 22 of their first 32 games against teams that made the playoffs last year and still managed to go 21-11. This was the part of the schedule that I was hoping they would just play to .500 for and they would be in good shape, not the part I expected them to be 10 games over during.

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  7. Eric R says:

    “At the other end, it’s interesting to see the Mets at the bottom considering they’re also over .500, but that’s an investigation for another post. It could be something, it could be nothing, or it could have to do with their April and remaining schedules.”

    Could it have to do with [as of when this article was posted]:

    level 1: 16-14 with a -2 run differential — they’ve won a bit more than their RS/RA suggests, and

    level2: expected RS/RA, fangraphs post below suggests the Mets should have scored 88 runs and allowed 117 through 5/1, an expected 11-19 record.

    If their underlying YTD stats have them as a 59 win team, that might explain why their projected RoS has dropped despite their current record.

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  8. BigBird says:

    I think the playoff odds page has an issue. The Cardinals are apparently expected to finish at about 61-101.

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