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:
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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