The Yankees and Orioles: Who’s the Underdog?

The author, because he’s an idiot, mistakenly wrote this preview for the Yankees-Orioles series despite having definitely been assigned the Nationals-Cardinals NLDS, instead, by his fearless editor Dave Cameron. Interested readers can expect full coverage of the Nationals and Cardinals beginning tomorrow (Monday).

If you’ve made your way to FanGraphs — and if, furthermore, our demographic data is even half accurate — you’re the sort of person who either (a) has done well in school or (b) is currently doing well in school. Which, that means you’re probably also the sort of person who (a) has taken a number of quizzes before and also (b) has done well on those same quizzes — and maybe even (c) actively enjoys taking quizzes.

All of which suggests that the reader will be giddy with excitement to take this important baseball quiz:


“Hilarious” is the word, I believe, for which the reader is searching.

Apart from eliciting the heartiest possible guffaws, however, this quiz has a rhetorical purpose: were we able to remove responses from fans of both the Yankees and Orioles, it’s likely that ca. 80% of readers will have picked the latter here — or, roughly the same portion of participants from a 1991 study who, given the choice between two teams and all other things being equal, picked the underdog.

Of course, it’s at this point that an entirely reasonable person might ask, “How do we know the Baltimore Orioles really are the underdog in their ALDS series against the New York Yankees — and, if one were interested in that question, how might he answer it?”

By at least four ways, is how — as follow.

Answer One
The first answer is that the Orioles are an underdog in this series insofar as they (a) haven’t qualified for the playoffs since 1997 (while their opponents have only missed qualifying for the playoffs once since then), (b) have spent considerably less on their roster than their opponent (by about $110 million, or the cost of the entire Cardinals roster), and (c) were considered by many — including the very expert authors of this site — to be one of the weakest organizations in the majors entering the season.

For all of these reasons, the Orioles are underdogs when a wider context is considered.

Answer Two
With regard to another sense of the question — that is, whether the Orioles are less likely to win this series against the Yankees, specifically — the answer to that question is, “Let’s consider that in more depth.”

One way the Orioles might be considered an underdog is if sportsbooks are offering higher payouts for them than for the Yankees.

And, look: as of Sunday afternoon, a $1.00 bet on the Yankees to win the ALDS returns about $0.42, according to Pinnacle Sports (a sportsbook that appeals to sharp, or smart, bettors, as opposed to square ones). A $1.00 bet on the Orioles? About $2.14.

These odds suggest about a 69% chance of victory for the Yankees, about 31% for the Orioles.

By this criterion, the Orioles are underdogs.

Answer Three
Here’s another way of assessing the Orioles’ chances of winning the ALDS: by using seasonal runs scored and allowed to calculate their odds of winning the series.

The Orioles scored 4.40 runs per game this year and allowed about 4.35. The Yankees scored 4.96 per game this year and allowed 4.12. The average American League team scored 4.40 runs and (because of interleague play) allowed fewer, 4.35 runs per game.

Using simple indices relative to league average, we’d assume that the Yankees offense would typically score about 4.93 runs against the Orioles pitching and defense, while the Orioles would score 4.14 runs against the Yankees. A team that scores 4.14 runs per game and allows 4.93 would win about 42% of the time.

Game by game, and including an adjustment for home-field advantage, here’s how the series would play out using the figures above:

Game Home BAL NYA
1 BAL 46.3% 53.7%
2 BAL 46.3% 53.7%
3 NYA 38.3% 61.7%
4 NYA 38.3% 61.7%
5 NYA 38.3% 61.7%
Total 34.3% 65.7%

By this measure, the Orioles have only about a 34% chance of winning the series — better than even a sharp sportsbook like Pinnacle is implying, but not by much. They are still decidedly underdogs.

Answer Four
Here’s a thing, though: seasonal totals for runs scored and allowed are likely not representative of a team’s present true talent or roster construction. In fact, the Orioles were one of baseball’s best teams in September and October — not merely by record, but also by run-scoring and -prevention.

So, here’s a different way of assessing the Orioles’ chances of winning the ALDS: by using only September and October runs scored and allowed and then projecting odds of winning and losing the series using just those numbers.

Over the last month-plus of the regular season, Baltimore scored 5.10 runs per game and allowed just 3.61; New York, 5.61 and 4.16 runs, respectively.

Using those numbers, we’d expect the Yankees to score around 4.62 against the Orioles, with the Orioles actually scoring more now, at 4.84 runs. All things being equal, the Orioles would have about a 52% chance of winning a game against the Yankees held at a neutral site.

Game by game, and including an adjustment for home-field advantage, here’s how the series would play out using only September and October runs scored and allowed:

Game Home BAL NYA
1 BAL 57.3% 42.7%
2 BAL 57.3% 42.7%
3 NYA 47.4% 52.6%
4 NYA 47.4% 52.6%
5 NYA 47.4% 52.6%
Total 52.6% 47.4%

By this measure, the Orioles actually aren’t underdogs, but slight favorites.

By at least one criterion — i.e. a game-by-game projection of the ALDS using runs scored and allowed from September and October only — the Yankees might be considered slight underdogs for the series. By at least three other criteria, however — including within a larger context that considers the Orioles’ mediocrity over the last decade-plus and the relatively surprising nature of their 2012 season — it’s the Orioles who are decided underdogs, and it’s based upon this criterion that most neutral fans will likely make their pick for whom to root in the ALDS between Baltimore and New York.

Series Schedule
For reference, here’s the series schedule as it stands on Sunday afternoon:

Away Tm Time Tm Home Game
CC Sabathia NYA Oct 7, 18:07 ET BAL Jason Hammel 1
Andy Pettitte NYA Oct 8, 20:07 ET BAL Wei-Yin Chen 2
Miguel Gonzalez BAL Oct 10, TBD NYA Hiroki Kuroda 3
Joe Saunders BAL Oct 11, TBD NYA Phil Hughes 4
Jason Hammel BAL Oct 12, TBD NYA CC Sabathia 5

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Carson Cistulli occasionally publishes spirited ejaculations at The New Enthusiast.

44 Responses to “The Yankees and Orioles: Who’s the Underdog?”

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  1. filihok says:

    Your penance?

    Host a chat during the Nationals/Cardinals game

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  2. junker23 says:

    I eagerly await the new SAT stats section.

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  3. Jim says:

    See, I see the Orioles as slight favorites only because I’m a Yankee fan and I’ve seen this team get burned way too many times by inferior teams in the playoffs, and seen the offense completely disappear against anonymous pitchers (I’m talking about you, Jeremy Bonderman) way too many times to have any warm and fuzzies about any playoff series.

    I’m hoping for the Yankees to win not just because I’m a Yankee fan, but more importantly because Ichiro is one of the greatest players of my lifetime (in my 30+ years of being a baseball fan, the only non-Yankee position player I ever more enjoyed watching was Frank Thomas), and after toiling his entire career away in obscurity in the middle of nowhere, it would be great for him to finally get a championship.

    -13 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • The City of Seattle says:

      On the coast, we prefer the edge of nowhere.

      +26 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • JG says:

      Bonderman was a 6 win player that year. You may think of him as some random scrub, but he was turning into a legitimate ace until injuries ruined his career.

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    • Steve says:

      Everything about this comment is why people hate the Yankees and Yankee fans.

      +16 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • YanksFanInBeantown says:

        Yeah, dude. I’m sure Ichiro loved being on a terrible team for 11 years. It’s only stupid, entitled Yankees fans who think that the reason he requested a trade and accepted a highly diminished role was to have a shot at winning something for a change.

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      • joser says:

        His first year in the majors he was on one of the best regular-season teams in history. The team the year after that was pretty good as well. A big chunk of his career was also spent with good teams in Japan, which is also not “the middle of nowhere” (especially to him).

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    • Colin says:

      I am seriously wondering if this post was meant as a mockery of Yankees fans or if it really was just a Yankees fan.

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      • JimNYC says:

        If you can think of a better definition of “toiling in obscurity” than missing the playoffs for 11 straight years (longer than any AL teams other than Toronto and K.C.), I’m all ears. Name me another HoF’er in the wild card era who went a decade between playoff appearances.

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      • ben says:

        Ken Griffey Jr.

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      • Colin says:

        Jim, this illustration comes to mind after reading your post.

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      • Jim says:

        @Ben: Huh, you’re right on Ken Griffey Jr. I guess I was so focused on all the injury disappointment he had in Cincinnati that I never realized they didn’t make the playoffs at all while he was there.

        @Colin: That’s not a Yankee fan trait; that’s a New Yorker trait. New Yorkers believe that their city is the only thing in the U.S. that matters, and the rest of the country just exists as a place to grow food and make things to ship to New York, a kind of 50 state support-structure for New York City. I’ve been to 39 states, and I’ve yet to see anything to disabuse me of that notion.

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    • Dan says:

      Uugh. This is why people hate Yankees fans. Wow.

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    • Jason H. says:

      People are so sensitive. I can’t find anything obnoxious or offensive in Jim’s post. He just sounds like a baseball fan to me. If Jim embodies everything people hate about the Yankees and Yankees fans, it is not the Yankees fans with the problem….

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      • Dan says:

        Are you kidding, Jason? Go back and read the entire first paragraph. Ignore the second for these purposes, because the second paragraph is fine.

        “See, I see the Orioles as slight favorites only because I’m a Yankee fan and I’ve seen this team get burned way too many times by inferior teams in the playoffs…”

        Poor, suffering Yankees fan! This team has been burned by inferior teams in the playoffs? Sure it has. It’s been burned a normal number of times, but I guess this isn’t good enough for a Yankees fan because “too many times” means “ever”.

        “…and seen the offense completely disappear against anonymous pitchers (I’m talking about you, Jeremy Bonderman) way too many times to have any warm and fuzzies about any playoff series.”

        Bonderman’s career didn’t work out, of course, and that happens. In 2006, however, he was an emerging talent that had been a very highly regarded prospect. He put up a very nice season, and he used his devastating slider to punch out over 200 batters against only 60-some walks. It was a good season, and I was at that game, sitting about 25 rows up, behind the plate. The Yankees didn’t choke in this game, as is implied here. They got beat by a pitcher with good stuff. To all unintentionally obnoxious Yankees fans out there: THAT HAPPENS.

        About those warm and fuzzies. Really, you don’t have any? That’s similar to Tom Brady not having any warm and fuzzies about waking up next to Gisele Bundchen every morning, except he earned it on some level, as opposed to merely being born into it. Seriously, take some time to enjoy the warm and fuzzies. How many pennants make a warm, anyway, and how many titles make a fuzzy? The Yankees have appeared in more than 1/3 of the 110 or so World Series in baseball’s modern history, and they’ve won the majority of them. I am not saying that Yankees fans aren’t real fans. They are, but they need to learn how to complain about bad breaks in a reasonable way. You think this is a double standard? It is. It’s a completely acceptable, logical double standard, so don’t pretend you’re part of the rest of the long-suffering baseball world.

        I am a Tigers fan, in case you hadn’t guessed, and I happen to live in Oakland. I was at a crowded bar yesterday, with my Tigers hat on (but not a shirt or a jersey, as I think that’s probably going a bit too far, though reasonable people can disagree), I watched Coco Crisp and the Oakland A’s blow it, and I left with my warm and fuzzies quietly, because you kind of don’t want to rub it in the face of fans whose perennial underdog team has a roster that barely costs a third of what my badly assembled team is paid. If the Tigers lost, which they probably should have, I sure as heck wouldn’t have gone around the bar complaining about losing to inferior pitchers like Tommy Millone. I am not trying to toot my own horn here. I’m only trying to say that I am not the unselfconscious whiner that almost every Yankees fan I meet is.

        Be quiet and enjoy it. It works out for you more often than it does for other “inferior” teams.

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  4. Slats says:

    Camden Yards > Yankee Stadium.

    +8 Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. Boss61 says:

    Thing is, the games are played on the field, not in a statistician’s toolbox. If this were not the case, the Orioles would have been 81-81 or possibly 82-80 this year.

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  6. Jon L. says:

    A couple of thoughts on this pretty neat topic:

    I’d say answer two (about betting odds favoring the Yankees) is predicated more on how people are betting than on how good the teams are, and that those bets are predicated more on answer one (about historical precedent) than you’re letting on.

    I’d also say people are rooting for the Orioles not only because they’re perceived as an underdog, but because they’ve won so much less in the last 15 years (independently of how that affects expectations in this series), and because many fewer of people’s favorite teams have been eliminated by the Orioles, both in the last 15 years and ever.

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    • Ralph says:

      I don’t doubt more people are rooting for the Orioles, but it has more to do with EVERYONE hating the Yankees. Even people in, say, Pittsburgh, towns with nothing to do with the Yankees hate them. They don’t like their ridiculous payroll and tendency to buy free agents, their association with known steroid users, and probably most of all their annoying bandwagon fans. You know the kind: trash talking kids and 20-somethings, most of whom have never even seen New York City, who own that stupid ’27 Championships’ hat (and need to let you know about all 27 of them, even though they can’t name anyone who was on any of those teams prior to 1996). In fact I can think of only three groups of people rooting for the Yankees: bettors, those Yankee band-wagoners, and native New Yorkers.

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      • Ruki Motomiya says:

        I’m pretty sure even the bandwagon fans know who Babe Ruth is.

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      • joser says:

        Actually, from what I can tell you’ve exactly described virtually all the members of “Red Sox nation” I’ve met since 2004. But now that the wheels have come off that bandwagon (and then it caught fire and exploded, smelling vaguely like fried chicken) they’re probably starting to cast about for a new banner to hoist. Had the Rangers made it (or won it all in previous years) they might have been a candidate, but no more. Yes, the Yankees are the easy choice, but woe to any team that creates any kind of legacy of winning, because this is your curse. The Nationals may have been smart to forgo starting Strasburg.

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  7. Kevin says:

    I see Chris Tillman getting the ball in Game 4, not Joe Saunders. Buck hasn’t announced it yet, but I’m pretty sure he’s going with Tillman.

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  8. JimThome says:

    I need a championship just as bad as Ichiro.

    +18 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • YanksFanInBeantown says:

      I think it’s more that Jim Thome’s at least been on relevant teams in the past 10 years, (even if he was never on the #6org). This is only the second time in Ichiro’s CAREER that he’s made the playoffs.

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      • Preston says:

        Or maybe we should just realize that baseball is a sport where a single player can’t influence the outcome, and that if Ted Williams and Barry Bonds never won a series it shouldn’t diminish the career of a player as great as Ichiro or Thome.

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      • JimNYC says:

        Preston — a player certainly can influence the outcome. The reserve clause is long gone. Great players can always decide to leave for a team with a better chance. Thome’s a different story, because he’s almost always been on good teams that just couldn’t quite put together perfect Octobers.

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  9. JG says:

    That quiz is a reliable measure of psychopathy. I would know, I’m a psychologist ™

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  10. David G says:

    Reading the intro my first thought was “Fangraphs has an editor?”

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  11. shthar says:

    I always bet who has the fewest ex-cubs on the roster.

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  12. ucanthandlethetruth says:

    Good year for the Os unfortunately it will come to an end now that they are forced to play the pay-2-win team. 200$M payroll what a joke.

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  13. Dave in GB says:

    Hasn’t anybody here learned that the 2012 Orioles can’t be quantified? It’s illogical. Either Showalter has figured out something that fangraphs hasn’t and isn’t telling anybody, or the stars have perfectly aligned. Watch them be outscored by the Yankees and still win the series….

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  14. Jason H. says:

    In answer to the question, it is Baltimore that are the underdogs. The last two months are not a great representation of the talent of the Yankees, as many key Yankees were hurt during that time. Pettitite, Teixiera, Nova, Sabathia, etc. The Yankees are largely healthy and are currently the superior team.

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