The Dramatic Changes in Baseball’s Post-Deadline Landscape

You know where this is going already, but, right before July’s non-waiver trade deadline, the A’s made a splash in adding Jon Lester, and the Tigers made a splash in adding David Price. The intentions were obvious: Oakland and Detroit were loading up for an extended playoff run. The two teams had the appearance of being the two best teams in the league, and so they shuffled some parts around to focus more on the short-term. It wasn’t a question of whether the teams would make the playoffs; it was a question of how far they would go.

And, yeah. So, not too long ago, we finally rolled out historical playoff odds. That is, all season long we’ve had playoff odds as of the moment, but now you can go back to any date you like to see where things stood then. I think it’s worth a look now at how things have changed since the last day of July. The month of August isn’t over, but it’s almost there, and already we’ve seen some significant shifts. How has the baseball landscape changed since the passing of the non-deadline deadline?

Here’s a table showing four numbers for every team. In the case of some teams, all the numbers are the same, in that they’re 0%. Shown are not the current playoff odds; shown are the changes in odds in four different categories since the end of action on July 31. These are all changes in terms of percentage points, not actual percent. The table should be sortable unless I get something super wrong, which happens more frequently than you notice!

Team Division Odds WC Odds Playoff Odds DS Odds
Angels 17% -17% 0% 6%
Astros 0% 0% 0% 0%
Athletics -18% 18% -1% -10%
Blue Jays -35% -20% -56% -44%
Braves -19% -1% -20% -20%
Brewers 14% 12% 26% 19%
Cardinals 9% 12% 21% 16%
Cubs 0% 0% 0% 0%
Diamondbacks 0% 0% 0% 0%
Dodgers 2% -1% 1% 2%
Giants -2% -2% -5% -2%
Indians -1% -5% -6% -3%
Mariners 2% 27% 29% 16%
Marlins -1% 0% -1% -1%
Mets -1% -2% -2% -1%
Nationals 21% -12% 9% 14%
Orioles 36% -17% 19% 28%
Padres 0% 0% 0% 0%
Phillies 0% 0% 0% 0%
Pirates -19% 1% -18% -19%
Rangers 0% 0% 0% 0%
Rays -2% -4% -6% -4%
Red Sox 0% 0% 0% 0%
Reds -3% -7% -11% -7%
Rockies 0% 0% 0% 0%
Royals 49% 7% 55% 52%
Tigers -48% 18% -30% -39%
Twins 0% 0% 0% 0%
White Sox 0% -1% -1% -1%
Yankees 2% -6% -4% -1%

First you see the gain or loss in odds of winning the division. Then there’s the same for the wild card, and for the playoffs, and for making it past the one-game playoff. Some people prefer to focus on overall playoff odds, while others like to look at the odds of actually playing a real October series. I think it’s unquestionable that participating in the wild-card playoff is something bigger than a regular-season game; I think it’s also unquestionable that participating in the wild-card playoff is no one’s primary goal coming into the year.

There has been no bigger upward mover than the Royals. That much you could’ve guessed, as the team’s gone 17-5 in the month. The Royals’ playoff odds are up 55 percentage points, and their odds of making it to the ALDS are up 52 percentage points, because most of the gain has come in likelihood of winning the division. It took a while, but our odds finally like the Royals more than the Tigers through the remainder, and remember that it was the Tigers who made the huge splash. I don’t mean to make too much of what’s basically anecdotal evidence, but while the Royals have spent a couple weeks with Josh Willingham, their big move before was exchanging Danny Valencia for Erik Kratz. The Royals kept their team more or less intact, and they’ve surged past the Tigers.

The Royals, of course, have mathematically benefited mostly at the Tigers’ expense. Their playoff odds are down 30 percentage points, and their ALDS odds are down 39 percentage points. While the Tigers haven’t been dreadful, going an even 12-12, they’ve lost considerable ground in the division and in the wild-card hunt, and right now they’re playing without Anibal Sanchez. One point to remember is that, by swapping Drew Smyly and Austin Jackson for Price, the Tigers made more of a marginal upgrade than a massive improvement, but the lesson here is mostly about sample sizes and randomness. And Joakim Soria, who the Tigers added with a week to spare? He went on the DL after allowing six runs in six appearances. He’d allowed 12 runs in 35 appearances with Texas.

The worst loser in August has been the Blue Jays. Compared to the Tigers, they’ve lost almost twice the playoff odds, although their ALDS odds have gotten only a little worse, relatively speaking, because a lot of the Blue Jays’ hope was wrapped up in the wild card. Toronto’s gone 6-14 since deadline day and because of their collapse, fans have wondered whether the front office made a grave error in standing pat. The reality is that there’s no way to know; Oakland and Detroit have been inconsistent, too, and there was little chance of the Jays being able to nab a rotation ace from a division rival. As things stood, the Jays were right in the thick of the race for the division; as things stand, they’re on the periphery of relevance. They’re now only two games closer to the wild-card lead than the Rays.

There’s an interesting contrast between the Orioles and the Mariners. In August, Baltimore’s gone 13-8, while Seattle’s gone 15-6. Baltimore’s playoff odds are up 19 percentage points, and Seattle’s are up 29. However, Baltimore’s ALDS odds are up 28 percentage points, and Seattle’s are up 16. The Orioles have shifted wild-card odds to division odds. The Mariners, meanwhile, remain an extreme long shot to win the AL West, so you almost have to cut their gains in half if you’re thinking in terms of their playing a series. The Mariners have done well to catch fire in a difficult divisional environment. The Orioles have done better to catch fire in a more forgiving divisional environment.

If you look in the National League, the winners have been the Brewers, Cardinals, and Nationals. Neither the Brewers nor the Cardinals have separated themselves from one another, but they have both pulled away from the Pirates and the Reds, leading to similar mathematical gains. The Nationals, meanwhile, have hardly ever lost, so they stand now with almost 100% odds of making the playoffs, and almost 100% odds of making the NLDS. Granted, less than a month ago, the Tigers seemed like almost a sure thing. That’s the big hope for the Braves. But the odds are, by definition or tautology, the likelihood. The East, for all intents and purposes, has been decided.

So the Braves have lost almost all their divisional hopes. The Pirates have been similarly shattered, going 10-12 despite out-scoring their opponents. The Pirates still project as a quality team, but this speaks to the daunting significance of a five-game divisional gap in the last week of August. The Pirates weren’t planning on losing Andrew McCutchen, but that’s not the only reason the odds have declined.

You have to look a little closer to get a sense of what’s happened in the AL West. The Angels’ playoff odds are basically unchanged. The Athletics’ playoff odds are basically unchanged. But Anaheim’s ALDS odds are up six percentage points, and Oakland’s are down ten. Though the A’s added Lester while the Angels lost Garrett Richards, the Angels also gained three games on the A’s in the month, so now the Angels are the slight divisional favorites. Say what you want about the significance of major midseason trades, but so far this stretch run hasn’t been defined by the moves made at the end of July. The Angels did their own tweaking, but they did nothing on the level of Billy Beane.

Detroit’s moves and Oakland’s moves were made with an eye toward strengthening for the playoffs. Detroit’s still a good bet to get there, while Oakland’s a virtual lock. But in three or four weeks, a lot has changed, much of it unpredictable, and suddenly the Royals look strong having done almost nothing at all, and the A’s face stiff challenges from two different divisional rivals. Decisions were made in July based on the circumstances in July. The circumstances in August are very much different. No books have been closed yet, but baseball has this habit of zigging and zagging. It would be frustrating if it weren’t so damned beautiful.

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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.

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The Jays’ bigger mistake was standing pat in the offseason. The last time the Jays were this disinterested in acquiring talent from outside the organization, JP Ricciardi was waiting to be fired by Paul Beeston’s replacement, who ended up being Paul Beeston.

Pedantic Vocab Pet Peeve
Pedantic Vocab Pet Peeve

If I were a Blue Jays fan I think I’d be more worried that the Blue Jays were disinterested in acquiring talent, than if they were uninterested.