The Games are Already Mattering

One of my favorite tools we have here is our Playoff Odds page. I used to make frequent use of Cool Standings, and I keep track of hockey playoff odds at Sports Club Stats. I like looking at the playoff odds because they give the clearest sense of where things stand, and in theory, the whole point is getting to October, so why not monitor how likely that is in real time? Of course, we’re not just in it to see the playoffs — if that were the case, most baseball fans would be pissed off all the time, if they’d be fans at all — but getting to the postseason is at the core of most of what we talk about. Why do we care about player analysis? Good players make teams better. Better teams are more likely to go to the playoffs and win the World Series. And so forth.

Eventually, on our Playoff Odds page, you’ll be able to click through and see how the odds have changed over time. That hasn’t rolled out yet, though, nor are people probably even thinking about it in the first week of April. The season is so new we’re all still trying to find our baseball-fan footing, and it feels like the whole thing is in front of us. Most of it is, to be sure, but what’s already happened counts. And it turns out, what’s already happened for a few teams is pretty significant.

This graph is going to say pretty much everything:

playoffodds

If you want to know where teams stand today, go to the Playoff Odds page. This graph shows how much the odds have changed, in percentage points, from just the start of the year. Note that this is through Thursday, and doesn’t consider Friday games already complete. Note also that I’m pretty sure the Dodgers/Diamondbacks games in Sydney are excepted, so, for them, this is showing the Dodgers’ change since being 2-0, and the Diamondbacks’ change since being 0-2. That’s why the Dodgers have lost a tiny bit of ground, and there’s also the Clayton Kershaw injury factor. Also, these come with error bars, because the odds aren’t based on enough simulations to completely eliminate the noise.

But at either end, there are some really interesting data points. The Mariners are already up eight percentage points, despite having lost in extras Thursday night. The Giants are right there with them, having taken three of four from a division rival. It’s never too early for higher-leverage games, and not only does beating a rival give you wins and give them losses — it reduces the number of opportunities for those games to be taken back. Arizona has lost ground to San Francisco, and the two now have four fewer scheduled head-to-head games to play.

Over on the right, we could talk about Colorado or Arizona, but really, this should be about the Angels. In three games — three games! — the Angels’ playoff odds have dropped by ten percentage points. They were swept at home by a rival, and now the Angels have the worst playoff odds of the AL West foursome. They have lower odds than the Indians, and lower odds than the Braves. A few days ago, it was entirely reasonable to think of the Angels as the most likely team to win the division. This quickly, they’ve fallen behind, and whatever you thought of the Angels before, now you have to include in that projection an 0-3 start.

The best way to think of what’s happened to the Angels? On average, if you allow a leadoff home run in the top of the first, you lose about ten percentage points of win expectancy. There’s still a lot of game to go — pretty much all the game to go — and people are stunned more than anything else, but from that point forward, you have to outscore the opponent by two instead of one. That run goes on the scoreboard immediately and it doesn’t come off, and just because it happened quickly doesn’t mean it matters less. The winning process can start out of the gate, and the same is true of the opposite.

After a slow start a year ago, the Angels were a better-than-average baseball team. After a slow start the year before, the Angels were one of the best baseball teams in the majors. In neither year did the Angels make the playoffs, so they understand better than most the importance of not doing what they’ve already started doing. The good news is they get the Astros on Friday, but then the Astros are much improved and our playoff odds account for schedule strength.

Hit a leadoff home run and you know you still have a full game to play. Allow a leadoff home run and you know the same thing. But a leadoff home run does change the dynamic, and sometimes games end 1-0. Just because you might not be ready for baseball yet doesn’t mean baseball hasn’t already started happening, and there’ve already been a few plot-changing twists.



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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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rg29
Member
rg29

Great article. Funny to point out that the bar in the middle in which one cannot see the franchise logo is that of the Astros’. Their projection changed to a whopping 0.3% by beating the yankees 2-1. Way to go!

Anon21
Member
Anon21

I believe that’s the Nationals just to the right who have lost a bit of their chances, presumably from the Fister and Ramos injuries. (Or maybe Fister was already priced in?) Or anyway I assume it wasn’t their 3-0 start that made them slightly less likely to make the playoffs.

Pdowdy83
Guest
Pdowdy83

No. It looks like the Nationals are actually up 2.5% and are in between the blue jays and Red Sox on the chart.

Anon21
Member
Anon21

Right you are… missed them there (the chart doesn’t seem to get any bigger than it appears in the post). Personally, I like them to come out of the East less (and I already thought the Braves had the inside track) after losing Ramos and Fister for at least a month apiece.

Aaron
Guest
Aaron

pretty sure that’s the twins between the astros and orioles

cass
Guest
cass

Are you sure about that Anon21?

It’d be really odd for you to think the Nats chances are not as good as FG calculates and the Braves chances are better.

Anon21
Guest
Anon21

You tell me, cass. Do you think the Nationals’ chances are better today than they were the day before Fister was DLed? I have a hard time even seeing an argument that that’s the case. It’s probably not a substantial swing—two players only matter so much, neither Ramos nor Fister is Mike Trout, and they each will miss only one month—but surely the Nats’ chances have gotten somewhat worse.

cass
Guest
cass

The Fister injury happened before the season, so it was already factored into the baseline. Since then, the Nats won three games against the Mets and Ramos got injured.

Not sure if today’s game was factored in.

John C.
Guest
John C.

What Anon21 meant is that, in his mind, the Nats chances of making the playoffs have fallen from 15% to about 8%. Since he doesn’t give them much chance of making it anyway.

fastatlast
Guest
fastatlast

Well Anon21 is the resident Braves homer who subtly complains here and there that the Braves aren’t getting their due and that the Nationals are overrated. And I say that as an enormous Braves fan.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B

“Well Anon21 is the resident Braves homer who subtly complains here and there that the Braves aren’t getting their due…”

Subtly – I don’t think that word means what you think it means. :)

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