How the Playoff Odds Have Changed in a Year

As of just a short while ago: 2015 playoff odds! The odds we ran through last season are back, with division chances, wild-card chances, World Series chances, and so on and so forth. With meaningful player movement basically complete, with few important roster competitions, and with both Steamer and ZiPS folded in, these are your preseason odds, missing only injuries that happen over the next four weeks. Granted, an injury to, say, Mike Trout could change things quite a bit, but these odds shouldn’t change very much before the real baseball starts. This is a big day for those of us who are obsessed with checking the page 20 times a week. Even though there won’t be a reason to do that for a while, it’s just nice to see the page populated with numbers.

The same page was populated with numbers last March. Numbers based on Steamer, ZiPS, and author-maintained team-by-team depth charts. Which is to say, numbers calculated by the same processes. It seems those numbers are no longer available on the internet, but I’ve had them saved in a folder, so I thought now would be a fun time to look at how the numbers have changed for each team since just before last season. In a way it’s a snapshot of the last 12 months. In another way it’s not that at all, but let’s not dwell on semantics. Relative to last year, who’s going into this season with bigger expectations? On the flip side, who’s most trying to focus on the bigger picture?

There’ll be two images. First, overall changes in playoff odds:


By the way, you shouldn’t expect to be surprised. We’ve been talking about a lot of this stuff for months. This is just a different way of visualizing the same conversation topics. The three leaders, here, in terms of raised expectations: the Cubs, the Mariners, and the Marlins. The three at the back: the Rangers, the Braves, and the Rays. I feel like I don’t need to go into detail, but I might as well summarize, in case some of you have been gone for a whole turn of the calendar.

The Cubs have Jon Lester, now, and a way awesomely improved Jake Arrieta, and their young players are a year older and in many cases a year better. The Mariners have made their own additions, eliminating many weaknesses, and they just saw a huge campaign from Kyle Seager. They also benefit from the worsening of the Rangers and the A’s. The Marlins, one year ago, looked like one of the worse teams in baseball. Yet several young players took a step forward, and the team’s had a somewhat active offseason. The Marlins appear ready to contend, even without Jose Fernandez for the season’s first months.

We know last year was a catastrophe for Texas. The preseason numbers were slightly inflated due to the projections having trouble with some relievers moving to the rotation, but the general message here is tough to argue: a year ago, the Rangers looked like a potential World Series team. Now there’s a real chance they finish behind the Astros, and Jurickson Profar’s already out all year. The Braves, meanwhile, are worse on purpose, as they’ve shifted focus to three or four years from now. As for the Rays, they’ve dropped five projected wins. Easy enough to explain — David Price is gone. Ben Zobrist is gone. Evan Longoria, last season, was not very good. The Rays still show up as a contender, unlike the Rangers and Braves, but more on the level of the Mets than the Tigers.

Of course, there’s some interesting business elsewhere. For everything they did, the White Sox haven’t budged much. For everything they did, the Padres haven’t budged much. Combined, they are up about 15 percentage points, but these odds are only as good as the projection inputs, and if you disagree with the projections, then you’ll disagree with the results observed here. The White Sox have, if nothing else, doubled last year’s odds. The Padres are up from a 1-in-4 team to a 1-in-3 team.

All of a sudden, we see the Astros as a legitimate major-league baseball team. And the Mets are up, and the Indians are looking to benefit from the Tigers getting weaker. This definitely feels like the most vulnerable Tigers team in years. That’s reflected above, as the Tigers actually have lower odds than the Indians do.

Here now: strictly division odds, ignoring the wild card.


Obviously, the orders have a lot in common. Still, there are some specifics worth observing. While the Cubs have made the biggest leap in playoff odds, the Mariners have made by far the biggest leap in division odds. The Indians’ whole gain has been in division odds; they have about the same shot at the wild card as they did 12 months ago. Similar to the Indians, we have the Nationals and Dodgers, who have improved their chances of winning their divisions, while seeing small drops in wild-card odds. They’re happy to make that exchange.

The Cardinals are different — their division odds are down, and their wild-card odds are up, creating a false illusion of balance. Pretty much the Mets’ whole gain is in wild-card odds. The same goes for the Marlins, as these teams are improved, but still not close to the level of the rival Nationals. Before 2014, the Nationals had the highest division-winning odds in baseball, at 74%. Now they lead the way at 87%. There’s no such thing as a division won before the start of the regular season, but the Nationals have gotten about as close as is possible, and it would take a lot going wrong for the team to be toppled. I suppose just based on this we could say the Nationals would be toppled once out of every seven or eight opportunities. Which isn’t that unlikely, now that I think about it.

One thing I wish we had: playoff 0dds for 2015, based on the end of 2014. That would tell us who accomplished the most over the course of the winter, with all the activity and all the roster management. Said numbers don’t exist, however, so this is where we are. Make of this however much you want to. All these are, ultimately, are numbers. Your spirit is likely to remain unchanged.

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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7 years ago

How are the Rays projected for more wins but less WAR than the Orioles? 81 to 19 wins but 33.7 to 34.4 WAR.

I think the Orioles play the Nats a few more times and the Rays play the Marlins, but other than that, their strength of schedule should be the same (other than playing each other)?

7 years ago
Reply to  Ben

*79 wins for the Orioles, not 19.

David Appelmanmember
7 years ago
Reply to  Ben

None of our projected standings use WAR, they use BaseRuns. So, they’re not going to match up exactly.

7 years ago
Reply to  Ben

I found one fangraphs projection mode that loves the Orioles and sees them as AL East favorites!

7 years ago
Reply to  Los

The Astros have to be the first team to be a division favorite yet have the longest odds to win the world series in all of baseball.