Note: This morning, I noticed that Baseball Prospectus did a piece with the same basic premise. We aren’t trying to copy their content; both of us just had the same idea. Go read their piece too.
Yesterday, a bunch of teams made trades, and a bunch of conclusions were drawn about what these trades mean. The Angels did nothing and are now screwed! The Cardinals will now run away with the NL Central! Good luck competing with the Orioles now, Blue Jays!
As we’ve written countless times over the years, though, one individual baseball player doesn’t matter very much in the grand scheme of things, and two months of one individual baseball player really doesn’t matter all that much. As you might expect, the postseason odds from today look an awful lot like the postseason odds from yesterday, even after all the trades were processed and the depth charts updated. Good teams got a little more good and bad teams occasionally got a little worse, but there were no seismic shifts in our future expectations.
However, there were some changes, and it’s worth looking at what changed the most. To note; we ware not isolating the effects of solely the trade a team made, but the entire effects of all of the moves on the league yesterday, as well as the games played last night. So, it’s not quite correct to say that the complete difference in odds from yesterday to today was due to Player X’s acquisition, since we’re also incorporating some changes in the standings from yesterday morning as well.
Caveats aside, let’s get to some data.
Biggest Improvements in Division Odds
St. Louis Cardinals: +5.9%
Toronto Blue Jays: +3.4%
Los Angeles Dodgers: +2.6%
Los Angeles Angels: +2.6%
New York Yankees: +1.6%
The biggest improvement of the day goes to the team who acquired John Lackey, though not because Lackey was the best player moved. The Cardinals were just in the sweet spot where additions make the biggest difference, as they’re in a dog fight with Milwaukee and Pittsburgh, and they did more to upgrade than their competitors.
Also, they won yesterday while the Pirates lost, and you can see the difference that even one game swing in the standings can make based on the three teams who followed St. Louis as the biggest gainers from yesterday. The Blue Jays, Dodgers, and Angels are all going to appear on various deadline recaps in the “losers” column, since they didn’t make any upgrades yesterday, but all three teams did something even more impactful; win a baseball game.
The Blue Jays, for instance, saw the Orioles acquire Andrew Miller to bolster their bullpen, while they themselves stood pat. People will talk about yesterday was a good day for the O’s in the division race, but in reality, a one-game change in the standings based on Toronto’s win and Baltimore’s loss is likely far more impactful than acquiring Andrew Miller. The Orioles, even while making a trade, had a bad day yesterday relative to the Blue Jays, who did nothing, because of what happened on the field.
Biggest Losses in Division Odds
Pittsburgh Pirates: -5.9%
Baltimore Orioles: -3.2%
Oakland Athletics: -2.7%
San Francisco Giants: -2.6%
Cleveland Indians: -2.0%
Well, there’s where the Cardinals improvement in division odds came from. Their gain corresponds exactly to Pittsburgh’s loss, but again, this isn’t just about the Lackey trade; this is that the Pirates lost a game on St. Louis in the race too. Certainly, the Cardinals getting better while the Pirates stood still doesn’t help either, and the combination of both made this a particularly bad day for Pittsburgh.
But look at who is in third. Yep, the Oakland A’s, the team who traded for Jon Lester. They didn’t get worse, of course, but the Angels won yesterday, narrowing the A’s lead to just two games. In terms of winning their division, acquiring Lester will absolutely help, but the Angels losing last night might have helped even more. If you’re curious, I did note yesterday after the trade — but before the Angels win — that the A’s divisional odds had improved from 70% to 71%, so even if the Angels had been off, the Lester trade still wouldn’t have moved the needle for the A’s all that much. Swapping out a good outfielder for a good pitcher just doesn’t make you that much better.
Biggest Improvements in Wild Card Odds
Seattle Mariners: +9.4%
San Francisco Giants: +3.4%
Oakland A’s: +2.6%
Cincinnati Reds: +2.6%
Pittsburgh Pirates: +1.8%
Few people are probably going to proclaim the Mariners winners of the trade deadline, but no one improved their chances of reaching the postseason more than Seattle. By both beating the Indians and by replacing a pair of replacement level outfielders with actual useful players, the team improved it’s place in the standings and it’s talent base at the same time. One could argue that it’s not going to be enough — after all, even a 27% chance of winning the second Wild Card isn’t really great odds — but the Mariners made the kinds of moves that a bubble second Wild Card team should make. They gave themselves a chance to win this year without harming their future, or at least, harming it any more than they did when they signed Robinson Cano to block Nick Franklin.
The A’s and Pirates improve their Wild Card odds essentially by lowering their divisional odds, so this is something of a fake improvement for both. It’s more of a shift in odds from the more important playoff position to the weaker playoff position.
Biggest Losses in Wild Card Odds
Cleveland Indians: -5.4%
Atlanta Braves: -5.0%
Tampa Bay Rays: -2.4%
Los Angeles Angels: -2.2%
Toronto Blue Jays: -1.7%
The Indians lost and traded away Asdrubal Cabrera, who might not be great but is definitely better than Mike Aviles. They’re punting their season, essentially, not wanting to give up the chance to land some potentially useful assets for a chance to play the Angels or A’s on the road even if they win the second wild card.
But the most interesting number here belongs to Tampa Bay. The Rays didn’t play yesterday, so this mostly reflects their loss of David Price. It’s easy to think that trading away David Price ended their playoff run, but really, their odds of making the Wild Card game are not so different today than they were yesterday. Granted, they only had 7% odds yesterday, so there was only so far for them to fall, but this minor change is again a good reminder of the marginal gains and losses that can be made at this point in the season. And it’s not like the Rays are replacing Price with some scrub from the minors; they’re replacing him with a league average big league starter, so they really aren’t that much worse today than they were before trading Price.
Biggest Gains in Championship Odds
Detroit Tigers: +2.0%
Los Angeles Dodgers: +0.8%
Seattle Mariners: +0.6%
New York Yankees: +0.3%
St. Louis Cardinals: +0.1%
And here is why the Tigers acquired David Price. They already were extremely likely to make the playoffs, but putting Price on their roster made them — according to our forecasts — the best team in baseball going forward. A two percent swing might not sound like much, but we’re talking about a two percent improvement in achieving the team’s ultimate goal. Yesterday was a good day for the Tigers.
Biggest Losses in Championship Odds
Washington Nationals: -0.9%
Cleveland Indians: -0.6%
Los Angeles Angels: -0.5%
Toronto Blue Jays: -0.5%
Tampa Bay Rays: -0.4%
The Tigers gain had to come from somewhere, and it certainly wasn’t going to come from the Astros or Phillies. With the Tigers and A’s both getting better, the Nationals take a bit of a hit, since their potential opponents are now a little harder to beat, but really, all of these losses are pretty minimal. And once again, drive home the point that July 31st might be an extremely exciting day, but these deals really aren’t impactful enough to make us reevaluate what we already knew. The changes are on the margins, and they can matter a little bit, but overall, the trades made yesterday matter less than the results on the field last night.
And if you’re not going to overreact to one day’s worth of wins and losses, you shouldn’t overreact to July 31st trades either.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.