The 2015 baseball season is officially over, despite the Mets' best efforts to the contrary. Maybe you're the kind of person who hurls themselves into the upcoming offseason as soon as the last out of the World Series is recorded, but I think this period provides a great opportunity for some reflection and reminiscence. There'll be plenty of time for qualifying offers and arbitration later.
In that spirit, I wanted to review 2015 through the lens of playoff odds. If you're unfamiliar with the concept, several sites have a function that uses current standings, and often projected future performance, to calculate each team's odds of making the playoffs. Functionally, they're a lot like a macro version of Win Expectancy in that they provide a narrative sense of a team's season, complete with highs, lows, and exciting reversals. I tend to use FanGraphs' version, since they have a neat feature which graphs the odds as they've changed over the entire season.
Using that feature, I found each team's peak odds of making the divisional series and recorded the date they reached that peak. Those two pieces of information are enough to communicate a lot about the way the season went. I'm not going to go through each team in detail, because I am not a crazy person, but instead group teams that had similar trajectories and touch on them as a group.
The Early Exits
Some of these teams thought they had a legitimate shot at competing in 2015, but the wheels never really got off the ground for any of them. The White Sox were a semi-popular sleeper pick in the preseason and had lots of legitimate talent, but the projections and their own performance meant they never cracked the 20% threshold in a division that saw the Minnesota Twins mount a challenge. Miami similarly had enough talent that a Cinderella run wasn't out of the question -- on the same date they peaked, the Astros had playoff odds less than half as large -- but they never strung together the wins to push those odds up.
The other teams also saw what was essentially a season-long slide down to 0%. Everyone has a chance of making the LDS on day one -- well, almost everyone; sorry Phillies. -- but these teams needed a season-long miracle. By the end of April, it was pretty clear for all of them that 2015 wasn't their year. Welcome to the winter, friends, and may you find it somewhat more pleasant than this past summer.
The Long Declines
The starting points of these teams varied, but they all shared high hopes or even expectations that slowly and steadily evaporated over the last six months. They run the gamut from division favorites to trendy picks, but each one saw a disappointing season get off to a quick start and never recover. The mere points and dates are not enough: you really need a picture to fully understand the pain here.
I think fans of these teams are the ones I empathize with most -- they entered the season with well-founded optimism, backed up by data, and instead spent the vast majority of the summer learning more about other teams' farm systems in hopes of decent trade returns for their aging veterans or wondering when the current GM would be fired and if the new GM would be any different. When people say baseball is boring, and the season is too long, I think of this and I understand.
The Midseason Peakers
On its face, this group is a lot less sorrowful than the prior two. If I told someone their team would win 85 games, and they got to distribute them as they wanted, there would certainly be different preferences, but my feeling is distributions like the ones seen by these teams, with decent performance early and growing optimism through midsummer, would be a popular choice. Arizona and its low odds stick out like a sore thumb, but on the morning of July 10, the Diamondbacks were 42-42, 5.5 games back from the Dodgers for the lead in the NL West. Obviously the projections thought they were not nearly as good as LA, but even if you accept that as a fan, I think it's much more fun to be closest in July than closest in April.
The Angels are a different type, but also not entirely depressing. Late July was their high point, and they definitely saw their share of struggles over the summer past this date, but they were playing meaningful baseball until the very end of the season, with LDS odds almost to 40% on September 29th, and 4.9% on October 3, the last day of the season. Disappointing? Definitely, but without a doubt engaging for all six months.
But then there's the Nationals, and the depression comes roaring back. 96.6%! In May! The Nationals looked so good, and the rest of the NL East looked so bad, that this seemed like a sure thing. Maybe they belong in a group of their own, since their odds look less like a curve with a peak in the middle, and more like a cliff. They are at least cousins to the prior group, except they started even higher, came even closer, held on even longer, and fell even farther.
The Wild Card Losers
It is eminently unfair to call these teams losers, but lose they did, so here we are. Picking these points feels a little odd, since the divisional series was definitely more proximate during the actual Wild Card games, but these are the points the computers tell us they were most likely to make the LDS. It is impossible not to think Pittsburgh and its 98 regular season wins deserved more than a single postseason game, but their division odds were never higher than St. Louis'. They were closest on July 15th, just 11.6% back. I feel that, as a fan of baseball, I implicitly endorse this cruel structure, and for that I'm sorry, Pittsburgh.
The Yankees looked like a near-lock in late July, 7 games up on the Orioles and 8 games up on the team that seemed like their biggest threat, the Blue Jays. Their fall from that lofty position wasn't quite Nationals-esque, though; the Yankees weren't expected to be as good, for one, and the Blue Jays made two major acquisitions at the deadline in David Price and Troy Tulowitzki that made their resurgence seem highly plausible. Still, this has got to sting. Thinking about writing this section is what made me want to use LDS odds instead of WC or LDS odds; winning or losing this game leads to such a massive gap in happiness.
The Playoff Losers
|Team||Max WS Odds||Date|
For these teams that actually made it to the LDS, I've switched to their odds of winning the World Series, but this just happened, so I'm going to toss out only a few tidbits. The Dodgers were the only team not to see their odds increase at all past the opening of the LDS, in part because the projections thought they were really, really good. Houston's odds peaked after taking a 2-1 LDS lead over the Royals, but you know how that turned out. The Cubs went into the NLCS with a 31% shot at the World Series, compared to 21% for the Mets, before promptly being swept. The playoffs are dumb, but in a good way.
The Playoff Winner
|Team||Max WS Odds||Date|
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Henry Druschel is a Contributor at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @henrydruschel.