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Playoff odds after one month: The risers and fallers

We are almost done the first month of the season. Time for a look at some of the early changes in playoff odds. Who has risen the most? Who has fallen the farthest?

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

We are nearing a complete month of baseball in the 2015 season. Each team has played around 20 games, which means we are still in the midst of small sample size caveats and avoiding grand proclamations about player and team performance. There is a lot of performance that remains to shake out this season. But even though it is still early in the season we should not just ignore what has happened, waiting for the magical day when samples are deemed large enough for strong assertions to be made. Everything that has happened to date is a gradual accumulation of evidence that should be integrated into assessment. Things won't end the way they are now, but we can use what has happened to update our projections of where things will be. For a projection of team performance we have the playoff odds reports that use each team's year-to-date record, year-to-date run differential, current roster, and playing time projections to simulate the season thousands of times. The result is an estimate of the chances that each team will make the playoffs. I suspect that many of you are already familiar with this concept.

After only a month of the season there are already a number of teams that have seen their playoff odds shift by a considerable margin. Some for the good, and some in a bad direction. I compared each team's FanGraphs playoff odds (POFF - winning the division or winning a wild card spot) on April 29th (yesterday) with those given on Opening Day (April 5th). Here I check in on the biggest risers and biggest fallers of the season to date.


POFF on April5th POFF on April 29th Change
Yankees 34.6 54.3 19.7

So far this season, the Yankees have been the other team in New York as the Mets and their hot start have garnered much of the attention. But the team in the Bronx has also performed well, getting out to a 13-8 start, good for tops in the American League East. Of note is that, according to the standings at Baseball Reference, they have done this while playing the fourth most difficult schedule in the AL to date. The impact of losing Tanaka (again) will be felt. In his 4 starts, Tanaka pitched pretty well (3.22 ERA, 3.10 FIP, 18.9 K-BB%). Replacing him (projected for 3.3 wins the rest of the season by ZiPS) will not be easy. Alex Rodriguez (160 wRC+) and Mark Teixeira (154 wRC+) have both performed above expectations. I would love ARod to continue playing well if for no other reason than driving the New York media crazy and making them embrace his chase of Mays, Ruth, Aaron and Bonds on the career home run chart. The AL East appears to be a tight division with five quality teams. The Yankees' first month has them in a good spot from which to work.

POFF on April5th POFF on April 29th Change
Mets 32.2 53.0 20.8

Things are good in New York after a month of baseball. The Mets' 11-game win streak greatly improved their season outlook. They sit atop of the National League East, with a 4.5 game lead on the Braves. The pre-season favourite Nationals have started off miserably, which has also helped the Mets odds of postseason activity. The Mets have made their run despite injuries to key players: David Wright, Travis d'Arnaud, and Zach Wheeler. Lucas Duda has picked up the slack on the offensive side of things, knocking the ball around to the tune of a 157 wRC+, and Bartolo Colon continues to be pitch effectively (2.77 ERA, 2.99 FIP, 22.0 K-BB% in 4 starts) and be the focus of a never ending stream of bodyweight ridicule on Twitter. At this point it seems like 85 wins is a safe bet for the Mets, which would be their best performance since 2008.

POFF on April5th POFF on April 29th Change
Tigers 51.6 72.4 20.8

The Tigers' odds started at the level where the Yankees, Mets and Cubs (next team on the list) have climbed to. After their 14-7 start they have risen even higher, to the point where they have the highest odds in the AL. They have done this without Justin Verlander throwing a pitch, and losing Joe Nathan for the year after only one outing. The latter was likely more welcomed by fans than the former. The idea of moving Verlander to the bullpen - an area of real need for this club - is an interesting one, but I doubt it happens during the regular season. The playoffs could be a different story. Although, that all depends on how he performs when he returns. Shane Greene (3.00 ERA, 3.03 FIP, 4.9 K-BB%) and Alfredo Simon (1.65 ERA, 3.07 FIP, 10.7 K-BB%) have been strong in the rotation alongside David Price. Thus far, again, the Tigers look like the team to beat in the AL Central. Cleveland and the White Sox were trendy selections in the preseason, but have both left something to be desired.

POFF on April5th POFF on April 29th Change
Cubs 35.5 57.7 22.2

It is a shame nobody has written anything about this Cubs team. A core of young position players have this team poised for success over the next five years. As you can see there was some expectation that the success would start this year, which admittedly I thought was premature. Regardless, they gained themselves a year of Kris Bryant service time and did so without losing anything in the standings. After a less then stellar debut (0-4, 3 Ks), he has looked the part of the game's top prospect (currently sporting a 162 wRC+). Fellow much-heralded prospect Addison Russell has joined the team, and while he has struggled to start (32 wRC+, -0.2 UZR) he should provide an upgrade on what the Cubs were running out to second base. The starting rotation has been the best in the big leagues by FIP at 2.88 and 11th by ERA at 3.90. The Cardinals' loss of Adam Wainwright makes them a less formidable foe, and represents a real chance for the Cubs to take the Central division.

POFF on April5th POFF on April 29th Change
Royals 15.6 41.7 26.1

Those scrappy, wanna-fight-everyone Royals made the biggest jump in playoff odds this month; up to fifth in the AL. They opened the season with seven straight wins, with four of those wins coming against division rivals. The Royals are currently third in the AL in runs scored per game (5.3) and first in runs allowed per game (3.3). Strikeouts are at an all-time high in the game right now, but not so for the make-contact Royals offense. Royals hitters have only struck out in 13.9% of the plate appearances, which leads the big leagues by almost three percent. And when these Royals put the ball in play they are finding holes, as they own the league's top BABIP mark at .341. On defense they have been the opposite of their batting-selves. Royals pitchers have struck opponents out at a decent rate (18.7%; 17th in the league), and when balls are put in play their defense has held opponents to a league low BABIP of .253. Regression is coming, sure, but the performance to date has pushed them up the standings, to a point where there is a reasonable chance of back-to-back years of playoff baseball in Kansas City.


POFF on April5th POFF on April 29th Change
Brewers 13.8 0.4 -13.4

The odds did not start out high for the Brewers, as they are mixed up in the difficult NL Central. Now, after a month of poor play, they are considered one of the longest shots to make the postseason, along with the Phillies and Rangers. The Brewers are doing very few things well. On the defensive side they have the 4th highest ERA (4.87), third highest FIP (4.72), and seventh worst UZR (-4.5). Offensively, their 66 wRC+ is the worst in the big leagues. They will be without one of their best players, Jonathan Lucroy, for at least another month. This team is a mess.

POFF on April5th POFF on April 29th Change
Mariners 69.8 55.9 -13.9

The Mariners are one of the biggest fallers, but they still own the third highest odds in the AL. Their sub-.500 mark to date has not impressed much confidence. The offense, other than Nelson Cruz, has struggled, posting a 90 wRC+ and scoring the third fewest runs per game in the AL at 3.6. The .263 BABIP mark will improve, but they also need to do a much better job of getting on-base. Their .287 OBP is fourth worst in the big leagues, and to some extent wastes the power of Cruz, Cano and Seager. The pitching (and defense) has not helped bail out the struggling offense, allowing 4.6 runs per game. Taijuan Walker has pitched better than his ERA suggests, and has been much better in his last two starts. If Walker keeps improving, and Hisashi Iwakuma comes off the disabled list refreshed, this team has a strong rotation with which to get things turned around. Unlike the Brewers, they are still very much in the mix.

POFF on April5th POFF on April 29th Change
Nationals 94.5 79.6 -14.9

Before too much discussion of the Nationals being on the fallers side of the list, a look at the initial state is needed. They were all but assured of making the playoffs before the season started, so really they had the farthest to fall. But fall they have. Their poor start (8-13) coupled with the hot start of the Mets has reduced their playoff odds all the way down to ~80%, which I am sure they are fine with. The rotation is arguably the best in the game, and as long as the defense does not continue to completely sully them - only 78 of the 101 runs they have allowed were earned - run prevention should be an asset. Jayson Werth and Denard Span both missed time but are now back in the lineup everyday and should help get the offense on track.

POFF on April5th POFF on April 29th Change
Angels 63.9 37.9 -26.0

The Angels have been in the news for the wrong reasons to start the season, most notably with the handling of the Josh Hamilton situation, which was ugly. Performance on the field has also been lacking, as they have navigated April to a 9-11 start. The Angels drop in playoff odds is partly due to their slow start but also a result of them being in the AL West. At the start of the year the Angels were mixed in with the Mariners and Athletics as having a good chance to win the division or earn a wildcard spot. The starts of teams like the Royals, Blue Jays, Yankees and Astros have all worked to reduce the likelihood of the Angels earning that wild card spot. There is no doubt that the Angels need to improve - they are allowing more runs than they score - but it is fair to note that a chunk of their playoff odds drop has come from other teams' performances. The same can be said for the Mariners, but the Mariners are favoured to win the division, which has kept their odds at a higher level than the Angels.

POFF on April5th POFF on April 29th Change
Indians 57.7 25.5 -32.2

Are the Flying Franconas falling prey to a Sports Illustrated cover curse? Doubtful. The issue in Cleveland is that they have struggled to score and the rotation, which has the potential to be tremendous, has been variable. The offense is posting just 3.7 runs per game. They are middle of the pack, or bottom third in OBP, SLG and BABIP, which combines for an 87 wRC+. The rotation ERA of 4.51 is the 8th worst in the game, although fielding independent numbers suggest they have been better (FIP of 3.10). Defense has not been a strong suit for Cleveland in a while, so that difference might not be all that surprising. Some of what was said above for the Angels is also true here for Cleveland. The hot starts of the Tigers and Royals have taken a bite out of their playoff odds. Francona will have to get his boys rolling if they are going to live up to all the preseason attention.

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Playoff odds reports provide an interesting approach for getting an overview of trends in performance. The projections incorporate both the expected talent level of the teams, their actual on-field performance and the performance of their competitors. So a 10-game win streak for a team, regardless of how unlikely, contributes wins in the standings and is factored into future playoff odds. At this point in the season, preseason projections will still carry much of the weight in the playoff odds projection, but we still see that even after only a month of ball there have been some large shifts in the playoff landscape. It will be interesting to see what the next month brings in terms of these (and maybe other) rising and falling teams.

For a table with the playoff odds changes for all teams click here.

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All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.

Chris Teeter is a featured writer and editor at Beyond the Box Score. He is also a contributor at BP Boston. You can follow him on Twitter at @c_mcgeets.