I have tracked monthly changes in playoff odds throughout the season. After the first month the Yankees, Mets, Tigers, Cubs and Royals saw the odds of a playoff berth rise the most, while the Brewers, Mariners, Nationals, Angels, and Indians were on the wrong side of things. From the end of April through to the end of May, the Royals, Twins, Nationals, Giants, and Astros had the biggest increases in playoff odds, and the Marlins, Mets, Padres, Athletics and Red Sox had the chances of October baseball fade dramatically. The ups-and-downs from month-to-month are quite interesting, as one month's biggest riser can be the next month's biggest-faller (e.g., the Mets) or vice-versa (e.g., the Nationals). For reasons I cannot remember, I missed writing about the change in playoff odds for June, but I can tell you now that the Royals continued to be big risers, along with the Pirates and a trio of American League East teams: the Rays, Blue Jays and Orioles. Meanwhile, the Red Sox continued to be a major disappointment, as they were among the teams with the biggest drop in playoff odds along with the Padres, Indians, Tigers and Mariners. You can see this visually here
An attempt to predict the variance in ERA-FIP
•Beyond the Box ScoreYou've read it a thousand times. A pitcher is over/under performing his peripherals and his ERA should move in the direction of a truer measure of performance, which we commonly accept to be represented by FIP. We know that for most pitchers these values diverge, but can we account for the variance of ERA-FIP?
Now we have reached the end of July, four months into the grueling season and we can again check in on how playoff odds have changed over the last month. With the non-waiver trade deadline looming Friday afternoon, looking at teams' monthly change, season-long change, and even change since the All-Star break can be informative for considering how aggressive they should be in making deals this week.
I noted this in each of my other installments in this series, but it bears repeating, the playoff odds reports 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 end result is an estimate of the chances that each team will make the playoffs. The work here is based on FanGraphs playoff odds (POFF - winning the division or winning a wild card spot; using the projections mode) on July 29th (yesterday), July 12th (the All-Star break), June 30th, May 27th, April 29th, and with those from Opening Day (April 5th). Each monthly change is the difference in odds between the end of months, and season-to-date change is the difference between yesterday's odds and the odds on Opening Day.
Without further preamble, here are the biggest risers and biggest fallers over the last month (July 29 - June 30):
The Royals have been in the top five teams with rising playoff odds every month. Their current playoff odds are the second highest in the game at 99.1 percent, trailing only the St. Louis Cardinals (99.7 percent). Even before the Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist deals, the Royals' playoff odds were strong (96.9 percent). Using the available data, it is difficult to separate the extent to which the increase is related to the trades or their winning the last four games. Regardless, the Cueto and Zobrist additions were likely not made with an eye towards making the playoffs, but rather were made to make them a more formidable club in the postseason. The Royals are a great story.
The Yankees and Angels both had really solid months, going 19-11 and 20-10 over their last 30 games, respectively. Meanwhile, their division mates have posted ~.500 or worse marks over the same time frame. While the Yankees appear to have a strong hold on the AL East, the Angels are still in a fight with the Astros for top spot in the West. Over the past couple of days the Angels added Shane Victorino, David Murphy, and David DeJesus to their outfield depth chart. Joseph Gordon Levitt is patiently awaiting his chance to coach the new group. The Astros were the sixth-biggest riser in the month of July, continuing their leap from May and pushing their odds to 84 percent. They, like the Royals, have been a fun story this season. The Angels playoff odds are just three percent higher than the Astros, so they are both in really good shape for a playoff appearance, but I am sure both organizations would like to stay out of the potential madness of a one-game playoff. So winning the division is paramount.
The other two big risers in July were the Pirates and Giants. The Pirates have the fourth-highest playoff odds and don't even lead their division. By current winning percentage, they are the second best team in the National League, trailing only their NL Central foe, the Cardinals. It will be a real shame if the Pirates are knocked out of the postseason early because of the silly wild card format. The Giants have made a strong run of late in the NL West, getting themselves up to what is basically a tie for the division lead with the Dodgers. The projections still favor the Dodgers to win the division, but watching what these two teams do at the deadline will be very interesting. Like the situation with the AL West race, both teams obviously want to avoid the wild card game. The Dodgers might have added Mat Latos and Michael Morse this week, although the reports on the finality of the deal are mixed. Regardless, Morse will likely not be seeing the field. Meanwhile, the Giants have been in and out of the Cole Hamels rumour mill. Adding him would make their rotation fascinating.
The Orioles and Rays took everything they gained in playoff odds in June and gave it right back in July. While they are both more or less tied in the standings with the Blue Jays (about seven games back of the Yankees), by run differential the Jays have actually been the best team in the division. As such the Orioles and Rays find themselves looking up at the Jays and Yankees in terms of playoff odds. The Jays have already made a huge splash this week, landing Troy Tulowitzki and LaTroy Hawkins, and are looking to add on the pitching side to really go after a playoff spot this season. The Orioles and Rays are probably in a position to add some minor pieces, but should generally be working on their 2016 rosters.
The Red Sox and Tigers were Opening Day favourites to make the playoffs in their respective divisions, but both have disappointed. The Red Sox, whose playoff odds are down to 1.7 percent, are comically bad, and mostly painful to watch on a nightly basis. The Tigers odds are down to 10.1 percent, but they have not been nearly as bad as the Red Sox. Rather, they have largely been undone by their bullpen and the management of it. While the Red Sox are actively looking to sell at the deadline in an effort to regroup for next year, they don't really have parts that anyone else wants. The Angels took on Shane Victorino, but after that it is not clear if they will be able to dump Mike Napoli, Allen Craig, or Daniel Nava on anyone. Remember when some clown said that Napoli was due for a big season after he underwent offseason surgery to fix his sleep apnea? Boy, was he ever wrong. Contrary to the Sox, the Tigers do have players that other teams want (i.e., David Price, Yoenis Cespedes) but have hedged publicly with their trade deadline intentions this week, but recently suggested they are looking to 'reboot'. While they look like they should be sellers, they are only four-ish games back of the second wild card and there is a reasonable argument that the organization is far enough down the rabbit hole with their current roster that they could be buyers this year and consider making another run at things next year with a similar group. There are a number of paths Detroit could take.
The Cubs and their young roster are in the middle of a race for the second wild card spot with the Mets and Giants, but have struggled since the All-Star break, dropping seven of their 12 games and seeing their playoff odds drop almost 24 percent in that timeframe, a mark that is second only to the woeful Red Sox:
The Red Sox lost seven consecutive games after the All-Star break, getting outscored 39-13 in the process. Now, that is how you sink your playoff odds! The Cubs recent fall is not entirely related to their poor performance of late, but rather a combination of it and the rise of the Giants, who have only lost twice in their 11 games post All-Stat break, corresponding with a huge increase in their playoff odds. The Cubs are among the biggest fallers this month, but they still have the sixth highest odds in the NL, so they are certainly still in the mix. But they will need to play better than they have been playing lately, and take advantage of their seven head-to-head games with the Giants in August.
The two figures above (three if you clicked the link for June!) involve changes in odds over a short time frame: one month, or, in the case of the post All-Star break figure, two weeks. A lot of weird stuff can happen in those intervals. As mentioned, one month's big riser can be a big faller the next. With this in mind, I thought it was worth looking at how things have changed over the entire season (July 29 - April 5):
Sad times, Red Sox. Try again next year. Other teams of note from this figure, beyond those mentioned in the sections above, are the Padres, Indians, and Athletics; all on the negative side of things. The Padres winning the offseason has not amounted to any extra wins in the actual season. The Indians pitching has been unlucky and subject to a poor defense, leading to them having the second highest ERA-FIP differential in baseball. Also, despite an offense that is around league average (at least according to wRC+) they have had a lot of trouble stringing things together to score runs. Together, that is not a combination for success. The Athletics, on the other hand, are on the right side of things with regards to runs for and against, but have not translated it into wins. Over the last two seasons the Athletics have 21 fewer wins than what their run differential predicts they should have (10 wins fewer this year, 11 last year). That is astounding. Accordingly, the A's have already begun re-shaping their roster for the future.
Another thing worth noting from the season-to-date figure is that 16 teams are currently within 15 percent of their pre-season odds. All told, I'd say that is a pretty good job by the projections.
Generally, playoff odds are a way to get an overview of trends in performance. At this point in the season we can still see the large shifts and next month will bring another set of changes for these (and maybe other) rising and falling teams.
For a sortable .csv with the data used in this article, click here.
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