In baseball, a lot can change in the span of one month; that feels especially true for the month of August, when teams begin to see the impact of the moves they made at the trade deadline. It was just over a month ago that fringe contenders were fretting over whether to buy or sell, and now that we have another month of games in the books, many of these teams have a much better sense of where they are in the playoff picture. Since we are at the halfway point between the trade deadline and the end of the regular season, I thought that now would be a good time to check in on teams and see how they have been impacted by their decisions at the trade deadline.
To start, here's a table comparing pre-deadline playoff odds to current playoff odds, courtesy of Fangraphs. (Pre-deadline odds include all games before 7/23, which is the date in which the first deadline moves were made. I use these odds to ensure that they do not reflect any changes that resulted from trades being made.)
|Team||Pre-deadline odds||Current odds||Change|
There have been some dramatic shifts in playoff odds over this time period, and not surprisingly, many of these shifts coincide with teams that made big moves at the deadline to improve their team. The three teams who increased their playoff odds the most during this time period were the Blue Jays, Mets, and Rangers, and each of these teams made impact moves at the deadline, whether that was acquiring Troy Tulowitzki and David Price (Blue Jays), Yoenis Cespedes (Mets), or Cole Hamels (Rangers).
While it is very exciting to watch these teams make big moves and turn their seasons around in such a short period of time, I always find it interesting to look at the teams that were on the edge between buying and selling and didn't make a major move either way. Going into the trade deadline, the predominant narrative was that there would not be a lot of sellers (especially in the American League) because so many teams felt that they were too close to the second wild card spot to give up on their season. Indeed, every team in the American League had at least a 2.4 percent chance of making the playoffs going into the deadline. In the end, the market balanced out more than people initially expected, as teams like the Tigers and A's were realistic about their chances and decided to sell big.
Still, this year's deadline included its share of questionable decisions. The Padres stunned everyone by deciding not to sell (they actually added a bullpen arm in Marc Rzepczynski); the Orioles were cautious buyers despite having a few impact players set to hit free agency at the end of the year. The Mariners did very little, selling off J.A. Happ and Mark Lowe, and the White Sox effectively did nothing. While it may be unfair to lump these teams together, since each was in a unique situation heading into the deadline, I bring them up because a good case could be made for each of them to be more decisive sellers, and since the deadline, they have all fallen further out of the playoff hunt. (The Orioles are in the best position of the four teams with 1.9 percent playoff odds.)
For the Mariners, the case for selling seemed pretty straightforward, and the decisions to trade away Happ and Lowe suggest that they at least had some understanding of their low playoff odds. Still, there was no reason for them to hang onto impending free agents like Hisashi Iwakuma and Austin Jackson, especially since there is no guarantee that either player will deserve a qualifying offer at the end of the year. (Update: Austin Jackson was traded to the Cubs Monday night.) With playoff odds in the high single digits, it is quite possible that (now former) GM Jack Zduriencik was hoping for a miracle turnaround to save his job, knowing that being an all-out seller would effectively seal his fate.
The Orioles were in a very tough situation going into the deadline, with their playoff odds fluctuating anywhere between 12.7 and 26.0 percent in the week leading up to the deadline. (These odds mostly reflected their chance of capturing a wild card berth.) If they wanted to, the Orioles could have made the deadline even more interesting by making available impending free agents like Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, and Wei-Yin Chen. In terms of playoff odds, the Orioles were in a similar position to the Tigers, who ended up making a last minute decision to sell. The only major difference, though, was that the Orioles happened to win five games in a row prior to the deadline, while the Tigers were in freefall when they made the decision to deal David Price and Yoenis Cespedes.
The White Sox and Padres fall into a similar category, as it appears that they, like the Orioles, convinced themselves not to sell because their teams went on winning streaks going into the deadline. The White Sox won seven in a row from July 23-29, raising their playoff odds to 14.9 percent by the end of this streak. Still, 14.9 percent playoff odds are not the level of a strong contender, especially when they mostly account for the team's chances of winning a wild card spot and being forced to participate in a do-or-die play-in game to make it to the ALDS. With that being said, the White Sox probably didn't lose a lot by deciding not to sell, since their only real trade piece was Jeff Samardzija, who is likely to receive a qualifying offer.
On the other hand, the Padres, who won five of six games heading into the deadline, never even got their playoff odds up to five percent, but they believed that their chances were good enough that they should hang onto players like Justin Upton and Ian Kennedy. (Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, and James Shields were also rumored to be available.) It's possible that the Padres got shut out of the trade market because there were more starting pitchers available than there were contenders that needed starting pitching. (This might have hurt the White Sox to a lesser extent with Samardzija.) Still, Padres GM A.J. Preller cited the team's winning streak as a reason for optimism when explaining his team's deadline inactivity.
Now that we are a month removed from the deadline, it is easy to see that the Orioles, White Sox, and Padres were probably foolish to envision themselves as contenders just because they had been on a nice six- or seven-game run. In the moment, it is easy to look past a team's faults when success is fresh in people's minds. Nevertheless, these teams' playoff odds illustrate how their small runs of success meant relatively little in the grand scheme of things, as each club still had a lot of work to do in order to make up for the bad record they had accumulated prior to that point. Over 162 games, even bad teams can put together a good seven game stretch. Sometimes, the best approach is to never get too high or too low depending on the situation, and playoff odds can be very helpful when it is difficult to remove oneself from the emotion of a good stretch of games.
Still, baseball is never truly predictable, as evidenced by some of the changes in playoff odds we have seen over the last month. The Mets and Nationals have effectively switched places, with each team seeing a dramatic shift of more than sixty percentage points of playoff odds. The Blue Jays have all but locked up a playoff spot after treading water for much of the season. And the Rangers, who had presumably acquired Cole Hamels with an eye towards future years, have gone from fringe contender to potential favorite for the second wild card spot.
This year's deadline acquisitions have been a big part of a very exciting August. Here's hoping for an equally exciting stretch run in September.
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