With each passing day, the 2018 Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline inches ever so slightly closer. As a result, each team must evaluate their chances of making the postseason before they decide to buy or sell before the July 31st deadline. Of course, front offices generally, although not always, have an honest handle on where their team stands at this point in the season. They will then make those moves accordingly.
For fans, figuring out the answers to those same questions can be a bit quicker. Yankees, Red Sox and Astros fans have nothing to worry about. Their teams are going to be playing in the postseason. But, for just about everyone else, it’s still up in the air.
There are a handful of projection models out there that attempt to quantify each team’s odds at making the postseason. FiveThirtyEight, FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus all have highly-regarded models, and Clay Davenport (who founded BP) also has one of his own. Generally, they all work the same. They simulate the remainder of the 2018 season x-number of times—whether that’d be 10,000 or 100,000 or something of the like—and see which teams make the postseason and how often. The tricky part, then, is trying to figure out each team’s relative strength. And every model does that a little bit differently.
Like with weather patterns, whether that’d be hurricanes, snowstorms or even the next heat wave, we generally have the best idea if something is going to happen if all models—such as the European, American and Canadian models—are in agreement. Therefore, I decided that, in order to have the best handle on where each team stands about four weeks from the trade deadline, we should do the same. We should see where the models agree (or disagree) on each team’s ultimate fate, and then we should figure out that to do from there.
Thus, that is what you will see below. I took the playoff odds from each of those four websites and averaged them, treating them as equal parts on the whole. There is one caveat to my methodology. FiveThirtyEight does not list any teams as having a zero-percent chance at making the postseason; the worst teams in baseball are listed at having a less-than-one-percent chance. For clarity and in order to keep everything simple, I entered these as zeroes, fair or not.
|Team||FiveThirtyEight||FG||BP||Clay Davenport||BTBS Aggregate|
|Team||FiveThirtyEight||FG||BP||Clay Davenport||BTBS Aggregate|
|New York Yankees||99.0%||100.0%||99.7%||99.4%||99.5%|
|Boston Red Sox||99.0%||99.9%||99.3%||98.8%||99.3%|
|Los Angeles Dodgers||67.0%||84.6%||65.2%||59.5%||69.1%|
|San Francisco Giants||28.0%||18.7%||25.5%||30.2%||25.6%|
|St. Louis Cardinals||23.0%||31.7%||17.6%||16.1%||22.1%|
|Tampa Bay Rays||7.0%||0.6%||4.1%||14.1%||6.5%|
|Los Angeles Angels||4.0%||3.3%||2.1%||1.9%||2.8%|
|Toronto Blue Jays||0.0%||1.0%||0.2%||0.1%||0.3%|
|New York Mets||0.0%||0.6%||0.2%||0.1%||0.2%|
|San Diego Padres||0.0%||0.0%||0.0%||0.1%||0.0%|
|Chicago White Sox||0.0%||0.0%||0.0%||0.0%||0.0%|
|Kansas City Royals||0.0%||0.0%||0.0%||0.0%||0.0%|
Clearly, there are some trends across the models. Incredibly, the four models have a within two percentage point agreement for 17 of the 30 major league teams. There are some easy ones: We all know the Orioles and Royals are not going to make the playoffs, and they are listed at a zero percent chance of making the playoffs across all four websites, as are the Marlins and the White Sox.
The same goes for the crème de la crème. The models are nearly certain that the Astros, Red Sox, Yankees and Indians will make the postseason. None of those three teams have individual odds worse than 98.0 percent (Indians on FiveThirtyEight). But we all knew that those teams were near locks. What is most interesting to me—and probably to you as well—are those teams in the middle. The teams that the models cannot quite agree on. Here, then, is a list of the disparity among the four websites, to see where they have the least agreement.
|Los Angeles Dodgers||59.5%||84.6%||25.1%|
|St. Louis Cardinals||16.1%||31.7%||15.6%|
|Tampa Bay Rays||0.6%||14.1%||13.5%|
|San Francisco Giants||18.7%||30.2%||11.5%|
|Los Angeles Angels||1.9%||4.0%||2.1%|
|Boston Red Sox||98.8%||99.9%||1.1%|
|New York Yankees||99.0%||100.0%||1.0%|
|Toronto Blue Jays||0.0%||1.0%||1.0%|
|New York Mets||0.0%||0.6%||0.6%|
|San Diego Padres||0.0%||0.1%||0.1%|
|Chicago White Sox||0.0%||0.0%||0.0%|
|Kansas City Royals||0.0%||0.0%||0.0%|
These models can’t seem to figure out the National League East, with the top three teams in playoff odds disparity being the Nationals, Braves and Phillies. And, who could blame them? The Nationals were the favorites to win the division prior to the season, but not one but two young, upstart clubs in the Braves and Phillies have pushed them all the way down to a distant third. As of this writing, they are seven games out of the division lead and three-and-a-half out of second place Philadelphia.
Thus, the models do not know what to do with this information. Generally, they tend to struggle with breakout seasons. For example, the models don’t have enough Major League data on Ozzie Albies to really know if his .230 isolated power is truly sustainable over the course of the rest of the season. The same would go for, say, Zach Eflin, too. It is hard for the models to see real change in the makeup of a player’s game and therefore evaluate the team in its current state effectively.
That’s why the Nationals are given more love than other teams in similar positions; they have more talent. Washington is, as I said, seven games out of the division lead and are three-and-a-half out of the Wild Card (which is currently the Phillies). The Rockies, who are just five games out of the NL West lead and four-and-a-half out of the Wild Card, have just an average of a 4.4 percent chance of making the playoffs. Why is this the case? It’s because the models like the team with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper more than the team with their best starting pitcher, Jon Gray, currently in the minor leagues and only one true superstar position player, Nolan Arenado.
Sustained success is the best way to get the models, on the whole, to buy into your chances of making the playoffs. So, if you’re a jumpstart contender and, in early July, you already see the models starting to converge in your favor, you have to go all-in. This is the case for the Seattle Mariners, who are a half-game behind the Astros in the AL West but have an eight game lead for the Wild Card.
On the whole, what do we take away from all of this? It’s that the NL East is going to be fun, the Mariners and (probably) the Brewers are contenders, the Giants and Cardinals are pretenders and for about two-thirds of the league, their 2018 fates have already been pretty much decided one way or another.
Devan Fink is a Featured Writer for Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.