Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The AL Wild Card Race

As I was entering the data from the games of Monday, September 9th I took a moment to review the American League wild card race. The National League playoffs (absent events that are completely beyond prediction) are essentially set except to see who the wild card teams are, but as I see it, 9 AL teams still have legitimate shots at postseason play. Be assured, a "shot" is just that--a chance, and for several of these teams it will definitely be an uphill slog, but a shot is more than the Blue Jays, Twins, White Sox, Angels, Mariners and Astros have. In all cases, data are through games played on September 9th.

I'll discuss each AL division, beginning with the Baseball Prospectus playoff odds--this is the AL East:
I explained my thoughts on how these odds are calculated in this post, and even though I know it's more complicated than what I wrote, I'm reasonably certain I'm walking down the right path. The Yankees and Orioles have played well in the last 10 games or so (because they both played the White Sox), the Rays not so much, a combination that significantly tightened the wild card race--none of these teams have a realistic shot of catching Boston unless the end of the 2011 season is replicated. This chart shows the remaining games for all teams except the Blue Jays:
Using Boston to explain this chart, as of September 9th they have a 87-58 record. This is how I predict they'll finish out the season--it will be wrong, but that's not the point here, it's my attempt at projecting finishing records:
Tampa Bay        2-1
NY Yankees       2-1
Baltimore          4-2
Toronto             2-1
Colorado           2-1
Finishing the year 12-6 in their last 18 games would give them a final record of 98-64. I made similar projections for the other teams, making sure I incorporated previous predictions--for example, if I project Boston to go 2-1 in their remaining games against the Rays, it would be criminally stupid if I projected the Rays to go 2-1 in their games against the Red Sox. I'm pretty sure I was consistent throughout and for now, the important item to note is the projected final record.

For reasons that will become apparent very quickly, I'll show the AL West next:
It appears far more cut-and-dried here as both the A's and Rangers have better records than any of the AL East teams other than Boston. This is both team's remaining schedules:
Neither team has what I consider to be an onerous schedule, with only three games remaining against each other. The difference between the A's B-P projected wins and mine is probably due to me having the A's going 5-2 vs. the Twins and 4-2 vs. the Angels--I didn't bother to take home field into account at all in making my projections for the simple reason that home field advantage in baseball is by far the least of any sport, but I'm sure it could have an effect. However, my projections aren't all that far off from B-P, because their algorithms do the same thing I do, except in greater number--they make projections. If I were to run 10,000 projections of how the A's were to finish their season I wouldn't be surprised if the outcome was an 11-8 or 12-9 record. No matter what, my projections (as well as B-P's) have both the A's and Rangers as making the playoffs with few worries.

This is the AL Central:
For all the success that Max Scherzer and the rest of the Detroit pitching staff as well as the historic nature of Miguel Cabrera's season I'm baffled as to how they have the record they do--it's not important since they're virtually assured of making the playoffs, but simply an observation. The Indians still have a better than 1-in-4 chance of making the playoffs--how? This is the remaining schedule for the Tigers, Indians and Royals:
The good news for all these teams is the 19 games they have remaining against the White Sox, but the Cleveland schedule is EXTREMELY favorable. I'll restate I did NOT take home field into account which I'm certain accounts for the difference between my projection and B-P's, but this is what happens if the schedule plays out the way I've laid it out:

This is not as far-fetched as it might seem on first glance--the B-P odds favor Tampa Bay over Cleveland but there's nothing in the remaining schedule that jumps out at me as an overriding advantage in the Rays' schedule. It's going to be close unless one of these teams goes on a tear, be it positive or negative.

I suspect a substantial portion of this blog's readers are listeners of Chicago's 670 The Score. I was at a remote broadcast for the Boers and Bernstein Show on Friday, August 2nd in which Terry Boers stated that he didn't believe the Rays were going to make the playoffs. I disagreed with him, especially since the Rays were very hot at that time (21-5 in July) with dominant pitching that compensated for their average hitting. Terry has forgotten more baseball than I'll ever know, and even though I still think the Rays will make the playoffs (and lose to the Rangers), the Indians have a shot.

This is what baseball had in mind when they expanded the playoffs. It won't be exciting every year, and in the old system the only drama would be who the NL wild card since the AL would be essentially set. I'm not a fan of sudden death as a method of playoff advancement--this isn't the NFL, and turning the initial wild card series into a 3-game series wouldn't change the dynamics of the postseason much, which is why I expect to see that occur in 2014. It will be a fun last 20 games in the AL as virtually every game will have playoff implications, and what more could a baseball fan ask for?

I'm not sure who my audience is anymore but I'm going to take a moment to thank you for the support I consider nothing less than amazing. When I started this blog in April (after trying and quitting in 2012) I had maybe 50 Twitter followers and I was lucky to get 50 hits a day on anything I wrote. From April to now my Twitter followers have increased from to over 1,200 and if I write a decent post it will get 500-800 hits, sometimes over 1,000 if I get some outside love. This is nothing to real columnists with advantages I don't have (a platform, an audience, writing skills, etc.) but to an average Joe like me, it's very humbling. I've received support that I know has exposed my stuff to people who wouldn't ordinarily know who I am and I thank those supporters whenever I can. From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU and going forward I'll endeavor to deliver content with as little opinion as possible.

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