We are 11 games away from the halfway mark in the season and the Royals are starting to look like they are going to make it a very interesting second half. This 9 game winning streak has pushed them to first place and has pushed their playoff odds into a range where we can start to get excited.
First off I looked at the Fangraphs odds, BP odds, and ESPN odds, and they are all different. I believe the Fangraphs and BP odds are built off of preseason expectations and then updated using most likely a Bayesian statistical model or monte carlo simulation that factors in the performance so far with Fangraphs focusing on WAR projections and BP built off of PECOTA. ESPN is agnostic to preseason forecasting if I remember correctly, though I can’t find any explanation anywhere so it is using record and point of season historic data or something similar though one oddity I will mention below makes me question that. If you have more info on those feel free to comment.
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If you don’t want to click through above, the takeaway is that the respective playoff odds for the three sites have the Royals at 36.7%, 30%, and 50.8% respectively (BPs wasn’t updated including last night so it is probably slightly higher now). We will start with ESPN as they are the most optimistic. Only Toronto, Oakland, and Seattle have better odds in the AL, so they have the Royals as the fourth most likely team to make the playoffs. Seattle is an oddity here with a worse record and behind two teams in their own division, maybe they are including strength of schedule remaining or something? BP only updates their model periodically and so they also give deltas from last update and the Royals’ is 20%! So from one run of the model to the next the Royals went from 10% to 30% (Tigers went down, but only 1.7%).
The other two systems break out their analysis a little more. Both like the Tigers significantly more to start the year and it still shows in the odds. Fangraphs has the KC as the AL Central winner 19.3% of the time now with Detroit at 65.7% and BPs numbers are 16.9% and 62%, so you can see they still both favor Detroit heavily with Cleveland picking up most of the remaining probability. Fangraphs has KC as the 5th most likely team in the playoffs and BP 6th as they still have the Yankees slightly ahead, both have Detroit, Toronto, Oakland, and Los Angeles as more likely playoff teams.
What I am trying to say is don’t get discouraged by the 30s for percents. Only a third of baseball teams make the playoffs so that probability means you are on the right side now, but not even close to comfortable which we already knew. One other fun little bit is that both Fangraphs and BP have the Royals as more likely to win the Central, but the Indians as more likely to win a wild card. Some of that is that the Royals and Tigers have a combined 85%/78.9% division winning probability so it is more likely that Cleveland will finish second than the Royals due to the Royals better chance of finishing first. It could also be affected by how volatile the Indians are in the model.
There you have it, the Royals are starting to get into the playoff hunt for real. Winning nine games in a row will do that. Detroit is not likely to keep playing this poorly, and Kansas City won’t keep playing this well so the percentages don’t look as optimistic as we might hope, but they are a lot better than we are used to.