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Playoff odds at the break

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The Rays are currently projected to win the first wild card slot.

Will Alex Cobb come back and improve the Rays playoff odds?
Will Alex Cobb come back and improve the Rays playoff odds?

Before we slip into the heat of trade deadline talk, lets get one thing straight. The Rays are buyers at the deadline. This does not mean that they will buy anything, but it does mean that they are in a position where they can benefit from short-term improvements.

There are three commonly used playoff odds sites. Coolstandings looks at runs scored and runs allowed, uses the pythagorean winning percentage to calculate future winning probabilities (incorporating strength of opponent), and then simulates the rest of the season to arrive on playoff odds. Baseball Prospectus, rather than using runs scored and runs allowed to make projections, uses their PECOTA projection system.

FanGraphs is the new kid on the block when it comes to record projections, but their method is slick and very transparent. They combine the Steamer and the ZiPS rest of season projections with manually updated playing time estimates to show projected value for each position, and form it into an end of year record. They don't actually present playoff odds, but I bet they will at some point.

Here are how the three systems rate the Rays at the all-star break.

Projected record:

System Wins Losses Rank in AL East Rank in AL
Coolstandings 92.4 69.6 2 4 (first wild card)
Baseball Prospectus 90.0 72.0 2 4 (first wild card)
FanGraphs 91 71 2 3 (first wild card)

And here are the odds:

System Division Wildcard Playoffs
Coolstandings 28.1 44.3 72.4
Baseball Prospectus 25.6 48.5 74.1

That's a team on track for the playoffs, which is great, but not as great as it once was. The new one game wild card playoff format makes the expected monetary return from a wild card slot far less than it has been in years past. A team that's sitting in the wild card with an equal chance to either move up to the division or fall out of the playoffs entirely is a teamed primed to leverage small improvements.

Coolstandings has the Rays finishing four games behind the Red Sox in the AL East, and BP and Fangraphs have them finishing three games behind. They may not end up buying at the deadline, but the Rays are once again in a position where they probably should.

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