Earlier this week, Dave Cameron at Fangraphs made a convincing argument that baseball should move back the trade deadline, which is a mere five days away. Basically, with the second wild-card, there are a lot more teams who still think they're in the race and thus not ready to sell, which leads to a duller trade deadline. The only teams really selling now are the Astros and the two Chicago teams; poor MLB Trade Rumors is reduced to writing about international draft slots. We're missing a lot of the fun.
(To be fair, people were making similar statements this time last year, and then in late August, one of the craziest trades in baseball history happened.)
Teams aren't selling because they think they're going to make the playoffs, but here's the thing: They're crazy. I think we already know who's making the playoffs.
From the very beginning of the season, like, Day One, I bookmark Baseball Prospectus' Playoff Odds Report -- which uses the current standings, PECOTA projections, schedule strength and all sorts of probability models -- and look at it more often, probably, than the actual live standings. It just seems more honest than the current standings snapshot: It shows that being one game behind in the standings can be a lot closer, or a lot farther away, than it might seem. As an example, Kansas City may be only four games behind Cleveland in the standings, but the Indians have a 24.8 percent chance of making the playoffs while the Royals are only at 1.2 percent. It would be a surprise if Cleveland made the playoffs, but it'd be a miracle if Kansas City made it.
Looking at these all year, every day, rather than the actual standings, gives me a more realistic notion of how everybody's doing. It can be deceiving, sure: The Cardinals were down at around 7 percent right before their crazy run at the end of 2011. But that just proves the Playoff Odds Report's utility: It took insanity like that to overcome overwhelming odds. The Playoff Odds Report shows how improbable -- and thus how impressive -- that really was.
Thing is, though: It can almost take the drama out of everything. As of this morning, here are the percentage odds that each team in baseball is going to make the playoffs. (The playoffs here are defined as reaching at least the wild-card playoff game.)
Now, you can take a few things from that:
- Man, the NL Central, right? Pirates fans are so worried, but remember: Not only are they 2 ½ games up on Cincinnati for the first wild-card spot, they're eight games up on Arizona for the second one.
- Kansas City, a team whose general manager still thinks he's in this, has the same chance to make the playoffs as the Mets.
- I'm not sure whom the Phillies are trying to kid here.
- Hey, Cubs fans: You still have hope! Good for you!
- The AL East isn't nearly as thrilling as the standings imply it is.
And that's the thing: Looked at through this prism, none of the races are as thrilling as they might appear. When I glance at that list up there, it looks like every team below the Yankees -- and maybe even them -- should be selling like crazy. Hey, Colorado: You have a 2.3 percent chance of making the playoffs. Everything must go!
Again: These are all just projections, obviously: 2011 famously gave us the best playoff race imaginable, out of nowhere. But projections are of course how baseball front offices make decisions: It's the foundation of the whole business. You can't run a business by counting on a miracle.
Because right now, it looks like the playoffs are gonna be:
*** St. Louis, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh all sifting out the wild-card game and division title (whoever wins the division title will play the winner of the coin-flip game);
*** Atlanta vs. Los Angeles
*** Detroit vs. a wild-card winner (Boston, Tampa Bay, Oakland or Texas)
*** The AL East winner against Oakland or Texas.
If I'm any of those teams, or Baltimore, Cleveland, Arizona or the Yankees, I floor it. But everybody else should be selling like it's Black Monday. The standings are an illusion. There should be a ton more teams shedding players than there actually are. Give up the ghost, guys. Make this trade deadline fun again.
* * *