Which MLB Teams Does Vegas Project to Improve the Most?
We’ve already turned our calendars to February, and soon we'll be turning our attention to baseball.
Pitchers and catchers will be reporting to spring training in a few weeks, and the folks in Las Vegas are ready. 2017 World Series odds are available, and these figures serve as a pretty good proxy for how good we can expect teams to be. This may not be their primary function, but a team's rank in terms of World Series odds correlates with their rank in projected winning percentage at FanGraphs at 0.93.
This means we can also use these numbers to gauge which teams made the most improvements over the offseason. The Chicago Cubs are the team most likely to win the 2017 World Series, with 15-to-4 odds, but they also had baseball’s best record in 2016.
The Houston Astros are actually the team the oddsmakers think will be the most improved relative to last year. Their 84-78 record in 2016 was tied for 14th, but their 11-to-1 championship odds are currently the fifth-highest.
Here is how all 30 teams look, ranked by the difference in ranking between their 2017 World Series probability and 2016 record, followed by a closer look at some of the teams expected to make the biggest improvements.
|Team||World Series Odds||Rank||2016 Record||Rank||Difference|
|Tampa Bay Rays||100/1||21st||68-94||27th||+6|
|Los Angeles Angels||50/1||16th||74-88||21st||+5|
|New York Yankees||22/1||10th||84-78||14th||+4|
|Boston Red Sox||6/1||2nd||93-69||5th||+3|
|San Francisco Giants||12/1||6th||87-75||9th||+3|
|Los Angeles Dodgers||9/1||4th||91-71||6th||+2|
|St. Louis Cardinals||22/1||10th||86-76||12th||+2|
|New York Mets||14/1||8th||87-75||9th||+1|
|San Diego Padres||200/1||28th||68-94||27th||-1|
|Toronto Blue Jays||16/1||9th||89-73||7th||-2|
|Kansas City Royals||60/1||19th||81-81||16th||-3|
|Chicago White Sox||150/1||26th||78-84||19th||-7|
After losing in the division round in 2015, Houston missed the playoffs last year after going 84-78. The oddsmakers think the Astros will be back in the mix this year, and improvements from their position players could be the reason why.
The Astros hitters tied for 10th in MLB in wRC+, but they were 20th in both Baserunning Runs Above Average (-4.6) and Defensive Runs Above Average (-7.3), contributing to a 13th-place finish in fWAR (19.8).
For 2017, Houston’s position players are projected by FanGraphs to be 25.9 wins above replacement, which is third-most. They will get a full season from Alex Bregman, who was worth 1.0 fWAR in 49 games last year, and Houston also added Brian McCann (1.9 projected fWAR) and Josh Reddick (2.8).
Vegas is projecting things will get better for the Minnesota Twins, but honestly, they couldn’t get much worse.
Their 59 wins were the fewest in a 162-game season in franchise history, and their putrid run prevention was a huge reason why. Minnesota actually scored a league-average 4.5 runs per game, but the Twins allowed 5.5 runs per night, which tied for the most in baseball.
The Twins were far from a good team, but their 36.4% winning percentage probably was not actually indicative of their true talent. Their -167 run differential was still second-worst in the bigs, but it translated to a 66-96 Pythagorean Record, which was seven games better than their actual record.
By simply regressing to its underlying level of performance in 2016, Minnesota could still be bad, but they shouldn't be a colossally awful team this coming season.
Tampa Bay Rays
In terms of hitting the ball and preventing opponents from doing the same, the Tampa Bay Rays were actually a decent team last year. The Rays tied for 16th with a .733 OPS, and they tied for 11th with a .734 OPS allowed.
The problems came once runners got on base, as Tampa Bay’s hitters were 27th in OPS with runners on (.727) while the pitchers were 18th (.759). According to the PowerRank, the Rays lost 23.1 runs to sequencing, which was ninth-most in MLB.
BaseRuns suggest Tampa Bay was even more adversely affected by the order of events, as the 13-win difference between their BaseRuns record (81-81) and actual record was tied for the most in baseball (along with the Texas Rangers, who won 13 more games than expected).
Fortunately for the Rays, team performance in the clutch tends not to correlate with future performance in the clutch, so they may really just be an average team that was the victim of random variation. Vegas seems to be suggesting this was indeed the case and is projecting some positive regression.