Which MLB Teams Does Vegas Project to Improve the Most?

By looking at World Series odds, we can see which teams Vegas thinks will improve this season. Who is expected to be better in 2017, and why might those teams bounce back?

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
Houston Astros 11/1 5th 84-78 14th +9
Minnesota Twins 100/1 21st 59-103 30th +9
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
Colorado Rockies 50/1 16th 75-87 20th +4
Boston Red Sox 6/1 2nd 93-69 5th +3
San Francisco Giants 12/1 6th 87-75 9th +3
Arizona Diamondbacks 100/1 21st 69-93 24th +3
Atlanta Braves 100/1 21st 68-93 24th +3
Los Angeles Dodgers 9/1 4th 91-71 6th +2
St. Louis Cardinals 22/1 10th 86-76 12th +2
Pittsburgh Pirates 50/1 16th 78-83 18th +2
Philadelphia Phillies 100/1 21st 71-91 23rd +2
Cleveland Indians 7/1 3rd 94-67 4th +1
New York Mets 14/1 8th 87-75 9th +1
Chicago Cubs 15/4 1st 103-58 1st 0
Seattle Mariners 28/1 13th 86-76 12th -1
San Diego Padres 200/1 28th 68-94 27th -1
Toronto Blue Jays 16/1 9th 89-73 7th -2
Oakland Athletics 150/1 26th 69-93 24th -2
Detroit Tigers 33/1 14th 86-75 11th -3
Kansas City Royals 60/1 19th 81-81 16th -3
Miami Marlins 75/1 20th 79-82 17th -3
Cincinnati Reds 300/1 30th 68-94 27th -3
Washington Nationals 12/1 6th 95-67 2nd -4
Chicago White Sox 150/1 26th 78-84 19th -7
Milwaukee Brewers 250/1 29th 73-89 22nd -7
Texas Rangers 22/1 10th 95-67 2nd -8
Baltimore Orioles 36/1 15th 89-73 7th -8

Houston Astros

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).

Also, while Yulieski Gurriel’s projected 1.4 fWAR won’t get your heart racing on its own, it’s actually 2.4 more wins than the Astros got from their first basemen last season.

Minnesota Twins

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.

In terms of BaseRuns, which measure a team’s true level of performance by using underlying metrics and stripping away sequencing, Minnesota’s expected record was 71-91.

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.