A September Look at World Series Odds
For better or worse, this year’s playoff races have cleared up considerably. There’s still some doubt about who will win the AL East and the NL Central, and the second Wild Card slots aren’t set in stone either. That being said, the ten teams that are currently in playoff position look likely to be the ten teams left standing when the music stops in two weeks.
That’s a little disappointing, as we may not get much craziness during the final days of season, not if everyone has clinched with time to spare. On the other hand, a clearer picture at least gives us a chance to get a head-start on looking towards October. With the bracket already crystallizing, we can really start to preview this year’s postseason.
To get started, let’s take a look at World Series odds provided by William Hill baseball odds available online. The regular season has included ample twists and turns, but we are now turning our attention to who really has the best chance to win it all. Here are the chances each team has to win the title, implied by their current odds:
William Hill Baseball Odds:
Dodgers: 10/3 (30%)
Indians: 4/1 (25%)
Astros: 11/2 (18%)
Red Sox: 8/1 (13%)
Nationals: 7/1 (14%)
Cubs: 15/2 (13%)
Yankees: 14/1 (7%)
Diamondbacks: 16/1 (6%)
Rockies: 33/1 (3%)
Twins: 40/1 (2%)
Obviously, the odds will add up to up more than 100%, as that is where sports books will make their money. That makes it harder to gain an edge on the house, but it’s still possible, so let’s try to get at which teams’ odds are most undervalued, as well as most overvalued.
The Cubs’ odds may be the most appealing on the board. It’s strange that the defending champs would be underrated heading into the tournament, but the Cubs have been worse this year than last, and that seems to have dented the public’s perception of their title chances.
The Cubs should have worse odds than teams like the Dodgers and Indians. Those latter teams have outperformed Chicago and look like the strongest outfits heading into the postseason. But the gap should not be large. For the most part, the Cubs look like the team that won the World Series a year ago, and should be considered dangerous next month.
Most of the key players from last season, whether it’s Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, are back. Some of them aren’t playing as well: Lester has had a down season, as had Hendricks, and just generally the pitching staff as a whole. Yet the group of position players that outclassed the league in 2016 is still here and in position to do damage again.
When the playoffs begin, regular season records will be wiped away, and the slate will be clean. If you remove the win-loss records from the Cubs and the rest of the league’s top teams, they appear just as strong as any. In fact, FanGraphs projections peg the Cubs for a .585 winning percentage team, just a few points behind Cleveland and LA. The Cubs aren’t heavy favorites like last year. But the roster is largely the same as it was last year, and should be considered nearly as potent.
New York Yankees
The Yankees look likely to get a short shrift. They play in the toughest division in baseball, and despite a surprisingly great year, they will probably have to fight through a Wild Card game. If you look beyond that, though, you may see a juggernaut in waiting, an October-monster waiting to be unleashed.
The Yankees may be as well constructed for playoff baseball as any team. They run five-deep in elite bullpen arms, with Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, David Robertson, Chad Green, and Tommy Kahnle forming a group that should terrorize opponents. They have three starters with ace potential in Luis Severino, Sonny Gray, and Masahiro Tanaka. Their lineup is powerful, anchored by Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, deep, with solid hitters like Starlin Castro and Todd Frazier bringing up the rear in the lineup, and stocked with table-setters like Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury.
Baseball Prospectus’ third order winning percentage, which strips out sequencing and strength of schedule in estimating a team’s true talent, pegs the Yankees at a .645 percentage, second in the AL only to Cleveland. That .645 mark equates to a 104-win team over a full season. They’ve outscored their opponents by 170 runs on the year, second in MLB. Despite a win-loss record that is merely good, this team has dominated across the board in 2017.
The potential Wild Card game is the only thing holding down their odds currently. Yet there may not be a team better suited to win a one-game playoff than New York. With so many dominant relievers, the Yankees could essentially ask one of their top three starters to work through the opposing order once in a Wild Card game before turning things over to their dominant bullpen. It’s tough to win when you face, say Severino for three innings, before running into a buzz-saw like Robertson or Green in the fourth.
The Yankees’ odds undersell how dangerous they are. That’s a strange thing to say, since the Yankees are the last team you’d expect to be underestimated. But if they take care of business as they should in a possible Wild Card game, look out.
Los Angeles Dodgers and Cleveland Indians
This is meant as no disrespect to the Indians and Dodgers. They are great teams that wowed us this year, Cleveland with their historic win streak, and LA with their historic mid-season stretch. They are the favorites, and deservedly so.
Their playoff odds are overvalued, though, merely because no team, no matter how great, can be an overwhelming favorite in baseball. The game is too random at times, the teams are too close in talent at the top. Even juggernauts like these two can be felled by in a short series.
Just look at the Cubs last year, whose dominant, wire-to-wire season last year required a miracle comeback to stave off an upset. Or the 2015 Blue Jays, who blasted the AL during the second half only to fall in the ALCS. Or the 98-win Angels in 2014, who were swept in three-games in the ALDS by the Royals. The odds are stacked against even the best teams winning it all in a tournmanet like this.
A one-in-three chance oversells these teams’ odds. BP’s playoff projections peg both LA and Cleveland with about a 20% chance each to win it all. That seems more fair. An average division winner would figure to have a one-in-eight chance to win the World Series. The Indians and Dodgers are clearly better than your average division winner, and deserve these one-in-five odds.
But one-in-five clearly isn’t one-in-three. A bet on Cleveland or LA is a risky one, even if it doesn’t seem so given each team’s dominance. They are the favorites, but if history is any indication, being the favorite entering the tournament is a guarantee of nothing.