Much of the focus during a baseball season is during the stretch run. September baseball is what defines the season for many. The season truly begins after the All Star Break or is it after the trade deadline, or so “they” say. Games later in the season feel like they matter more, but the fact is that April games are just as important as September games over the course of a baseball season.
The Orioles have gotten off to a hot 8-4 start. While 12 games do not mean much in the grand scheme of the season, having a good 12 game stretch does help quite a bit. Not to mention the Orioles have played all AL East opponents thus far including six games against a Blue Jays team that going into the season were contenders for the division crown.
By the end of April the Orioles will only have 13 games left against the Blue Jays, 13 games against the Yankees, 14 against the Red Sox, and 16 against the Rays. That’s a lot of divisional games for one month. While it is still early, the games matter just as much in the standings at the end of the year.
To better illustrate this concept we can look at the Playoff Odds of all the teams in the AL East and how they have changed in only the first couple of weeks of the season. Below is graph provided by Fangraphs of how the playoff odds, according to their algorithms, have changed for each team in the AL East through April 17th.
First things first, yes, I know that any and all projection systems have gotten the Orioles wrong over the past five years. I myself do not take the projections as gospel. However, this is used to illustrate how the odds can change in such a short period of time.
As you can see in the charts the projection system liked the Red Sox all along as they have hovered around the mid to low 80s in the first couple of weeks. On the flip side the system never much liked the Rays and they dipped below the 20 percentage mark. The other teams in the AL East however have had their fortunes change quite a bit.
The Yankees off to a hot 9-5 start have raised their chances of making the playoffs up to 40 percent. Likewise, our Baltimore Orioles have basically doubled their chances to make the playoffs according to Fangraphs going from around 18 percent to just above 35 percent as of Tuesday evening. That is an enormous increase over the course of only 14 games.
On the worse side of the ledger are the Blue Jays. They started 2017 with a 52.1 percent chance to make the playoffs and as of Tuesday evening they had a 15.9 percent chance to make the playoffs according to Fangraphs. That’s all thanks to their horrendous 2-10 start, which the Jays were helped to in large part by the Orioles.
To get out of the realm of percentages, here is graph that simply shows how the Expected Wins have changed according to Fangraphs projections.
The Orioles have gone from only 80 expected wins to 83. That may not seem like much, but three games at the end of the year can mean a lot. Not only that the systems are stubborn to change, if the Orioles hot start stays consistent the numbers will only keep going up.
Meanwhile the Blue Jays have gone from 86 expected wins to 79. The slow start has killed them and their chances. Dave Cameron over at Fangraphs wrote about what the early season slide means for the Blue Jays not only in 2017, but in the long term.
The 2017 season has not yet been decided. There is still a lot of baseball left to play and fortunes can change. However, the games in April still matter. You do not have to wait until August or September to truly pay attention. The wins and losses count just the same.