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Taking Stock of the Oakland A’s Playoff Odds

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Toronto Blue Jays John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

As of this writing the Oakland A’s are 31-29, good for a .517 win percentage and fourth place in the American League West. They’re 6.5 games behind the division-leading Seattle Mariners and 5.5 games behind the second Wild Card spot, currently held by the Houston Astros. Each passing day it looks likelier that the AL West will turn in two teams to the postseason pool. Is it looking like the A’s may be one of those teams?

Playoff Odds

Per Fangraphs, on March 28 the A’s playoff odds stood at 9.2%. They hit a season-low 2.9% on April 14 after losing five of their last seven games, and a season-high of 19.3% on May 20 following a 7-3 rampage through the American League East. Currently the A’s have an 11.5% chance of reaching the postseason. While they have an 11.1% chance to earn a Wild Card berth their odds of winning the division slip to 0.4%. Of the four AL West teams with a better-than-.500 record the A’s own the lowest lowest-odds mark and the lowest highest-odds mark. Despite the grass looking greener in Oakland than in years past, it is greener in Seattle, Houston, and Anaheim. That’s not to say that the A’s are failing, or even a bad team, however. It’s a testament to the strength of the west division.

Underachieving or Overachieving?

16 major league teams currently have a positive run differential, with Oakland owning the lowest mark of any AL team at +12 (just behind Seattle’s +17). This is on the strength of the 11th-highest runs-scored/game, however the A’s have just the 15th-lowest runs-allowed/game. Still, scoring more runs than you allow, on average, is a good way to win most of your ball games.

Oakland’s Pythagorean winning percentage matches their actual winning percentage: 31-29. Per baseball reference:

Pythagorean winning percentage is an estimate of a team’s winning percentage given their runs scored and runs allowed. Developed by Bill James, it can tell you when teams were a bit lucky or unlucky.

Additionally BaseRuns also suggests the A’s should be 31-29, although BasRuns suggests the A’s should have a run-differential of only +9. Per Fangraphs:

BaseRuns is a formula designed to estimate how many runs a team would be expected to score (or allow) given their underlying offensive (or defensive) performance. In other words, BaseRuns is a context-neutral run estimator used to evaluate teams. The output of BaseRuns is an expected team run total, which we present on the site on a per game basis.

I’m led to believe that the A’s have been neither lucky or unlucky, but sit precisely where they should. However we want the A’s to be better, so how can they get improve their odds of making the playoffs? It’s simple: increase winning streaks and decrease losing streaks.

Let’s Go Streaking

The chart above illustrates the AL West’s win trajectory. A long vertical line represents a winning streak while a long horizontal line is for a losing streak. Here are how the winning and losing streaks in the division break down:

2018 AL West Streaks

Team Winning Streaks Losing Streaks 2 Wins 3 Wins 4 Wins 5+ Wins 2 Losses 3 Losses 4 Losses 5+ Losses
Team Winning Streaks Losing Streaks 2 Wins 3 Wins 4 Wins 5+ Wins 2 Losses 3 Losses 4 Losses 5+ Losses
Angels 9 6 5 2 1 1 3 0 2 1
Astros 9 8 2 4 0 3 6 2 0 0
Mariners 9 5 3 2 3 1 4 1 0 0
Athletics 7 9 3 1 3 0 5 4 0 0

Each of the four contenders has avoided long losing streaks, besides the Angels. Additionally the Angels have the fewest long winning streaks.

For the A’s to climb the divisional ladder and improve their playoff chances they’ll need to turn those 3-loss streaks into 2-loss streaks and add wins to their 2-win streaks. Fortunately long winning streaks are familiar to Oakland.

Where Must Those Wins Comes From

Winning more and losing less is much easier said than done. So where must those wins come from? The A’s have played well in close games, winning most of their one-run games and going 3-3 in extra innings. However, the number that stands out is the intra-divisional record.

2018 AL West Win/Loss Splits

Team Walk-Offs One-Run Games Extra-Innings Division
Team Walk-Offs One-Run Games Extra-Innings Division
Angels 3-2 9-7 1-5 15-7
Astros 1-4 4-12 1-4 17-9
Mariners 5-1 18-9 6-0 13-12
Athletics 3-1 10-7 3-3 10-19

A 10-19 record versus the AL West means the A’s are 21-10 versus the rest of baseball, so far. It is great that the A’s are playing above-.500 ball, but in order to improve their chances of reaching the postseason for the first time since 2014 they’ll need to win more games against divisional opponents. The A’s will have ample opportunity to do so as 8 of their next 11 games come against the Rangers, Astros, and Angels.

Want More Draft Coverage?

Day two of the MLB Draft is underway. For coverage of the Oakland A’s draft picks Alex has you covered.