This late in the season, the methodology used by CoolStandings and the BP Playoff Odds starts to break down because they use aggregate stats to generate the probability that a team will win a given game, while ignoring the starting pitching matchups.
Here are some examples of how this affects futures odds from here on out:
1) Game matchups
The playoff odds reports assume each team's staff ace will start about 20% of his team's games, and that the team will face the opponents' staff ace 20% of the time. Over a long season, this usually evens out, but not so in two weeks.
You should handicap each upcoming game individually for best results, but here are some quick hits:
- Unless the Padres start Jake Peavy on three days' rest at some point, he will start 14% of the Padres' remaining games, while Brandon Webb starts 25% of Arizona's. Advantage: D-Backs.
- Boston is expected not to face any of Johan Santana, Dan Haren, James Shields, or A.J. Burnett in their last 12 games.
- The Yankees play six of their final 13 games against the Bedard-less Orioles, but are scheduled to face Halladay, Burnett, Shields, and Kazmir in that span.
2) Four-man rotations
All teams go with four-man rotations in the playoffs, and some teams will regularly throw a dominant ace on three days' rest.
Many "analysts" say that the biggest beneficiary of this strategy is a team with a great starting rotation, but they are wrong. The real winners are teams with bad #4 and #5 starters, but a good 1-2-3. While an awful #5 starter might handle 10% of his team's innings in the regular season, he pitches nearly 0% of the postseason frames. An inept #4 starter will similarly see his innings cut. Meanwhile, the top three starters and ace relievers pitch a significantly higher percentage of playoff innings.
What we're really looking for, then, is a team with a big differential between the front and back ends of their rotations, and between their top relievers and mopup men.
Who benefits most from this?
San Diego: Jake Peavy and Chris Young take away innings from Brett Tomko and Jack Cassel.
Arizona: Brandon Webb should start 1/3 of their playoff games if they are to have any chance at all to win it.
N.Y. Yankees: Their #5 starters have been terrible this year, but a playoff rotation of Wang-Pettitte-Clemens-Hughes isn't half bad. Joba-Rivera might be the best bullpen combo in the field.
L.A. Dodgers: David Wells and Esteban Loaiza are simply not acceptable playoff pitchers at this point in their careers. Broxton and Saito can turn any game into a six-inning contest.
Meanwhile, the losers include:
New York Mets
These teams have relied on balanced rotations and bullpens this year. Milwaukee might cut David Bush out of their playoff rotation, which would be downright stupid.
3) Rotation setup
If a team cruises into a playoff round, they will usually have the liberty to set up their rotation in advance, with their best starters lined up and rested. This is not the case if they have to use their ace in a must-win situation just prior to the series. Some examples:
- If the Padres start Peavy on the last day of the season to clinch their playoff spot, he will only start one game in the NLDS, rather than two. This has a big impact on the Padres' chances of winning that series.
- If the Diamondbacks sweep the NLDS--not bloody likely--they'll have the ability to start Webb in games 1, 4, and 7 of the NLCS. If they start Webb twice in the NLDS, this option goes out the window, and Arizona's championship hopes take a Towelie-sized hit.
Often, the bookie won't adjust his futures line for this reason...until you move it with your bet.