Oct 28, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; San Francisco Giants chief executive officer Larry Baer (middle) is presented with the commissioner

The Sad Truth: The Detroit Tigers Are Not A Mortal Lock

As Grant Stoye mentioned earlier today, prior to the Tigers’ signing of Torii Hunter they were already the favorite for the 2013 World Series (as they were a favorite – prior to the 2012 season – for the last). You’d figure that adding Hunter should bump that up a hair – though probably not all the way from 6-1 to 5-1. Perhaps the signing was partially factored in anyway, much like WPA factors in the probability that a guy currently on third will score. Even resigning Anibal Sanchez might not be enough to push the Tigers from 6-1 to 5-1.

And the sad fact is (for Mike Ilitch and all of his fellow Tigers fans) that even 5 to 1 odds just are not all that great. The Miami Heat were the favorites to win last year’s NBA title – no doubt about it – and they won it. But the Heat did not have 5-1 odds, theirs were much better. Their odds of winning the next NBA title are 2 to 1. Heat – 50%. Tigers (currently) 16.66%. And – what I’m trying to get across here – there is very little that Tigers management can do to make their team so amazing that they are worthy of 20% odds.

Here’s why: The reason that the Tigers are the favorites, first and foremost, has less to do with their premium talent level (relative to other quality teams) and more to do with their favorable location. Playing in the AL Central they are very, very likely to make the playoffs to begin with and almost certain to make the playoffs as a divisional champion rather than a wild card (and hence need no playoff game). What is more – the unbalanced schedule means that their odds of having the best (or second best) record in the AL is unusually good, which would give them critical home field advantage in the playoffs. [In 2012 Detroit was 3-4 in road playoff games and 4-2 at home]

Now lets assume that, as opposed to the more realistic 80% range, the Tiger actually are mortal locks to make the playoffs in 2013 (they aren’t, random things can and do happen). If they do, they’re going to have to win 3 separate series against other good teams. If we ignore home field advantage and assume that the teams are all equal, just making the playoffs leaves you with only a 12.5% chance of winning it all. The fact that the Tigers are already projected to have a 16.6% chance of winning it would mean that not only are they considered locks to win the division, they are also projected to have a much better chance of winning any given playoff series than the average playoff team (and all of them are good). If you work through the math, 6 to 1 odds would mean a 55% chance of winning each series in the playoffs coupled with that 100% chance of making the playoffs. If we assume only an 80% chance of making the playoffs to begin with – since stuff does happen – that would necessitate a 59% chance of winning each of those three playoff series. To get up to 5 to 1 odds? They need to do something to bump that to a 63% chance of winning each playoff series. To get odds like El Heat? You’d need an 80% chance of winning each playoff series AND be guaranteed a playoff berth. And baseball just doesn’t work that way. The best teams win 60% of their games – and a lot of those are against cellar dwellers. During the 2012 regular season, the Tigers were 14-19 against the other AL playoff teams. No matter how bad Mike Ilitch wants it and no matter how much he can taste that championship, the odds are unfortunately going to remain against Detroit (and everybody else).

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