December 26, 2013
The Quiet Offseason in Odds
All that money spent on free agents this offseason—$1.543 billion with a “b,” according to Yahoo’s Jeff Passan—and to what end?
MLB teams’ aggregated spending spree has been roughly the GDP of Belize, or the net worth of Belize, or nearly the total net worth of Passan’s former boss, if you want to go straight to the sportswriter’s handbook entry for coping with such hard-to-understand numbers.
All that player movement, too. Virtually none of the $1.543 billion in offseason dollars has gone toward retaining free agents. Outside of the Mike Napoli/Juan Uribe/Hiroki Kuroda/Brian Wilson class, few of any impact have stayed put.
Yet through all the overhaul—the week-long parade of hitters to Seattle, the return to loud offseasons in New York and Texas, and the relative quiet of the National League—things have remained virtually unchanged as far as who’s perceived as a contender and who’s not. To see this, just look at the industry that deals in perception.
Despite the record-threatening levels of player movement in free agency and one of the biggest trades in years with Prince Fielder swapped for Ian Kinsler, the oddsmakers have all but sat this one out.
This is nothing at all like last offseason, when the Blue Jays shot from 35-1 after the season to 8-1 in spring training. There’s no parallel to the Nationals and Dodgers both getting sliced last year, the former from 12-1 to 7-1 favorites and the latter from 18-1 to 9-1. And there has been no move nearly as dramatic the other way as the Yankees’ freefall from 7-1 to 20-1 longshots.
This year, $1.543 billion in spending has resulted in odds that are nearly unchanged from the Bovada release that always immediately follows the close of the previous World Series. The Dodgers are still the favorites, as one would expect, with a slightly less favorable price now. The Rangers just made a small crawl toward that position, going from 16-1 to 14-1, and even the Mariners—the darlings for a day of this offseason—climbed only to 33-1 from their initial standing at 50-1.
When converting the odds to perceived chance of winning (take 1/(1+odds) then adjust for house edge) only the Tampa Bay Rays moved even by one percentage point, which is a far cry from last year’s movement, which saw 13 teams changing by at least one percentage point and five teams by at least 2.5 percentage points.
(Notes: Thanks to SB Nation for freeze-framing the odds at the outset of the offseason. Current odds are also from Bovada.lv for consistency’s sake. And small changes in percentage with no change in actual odds come from the fact that the house edge is smaller now than at the outset of the offseason, when there was presumably more uncertainty.)
Why is it that you’re getting roughly the same odds on everybody as you were before the 1.5 billion dollar shuffle? A few theories:
Not a lot of player-for-prospect trades
This year’s big moves were never going to give that effect. The big trade was All-Star-for-All-Star between Texas and Detroit. The biggest player-for-prospect trade was probably Doug Fister for the Nationals’ package, and Washington was already a team that was going to get a lot of wagers from their bounce-back potential and couldn’t be placed too high.
Much of the improvement came in the American League, and even the same division
Sure you could have the whole division improving, and the whole division did improve. But with how much chance is involved in the playoffs, a team’s chances of winning the World Series is almost proportional to its chances of winning the division. It’s why the Dodgers, even if they haven’t been the best team, have been the favorites throughout—they have by a good margin the easiest path to the playoffs, and it’s mostly chance once they get there.
The Bovada oddsmakers actually are enticing you to bet on the AL teams now. The sums of the perceived chances of winning for the 15 AL teams went down, from 51.9 percent to 49.8 percent. So while the American League teams were the ones getting better, the fact that the Nationals, Cardinals, and Dodgers appear to be heavy favorites in their divisions is really what matters here, and nothing about that changed this offseason.
We’re not done yet
But with most of the action having taken place early and most of the free agents having packed their bags and moved on, this record offseason has surprisingly left us awfully close to where we started.