A new baseball season is about to begin which means fans are already thinking about the postseason. There are many forecasting systems available but one way to predict which teams will play past the 162nd game of the season is to use preseason win totals. Can MLB win totals predict playoff teams?
Oddsmakers set win totals taking into account past and future performance and then the bettors pound the lines into shape. This is essentially a crowdsourcing method to determine a team’s outlook. The more wins a team earns the more likely they are to reach the postseason, thus using projected win totals makes sense as a forecasting method for painting the playoff picture.
If we are to determine whether win totals can predict playoff teams we need a baseline for comparison. A simple starting point is the previous season’s playoff teams. Last year’s playoff teams are more likely to return to the postseason than non-playoff teams. Since 1996, the second year that MLB expanded to an eight-team playoff, 88 out of 178 teams have been repeaters. That means just under 50% of playoff teams participated in the postseason the year before.
Using SportsOddsHistory we pulled the season win totals for each year dating back to 2004. Then using the highest win totals and the playoff format we compared projected playoff teams to the actual postseason participants. Since 2004 there have been 114 total playoff spots available, win totals have accurately predicted 65 of them or 57%.
Win totals (57%) are more accurate than our baseline of previous season playoff teams (49.4%). Of course win totals are far from perfect. Player performance, injuries, trades and many other factors can change preseason projections but win totals are a good starting point for determining playoff teams.
Here are this year’s projected playoff teams based on season win totals.
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2017 MLB Season
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