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2017 Trade Deadline: Assessing the Playoff Run for the Diamondbacks

It’s the 2017 all-star break and the Dbacks look to be postseason locks. What should they do at the deadline?

World Series GM7 X

It’s a good time to be a Diamondbacks fan. It’s the All-Star Break and we sit 53-36, good for the fourth best record in the MLB. That is fantastic! We’ve played great and many of the underlying metrics support that this isn’t a very luck-filled record. As a result of this record, and a massive 9.5 game lead in the Wild Card, we’ve got fantastic playoff odds:

Dbacks Playoff Odds

Site Playoff Odds
Site Playoff Odds
FanGraphs 88.00%
Baseball Prospectus 92.40%
538 81.00%

Barring something major, it’s looking very likely that the Diamondbacks will make the playoffs. Just give this some thought: it’s the All-Star Break and we’re already one of the top playoff contenders. Plenty to be happy about!

Unfortunately, this does come with a big caveat. Remember how I mentioned that we have the fourth-best record in the MLB? One would typically expect a 53-36 to be at or near the top of the division. Unfortunately for us, we are 7.5 games behind the MLB-leading Dodgers, whom are sitting at 61-29. Making up 7.5 games over the course of 73 games is an extremely tall task, as seen in our division odds:

Dbacks Division Odds

Site Division Odds
Site Division Odds
FanGraphs 0.50%
Baseball Prospectus 1.40%
538 2.00%

All three projection systems give the Dbacks a snowball’s hell in chance of winning the division. In fact, they all give us a bigger chance of missing the playoffs altogether than of passing the Dodgers. Considering how good the Dodgers are and how big their lead already is, this should make sense, unfortunately.

Why is this important? Because the Wild Card game is a one-game playoff and baseball, of all sports, is the least predictable in a one game sample. Even the best teams are going to be just slightly better than 50% to win a Wild Card game. So, multiplying our Wild Card odds by roughly 50% and then adding our very trivial division odds, we are able to calculate our odds of making the NLDS:

Dbacks NLDS Odds

Site NLDS Odds
Site NLDS Odds
FanGraphs 46.10%
Baseball Prospectus 49.20%
538 44.10%

Ultimately, this is the table that truly matters when it comes to our playoff run. What are odds that we make it into the NLDS. It’s pretty much going to be a coin flip and won’t exceed 50%, barring a complete meltdown by the Dodgers.

What does this mean for the Diamondbacks at the deadline?

The reality is that there is not a lot that AZ can do to improve their playoff chances, due to the limitations of the one-game playoff. To do this, we can use what is known as an “Odds Ratio”, which is based on the Bayes Theorem and subsequent log5 formula (I will skip this very lengthy stats lesson). This equation is modified to account for home-field advantage, which is about 54% historically for the hometeam. Read more about this formula at Hardball Times.

A = Chance that Team A wins (“true talent win percentage”)

B = Chance that Team B wins

H = Chance that home team wins

(1-A) = Chance that Team A loses

(1-B) = Chance that Team B loses

(1-H) = Chance that home team loses

This might look like a complicated formula, but it’s actually very simple (read the above link if you’d like to learn more about the math behind it). Essentially, if you have a .600 team playing a .500 team, what are the odds that the .600 will win, when you factor in home field advantage? This formula will tell you.

For this exercise, we’re going to compare the Dbacks against a true talent .500 Wild Card team and use varying talent levels for the Dbacks (.500, .550, .600, .650) and both home/away.

Dbacks Wildcard Win Odds

Dbacks True Talent Level Home WinOdds Away WinOdds
Dbacks True Talent Level Home WinOdds Away WinOdds
0.500 54% 46%
0.550 59% 51%
0.600 64% 56%
0.650 69% 61%

Per this chart, we see about a 23% swing in possibilities, but what are the chances that the Dbacks are .650 team or will become a .650 team? Almost impossible. Even the Dodgers are only projected at about .590-.600 for the rest of the season by FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus.

The reality is that the Dbacks are probably closer to a .500-.530 team going forward. FanGraphs has us at .510 and Baseball Prospectus has us at .527. So what would making moves at the deadline do?

In all reality, we’re not going to surpass being a .550 true talent win team at the deadline. Based on true talent alone, we’re looking at, at most, about a 5% increase in odds of winning the singular Wild Card game, with home field advantage historically giving us about another 5%. Keep in mind that these aren’t exact numbers and there are other factors in play, but the overall theme is that we aren’t likely to improve our odds of making it past the Wild Card game by more than ~5-10%, if at all.

What I’m getting at is that the best we can hope for is turning our ~45-50% NLDS odds into ~55-60% odds.

So, what should AZ do at the deadline?

I’m not going to get into player specifics today; that is for another post. But I have a very strong opinion that I believe the Diamondbacks should adhere to at this trade deadline:


I know that this isn’t what many fans want to hear, but the reality is that vast majority of whatever is going to happen in the playoffs is already on this team. We have a good team for 2017 and even as they stand, they still have a fairly decent shot at making a playoff run this year. This same team is going to be back in 2018 and most of it will be back in 2019 - we suddenly have a three year playoff window and that should weigh heavily into our deadline thinking this year.

We are too far back in the divisional race to try and make a realistic push for the division title. There is not enough meaningful talent available at the deadline that will swing our Wild Card odds enough to justify the cost. Sacrificing the future, especially since it will likely have an impact on our 2018 and 2019 teams, just isn’t worth the very marginal odds in the Wild Card.

However, we can still fine tune our team for a Wild Card game.

Wild Card Fine Tuning

That being said, I feel like our team is already in a pretty good spot in the event of a Wild Card game. We have two pitchers - Greinke and Ray - that can dominant any lineup on any given night. We have several pitchers - Bradley, Delgado, Godley, Walker - that can be used to give us dominant innings and length if we need. Our lineup has some very good players in it and a decent amount of positional depth and versatility. However, there are a few things we still lack:

  1. A truly dominant closer-type for high-leverage, one inning situations
  2. Speed off the bench
  3. Right-handed power off the bench
  4. Elite defensive replacements, especially in the OF

There is a very distinct possibility that Bradley (or maybe RLDR) will end up as a dominant closer for us by season’s end. We might also still be using Rodney. I would not go after a “true” closer at the deadline, given the exorbitant costs. Instead, I would like to make other, cheaper bullpen upgrades and use our internal resources to fill out the rest of the bullpen.

Speed off the bench will be very easy to get. We have a team that’s great at baserunning and stealing opportunistic bases, but having a true base stealer off the bench is a very useful resource when you need to manufacture a run late in the game.

RH power is an area where we really lack, especially off the bench. Goldy and Tomas are our only legitimate RH power threats and both are probably going to be starting. This is another area where we can fill fairly cheaply.

Lastly, having elite defensive replacements is another useful tool to have when you’re trying to hold a late playoff lead. And with expanded playoff rosters, it’s easy to carry players that fit this bill. Ideally, this player would be combined with either 2 or 3 above.

If I had to guess, the Dbacks aren’t going to be heavy buyers at the deadline. We lack the resources to land any major talents and it’s highly unlikely that a big trade will swing our needle much, anyways.

I apologize if my post seems a bit more pessimistic than you might want to feel as a fan, especially as we come up to the trade deadline. But we have to be realistic about where we are. We can’t forget about 2018 and 2019, either.