Breaking down the 2019 postseason odds

March 18th, 2019

The 2019 regular season is about to start, and with it, the long race toward October, which will whittle the 30 Major League clubs down to 10 playoff teams.

Who has the best chance to make the postseason? Now that Opening Day is so close, let's take a look at one of the main projection systems: FanGraphs' playoff odds.

To get the odds, FanGraphs simulates the MLB season 10,000 times. If a team makes the playoffs in 9,000 of the 10,000 simulations, for example, it will have 90 percent playoff odds.

This is a rundown of all the teams heading into the season with at least 10 percent postseason odds. But if your team is below 10 percent, don't despair -- playoff forecasting isn't an exact science. A year ago, the A's had preseason playoff odds of 9.2 percent; they won 97 games and made the American League Wild Card Game. The Braves' playoff odds  were 3.2 percent; they won the National League East.

Here's the first look for 2019, starting with the top contenders.

Playoff odds higher than 75%

AL: Yankees (96.9%), Astros (94.9%), Indians (94.5%), Red Sox (90.6%)
NL: Dodgers (90.8%), Nationals (80.2%)

The juggernauts are exactly who you'd expect. In the AL, the Red Sox, Indians and Astros have all won their division two years in a row, and the Yankees have been the top AL Wild Card team two years in a row. In the NL, the Dodgers have made it to back-to-back World Series.

Can the Yankees flip the script on their World Series-winning rivals in the AL East? They're projected for an MLB-high 98.7 wins to the Red Sox's 95.2, and have 63.3 percent odds to win the division to Boston's 34.7 percent. The big difference is the bullpen -- the Yankees, with Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Zack Britton, Adam Ottavino, Chad Green and more, are projected to get 6.9 Wins Above Replacement from their relievers. The Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly-less Red Sox project for just 2.1 reliever WAR.

But the Astros actually have MLB's highest odds of winning the World Series -- 18.6 percent, ahead of the Yankees' 18.0 percent, Dodgers' 13.0 percent, Indians' 12.7 percent, Red Sox's 11.2 percent and Nationals' 6.8 percent. That could be the product of the competition in the AL East, as either the Yankees or Red Sox might be sent into the elimination Wild Card Game.

The Nationals are the most interesting name in this tier. They missed the playoffs in 2018, lost Bryce Harper to the Phillies and play in what might be MLB's most competitive division, with the Phillies, Braves and Mets all making big moves. But with Patrick Corbin, Yan Gomes, Brian Dozier and Anibal Sanchez added to a group that already included Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner and Juan Soto, the projections see the Nats as the NL East favorites. They have 55.9 percent odds to win the division, vs. the next-closest Phillies' 18.8 percent, and are projected at 90.2 wins to Philadelphia's 84.5. The starting rotation is their biggest advantage (16 projected WAR to the Phillies' 11.8).

Playoff odds between 25% and 75%

AL: Twins (35.3%), A's (32.9%), Rays (26.8%)
NL: Cubs (65.5%), Phillies (47.6%), Cardinals (44.4%), Braves (39.3%), Mets (36.2%), Brewers (25.1%)

The AL is top-heavy, but the NL has a lot of good teams that should make for wide-open competition. That's the large slate we see here in the second tier of playoff odds, which includes three teams apiece from the NL East and NL Central.

The Cubs, who've made the playoffs four years running, are the last team with postseason odds better than 50 percent for 2019. They're the projected favorite in the NL Central, with 48.8 percent division odds to the Cardinals' 26.7 percent and the Brewers' 12.5 percent. A return to superstardom for former MVP Kris Bryant could be what helps put the Cubs over the top -- he's projected to be a top 5-10 player in baseball, at about 5.5 WAR. Even though the Cards added Paul Goldschmidt, Chicago's offense is projected better, while the defending division champion Brewers' thinner starting rotation has them playing catchup.

Meanwhile, the playoff odds see three NL East teams racing for a Wild Card spot. The Phillies rate best thanks to their slew of marquee additions -- Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura and David Robertson, who are projected for 16 WAR between them. But the Mets and Braves also have reasons to believe in their postseason chances. The Mets have the best projected pitching staff (19.8 WAR), with reigning NL Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, new closer Edwin Diaz and returnee Jeurys Familia. The Braves have the top position player unit (26.2 WAR), with Josh Donaldson joining Freddie Freeman, Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies.

The AL teams in this tier aren't surprising. The A's are coming off a playoff appearance and have a slugging offense led by Matt Chapman, Matt Olson and Khris Davis. The innovative Rays won 90 games and now have a new catcher in Mike Zunino and Charlie Morton paired with reigning AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell in the rotation. The Twins have made extensive offseason upgrades, adding the power-hitting Nelson Cruz, C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop, the versatile Marwin Gonzalez, and pitchers Michael Pineda and Blake Parker. Any one of these three teams could end up winning a Wild Card berth.

Playoff odds of 10-25%

AL: Angels (20.1%)
NL: Rockies (17.5%), Reds (17.0%), Padres (12.6%), D-backs (11.7%)

Don't count out the team with the best player in the world. That's the Angels and Mike Trout, of course. With Trout -- the No. 1 player in every projection system -- Andrelton Simmons and AL Rookie of the Year Shohei Ohtani leading the way, the Angels actually have a top 5 WAR projection from their position players. Their pitching staff is a lot shakier, but if new additions Matt Harvey and Cody Allen can have bounceback years, the Angels could certainly contend.

The Rockies came within a tiebreaker game of winning the NL West last season and beat the Cubs in the Wild Card Game in their second straight playoffs appearance. They have a chance at three straight in 2019 with perennial MVP candidate Nolan Arenado, star shortstop Trevor Story, free-agent signing Daniel Murphy, Kyle Freeland, German Marquez and more. The Reds have done a lot to get better this offseason, trading for Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Alex Wood, Sonny Gray and Tanner Roark.

Signing Manny Machado can do wonders for a team -- his superstar presence in San Diego puts the up-and-coming Padres among the longshot NL playoff hopefuls. The D-backs will have a hard time making it back to the postseason for a third straight year without Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock, but they do have crafty ace Zack Greinke, strikeout artist Robbie Ray and some solid returning bats like David Peralta.