Major League Baseball and the Player’s Association gave fans a nice surprise hours before Opening Day by agreeing to expand the playoffs from 10 teams to 16 for this season.
The two sides bandied about the idea during the months of negotiations before the season started. Players will compete for the Commissioner’s Trophy and a $50 million salary pool – with no postseason share with the lack of seat sales revenue.
The format announced Thursday afternoon will guarantee the top two teams in each division qualify as the top six seeds in each league. The two best records outside of those finishers will be the wild card teams and earn the seventh and eighth seeds. The first round will feature a best-of-three series hosted at the higher seeded team. That first round could greatly impact series odds given that teams with elite starting pitching can trot out top-notch arms in Game 1 and Game 2 of a first-rounder.
The playoffs will return to their traditional format after the field shrinks to eight.
Good news for longshots
DraftKings Sportsbook‘s Johnny Avello said the expanded field increases teams’ chances “25 percent” to make the postseason. There have been some odds dropping on the back end of the field, but with no changes among the top three teams who have separated from the field since the board was first released. The Dodgers are the favorite, slightly ahead of the Yankees, while the Astros are third-choice, now at 8-1.
Avello said a couple bets came in for the Yankees, who won their opener Thursday in Washington. However, he expects any further movement in prices will stem from the 60-game season.
“The adjustments will be made based on how teams perform,” Avello said. He noted that football sees prices change week-to-week based on wins and losses, while baseball’s longer format creates more price stability.
Avello does think the expansion helps teams on the fringe, like most of the teams in the loaded NL East or the Red Sox in the AL East.
For instance, the Phillies had a 24.0% chance to make the playoffs in their crowded division earlier in the week. Post-announcement, the Phils now have a 49.2% projected chance to make the postseason – according to sports projection site FanGraphs.com.
Other FanGraphs examples include the Mets jumping from 43.2% to 73.7%, and Boston moving from 33.9% to 64.8% – all due to more postseason slots being available.
No massive odds shifts … yet
So far there hasn’t been any dramatic change to bettors habits or sportsbook’s lines based on the postseason changes. But that should certainly change as we get deeper into this MLB regular season.
“In regards to odds, we made some small adjustments to reflect that more teams being in the playoffs means there’s a slightly better chance of an outsider getting in and making a championship run – however at this stage of the season we won’t be adjusting prices significantly as a result of this announcement,” BetMGM‘s David Main said.
FanGraphs has put the qualification line around .500 for teams. As of now, nine teams in the American League and 10 in the National League are 49 percent or higher to make the playoffs. The magic number of wins to make the postseason usually sits around 88 during a full season. That should drop to 31 or so in this abbreviated season, and with 16 teams now advancing.