After missing the postseason in each of the past two seasons, the Detroit Tigers are hoping to avoid a three-peat in 2017. However, most projection systems have them well behind the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central, and trailing many AL Wild Card contenders to boot. Baseball Prospectus has them slated for a measly 79 wins, and FanGraphs is just one win better at 80-82. Fans and Vegas oddsmakers are a bit more optimistic, but there is still a gap between them and the other AL Wild Card contenders.
Luckily, things might break their way in 2017. According to FanGraphs’ Playoff Odds, the Tigers have the second-easiest schedule in the American League this season, behind only the Indians. The Tigers’ playoff odds suggest that they will finish over a half-win better than the projected standings, indicating they have an easier schedule than the average AL team. I’d make a chart of the results, but it’s kind of FanGraphs’ thing.
As you can see, the Indians are well ahead, with their schedule projected to add an additional two wins this year. This isn’t a bad thing for Detroit, though! Jeff Sullivan explains how exactly this benefits the Tigers.
So, chances are, the Indians will take the AL Central walking away. But don’t fret too much, Tigers fans, because there’s still an opportunity here. Who’s the closest wild-card competition? The Blue Jays? The schedule gives the Tigers almost a two-game relative advantage. The Mariners? It’s an advantage of more than one game. The Yankees? More than two games. I think, on talent, the Tigers are looking up at superior teams, yet this is a break, if a minor one. It makes their chances incrementally higher, as if they were to improve their roster at one or two positions.
Long story short, these projections indicate what we have already suspected: the Tigers should have a chance to fatten up their win-loss record with plenty of games against lowly competition.
However, the projections don’t see it the same way you might. While most fans sense that the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins will be the AL Central’s worst teams, just about every computer projection system in existence is bagging on the White Sox and Kansas City Royals. PECOTA has Kansas City projected at 72-90, the worst record in the American League. FanGraphs’ projected standings have the Royals and Twins tied at 74-88, with the White Sox four games behind. Depending on how Kansas City fares during the season, the Tigers may be able to add even more wins against them.
It’s important to remember that these are just projections, though. The Royals have famously defied their computer projections for years, including their championship season in 2015. The Indians were projection system darlings for years before finally breaking through in 2016. With the AL playoff picture so muddled heading into the 2017 season, teams are bound to surprise and disappoint somewhere.
Let’s just hope the AL Central stays (relatively) true to form.