Comparing 2016 MLB Win Totals to Projection Systems

Updated: November 23, 2016

With the season all wrapped up, I thought it might be a good time to look at how the projection systems did in comparison to the pre-season MLB Win Total odds from Bovada. The two top projections systems that we use are PECOTA from Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs‘ Steamer projections. You can tell how good they are by how similar they are in a lot of ways as there are only 8 teams where the difference in projection was over four.

First of all, if you are looking for a season prediction you are far better off looking at the projection systems than Bovada. The reason for this is simple: they want you to bet. While all of the projection systems were down on the defending World Champion Kansas City Royals, the bookmaker might think that there is more potential value in setting that line a bit higher. Casual fans who think their team is going to do it all again might be more likely to bet over 85.5 because they think they are going to repeat than bet over 80.5. That second number might put a negative thought in their head about the upcoming season and they might not bet at all.

The same can probably be said about the Cubs. Everyone knew they were going to be good, but if you set the line too high like 98.5 then you might not get as much action on it. I think there is a higher weight on last season’s results in these and even a certain amount of psychology that goes into it. Not much, but some.

The big winner in this one is the PECOTA system who if you followed their predictions exactly (for example betting under on the Angels at 81.5 when they were projected to win 81), you would have finished the season 18-12 and a profit of +4.2 units accounting for juice. (The odds were -115 no matter which side you chose on these.)

FanGraphs didn’t do much worse as they went 17-13 for +3.05 units after the juice. If you were to split the difference and only bet the totals in which both systems agree you would be 15-10 for +3.5 units.

That’s pretty solid, but that doesn’t mean it was all sunshine and rainbows for the projections systems. The biggest and most notable busts were:

  • Tampa Bay Rays 81.5 (Bovada)/68 (actual) -19 PECOTA -13 FanGraphs
    This was the projection that had everyone scratching their head in the pre-season. I’m sure there were a lot of fans of baseball analysis who placed a losing wager on this one and lost. While the Rays did have some injury issues this season, it’s hard to see where this one came from after seeing the results.
  • Minnesota Twins 78.5/59 -19 PECOTA -19 FanGraphs
    The rare projection that almost perfectly matched the win total. It turned out that everyone was wrong about this one as the pitching blew up and the prospects didn’t pan out. It’ll be a long time before you see a projection this high on them again.
  • Texas Rangers 84.5/95 +16 PECOTA +13 FanGraphs
    The luckiest team of all time in one run games with a ridiculous 36-11 record. Looking at their Pythagorean record which figures runs scored and runs allowed into expected wins, they should’ve been 82-80. By that measure, the projections were right on. By crazy baseball gods standards, not so much.
  • Baltimore Orioles 79.5/89 +15 PECOTA +10 FanGraphs
    Even if you look at Pythagorean record, they would’ve finished 84-78 and beaten the projections. This is a team that everyone missed on. 253 homeruns and a shutdown bullpen will do that for you.

My personal rule of thumb with these is not to bother with a team projected to win .5 or 1.5 more or less than the betting odds. I personally like a cushion of at least two wins before I’ll place a wager. Weird things happen in baseball games sometimes and you can never count on just one win.

Following that theory we have the following results:

PECOTA: 15-5 +9.25 units
FanGraphs: 8-3 +4.55 units

All in all, it was a great year for the projection systems and this is something that we will be keeping an eye on as we head towards the 2017 season.

Team Bovada PECOTA FanGraphs Actual Outcome
Arizona 82.5 78 81 69 Under
Atlanta 66.5 69 69 68 Over
Baltimore 79.5 74 79 89 Over
Boston 86.5 87 88 93 Over
Chicago NL 92.5 94 95 103 Over
Chicago AL 80.5 84 80 78 Under
Cincinnati 70.5 74 72 68 Under
Cleveland 84.5 92 86 94 Over
Colorado 70.5 74 74 75 Over
Detroit 81.5 79 81 86 Over
Houston 87.5 87 87 84 Under
Kansas City 85.5 75 77 81 Under
Los Angeles AL 81.5 76 81 74 Under
Los Angeles NL 88.5 94 92 91 Over
Miami 79.5 75 80 79 Under
Milwaukee 69.5 78 70 73 Over
Minnesota 78.5 78 78 59 Under
New York NL 89.5 90 90 87 Under
New York AL 85.5 84 82 84 Under
Oakland 75.5 76 80 69 Under
Philadelphia 65.5 66 64 71 Over
Pittsburgh 86.5 82 83 78 Under
San Diego 73.5 76 74 68 Under
San Francisco 89.5 85 88 87 Under
Seattle 82.5 84 82 86 Over
St. Louis 87.5 81 85 86 Under
Tampa Bay 81.5 87 81 68 Under
Texas 84.5 79 80 95 Over
Toronto 87.5 86 84 89 Over
Washington 89.5 87 88 95 Over

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