In the wake of the Blue Jays' latest big deal, the Las Vegas bookmaker Bovada has installed the Jays as favorites to win the 2013 World Series. Here are the five teams at the top of the list:
Those odds are ridiculously out of line, right?
I'm not blaming the people who set the odds; I'm assuming they're just trying to balance the money (although it gets complicated when you consider how bets are actually made). My only point is that the Blue Jays, at this moment, don't have anything like a 1-in-7.5 chance of winning the World Series next fall.
Think about it. There will be 10 postseason teams next fall. Even if we know the Jays are going to qualify for the tournament, we still wouldn't give them better than a 1-in-10 chance of winning the World Series. Maybe, at most, 1 in 9 or something, if we thought they were legitimately the best team going in.
Which is possible, but unlikely. That's purely academic, though, because we don't know the Jays are going to qualify for the postseason; in fact there's a substantial chance that they won't. There should be at least two other good teams in their division, but let's give them the benefit of the doubt and say they've got a 40-percent chance of winning the American League East. If they do win the East, they'll be one of the last eight postseason teams standing.
0.53 * 0.5 * 0.53 = 14 percent = 7 to 1
See what I did there? I gave the Jays two bonuses: one for maybe playing a wild-card team in their Division Series, and another playing in the Big Boy League; I still believe the Americans are significantly better than the Nationals, and that we should consider that in such figurings. My estimate in both spots is probably one or two points too high, but whatever; I've got my thumb on the scale, trying to help our friends to the north.
But that's pretty good! And it's almost exactly in line with the quoted odds.
The problem is that they've got just a 40-percent chance (by my lights) of actually winning the division and having that 1-in-7 chance of winning the World Series.
Of course, if they don't win the East, they'll still have roughly -- I mean, very roughly, and again giving them the benefit of the doubt -- a 50-percent chance of qualifying for the Wild Card Game, in which case they're one of 10 postseason teams, and faced with winning that game, followed by three whole postseason series.
If you're an American League wild card -- that is, probably not one of the two or three best teams in the American League -- here's the math:
0.5 * 0.47 * 0.47 * 0.50 = 5.5 percent = 18 to 1
So that's not real good ... and there's still that significant chance that the Blue Jays don't qualify for the postseason at all. A year ago, the Phillies and the Red Sox and the Rays and Diamondbacks were all considered good bets for the tournament -- after all, each club had been there just a few months earlier -- and yet all were on the sidelines in October.
I'm going to be honest with you guys, just this once ... I'm not smart enough to add all these probabilities together and arrive at a single, reasonably precise number. I know that sometimes you're suppose to add probabilities and sometimes you're suppose to multiply them, but this is just too many probabilities.
Let me try to ballpark it, though. Overall, I figure the chance of the Blue Jays qualifying for the postseason is roughly 60 percent; there will be five postseason teams in the league, and there will be around eight teams competing for those five spots. If the Jays are one of those five teams, they'll have -- again, roughly speaking, and accounting for the distinct possibility that they're stuck in the Wild Card Game -- an eight-percent chance of actually winning the World Series. I do know you're supposed to multiply 0.60 times .08, the product of which is 0.048.
Which is to say that unless my math is badly off, the Blue Jays' chance of winning the 2013 World Series is closer to 1 in 20 than 1 in 7.5. If you want to push it, you might argue they've got a 1-in-15 chance. But you could say much the same about any other contending team that isn't clearly the class of its league. Which is, roughly speaking, all of them.
P.S. None of this means the Jays shouldn't actually be considered the favorites to win the World Series. It just means they shouldn't be that favorite. On paper, they're probably about as good as anybody. But little better. And playing in the American League East isn't going to help.