The 2012 Oakland Athletics weren’t supposed to contend for the postseason. On June 29th they had a 1% chance to make the playoffs (let alone win the AL West). They were down five games to the Rangers with ten to play.

After overcoming all of that, it is really hard to look past these A’s even with the disadvantage of opening their first playoff series since 2006 on the road.

In the American League Division series the A’s face the AL Central Champion Detriot Tigers. The Tigers are a good team but I really don’t see them as a great team. Of all the possible teams to open against, only the miracle Orioles would’ve provided a more favorable matchup than Detroit.

Here is the statistical breakdown for each squad:

Offense

       AVG        OBP         SLG       wOBA       wRC+
A’s 0.238 0.310 0.404 0.312 98
Tigers 0.268 0.335 0.422 0.327 104

Pitching

       ERA-         FIP-        xFIP-
A’s 88 96 102
Tigers 91 86 90

 

The Tigers have an edge in hitting, but the gap closes when you take into account each team’s home ballpark. As for pitching, the A’s have the edge in ERA but the Tigers take over when you look at defensive independent metrics. It should be noted however that the Tigers have been one of the worst defensive teams in the AL this year, so run prevention might be pretty close to a wash as well.

Next let’s move on to the projection. In case you forgot or haven’t seen the explanation, here is a quick description of how the model works:

  • I start by estimating the runs scored and allowed for each team given the starting pitcher, bullpen, defense and each team’s offense.
  • The data used in the projection model is based on the current season’s statistics to date and if a player has less than a full season of data it is supplemented with the ZiPS projections
  • The estimated run differential is then converted into a projected winning percentage using the pythagorean expectation.
  • Then, it’s converted into an odds of winning the game using the log5 method developed by Bill James

Probables:

Saturday, October 6, 3:00 PM: Justin Verlander vs. Jarrod Parker

Sunday, October 7, 9:00 AM: Doug Fister vs. Tommy Milone

Tuesday, October 9, 6:00 PM: Anibal Sanchez vs. Brett Anderson*

Wednesday, October 10, TBD**: Max Scherzer vs. A.J. Griffin*

Thursday, October 11, TBD**: Justin Verlander vs. Jarrod Parker

*The A’s haven’t announced their starters beyond Game 2, but this is what beat writer Susan Slusser has projected so we will go with that. If it changes I will update the projections.

**If necessary

Odds:

      Tigers           A’s
Game 1

53%

47%

Game 2

54%

46%

Game 3

37%

63%

Game 4

50%

50%

Game 5

51%

49%

 

The Tigers are technically favored in three out of five games but most of those are in what I would term the toss-up range (less than 55%), where I feel that the model doesn’t have enough accuracy to definitively consider one team superior to the other.

The one thing I found curious is that the A’s are going with Milone in Game 2 over Anderson. Milone has some very noticeable home/road splits with a 3.16 FIP at home against a 4.76 FIP on the road. Perhaps Anderson isn’t going to be ready and needs a few extra days. Regardless it seems like a bit of an odd choice not to push Milone to Game 3.

Long story short: the model sees these two teams as roughly equal outside of Anderson who, with the home field advantage, has a a decisive edge over Anibal Sanchez.

Here is how the different permutations turn out for the series, with the odds of each team winning in a certain number of games:

Games Tigers A’s

3

11%

13%

4

18%

20%

5

19%

19%

Total

48%

52%

 

With all the long odds the A’s have overcome this season it feels weird to have them as a slight favorite in the playoffs. I would almost feel better if they were to be considered the underdogs in this series just so they could go out and prove everyone who doubts them wrong one more time.