MLB Influence - April 2012

Last year I rolled out an MLB Influence infographic every month, in place of projected standings. This year, I'm more or less doing the same thing, with an added piece of data.

FanGraphs and Sports Illustrated have teamed up for MLB power rankings this season. The rankings are based on team WAR totals. I've now added this to the Cool Standings data, and search traffic data from Google Insights. I've also tried to make the graphic a little more interactive by sharing it on Google Docs. The result? It's below:

If you'd like to see the data in a more legible table, click here. The playoff odds and popularity ratings are both on a 100-point scale (the most popular team automatically gets a 100-point rating). Game data is through games as of April 29. Search data is through May 3. These dates will by synched up in the future.

We would hope that teams which have accumulated more WAR would have a better chance at making the playoffs, and the trend on the graph clearly supports that.

The biggest disappoint so far, according to the influence ratings, has to be the Tigers. The size of their bubble suggests that they are popular, and their playoff odds are much higher than other teams with comparable WAR totals.

Teams off to surprising starts are the ones at the bottom of the trend line. The Mets, Royals, and Braves all stick out to a degree on this end (not like the Tigers do on the flip side). These are the teams which have low playoff odds compared to other teams with comparable WAR totals. Kansas City in particular is in an unfortunate spot; they have performed surprisingly well to start the season, but it's hard to see their "good" start paying off. Not many people are Googling them, and Cool Standings still projects them as postseason long shots. It doesn't help that the Royals some how turned their seemingly decent start into an 8-16 record. You gotta feel for Royals fans.

The reality is that the season is still young, but a month is worth something. I like to think of early results as the holes teams dig, or the jump starts they get.

For instance, the Rangers probably aren't as good as they've been, and the Angels probably aren't as bad. The reality is that there is a 7.5-game gap between them right now though, no matter how good or bad they theoretically are. If you thought the Angels were going to win 12 more games than the Rangers at the start of the year, then don't worry. That's the pace the Angels need to have to catch Texas by the end of the season, given where both teams are right now.

It's easy to see why Cool Standings already looks at the Rangers as a near lock to make the playoffs.

The infographic is pretty hard to read right now, and that's a good thing. Teams are clumped together after a month, which is great for the game. That means teams haven't separated much, for the most part. We know a little, but not a lot.

I'd say to watch the Detroit Tigers over the next month. They are clearly an outlier in the overall trend. They have underperformed badly, but nobody in the AL Central took advantage. Will the Tigers round into the form expected of them, or will the AL Central be a tight race between a group of mediocre teams? The players will reveal answers to us on the field, day by day.