Cardinals news from a Sabermetric point of view

25 in 25, #1: Cardinals preseason odds of winning the World Series

[This December, we’re going to celebrate the Cardinals’ 2011 season with a series of consecutive posts leading up to Christmas Day, inspired by the recent roundtable with our fellow United Cardinal Bloggers. Each day, we’ll post one of the most compelling (in our opinion, of course) statistical stories of the year, 25 in all: our “25 in 25” series. So, as this is December 1, if we’re going to get them all finished in time, we’d better start!]

If you rewind the video on the Cardinals’ 2011 season and start watching around the September 5 mark, the team’s improbable run to a World Series victory would appear to be just that: improbable. But go back to before the season began, and you’ll find that a world championship wasn’t such an unlikely conclusion.

Going as far back as two days after the 2010 World Series ended, Vegas had the Cardinals at 14-1 odds to win the title, behind only the Yankees, Phillies, Giants and Red Sox, and tied with the Rays. That, of course, was before the Ryan Theriot and Brendan Ryan trades and the Lance Berkman acquisition (not to mention the Miguel Batista, Ian Snell and Jim Edmonds signings).

As pitchers and catchers reported to camp, NSAWins on Feb. 12 had lowered expectations: the Cardinals had a 20-1 chance of winning the World Series. That still made them the ninth most-likely to win, behind the Phillies (3-1) and Red Sox (5-1). And the team that actually won the division — the Brewers — stood as a 25-1 chance.

Then as the season began — in light of Adam Wainwright‘s season-ending injury, which Bodog Sports called “beyond devastating” — Bodog Sports had the Brewers at 20-1 for the World Series. The Cardinals fell to 22-1. For all intents and purposes, though, the Cardinals and Brewers had even odds of going all the way, and pretty good odds, at that.

Fast forward to September 4, when the Cardinals, having no one to blame but themselves for being on-pace for a mediocre 86-win season, faced very different odds: Baseball Prospectus gave them a 1.5% chance of making the postseason. And that was to say nothing of their chance of actually winning the big one. But the Cardinals refused to pack it in, notably holding onto Lance Berkman (though it is unclear whether the reason was to inspire the impossible comeback or mollify him in order to lay the groundwork for his subsequent 2012 contract).

The Cardinals’s 2011 World Series championship will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the greatest underdog performances of all-time. But only months before, the Cardinals were one of the favorites.

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