Kazmir and Cueto (07/28/15)

By John Ewing Director of Research and Analytics @johnewing
Aces and Playoff Teams - starting pitchers that will impact the MLB postseason.

The Houston Astros acquired Scott Kazmir in a trade with the Oakland Athletics last Thursday for a pair of minor leaguers. A few days later the Kansas City Royals obtained Johnny Cueto, a front of the rotation starter, from the Cincinnati Reds for three pitching prospects.

What impact will these starting pitchers have on the Astros' and Royals' World Series odds?

Houston Astros - Kazmir

Houston is one game behind the Los Angeles Angels in the AL West but currently holds a two game lead over the Minnesota Twins for the first Wild Card. Kazmir, a top-tier starter, will help the Astros in their chase for a playoff berth – Houston has not been to the playoffs since 2005.

Kazmir was 5-5 with a 2.38 ERA in 18 starts for Oakland. In his first appearance with Houston, Kazmir went seven innings allowing just three hits and no earned runs in a 4-0 win against Kansas City.

The addition of the former All-Star pitcher increased Houston's projected record from 86.5-75.5 to 87.7-74.3. Over the remainder of the season, Kazmir is worth 1.2 wins but the ‘Stros are projected to finish second in their division. Where the Kazmir trade really benefits Houston is in the playoffs.

Before the trade, the Astros had a 12.9 percent chance to win the American League and a 5.5 percent chance to win the World Series. The acquisition of Kazmir increased Houston's pennant odds to 20.0 percent and the Astros have a 9.3 percent chance to win the World Series – the 3rd best odds behind the Dodgers (22.8 percent) and Cardinals (13.9 percent).

After Dallas Keuchel, there are question marks about each starter in Houston's rotation. Kazmir gives the Astros a true number two starter and a legitimate chance to win the World Series.

Kansas City Royals - Cueto

The Royals have the best record in the American League and a dominating eight game lead in their division but the starting rotation hasn't been pretty. Before the trade, Kansas City's starters averaged 5.5 innings pitched per appearance (last in AL), had an ERA of 4.30 (11th in AL) and a K/9 of 6.1 (13th in AL).

Cueto, a 20 game winner last year, will improve all of those stats. The ace has a 2.62 ERA, has averaged nearly seven innings over 19 starts this season and has a K/9 of 8.3.

Kansas City's projected record before the trade was 91.8-70.2. Tthe addition of Cueto improves the Royals record to 93.1-68.9 (1st in the AL Central). KC, like Houston, really benefits from the trade in the playoffs.

The Royals were already 98.1 percent likely to make the playoffs before acquiring Cueto. After the trade, Kansas City's playoff probability increased to 98.7 percent. The team is 27.2 percent (up from 22.2 percent) likely to repeat as American League champions and 11.6 percent likely to win the World Series (up from 7.8 percent).

The Cueto trade was not only a boon for Kansas City but it also weakened Houston's chance to win the World Series. Before KC traded for its new ace last Sunday, Houston had the third best odds to win the World Series at 9.3 percent entering the weekend. Now the Royals have the third best odds, again behind the Dodgers and Cardinals, with an 11.6 percent chance. Houston's World Series odds have decreased to 8.2 percent.

Kazmir and Cueto improve their respective new teams. These top of the rotation starters are just the arms the Astros and Royals will need if they are to win the World Series.

Team Win World Series Before Trade Win World Series After Trade
Houston Astros 5.5% 8.2%
Kansas City Royals 7.8% 11.6%