Every year, as the MLB season ramps up and teams head to spring training, the hearts of baseball fans are full of hope and optimism. The beginning of the 162-game season means warmer weather is on its way, and fan sentiment seems to be at an all-time high. Before the first pitch goes across home plate, it feels like any team could walk away with a World Series title.
So we scraped Twitter to see which fan bases are the most optimistic about their team during spring training and, along with published odds and team history, painted a picture of how this baseball season may play out.
It's Our Time
You can learn a lot about a team from Twitter – especially through tweets from the fans. We checked tweets during spring training (from Feb. 14 to March 21, 2018) to get a feel for overall sentiment before the season began. Unsurprisingly, people felt wildly optimistic about the defending champs: the Houston Astros. The Cleveland Indians weren't far behind in fan sentiment either. The "Tribe" went to the World Series in 2016, and while they ultimately lost to the Chicago Cubs, they went back to the postseason the following year. Hopes are high they'll do the same this fall.
The Cleveland Indians are gonna win the 2018 World Series— Patback (@0nefinity) March 17, 2018
On the other end of the spectrum, there were fan bases that weren't super enthusiastic about their team's World Series chances. The San Diego Padres, for instance, were ranked last in fan sentiment. The team has yet to notch a World Series win, and despite offseason additions like Eric Hosmer, they haven't reached the postseason since 2006. The Baltimore Orioles' sentiment was nearly just as poor, despite the team reaching the postseason three times since 2011. Perhaps it's due to their position in the American League East, where teams like the New York Yankees surround them, or it could be due to questions surrounding the team's starting pitcher rotation.
Who is the Cleveland Browns of baseball? No matter how hard they try, they just can’t seem to ever be good?I vote Padres— Texan Pride (@Astros_Arsenal) March 18, 2018
Predicting the Champs
Now, let's take a look at the overall possibilities of a deep postseason run and a World Series title. We incorporated published odds from CBS Sports, Bleacher Report, and Vegas Insider to create a "combined odds" meta rank, and then found the difference between the two (sentiment rank and combined odds rank). This gave us a greater look at how fan sentiment stacked up to actual odds and what this says about a team's fan base.
For example, the combined odds had the Miami Marlins ranked last (30). Compared to fan sentiment (27), Marlins fans had a fairly realistic outlook as the baseball season got underway. This was similar to the defending champs. The Astros' combined odds (2) were right in line with fan sentiment (1), so 'Stros fans were hyped the team had a good chance for a repeat title.
Other team fan base expectations and hopes weren't exactly in line with established odds, however. The Cincinnati Reds, for example, ranked 28 with combined odds, but their fans were more hopeful and optimistic, with a rank of 7. This can mean the team has supportive fans who might want to encourage their players through a rough patch.
On the other hand, we have the defending National League champs, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Combined odds had them at the top spot (1), but fan sentiment was a far cry from No. 1 overall – 20 .Perhaps the World Series loss took a toll on fan morale and their optimism.
Hey Batter, Batter
Reading spring training-related tweets is entertaining. While many fans talked about their team's superstar players, a lot of Twitter chatter dealt with big trades or top players from other teams. Tweets about the defending NL champions, the Los Angeles Dodgers, for example, mostly related to three of the team's most popular players: Clayton Kershaw, Chase Utley, and Corey Seager. Seattle Mariners fans also frequently tweeted about current popular players, including Ichiro Suzuki, Félix Hernández, and Dee Gordon.
Similarly, Cincinnati Reds fans tweeted about their beloved players, such as Joey Votto and Billy Hamilton, but the third most popular player during spring training was prospect Nick Senzel. They weren't the only fan base talking about prospects, however, as New York Mets fans were pretty excited about former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow during spring training, as he plays minor league ball for a Mets affiliate.
Playing his first game of Double-A ball, #TimTebow, the famously faithful Heisman Trophy winner and former NFL quarterback, hit a three-run homer on the first pitch he saw. First regular game at-bat in AA ball.— Dale Alan (@USMC6591) April 6, 2018
Other teams strayed even further from the current roster. Miami Marlins fans, for example, frequently tweeted about Derek Jeter. Jeter, of course, was a seasoned New York Yankees player but now has ownership in the Miami Marlins. Atlanta Braves fans were hyped about former player Chipper Jones, who was recently selected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Fans of the Kansas City Royals were obviously interested in seeing where a couple of their World Series champions wound up after they entered free agency, as tweets about Eric Hosmer, who departed for San Diego, and Mike Moustakas, who ultimately stayed in KC, increased.
It's Only the Beginning
While early season predictions are as ironclad as predicting the weather six months early, it's still entertaining to look into team history, offseason movements, and spring training fan sentiment to try to paint a picture of the 2018 postseason. While social media fans don't always have insider information, and their fandom may get in the way of scientifically predicting which teams will have success during a long baseball season, sometimes there's something to be said for those who follow their teams day in and day out.
We scraped 238,957 posts from Twitter containing MLB team-related hashtags. Then using TextBlob, a Python library that performs common natural language processing, we determined the sentiment of the text. Sentiment is an analysis of how positive, neutral, or negative something is. It is based on a score of -1 to 1, with -1 being extremely negative, 0 being neutral, and 1 being extremely positive. Because this is based on a pre-existing text analysis library, we were not able to customize the dictionary used to analyze this text; therefore, words that may be positive in the context of this topic may not be recognized as positive in this analysis. All 30 official MLB Twitter handles were excluded to ensure only fan-generated posts were analyzed. Hypotheses were then statistically tested.
We gathered existing published odds from usatoday.com, cbssports.com, and vegasinsider.com to create our meta ranking of teams most likely to win the World Series.
Fair Use Statement
The baseball season is back in full force, which means the countdown to the World Series has started! Don't hesitate to share our findings with your readers for any noncommercial purposes. We just ask that you be a team player and link back to this page so that our contributors earn recognition for their hard work.