Every team in baseball has at least 20 games remaining. 20 games is a lot. What I find somewhat surprising—given the second wildcard position—is that there are only 1.5 playoff races going on in baseball right now. The Yankees, Indians and Orioles are all trying to catch up to the Rays for the final playoff spot in the AL. That’s the full playoff race of the 1.5. The half-playoff race comes in the NL Central, where the two losers among the Pirates, Cardinals and Reds will almost surely nab a date against each other in the NL’s one-game wildcard playoff.
But sorting through the playoff races using “games behind” is a messy procedure, and I like looking at the races in a different light. Instead of games behind, I find it more informative to look at playoff percentages—that is, each team’s probability of making the playoffs and/or winning the division. Fortunately, Fangraphs now publishes CoolStanding’s playoff chances, while Baseball Prospectus has its own version, and good estimates of these probabilities are readily available.
All that playoff certainty I was talking about up there is really underscored by these playoff probabilities. Since 10 teams will make the playoffs, there are 1,000 percentage points to go around, yet the top 10 teams are hogging about 950% with three freaking weeks left in season. Talk about your snoozefest. If you go by Baseball Prospectus’ odds, that figure is even a little higher. In the NL, of the 500 percentage points to go around, the top five teams have all but about 1.5%.
Sure, division races are important, arguably more important now with the extra wildcard. Having to play in the wildcard series essentially cuts a team’s World Series chances in half, and of course, doesn’t guarantee a whole series worth of revenue. However, there are only two races that are remotely interesting, the NL Central and the AL West.
Of the 300% probability for division winners in the AL, both playoff simulation sites suggest the frontrunners own about 255%, or nearly 85% of the probability. In the NL, that probability is virtually the same.
This season is not providing a lot of support that another playoff slot makes things more interesting. Of course, we all know it’s a revenue thing, but it sure would be a bonus if it made the races more interesting. However, with only 12 teams having double-digit percentage chances at 10 playoff spots, I’m not sure we’re getting that bonus.