What History Tells Us to Expect From a 60-Game Season
Image courtesy of © Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY SportsAs most baseball fans know, the importance of a 162-game regular season is not just an excuse to make more money for the owners, but also a needed thing to create a large enough sample size to adequately separate the good teams from the not as good teams. With the random variation of the sport of baseball, it is clear that a season that is just 37 percent of the length of a normal season will have a number of teams make that postseason, that wouldn’t have otherwise made it. So, let’s take a look to see how big of an impact the shortened season will have on the 2020 MLB Postseason picture.
To find this impact, I looked back at every season dating back to 2012 (when the current playoff structure was enacted) to see how different things looked at the 60-game point of the season, versus how they looked at the end of the regular season.
The first we will look at is the number of teams that made the postseason in a given season, that would not have made the postseason at the 60-game point of the season. Of the 80 teams who have made the postseason since 2012, 61 of them (76.2 percent) were in at least a tie for a postseason spot at the 60-game mark. However, of those 61 teams nine of them would have still needed to win a tie-breaker game (in some cases multiple) to actually make it into the postseason.
The bigger issue though, is not with the teams that are eventually represented in the postseason, but with the teams that eventually win their division. Using the same sample of data, of the 48 teams who won their division since 2012, just 27 of them (56.3 percent) had a least a share of the division lead at the 60-game mark, with five of those 27 teams being in a tie for the division lead. In total, just 22 of the 48 teams (45.8 percent) who eventually won their division were the outright leader of their division at the 60-game point of the season.
The question many fans want answered is how many games does my team need to win in order for them to make the postseason? Let’s use the below table to help us answer this question.
*This chart includes teams that were at least tied for a playoff spot at the 60-game point of the season.
This table illustrates how many teams have won each of the specified number of games by their 60th game of the season, along with the number of those teams that would have qualified for the postseason (including ties) had that season only been 60 games long. It is worth noting that this table does not include any teams with less than 31 wins, as none of those teams would have qualified for a postseason spot. That means we can expect 31 wins to be the bare minimum number of wins a team will need to reach the postseason this year.
Another piece of information that we can draw from this table is a team will need at least 32 wins if they would like a better than not chance of reaching the postseason, and they would need to reach 35 wins (a 94.5 win pace) in order to all but guarantee themselves a spot in the postseason.
However, just reaching the postseason isn’t everything, as there is also a big advantage to winning your division in the current postseason format. The table below is the same as the one above, but instead looks at if a team was in position to win their division or not.
*This chart includes teams that were at least tied for the division lead at the 60-game point of the season.
Again, the cutoff to make this chart is 31 wins, as no team with less than 31 wins held at least a share of a division lead over this timeframe. The two teams who had 31 wins in this sample were the 2015 Washington Nationals and the 2015 New York Mets, who were tied for the National League East division lead with records of 31-29 at the 60-game point of the season.
While 32 wins is the mark that teams need to shoot for if they want at least a 50 percent chance to make the postseason, if they want to win their division, they will likely need to get to 34 wins, which is a 92 win pace over a full 162 game season.
As we can see from this data, every game will have extreme importance during the 2020 MLB season. In a typical year, the average division winner wins is 95.9 games, while the average wild card team wins roughly 91.2 games, equating to a 4.7-game gap between winning the division and only being a wild card team. Over the course of a 60-game season, we can expect the average division winner to win 35.7 games, while the average wild card team will win 33.4 games, for a gap of just 2.3 games.
With teams having schedules that are so heavily intradivision games, this effect will be magnified even further. For the Twins, their 10 games against the Cleveland Indians and 10 games against the Chicago White Sox will be 20 of the most impactful regular season games in franchise history.
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