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Mariners blog

Daily coverage of the Mariners during the season and all year long.

July 31, 2009 at 10:39 PM

What are the “real” playoff chances for the Seattle Mariners?

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Anyone can talk about a team having a chance to win in baseball. It’s something that keeps the sport going. No team likes to admit it is out of a playoff race with two months to go. But baseball executives are paid good money to make objective evaluations of their team and the realistic chances it has of winning.
Fans are different. Believe me, I have my favorite teams in all sports and don’t like to cry “uncle” at any time. But when you are running a pro team, or covering one, there is no room for crossing your fingers when it comes time for professional analysis.
And in this day and age of statistics, there are sites out there that will try to break it down into a percentage. A nice, cold number that spells things out.
Here’s one site, Coolstandings.com, which lists Seattle’s playoff hopes right now at 2 percent. That was before the Mariners lost tonight’s game and after the Angels had won theirs. The folks at Coolstandings use computers to simulate the rest of the season as best they can.


I’ll let them explain how they break it down with an exerpt from their own site.
Basically we simulate the rest of the season millions of times, based on every team’s performance to date and its remaining schedule. We then look at how many “seasons” a team won its division or won the wildcard, and voila – we have our numbers.
The trick, of course, is to determine what chance each team has of beating every other team. Our method is to use simple team statistics (e.g. runs scored and runs against) to predict how each team will fare against all others. For those of you familiar with baseball prediction, we use a variation of the Bill James “Pythagorean Theorem” to predict results. Pretty smart, huh? That’s why we call this prediction mode “Smart mode”.

Now, Coolstandings also has something called a “Dumb mode” in which they use this formula:
Another method is to simply assume that any team has a 50-50 shot of beating any other team. You could flip a coin to decide who would win each game. This method isn’t too realistic, but it usually gives Chicago teams a better shot at the division. For lack of a better term, we call this prediction mode “Dumb mode”.
Using that mode, the Mariners shoot up to 8.3 percent. But again, that’s if you want to be “dumb” about it. A front office can’t afford that.
Now, of course none of this is perfect. But it’s a little more reliable than trotting out video footage of the 1995 Mariners every night. As I’ve been telling you, only one American League division leader has blown a lead of six or more games at the deadline and gone on to lose the division since the wild-card era began. That was the Angels in 1995.
There have been 39 division winners since. If you count 1995, that’s one team out of 42 division leaders to blow such a lead. Do the math. Coolstandings has it about bang-on.
I find Coolstandings to be the most user friendly system for casual fans.
Baseball Prospectus offers a more in-depth version of playoff odds.
They had the Mariners at 4.5 percent heading into tonight, but obviously, that will go down.
BP looks at current standings, then at what the team’s record “should” be based off “adjusted standings” and a whole bunch of complex calculations. You can read about it on their site if you’d like.
So, I know it’s frustrating for you. I know the front office wants to put its best face forward and insist the team will still try to make the playoffs. And I have no doubt the team will try. But the front office can’t be making moves based on unrealistic hopes. In this day and age of computers and advanced baseball stats, even if you aren’t a fan of sabermetrics, there really is a way to gauge this stuff. You go a certain amount on gut feel, sure, but a guy like Jack Zduriencik, who’s been around for decades, knows how unlikely a challenge his team faces.
It isn’t simply a matter of making up a week’s worth of games. Yeah, the Mariners could win nine in a row and the Angels lose nine. Forgetting the Rangers for a moment, which complicates things further, the odds of a nine-win, nine-loss scenario are highly unlikely. It almost never happens that way, much as our brain might make us think it does.
And as much as I love a good pennant race, the anticipation, the excitement of waking up and coming to the ballpark, of hanging on every pitch, I simply can’t analyze the moves of a front office based on that. If we’re going to judge chances in this day and age, there are better ways than that of doing it.
At 20 percent, or 30 percent? That’s a whole lot different. At that point, a five or six-game winning streak can really change things with two months left. But not at 2, or 3, or 4 percent.
This team made the right move today. Had it’s chances been more like 30 or 40 percent, Washburn would not have been dealt. At least, not for what the Mariners got today. If anything, it would have been for a bat or something that would help more in the near-term than this. Or, he would have been kept. That’s what contenders do. Trust me on that. Or don’t. Just look it up.

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