Thursday, 5 June 2014

Fun with Math and Playoff Odds

Hi.  I'm back.  I kind of decided last year that posting anything and everything that I thought of was sort of detrimental to this whole project.  Too much riff-raff, not enough good stuff.  Then I noticed that I wasn't writing anything at all.  Which is also detrimental to the project.  Guess I just have to start writing reasonable stuff, or at least make more .gifs of things, which I haven't gotten around to figuring out on Mac just yet.

Anyway, I kind of remember during last year's dumpster fire, mathematically taking a stab at figuring out what the hell was going to happen with the club, and what exactly was needed to even have a chance at sniffing the playoffs.

Obviously things are a little bit different this year-- the Jays have played 61 games this season, and have a 5-game lead in the division at the time of my writing this, having finished off a sweep of the Tigers this afternoon.  This is compared with a 25-34 record on this date last year, which was 10.5 games back of first.

Last year in mid-May, the Jays had, according to various sources and forumlae, somewhere in the area of 0.3%-5.8% chance at making the playoffs.  Then they got hot and got themselves to within a few games of the division, but still only found themselves at a high-water mark of like 17%.

Basically, you can get a pretty good idea of a team's end-of-season winning percentage and chances of making the playoffs by looking at their first 1/3 of the season (I read something 2 years ago that suggests something like 44 games is enough, though I can't find it at the moment).

So let's have a look at the math this year, huh?  I think the big thing to consider here is the relative pace that the non-Jays AL East teams are on this year.  Last year, four teams had at least 32 wins at this point, which is a .550 (or better) winning percentage.  I believe the number I was looking for last year was 93 wins, thanks to the pace everyone was on-- Tampa won 92 and lost the division by 5 games.

This year, you've got the Jays (.606), and then Baltimore (.526) as the next best.  As such, the O's are on pace for 85 wins, which should make 90* wins a reasonably safe benchmark for winning the division.

Charts that can be clicked upon to embiggen:

and playoff odds that reflect this:

* -- If we want to use 93 wins again, which suggests that the Jays can play .554 ball through the end of the year, Baltimore needs to play .600 ball for the rest of the year, which is 97 wins extrapolated to a full year.  Boston would need to play .640 baseball, or 103 win ball.

** -- Fangraphs uses projected runs scored and allowed, and regresses YTD team performance in their future performance, and is probably worth checking out more than any of the others.

As far as that chart goes, it's just some quick back-of-the-envelope math that compares what teams have done so far this year with what they will need to do to get to 90 wins.  Those last two columns signify what winning percentage a team needs to get to 90 wins, and then the full season pace when that winning percentage is extrapolated.  In other words, if the Red Sox want to win 90 games this season, they need to play like a 99-win team from this point forward, whereas the Jays only need to win at an 85-win clip, thanks to the headstart they've given themselves.

So this all means a lot, right?

Of course not.  Lose 5 in a row, or 7 of 9 or whatever, and this division is entirely back to normal.  The point remains, however, that 61 games is a meaningful enough sample size to suggest that this result isn't a complete anomaly, even if we can expect some regression.

In closing, this brings me to a point made by Paul Beeston last week:
There’s no magic number for attendance; if there’s a deal, it’s not going to be money that determines if it’s going to be done, it’s going to be wins. If we’re winning we’ll do it. I hope we have that opportunity
It's fairly evident that the wins are there, and that the Jays need to make their improvements as soon as possible to cash in on their odds.  In fact, the wins don't even need to be there at anywhere near the pace that they're coming right now.

Of course, we know that teams aren't typically selling until the deadline, so as to maximize the return -- demand is higher at the deadline, after all, and teams don't want to start selling until they know that they're out of it for certain.  The point remains, though-- the combination of the division being weak, and the Jays getting themselves in to such a position early on means that the time to buy is whenever someone decides that they're ready to sell.

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