What Are the Chances of Making the Playoffs?

Two weeks ago, notsellingjeans eyeballed playoff odds for a hypothetical team based solely on win totals, and I got curious. If a team won 88 games, how often could it expect to make the playoffs? 92 games? 94? Now, I'm sure people with more resources (and better math skills) have done this before, but a quick Google search didn't bring me anything. Notsellingjeans referenced a post on Tom Tango's daily blog that I was able to find, but it didn't give many answers either. So why not take a stab at it?

First off, I had to restrict this to the post-wild card era. In 1994, MLB shuffled up the old system by creating a third division, Central, to stand alongside each league's West and East divisions. The wild card was added at the same time, increasing the number of playoff seeds from four to eight. Obviously, this changed the playoff odds considerably. Unfortunately, the 1994 season was truncated by the strike, so the new playoff system didn't debut until 1995. This gave me 15 seasons of data to work with. Not as many as I would like, but usable.

All I did was calculate the percent of teams that made the playoffs for any given win total. This was plotted to reveal a playoff chances curve. One logistic regression later, and I was left with this:

Poddsequation_medium

What does it mean? Just plug in the amount of wins for a hypothetical team, and the equation spits out the playoff chances. Here's a table of playoff odds.

Wins

80

81

82

83

84

85

86

87

88

89

Odds

  2%

  3%

  4%

  6%

  8%

12%

17%

23%

31%

40%

Wins

90

91

92

93

94

95

96

97

98

99

Odds

50%

60%

69%

77%

83%

88%

92%

94%

96%

97%

 

Odds and Ends

  • I'd imagine a lot of you will have the same first response as I did: The odds seem high. The 50% mark is only at 90 wins. Before doing the math, my first guess was that the 50% mark would be at 92 or 93.
  • This doesn't account for division size, schedule strength, or anything else, really. PECOTA's playoff odds are specific about the team and the division, but this is more of a general hypothetical. It seems fair to say that the playoff odds for a team in a small division like the AL West would be better than the odds of a team in a five-team or six-team division.
  • In case you're curious, here's the playoff appearance chart.
  • The 1999 Reds won 96 games and missed the NL wild card? Ouch. Forgot about that.
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