Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What Does It Take to Make Baseball's Playoffs?

A while ago, I decided to find out how many games it took to win Major League Baseball's Divisions.  I looked at the average number of games won by the second-place teams, and added one, and got my answer.

For the American League East, that average was 92 wins.  It was 92 when I took it back to 1996, the first season of the three-divisions-plus-one-wild-card setup (the first one not shortened by a strike, anyway), and it remained 92 when I took it back to 1969, the first season of any kind of divisional play.  Therefore, in those years, it took 93 wins to win the AL East.  That that this total was the average of the teams that did win, but that 93 wins would be enough to win the Division.

I saw a blog that suggested that, given current rosters and statistical projections, the Yankees would win 85 games in 2013 -- not enough to win the AL East or either of the 2 AL Wild Cards.

So I looked it up, looking at both Leagues from the debut of the Wild Card onward, 1996 to 2012.

In the American League, the average is 90 wins exactly.  Even though the Oakland Athletics finished 2nd in the AL West in 2002, with 102 wins, behind the Seattle Mariners' AL record 116 wins, the win total of the best team that did not qualify for either their Division title or the Wild Card was the 86 of the Minnesota Twins.  102 to 86 is a huge dropoff, although the Twins finished a much smaller 6 games behind the Cleveland Indians for the AL Central.  The Indians won 91 and the A's won 102, yet the Tribe won their Division and the A's didn't win theirs.

In the National League, the average is nearly 90: 89.588 wins.  So, round it up to 90.

Now, this doesn't mean that, if the Yankees win 90 games, and no more, that they will make the Playoffs.  Only that they would be likely to do so.  After all, my 93-win projection was not enough this time, as both the Wild Card teams, the Baltimore Orioles and the Texas Rangers, won 93, and neither won their Divisions: The Yankees won 95 and the A's won 94.  (The Detroit Tigers won 88, but that was enough to win the AL Central.  The NL Wild Cards were won by the Atlanta Braves, with 94, and the St. Louis Cardinals, with just 88.)

Can the Yankees, as currently constituted, win 90 games? Possibly.  Can they win 93? I don't know, I'm not optimistic.

We don't know who the starting catcher will be.  Russell Martin has signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and general manager Brian Cashman didn't lift a finger to re-sign him.  The remaining options are, for the moment, unappetizing.

We don't know how Alex Rodriguez is going to come back, and we don't know what the Yankees are going to do at 3rd base until he does.  The thought of Kevin Youkilis as a Yankee makes my skin crawl.  In the words of the immortal Abbott & Costello, "I don't know -- third base!"

We don't know how Mariano Rivera is going to come back.  As good as he was before his injury, he's 43.

We don't know if Andy Pettitte has one more good year in him.  As good as he was when healthy this past season, he'll turn 41 next season.

Too many question marks.  I'm reminded of a sequence in a movie that premiered 20 years ago today, December 11, 1992, starring Manasquan High School Class of '54, Jack Nicholson, and Glen Ridge High School Class of '80, Tom Cruise:

Jessup: You want answers?
Kaffee: I think I'm entitled!
Jessup: You want answers?
Kaffee: I want the truth!
Jessup: YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH!

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