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How a shortened season affects 2020’s playoff odds

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The mid-tier teams are the ones who will benefit most from a shortened season. 

Cleveland Indians v Chicago White Sox Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Although the start of a 2020 season is still uncertain due to a resurgence in the virus, the league and MLBPA came to an agreement on a 60-game season beginning in late-July. As we know, the shorter a series, the less likely the ‘best’ (read most talented) team comes out victorious.

Similarly, the shorter a season, the more a hot-streak or a cold-streak matters, and the larger the implications on the team’s playoff chances. The thing about a 162-game season is that generally speaking, the better teams rise to the top over the course of the long-haul, and the lousy teams usually find their way to the bottom of the standings.

In a 60-game season, especially a season in which an entire team, or several, may end up on the injured list (what then, MLB...what then??), it’s the middle-of-the-road teams that will benefit the most, and the hands-down favorites who will not benefit from the leaner schedule, especially in light of the fact that more teams this season will make the playoffs.

The shortened season is good news for the White Sox, Reds, and Angels, and pretty bad news for the Yankees, Nationals and Rays.

Although some roster changes happened since February, though not materially much at the top of any team’s rotation or lineup.

Comparing Fangraphs’ updated ZiPS Playoff odds with the playoff odds in February, there are some stark differences in how the 30 teams’ playoff odds have changed

Pre/Post-COVID Playoff Odds

Team Pre-COVID Playoff Odds Curent Playoff Odds Playoff Odds Change
Team Pre-COVID Playoff Odds Curent Playoff Odds Playoff Odds Change
White Sox 18.7% 36.8% 18.1%
Reds 23.1% 37.6% 14.5%
Angels 15.6% 27.7% 12.1%
Rockies 0.7% 10.9% 10.2%
Rangers 1.6% 11.7% 10.1%
Brewers 31.0% 39.4% 8.4%
Red Sox 31.9% 39.1% 7.2%
Blue Jays 0.9% 7.9% 7.0%
Cardinals 28.1% 34.4% 6.3%
Royals 0.3% 6.1% 5.8%
Phillies 18.2% 23.8% 5.6%
Pirates 0.8% 5.3% 4.5%
Diamondbacks 18.9% 23.2% 4.3%
Giants 0.1% 4.0% 3.9%
Marlins 0.1% 3.1% 3.0%
Cubs 46.6% 48.8% 2.2%
Tigers 0.0% 2.1% 2.1%
Mariners 0.0% 1.0% 1.0%
Orioles 0.0% 0.1% 0.1%
Indians 51.2% 48.0% -3.2%
Mets 46.3% 40.7% -5.6%
Astros 84.1% 78.2% -5.9%
Athletics 52.5% 43.6% -8.9%
Dodgers 98.7% 86.9% -11.8%
Twins 75.4% 62.8% -12.6%
Padres 49.4% 36.0% -13.4%
Braves 66.3% 52.7% -13.6%
Yankees 90.5% 75.4% -15.1%
Rays 77.2% 59.6% -17.6%
Nationals 71.7% 53.3% -18.4%
Fangraphs’ Playoffs Odds

Five teams have upped their playoff odds by 10+ percentage points, including the White Sox, who went from below 19 percent to a whopping 37 percent! Of course, all the previously favored playoff teams took the major hits, led by the Yankees, Rays, and Nationals whose odds dipped 15+ points. The Yankees were over 90 percent entering the normal regular season, and are just a shade over 75 percent today.

Last season if only the first 60 games were counted, the eventual World Champion Nationals would not have made the playoffs, as they started the season an underwhelming 27-33. Cleveland wasn’t as luck, as their .500 start over the fist 60 games set them way behind the Twins, and they missed the playoffs despite going 63-39 (a .574 winning percentage) the rest of the way.

Putting aside the possibility of entire teams being sidelined due to COVID, this 60-game season will be fun, as any team that strings together a seven or eight game winning streak will be well positioned for a spot in the playoffs, where anything can happen. Whether or not the league can make it through the abbreviated season is another story entirely.

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Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano