The Probability of making the playoffs. Playoffs? #Nats

Photo for Talk Nats from staff photographer Sol Tucker of NLDS “Red Sea”

The problem of what realist management and fans should do about their teams who are looking at a “Snowball’s” chance of making the playoffs.

I cannot speak to the Mariners realistic playoff chances, but will say that ESPN’s/Nate Silver’s 538 has a good analysis into the probabilities of the chances that the Nationals will make the playoffs. I haven’t done nearly the statistical permutations he has, but we arrived independently at nearly identical (statistically insignificant) percentages. The Nationals and Mariners are the only two teams that constitute a “murky middle” where they are neither clearly in the running for a playoff berth, nor so far out of contention the placing a significant bet on them in Vegas would draw scrutiny.

Notice that the Pirates and Giants have only one more loss than the Nats, but these two teams have a “next to nothing” shot according to ESPN’s odds. Meanwhile, “The Ghost” told me that Will Clark recently told the Giants players that they were in it until mathematically eliminated as a motivation to keep playing hard. In that case, then, until just a few days ago the Orioles had a chance as well. The Nats are 8 out in the NL East loss column with two teams ahead of them, while the Giants also have 8 losses to overcome with three teams to overtake for an NL West crown. And yet 538 (and yours truly) have the Curly .500s playing in October at 5.5% (approx.), while the Bucs and Giants languish at 0.1%. The Nationals have slightly better than a 1 in 20 chance.  So you’re saying there’s a chance!

I consider 5.5% probabilty not out of the question for a playoff berth. In other words, I wouldn’t be stunned. As to Pittsburgh and San Fran’s 0.1% — yes, it’s “possible”, but it ain’t gonna happen.

Setting baseball aside, how do both fans and management define 5.5% and 0.1%? And how does one’s business model make pending and future decisions with these projections in mind?

Recently, unsolicited, a friend (who doesn’t follow baseball) said the Nationals have “No chance” at making the playoffs. I asked him what was his definition in percentage terms of “No chance” meant. He kept telling me that he did not follow baseball. I continued to stress I was not challenging his assessment, but only curious as to his definition of “No chance”. I even emphasized I was not necessarily talking about baseball. Eventually he understood my question and intent, and gave me his percentages for “No chance” and “A chance”— which exceeded last week’s ESPN’s 8.1% number for the Nationals.

On July 26th, a few days before the trade deadline, Silver’s 538 pegged the Nationals chance of making the playoffs at 25%. For some this means: “Sell.” Others a definite: “Buy.” And that other group which likely included Mike Rizzo and the Lerners: “Do nothing and stand pat” and trade Brandon Kintzler.  For me, 25% is very doable, while 5.5% has me not giving up (but barely hanging on). A 0.1% chance, however, is a sunk cost. Of course, separate questions include whether one concurs with 538’s, or my, or your number crunching. Percentages will vary, as well as any importance and probability making it out of the Wild Card/NLDS and/or winning the World Series with an eye toward investing resources in this years team versus the future.

Regardless, hopefully we can define our terms and understand that for some a 7.2%, or 5.5%, or 25% chance is worth the investment of resources and hope, while for others it is not.

Those remaining believers and “hopers” are realists and have considered the breaks that need to go the Nationals way. More difficult for the Nationals than needing to scoreboard watch, however, is to just play some decent fundamental baseball and get on a long winning streak. . They are still alive only because the completion is not much better than our hometown team.

When someone asks Dave Martinez about playoffs, he should go on a Jim Mora rant. Playoffs?

–Warning Track Power

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