Not Much of a Chase

The end of August is supposed to signal the start of the pennant chase in baseball. It is the stretch drive toward division championships and Wild Card berths to accord entry into the playoffs where then a pathetically small number of games will determine for most people what team was the best for that season. If this year’s crop of contending races seems a bit lacking in drama that is not entirely the product of your imagination.

Teams within 5 games of playoffs

Starting with 1995, the first full year of the Wild Card, I went through and to the best of my ability and attention span, picked out the teams within five games of a playoff berth coming into play on August 29 of each season. This season is all but wrapped up barring some miracle run. The only questions left are the division winners in the western divisions and neither race is particularly nail biting there either. Nominally then, there are 10 teams within the five-game shouting distance of a playoff berth before games began today. That represents the lowest comparable total.

There are caveats of course. Five games out and August 29 are completely arbitrary cutoffs. Seasons start at different days and so the number of games played and remaining as of that date isn’t held stable. I picked August 29 for an obvious reason (it’s today) and the five games out because it represents to me what, at this point in the season, would be what I think would still be graspable hope. Curious to see how that reflected with a more mathematical model, I turned to and their past season standings and using their “smart” method (i.e. Pythag records), re-did the same graph with a playoff odds cutoff instead of games back.

Teams within 10% of playoffs

The number for 2011 did not change, but it is joined by both 1997 and 1999 as the lowest. Both of those years though had actually more compelling races for the last remaining playoff berths. At least when it comes to who will still be playing in October, 2011 – at this time – ranks as probably the least interesting season since the Wild Card was born.

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

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Paul F.

Nice post. You’ve confirmed with reference to history what I think most of us would have suspected. This season’s playoff races just, well, don’t exist.