Team Entropy Could Be the Real Winner in a 60-Game Season

At last we have a 2020 MLB season, or plans for one at least. Based upon what we know about the 60-game schedule — that teams will play each other 10 times within their own division, and have a total of 20 games against the geographically corresponding interleague division — Major League Baseball may need to revisit its tiebreaker procedures, because going by the handful of 60-game slices I examined from last year’s results, they could have some ties to unknot.

You may recall that earlier this month, when a 50-game schedule appeared to be a distinct possibility, I reviewed increments of that size from the 2019 season to illustrate how different the playoff picture might look, depending on when the snapshot was taken. In examining the 50-game segments, which began with Games 1, 26, 51, 76, and 113, I found that nine teams that actually missed the playoffs would have made it at some point. An average of 3.8 actual division winners matched their final positions over those increments, and likewise, an average of 1.2 Wild Card teams did so, with an overall average of 2.6 party crashers per period; division/Wild Card flip-flops accounted for much of the discrepancy. However, not once in those five sets of samples did I find ties for division titles or Wild Card spots, and only once did two Wild Card qualifiers even “finish” with the same record, a rather odd and seemingly improbable result given the limited range of outcomes.

With the 60-game slate now a reality, I decided to revisit the study. While many of the answers it returns are similar to those from the 50-gamer — a fair bit of variation in the selection of playoff teams from snapshot to snapshot, but perhaps not as much as if it were based upon a season that didn’t hit a low point as far as competitive balance was concerned — I went forward with this largely because it promised substantially more fun from a Team Entropy standpoint, which is to say a greater potential for end-of-season chaos via more ties for playoff spots, whether division or Wild Card. That may be a function of selecting a larger number of increments, beginning with Games 1, 16, 31, 46, 61, 76, 91, and 103, or it may just be dumb luck. Obviously, there’s no guarantee such results will be replicated in the upcoming 60-game slate (assuming it can be played to completion, a rather large elephant in the room), but they’re something to hope for, at least if you can get past the anxiety produced by [broad gesture at everything].

Standings Based on 2019 Games 1-60
AL East W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Yankees 38 22 .633 Div Champ Div Champ
Rays 37 23 .617 1 Wild Card Wild Card
Red Sox 31 29 .517 7
Blue Jays 22 38 .367 16
Orioles 19 41 .317 19
AL Central W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Twins 40 20 .667 Div Champ Div Champ
Indians 30 30 .500 10
White Sox 29 31 .483 11
Tigers 23 37 .383 17
Royals 19 41 .317 21
AL West W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Astros 40 20 .667 Div Champ Div Champ
Rangers 32 28 .533 8 Wild Card
Athletics 30 30 .500 10 Wild Card
Angels 29 31 .483 11
Mariners 25 35 .417 15
NL East W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Braves 33 27 .550 Div/WC Tie Div Champ
Phillies 33 27 .550 Div/WC Tie
Mets 28 32 .467 5
Nationals 27 33 .450 6 Wild Card
Marlins 23 37 .383 10
NL Central W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Cubs 34 26 .567 Div/WC Tie
Brewers 34 26 .567 Div/WC Tie Wild Card
Cardinals 31 29 .517 3 Div Champ
Pirates 29 31 .483 5
Reds 28 32 .467 6
NL West W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Dodgers 41 19 .683 Div Champ Div Champ
Rockies 31 29 .517 10
Padres 31 29 .517 10
Diamondbacks 30 30 .500 11
Giants 25 35 .417 16
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

You see? Already we’re into the good stuff, with a scenario resembling that of the 2018 season, when Team Entropy’s ship truly came in in the form of two Game 163 tiebreakers. Here the Brewers and Cubs would actually reprise their roles from 2018, with the winner of their tiebreaker claiming the NL Central title and the loser hosting the Wild Card game; likewise, the Braves and Phillies would perform the same dance.

Note that the procedure for determining home-field advantage for these games might require some 2020-specific tweaking. If the pair had the same head-to-head records (5-5 in this case), the next level tiebreaker would be intradivision winning percentage. If that didn’t break the tie, the next determinant would be intraleague winning percentage, but since neither team will have played any NL teams outside its division, that won’t fly in 2020. If that step is merely to be skipped — which might be how this goes down, given that the league has so much else on its plate — the next tiebreaker after that is a weird one: the higher winning percentage in the last half of intraleague games, and if that doesn’t untie things, then the highest winning percentage in the last half plus one intraleague games, working backwards by each additional game until the tie is broken. Whew.

Beyond that, what’s noteworthy here is that the Rangers, who went just 78-84 overall, would have claimed a playoff spot, nipping the Red Sox by one game. And while the eventual champion Nationals would not have qualified here, they’d have already done significant work to overcome their 19-31 start by going 8-2 over their next 10 games.

Standings Based on 2019 Games 16-75
AL East W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Yankees 42 18 .700 Div Champ Div Champ
Red Sox 35 25 .583 7 Wild Card
Rays 32 28 .533 10 WC Tie Wild Card
Blue Jays 22 38 .367 20
Orioles 15 45 .250 27
AL Central W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Twins 40 20 .667 Div Champ Div Champ
Indians 32 28 .533 8 WC Tie
White Sox 30 30 .500 10
Royals 21 39 .350 19
Tigers 18 42 .300 22
AL West W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Astros 38 22 .633 Div Champ Div Champ
Athletics 32 28 .533 6 WC Tie Wild Card
Rangers 32 28 .533 6 WC Tie
Angels 30 30 .500 8
Mariners 18 42 .300 20
NL East W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Braves 35 25 .583 Div Champ Div Champ
Phillies 30 30 .500 5
Nationals 30 30 .500 5 Wild Card
Mets 26 34 .433 9
Marlins 25 35 .417 10
NL Central W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Cubs 35 25 .583 Div Champ
Reds 31 29 .517 4
Brewers 30 30 .500 5 Wild Card
Cardinals 30 30 .500 5 Div Champ
Pirates 26 34 .433 9
NL West W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Dodgers 42 18 .700 Div Champ Div Champ
Rockies 37 23 .617 5 Wild Card
Diamondbacks 32 28 .533 10 Wild Card
Padres 28 32 .467 14
Giants 27 33 .450 15
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Sweet Wally Moses! Not only would this slice have produced a tie, it would have featured four teams tied for the second AL Wild Card spot, requiring two play-in games to determine who would face the Red Sox in the actual Wild Card game. Normally, the matchups would be determined after teams chose A, B, C, and D designations based upon the highest winning percentage in games against the other tied teams, but again, in a 2020 season without intraleague play outside the division, that avenue is closed. Perhaps for simplicity’s sake MLB would move to the next step, using intradivision winning percentages, and then winning percentage in the last half of intraleague play, et cetera, but right now, we don’t know that.

Anyway, here’s a case where we not only see the Rangers involved in the Wild Card scrum but also the defending 2018 champion Red Sox, who ended up finishing just 84-78. We also see the Rockies edging the Reds by a game and setting up a rematch of the 2017 NL Wild Card game with the Diamondbacks; the latter won, only to get swept by the Dodgers. Speaking of them, their 42-18 record and that of the Yankees were both just one game off the best 60-game pace posted by any team all season; at various points, the Dodgers, Astros, and Indians went 43-17 (the first two teams over more than one overlapping stretch), but none of those blistering paces were fully captured in any of these snapshots.

Standings Based on 2019 Games 31-90
AL East W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Yankees 41 19 .683 Div Champ Div Champ
Red Sox 36 24 .600 5 Wild Card
Rays 32 28 .533 9 Wild Card
Blue Jays 19 41 .317 22
Orioles 17 43 .283 24
AL Central W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Twins 38 22 .633 Div Champ Div Champ
Indians 33 27 .550 5
White Sox 28 32 .467 10
Royals 20 40 .333 18
Tigers 15 45 .250 23
AL West W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Astros 39 21 .650 Div Champ Div Champ
Athletics 36 24 .600 3 Wild Card Wild Card
Rangers 34 26 .567 5
Angels 32 28 .533 7
Mariners 20 40 .333 19
NL East W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Braves 38 22 .633 Div Champ Div Champ
Nationals 35 25 .583 3 Wild Card Wild Card
Phillies 30 30 .500 8
Marlins 25 35 .417 13
Mets 25 35 .417 13
NL Central W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Brewers 31 29 .517 Div Champ Wild Card
Cubs 29 31 .483 2
Reds 29 31 .483 2
Pirates 29 31 .483 2
Cardinals 25 35 .417 6 Div Champ
NL West W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Dodgers 41 19 .683 Div Champ Div Champ
Rockies 32 28 .533 9 Wild Card
Giants 30 30 .500 11
Diamondbacks 28 32 .467 13
Padres 28 32 .467 13
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

No ties in this one — boring, I know — but here’s a wrinkle we didn’t see at any point in the 50-game study: an actual division winner posting the division’s worst record in one increment, in this case the Cardinals, who managed to align their worst 60-game stretch with these endpoints (they also went 25-35 from games 30-89). More Dead Parrots than Cardinals, they went just 9-18 in May, falling from first place with a three-game lead to third place, 3 1/2 back, and then going just 13-13 in June. Their cause was helped by some particularly crummy play elsewhere in the division, with only the Brewers playing above .500 over this 60-game stretch, and that just barely.

Elsewhere, we’ve got the Red Sox and Rockies persisting in playoff position, those jokers; the former never surpassed a 36-24 record over any 60 game stretch all season. Meanwhile, this is the first segment in which the Nationals would have qualified for the playoffs.

Standings Based on 2019 Games 46-105
AL East W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Yankees 39 21 .650 Div Champ Div Champ
Red Sox 35 25 .583 4 Wild Card
Rays 31 29 .517 8 Wild Card
Blue Jays 21 39 .350 18
Orioles 20 40 .333 19
AL Central W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Indians 37 23 .617 Div Champ
Twins 34 26 .567 3 Div Champ
White Sox 25 35 .417 12
Royals 24 36 .400 13
Tigers 14 46 .233 23
AL West W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Athletics 39 21 .650 Div Champ Wild Card
Astros 36 24 .600 3 Wild Card Div Champ
Angels 32 28 .533 7
Rangers 31 29 .517 8
Mariners 20 40 .333 19
NL East W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Braves 38 22 .633 Div Champ Div Champ
Nationals 37 23 .617 1 Wild Card Wild Card
Mets 30 30 .500 8
Phillies 29 31 .483 9
Marlins 27 33 .450 11
NL Central W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Cardinals 33 27 .550 Div Champ Div Champ
Cubs 29 31 .483 4
Reds 29 31 .483 4
Brewers 29 31 .483 4 Wild Card
Pirates 22 38 .367 11
NL West W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Dodgers 39 21 .650 Div Champ Div Champ
Giants 33 27 .550 6 Wild Card
Rockies 29 31 .483 10
Diamondbacks 28 32 .467 11
Padres 26 34 .433 13
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Again, no ties (I promise that the rest of the increments do), but shift the window 15 games and just like that, the Cardinals would have won the NL Central. The Giants, who went just 77-85 overall, would have made the cut via this segment, as one of just five NL teams above .500, and the A’s would have topped the Astros atop the AL West, and not for the last time. Also, we see the two AL Wild Card teams and their closest pursuer, the Twins, separated by just two games top to bottom, suggesting the potential for quite a race.

Standings Based on 2019 Games 61-120
AL East W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Yankees 41 19 .683 Div Champ Div Champ
Rays 33 27 .550 8 Wild Card Wild Card
Red Sox 32 28 .533 9
Blue Jays 27 33 .450 14
Orioles 20 40 .333 21
AL Central W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Indians 42 18 .700 Div Champ
Twins 32 28 .533 10 Div Champ
White Sox 25 35 .417 17
Royals 24 36 .400 18
Tigers 14 46 .233 28
AL West W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Astros 38 22 .633 Div/WC Tie Div Champ
Athletics 38 22 .633 0 Div/WC Tie Wild Card
Angels 29 31 .483 9
Rangers 28 32 .467 10
Mariners 24 36 .400 14
NL East W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Nationals 38 22 .633 Div Champ Wild Card
Braves 37 23 .617 1 Wild Card Div Champ
Mets 33 27 .550 5
Phillies 29 31 .483 9
Marlins 22 38 .367 16
NL Central W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Cardinals 33 27 .550 Div Champ Div Champ
Cubs 30 30 .500 3
Reds 29 31 .483 4
Brewers 28 32 .467 5 Wild Card
Pirates 21 39 .350 12
NL West W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Dodgers 38 22 .633 Div Champ Div Champ
Giants 35 25 .583 3 Wild Card
Diamondbacks 31 29 .517 7
Padres 25 35 .417 13
Rockies 22 38 .367 16
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

As I was saying about the A’s and Astros, here we have the two teams in a situation that would have required a tiebreaker game to determine which one won the division and which went the Wild Card route, in this case against the Rays, who were one game better than both the Twins and Red Sox. Again the playoff slate would have included the Giants, and with so much of the league awash in mediocrity, this increment has the Mets showing signs of life, if not quite entering the playoff picture.

Standings Based on 2019 Games 76-135
AL East W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Yankees 40 20 .667 Div Champ Div Champ
Rays 34 26 .567 6 WC Tie Wild Card
Red Sox 33 27 .550 7
Blue Jays 27 33 .450 13
Orioles 24 36 .400 16
AL Central W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Indians 39 21 .650 Div Champ
Twins 34 26 .567 5 WC Tie Div Champ
White Sox 24 36 .400 15
Royals 21 39 .350 18
Tigers 14 46 .233 25
AL West W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Athletics 40 20 .667 Div Champ Wild Card
Astros 39 21 .650 1 Wild Card Div Champ
Angels 26 34 .433 14
Mariners 26 34 .433 14
Rangers 25 35 .417 15
NL East W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Nationals 40 20 .667 Div Champ Wild Card
Braves 37 23 .617 3 Wild Card Div Champ
Mets 34 26 .567 6 Wild Card
Phillies 31 29 .517 9
Marlins 19 41 .317 21
NL Central W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Cardinals 37 23 .617 Div Champ Div Champ
Cubs 32 28 .533 5
Brewers 29 31 .483 8 Wild Card
Reds 27 33 .450 10
Pirates 23 37 .383 14
NL West W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Dodgers 38 22 .633 Div Champ Div Champ
Giants 33 27 .550 5
Diamondbacks 31 29 .517 7
Padres 25 35 .417 13
Rockies 19 41 .317 19
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

This time around, the Mets would have landed in a Wild Card position, one game better than the Giants, two better than the Cubs, and three better than the Phillies and Diamondbacks, which would have made for a humdinger of a race. Even more fun could have been had via the tie-breaker between the Rays and Twins, the winner of which would have faced the Astros in the AL Wild Card game.

Standings Based on 2019 Games 91-150
AL East W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Yankees 40 20 .667 Div Champ Div Champ
Rays 38 22 .633 2 Wild Card Wild Card
Red Sox 30 30 .500 10
Blue Jays 26 34 .433 14
Orioles 22 38 .367 18
AL Central W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Indians 37 23 .617 Div Champ
Twins 35 25 .583 2 Div Champ
Royals 25 35 .417 12
White Sox 23 37 .383 14
Tigers 16 44 .267 21
AL West W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Astros 40 20 .667 Div/WC Tie Div Champ
Athletics 40 20 .667 0 Div/WC Tie Wild Card
Rangers 26 34 .433 14
Mariners 24 36 .400 16
Angels 23 37 .383 17
NL East W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Braves 40 20 .667 Div Champ Div Champ
Mets 37 23 .617 3 Wild Card
Nationals 35 25 .583 5 WC Tie Wild Card
Phillies 31 29 .517 9
Marlins 18 42 .300 22
NL Central W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Cardinals 39 21 .650 Div Champ Div Champ
Cubs 35 25 .583 4 WC Tie
Brewers 34 26 .567 5 Wild Card
Reds 28 32 .467 11
Pirates 21 39 .350 18
NL West W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Dodgers 36 24 .600 Div Champ Div Champ
Diamondbacks 31 29 .517 5
Giants 30 30 .500 6
Padres 23 37 .383 13
Rockies 20 40 .333 16
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Again with the Astros and A’s playing for the AL West title and the top Wild Card spot, this time by matching the Yankees and Braves with the best record over that stretch. This iteration also would have featured quite a race for the NL Wild Cards, with the Nationals and Cubs tying for the second spot, one game ahead of the Brewers.

Standings Based on 2019 Games 103-160
AL East W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Rays 39 21 .650 Div Champ Wild Card
Yankees 37 23 .617 2 Wild Card Div Champ
Blue Jays 29 31 .483 10
Red Sox 28 32 .467 11
Orioles 21 39 .350 18
AL Central W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Twins 39 21 .650 Div Champ Div Champ
Indians 33 27 .550 6
White Sox 26 33 .441 13
Royals 21 39 .350 18
Tigers 17 42 .288 22
AL West W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Astros 42 18 .700 Div Champ Div Champ
Athletics 39 21 .650 3 Wild Card Wild Card
Mariners 28 32 .467 14
Rangers 27 33 .450 15
Angels 19 41 .317 23
NL East W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Mets 39 21 .650 Div Champ
Nationals 38 22 .633 1 Wild Card Wild Card
Braves 37 23 .617 2 Wild Card Div Champ
Phillies 27 33 .450 12
Marlins 18 42 .300 21
NL Central W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Brewers 36 24 .600 Div Tie Wild Card
Cardinals 36 24 .600 0 Div Tie Div Champ
Cubs 29 31 .483 7
Reds 28 32 .467 8
Pirates 23 37 .383 13 0
NL West W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Dodgers 39 21 .650 Div Champ Div Champ
Diamondbacks 34 26 .567 5
Giants 25 35 .417 14
Rockies 24 36 .400 15
Padres 22 38 .367 17
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Over the final stretch of the season, all five of the actual AL playoff teams would have made the cut, but this is the only one in which the Yankees would have been a Wild Card team instead of division champions. That’s notable, but even more so is what would have transpired in the NL, not only with the Mets atop the East, but also a Central race that would have produced a win-or-go-home tiebreaker involving the Brewers and the Cardinals, as both the Braves and Nationals had better records over this stretch and thus would have claimed the Wild Card berths.

Admittedly, that was a lot to sift through. This table summarizes the eight segments of the season:

2019 60-Game “Season” Comparison
AL East Actual 1 16 31 46 61 76 91 103
Yankees Div Div Div Div Div Div Div Div WC
Rays 2nd-WC WC WC Tie WC WC WC Tie WC Div
Red Sox 3rd WC WC WC
AL Central Actual 1 16 31 46 61 76 91 103
Twins Div Div Div Div WC Tie Div
Indians 2nd WC Tie Div Div Div Div
AL West Actual 1 16 31 46 61 76 91 103
Astros Div Div Div Div WC Div/WC Tie WC Div/WC Tie Div
Athletics 2nd-WC WC Tie Div Div/WC Tie Div Div/WC Tie WC
Rangers 3rd WC WC Tie
NL East Actual 1 16 31 46 61 76 91 103
Braves Div Div/WC Tie Div Div Div WC WC Div WC
Nationals 2nd-WC WC WC Div Div WC Tie WC
Mets 3rd WC WC Div
Phillies 4th Div/WC Tie
NL Central Actual 1 16 31 46 61 76 91 103
Cardinals Div Div Div Div Div Div Tie
Brewers 2nd-WC Div/WC Tie Div Div Tie
Cubs 3rd Div/WC Tie Div WC Tie
NL West Actual 1 16 31 46 61 76 91 103
Dodgers Div Div Div Div Div Div Div Div Div
Diamondbacks 2nd WC
Giants 3rd WC WC
Rockies 4th WC WC

What have we learned, Charlie Brown? Quite a bit. For starters, nine teams that missed out on the 2019 postseason would have made it via at least one of these 60-game increments, including three from the NL West, and two from the NL East; the total is the same from the 50-game study, albeit with the Angels (who finished just 72-90) dropping out and the Diamondbacks (who went 85-77) entering the fray. The AL Central was the only division in which just two teams wound up in playoff spots during any increment.

As with the 50-game study, an average of 3.8 actual division winners matched up as such in the 60-game increments (in the case of ties, each tied team was given only fractional credit). For Wild Card teams, the average was higher than in the 50-game set (1.4 versus 1.2), but the overall average of postseason party crashers was lower (2.3 versus 2.6). In other words, the “right” teams made it slightly more often, which is what we should have expected, but perhaps may have lucked into given these sample sizes. The 16-75 stretch not only featured three actual playoff teams missing out, but perhaps as many as five depending upon the outcome of the four-way tie for the second AL Wild Card spot. Only in the stretch from Games 103-162 would all of the qualifiers have made it even as far as a tiebreaker game, though one would have been eliminated at that juncture as it lacked the fallback of a Wild Card spot for the loser.

And ties? You bet! Six of the eight increments produced at least one tiebreaker situation, with a total of eight overall. In addition to that lone do-or-die tie for the division title, there were four in which one team would have been division champion and the other a Wild Card team, two in which two teams would have tied for a single Wild Card spot, and, miraculously, one in which four teams tied for such a spot.

Given MLB’s desire to minimize the amount of time players are actually on the field — which we see reflected in the weird extra-innings rule as well as the schedule length — the need to play tiebreaker games might induce more anxiety than excitement, at least officially. Just spitballing (wet-ragging?), but to these eyes, the limitations on travel suggest the possibility that such games might be played at a neutral site; imagine two teams tied for the second Wild Card spot playing off in the ballpark of the Wild Card host. As this exercise shows, it’s abundantly clear that MLB will need a plan to address such scenarios. From a pure entertainment standpoint (if such thing is even possible in mid-pandemic), this could add an extra layer or two of excitement to the wee season, but you’re forgiven if you feel as though this country has already gotten its fill of chaos in 2020.

We hoped you liked reading Team Entropy Could Be the Real Winner in a 60-Game Season by Jay Jaffe!

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Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.

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was waiting for this article. awesome. thanks!