What Might 2019 Have Looked Like With a Shortened Season?

MLB appears to be inevitably headed to a shortened schedule, and at this date, we don’t really have a great idea what that might look like. Fewer games is likely to mean a little more randomness. The 162-game schedule is long by design. With the talent levels of major league teams clustered fairly close together even at the extremes, playing 162 games exacerbates the differences that do exist. In a three-game series where one team has a 65% chance of winning each game, the underdog still wins more games a quarter of the time. If the same teams played a 45-game series, the odds of the underdog winning drop below 2%. That’s an example at the extremes. If a team was favored to win every game 55% of the time, they would still be considered much more talented in baseball terms, yet over 81 games, half a season’s worth, the underdog still wins nearly one in five series.

Dan Szymborski wrote earlier today about how the ZiPS 2020 playoff odds change based on different season lengths. I’m going to take a different approach. To provide some sense of how a different schedule can change outcomes, we can look how things unfolded last season. Here’s what the season would look like if it had ended on September 8, 2019, after roughly 144 games:

What If 2019 Ended on September 8
AL East W L W% GB
Yankees 94 50 .653 0
Rays 86 59 .593 8.5
Red Sox 76 67 .531 17.5
Orioles 46 97 .322 47.5
Blue Jays 55 89 .382 39
AL Central W L W% GB
Twins 88 55 .615 0
Indians 83 61 .576 5.5
White Sox 63 80 .441 25
Tigers 42 100 .296 45.5
Royals 53 91 .368 35.5
AL West W L W% GB
Astros 94 50 .653 0
Athletics 84 59 .587 9.5
Angels 67 77 .465 27
Mariners 58 86 .403 36
Rangers 72 73 .497 22.5
NL East W L W% GB
Braves 89 55 .618 0
Nationals 79 63 .556 9
Mets 72 70 .507 16
Phillies 74 68 .521 14
Marlins 51 91 .359 37
NL Central W L W% GB
Cardinals 81 62 .566 0
Cubs 76 66 .535 4.5
Brewers 74 68 .521 6.5
Reds 67 77 .465 14.5
Pirates 62 81 .434 19
NL West W L W% GB
Dodgers 93 52 .641 0
Diamondbacks 75 68 .524 17
Rockies 60 84 .417 32.5
Padres 66 76 .465 25.5
Giants 69 74 .483 23
Blue = In playoffs at actual season’s end, but not if season ended on 9/8/2019.
Orange = Not in playoffs at actual season’s end, but would be if season ended 9/8/2019.

If the season had ended just three weeks earlier, the Cubs would have been in the Wild Card instead of the Brewers, but every other playoff spot would have remained intact. It seems pretty unlikely that teams will play 144 games, though. In what might be considered the current best-case scenario, here’s what the season would have looked like if it had ended after roughly 132 games, on August 27, 2019:

What if the 2019 Season Ended August 27
AL East W L W% GB
Yankees 87 47 .649 0
Rays 76 57 .571 10.5
Red Sox 71 62 .534 15.5
Orioles 44 88 .333 42
Blue Jays 54 80 .403 33
AL Central W L W% GB
Twins 80 51 .611 0
Indians 77 55 .583 3.5
White Sox 60 71 .458 20
Tigers 39 91 .300 40.5
Royals 46 87 .346 35
AL West W L W% GB
Astros 86 47 .647 0
Athletics 77 55 .583 8.5
Angels 64 70 .478 22.5
Mariners 56 77 .421 30
Rangers 64 69 .481 22
NL East W L W% GB
Braves 80 54 .597 0
Nationals 73 58 .557 5.5
Mets 67 64 .511 11.5
Phillies 68 63 .519 10.5
Marlins 47 84 .359 31.5
NL Central W L W% GB
Cardinals 73 58 .557 0
Cubs 70 61 .534 3
Brewers 67 65 .508 6.5
Reds 62 69 .473 11
Pirates 56 76 .424 17.5
NL West W L W% GB
Dodgers 87 47 .649 0
Diamondbacks 67 66 .504 19.5
Giants 65 67 .492 21
Padres 61 70 .466 24.5
Rockies 59 74 .444 27.5
Orange = In playoffs at actual season’s end, but not if season ended on 8/27/2019.
Blue = Not in playoffs at actual season’s end, but would be if season ended 8/27/2019.

Ending the season after 132 games again finds the Cubs over the Brewers in the Wild Card race, but it also finds Cleveland narrowly ahead of Tampa Bay for an AL Wild Card spot. But even 132 games might be a bit optimistic in the face of COVID-19. Here’s what things looked like on August 14 after roughly 120 games:

What if the 2019 Season Ended on August 14
AL East W L W% GB
Yankees 81 41 .664 0
Rays 71 51 .582 10
Red Sox 65 59 .524 17
Orioles 39 82 .322 41.5
Blue Jays 51 73 .411 31
AL Central W L W% GB
Twins 72 48 .600 0
Indians 72 49 .595 0.5
White Sox 54 65 .454 17.5
Tigers 36 82 .305 35
Royals 43 79 .352 30
AL West W L W% GB
Astros 78 43 .645 0
Athletics 69 52 .570 9
Angels 59 63 .484 19.5
Mariners 49 72 .405 29
Rangers 60 60 .500 17.5
NL East W L W% GB
Braves 72 50 .590 0
Nationals 65 55 .542 6
Mets 61 59 .508 10
Phillies 62 58 .517 9
Marlins 44 75 .370 26.5
NL Central W L W% GB
Cubs 64 56 .533 0
Cardinals 63 55 .534 0
Brewers 63 58 .521 1.5
Reds 56 63 .471 7.5
Pirates 50 70 .417 14
NL West W L W% GB
Dodgers 81 41 .664 0
Diamondbacks 61 60 .504 19.5
Giants 60 61 .496 20.5
Padres 56 64 .467 24
Rockies 54 67 .446 26.5
Orange = In playoffs at actual season’s end, but not if season ended on 8/14/2019.
Blue = Not in playoffs at actual season’s end, but would be if season ended 8/14/2019.

The Twins and Indians are separated by just a half game and might have been tied if they had played the same number of games. This time, it’s the A’s who are left out of the AL Wild Card, while in the NL, the Cubs and Cardinals tie for the division with the loser playing the Nationals in the Wild Card game and the Brewers again on the outside looking in. Before we look at how the standings might have looked if the 2019 season had started late, let’s just remind ourselves what the standings looked like at the All-Star Break:

What if the 2019 Season Ended at the All-Star Break
AL East W L W% GB
Yankees 57 31 .648 0
Rays 52 39 .571 6.5
Red Sox 49 41 .544 9
Orioles 27 62 .303 30.5
Blue Jays 34 57 .374 24.5
AL Central W L W% GB
Twins 56 33 .629 0
Indians 50 38 .568 5.5
White Sox 42 44 .488 12.5
Tigers 28 58 .326 26.5
Royals 30 61 .330 27
AL West W L W% GB
Astros 57 33 .633 0
Athletics 51 41 .554 7
Rangers 48 42 .533 9
Angels 45 46 .495 12.5
Mariners 39 55 .415 20
NL East W L W% GB
Braves 54 37 .593 0
Nationals 47 42 .528 6
Phillies 47 43 .522 6.5
Mets 40 50 .444 13.5
Marlins 33 55 .375 19.5
NL Central W L W% GB
Cubs 47 43 .522 0
Brewers 47 44 .516 0.5
Cardinals 44 44 .500 2
Pirates 44 45 .494 2.5
Reds 41 46 .471 4.5
NL West W L W% GB
Dodgers 60 32 .652 0
Diamondbacks 46 45 .505 13.5
Padres 45 45 .500 14
Rockies 44 45 .494 14.5
Giants 41 48 .461 17.5
Orange = In playoffs at actual season’s end, but not if season ended at the ASB.
Blue = Not in playoffs at actual season’s end, but would be if season ended at the ASB.

The standings in the AL remain the same, but in the NL, it’s the Phillies in the second Wild Card spot, with both the Brewers and Cardinals out of the playoffs and the Cubs taking the NL Central. While the specific placement in the standings is interesting, note that from the Nationals down to the Pirates and Rockies, there were nine NL teams within three games of each other, with the Mets, Reds, and Giants not that far behind either. It’s much harder to create that separation in fewer than 100 games.

We can also use the same process, but in reverse. What would the season standings be like if teams only played around 100 games, the season didn’t start until June 8, and every team played out the roughly 100 games left on the schedule?

What if the 2019 Season Started on June 8
AL East W L W% GB
Yankees 64 36 .640 0
Rays 58 43 .574 6.5
Red Sox 51 48 .515 12.5
Blue Jays 44 55 .444 19.5
Orioles 35 64 .354 28.5
AL Central W L W% GB
Indians 61 38 .616 0
Twins 59 41 .590 2.5
White Sox 43 56 .434 18
Royals 39 60 .394 22
Tigers 24 76 .240 37.5
AL West W L W% GB
Athletics 64 34 .653 0
Astros 63 34 .649 0.5
Rangers 46 55 .455 19.5
Mariners 41 54 .432 21.5
Angels 42 56 .429 22
NL East W L W% GB
Nationals 65 34 .657 0
Braves 63 36 .636 2
Mets 56 43 .566 9
Phillies 45 54 .455 20
Marlins 34 67 .337 22
NL Central W L W% GB
Cardinals 60 41 .594 0
Brewers 53 45 .541 5.5
Cubs 49 51 .490 10.5
Reds 47 53 .470 12.5
Pirates 39 61 .390 20.5
NL West W L W% GB
Dodgers 63 35 .643 0
Diamondbacks 53 45 .541 10
Giants 51 49 .510 13
Rockies 38 62 .380 26
Padres 37 61 .378 26
Orange = In playoffs at season’s end, but not if season started on 6/8/2019.
Blue = Not in playoffs at season’s end, but would be if season started 6/8/2019.

This is interesting, as Cleveland closed out the season better than Minnesota while the A’s were neck and neck with the Astros and up a half a game over the last 98 games of Oakland’s season. These standings would put Houston and Minnesota in the Wild Card game. In the NL, the Nationals win the division over the Braves, who would then face the Mets in the Wild Card, with the Brewers missing the postseason. If you went back to May 1, most of the standings are exactly the same, though the Brewers would have taken the division over the Cardinals, who would still have made the playoffs.

We think of a baseball season as 162 games, but we don’t spend a ton of time thinking about the impact of a shorter season on how wins are distributed. The longer the season, the more likely the sport is to see deserving teams separate themselves from their competitors. A shorter season brings more randomness and luck as teams are packed closer together. This is best represented by the NL standings at the All-Star Break last season. There were nine teams that were nearly indistinguishable from each other fighting for three playoff spots. With fewer games, it’s going to be a lot harder to be sure which teams actually perform better than their peers this season.

We hoped you liked reading What Might 2019 Have Looked Like With a Shortened Season? by Craig Edwards!

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Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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viceroy
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viceroy

It would be interesting to think of this from player split seasons as well. If it ended at the all-star break Josh Bell could be looking at an MVP. I wonder how a shortened season might affect player results.. it always seems like some people do better right out of the gates (jorge Polanco) or take a bit to catch fire (deGrom, goldschmidt). I bet it’s mostly noise but I wonder if there are some players who may benefit or be hurt particularly by lack of games.

carter
Member
carter

You heard it here first. Franmil Reyes going to hit 40 hrs in 80 games while batting .300 and take down the MVP

carter
Member
carter

They are going to do 5 inning double headers and some position players will rest on occasion but not the DH.

fjtorres
Member
fjtorres

Reyes is going to be mostly an OF and D. Santana is going to be mostly DH.
If they ever play any games.

It is threatened that on ocassion, they might both start in the OF.
(My condolences to the pitcher if it actually happens.)

carter
Member
carter

True. Spring training is largely useless, but he does look a bit thinner and was absolutely mashing the ball.

fjtorres
Member
fjtorres

He looked adequate and lighter but he’s no gazelle.
Unless they sign Barry Allen to play center field whoever is out there will be shading towards rf very often…
…unless he’s already shaded heavily towards LF.