Baseball Prospectus punches out a Playoff Odds Report, which simulates the rest of the season 1 million times and records the percentage of times each team made the playoffs. The formula takes into account–as best I can tell–home field advantage (or disadvantage) and strength of schedule, among other pitching and hitting variables.
At this point in the season, the American League is pretty much a wrap, and it doesn’t take a computer to tell us this. Texas holds a 9-game lead in the west, the Twinkies are up 7 games in the Central, and the Yankees and Rays all but have the division and wildcard wrapped up in the east. No team has more than 18 games remaining, so there’s very little time for the A’s, White Sox or Red Sox to make up ground. But the National League is a different story. The Playoff Simulator tells us that there are six teams with at least a 15% chance of making one of the four playoff spots. I want to take a second to look at another variable coming down the stretch…
The Playoff Simulator cannot possiblly adjust for managerial decisions like, for instance, starting Lincecum on three days’ rest for the remainder of the season to get him more starts. In all likelihood, some of these teams in dog fights for playoff spots will tighten the rotation, pitching only their top 4 starters. So who has the advantage in the NL?
Below I have listed the average xFIPs (good ERA predictor) for each of the NL’s 5 playoff contenders , and the averages if the 5th starter is taken out of the rotation, with their current playoff percentages in parentheses. The Reds are the 6th team, but they have the Central by the balls (98.6% odds). This should give us an idea of which clubs could potentially improve their pitching matchups the most.
Padres: 4.11 –> 4.00 (69.4%)
Giants: 4.16 –> 4.01 (44.4%)
Rockies: 3.91 –> 3.73 (15.5%)
Phillies: 3.79 –> 3.52 (92.8%)
Braves: 4.00 –> 3.87 (77.4%)
Not only do the Phillies have the best playoff odds and best staff, but dropping their 5th starter, Kyle Kendrick, would likely improve their pitching the most of any team. Don’t count on Philly going home early this season. The Braves and Padres, the next best favorites for making the playoffs, have the least potential to improve the starting rotation. This leaves the Giants and Rockies with a little (though a very little) extra bit of hope. If Bruce Bochy or Jim Tracy decide to get their aces an additional 1 or 2 starts, it may just be the win or two needed to jump San Diego or Atlanta for a spot in October.
*Remember that the teams’ pitching abilities (i.e. ERAs or whatever stat used) have already been taken into account in the simulation, so this chart is only showing the potential for improvement that the simulator could not take into account.