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The Impact of Expanded Playoffs on the Diamondbacks

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Just when the season could not get weirder...

Diamondbacks are prepared for their opportunity,
Diamondbacks are prepared for their opportunity,
Photo by Sarah Sachs/Arizona Diamondbacks/Getty Images

Announcements were made here and here that MLB and the players’ union have agreed to “expand the playoffs.” Although we’ve been down the road with a seeming agreement that blew up, my confidence is high.

Yesterday, an open letter was published by Robert Manfred Jr, Commissioner of Baseball. His words included “expanded postseason.” Excerpts from his letter follow:

“This year will be a sprint to the an expanded Postseason that will allow more fans to experience playoff baseball. We’ve introduced a new schedule that emphasizes local and regional rivalries as well as innovative rule changes to make the game even more exciting. In a 60-game season, every inning will take on a greater sense of urgency. A good opening month can catapult any team into playoff contention.”

“Our extended offseason was challenging, and we thank you for your patience as we found a way...”

”We look forward to a memorable Postseason concluding a year like no other.” — statement by Robert Manfred

How were the playoffs expanded?

Each Division’s first place AND second place teams will enter the playoffs. The same as before, two wild card teams in each league will reach the playoffs. Therefore, there will be 8 playoff teams in each league.

The sudden-death wild-card games are gone! Instead, the league’s Division-winning-team with the best record will play a 3-game series with the wild card team with the worst record. The league’s Division-winning-team with the second-best-record will play the other wild card team.

There will be four rounds in the playoffs.

What are the impacts of the expanded playoffs?

First, let me state the obvious that every team has a better statistical chance to reach the playoffs. More teams will stay in contention deeper into the regular season.

  • The number of teams with at least 50% chance of reaching the playoffs almost tripled (increased from 7 to 19) according to FiveThirtyEight.
  • Of the 19 teams with at least 50% chance, 12 teams had their chances increased from below 50% to above 50%.
  • Of those 12 teams, four had their chances doubled (Red Sox, White Sox, Angels, and Padres). The Diamondbacks’ 91% increase (from 28.9% to 55.3%) was close to doubling.
  • Of those 12 teams, 8 were NL and 4 were AL. Two teams were in the NL West: the Padres and the D-backs.

How does this affect the Diamondbacks?

The bottom line is that the Arizona Diamondbacks are currently seen as better than even favorites to reach the playoffs. It’s more likely than not. The impact on their chances of expansion is particularly great, since they share a division with the Dodgers, who were odd-on to retain the title. Over on ESPN, all 32 of their 32 experts picked Los Angeles to win the National League West. No other division in the NL saw even a majority pick one team. That meant Arizona’s only real hope was to be one of the two wild-card teams, and there was a lot of competition for those spots.

Now, the second-place finisher in the West is guaranteed a post-season place, regardless of record, and beyond those, the next two best finishes will also reach the playoffs. There’s a chance a team could finish fourth in their division, and still reach the post-season. With eight qualifiers, it’s also quite likely a team with a losing record will also make the playoffs. Most of the prediction systems are seeing the Diamondbacks as at or above .500, so if things play out as expected, the cut-off mark should fall below Arizona. You still want to aim for a higher seed. In the first-round games, seeds #5-8 will be on the road for all three of those games.

On the other hand, there is an argument for coming in #8, even if that most likely means a first-round match-up against the Dodgers in Los Angeles. Because this would be a best of three, you’d only need to win twice, rather than three of five. Longer series favor the better team. Let’s presume a 40% chance of us beating the Dodgers in any game (and ignoring home advantage - there probably won’t be any fans to give that). The Diamondbacks have a 35.2% change of winning a best-of-three series. But only a 31.7% change of taking three of five (the math is approximate; the principle is good). If you’re going to beat the Dodgers, your best chance may be in that short first round.