Dodgers: How playoff odds are impacted by 50-game season

The 2020 season could have as few as 50 games, impacting the Los Angeles Dodgers.


The Los Angeles Dodgers are prohibitive favorites entering the new baseball season, unless negotiations over how the season will look changes all of that.

Everyone wants baseball to return in 2020, or do they? As Major League Baseball and the player’s union negotiate over a financial framework in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic, it seems there is a small group of owners who would be just as happy to see the season pass without any games played.

It’s impossible for onlookers to know the full revenue impact confronting owners in these challenging times, but fans can look up an owner’s net worth and wonder if the best interest of the game is being considered in deciding how many games are played in 2020.

Even the players latest proposal seems more like a cash grab than an honest effort to put the best product on the field. Does a 114-game season make sense in a compressed timeframe with all of the health protocols required to play everyday?

And then there is the other end of the spectrum. Reports circulated earlier this week that the owners would consider playing as few as 50 games as a last resort to save the season—or save as much money as possible from paying the players on a pro-rated basis.

How would a 50-game season impact the Dodgers’ playoff odds?

The simple answer is that the fewer games played in 2020, the closer it brings the Dodgers to everyone else in the pack. Why? Because the entire point of playing a traditional 162-game season (other than to sell more tickets and make more revenue) is to tease out the pretenders from the contenders. The best teams eventually rise to the top over 162 games.

However, over an abbreviated schedule, anything can happen. What if the Dodgers lose a few of their top pitchers? What if the lineup gets off to a slow start? What if another team in the division puts together a crazy run?

Another way to look at how a shortened season could impact the Dodgers is to look at their record after fifty games over the past several years.

Perhaps the best example of how a 50-game season impacts playoff odds is to look back at 2018. The Dodgers made it all the way to the World Series that season, after starting 23-27. In other words, that team wouldn’t have qualified for the playoffs if the season was only fifty games long.

Dodgers

As you can see in the graphic above, only three of the past six seasons did the Dodgers have a record that would have put them in the playoffs after fifty games.

However, if you look at the corresponding odds projected at the time by FanGraphs, you can see that over a 162-game schedule, even during their slowest starts, they were always a better than 50% chance of turning into a playoff team.

Of course, there are other factors that could impact the Dodgers playoff odds if baseball returns in 2020. MLB and the players are looking at a drastic realignment that would merge the NL West and AL West into the same division. An expanded playoff format is also being considered. So the standings are going to look different, and a 26-24 record in the past doesn’t necessarily reflect what a 26-24 record could mean during this unique season.

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Anyway you cut it, a shorter season could make the regular season a lot more meaningful as it is no longer a foregone conclusion that Los Angeles makes the playoffs.