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Overkill: MLB Playoff Odds In The Second Week

The first rule of checking out your team’s playoff odds with 155 games to go? Don’t.

There’s one thing that sums up “overabundance of statistical knowledge,” if such a thing exists. It’s broadcasting MLB playoff odds in the second week of a 162-game season.

Websites like FiveThirtyEight are genuinely appreciated for their contributions to both sports and politics. They do things that are presently beyond our capabilities, and perhaps permanently so. We would love to be able to do some of the statistical analysis they provide.

But when you start talking about “Team X has a 65 percent chance of making the playoffs” in EARLY APRIL, step off.

We’re not even crazy about doing power rankings or top 25 polls early in the year. We do them in case we want to graph them out later, and that’s about all. The data samples are so small that you get completely preposterous results. For example, baseball teams like Arizona and Minnesota are near the top when most expect them to end up near the bottom. Maybe they’ll stay there, but it’s kind of soon to say.

Likewise, it’s far too early to suggest that any team has certain odds of getting to the postseason. Each team has over 150 games to play. There is no way to demonstrate that anyone has a better chance than another at this stage, at least one that sounds reasonable. Perhaps their reasons are the same as ours, but it doesn’t mean it’s to be taken seriously.

And then, there are those who actually buy into such publications. Any fan freaking out over MLB playoff odds at this stage needs a Xanax. Admittedly, this number is probably quite small. It’s nevertheless a bit of information overload. To put it in terms some FiveThirtyEight readers can understand, it’s like calling the election in a swing state with three percent reporting and no exit polls.

It’s Not Just MLB Playoff Odds

And another thing: let’s not start counting down the magic numbers either. That’s for after the All-Star Break, and probably more like August at that. The magic can turn tragic in a hurry; all it takes is one bad losing streak.

I’m not accusing anyone specifically of doing this now, and the sites that track these as part of their general schtick tend to be excellent resources. It’s just way too soon, people.

Whether it’s our baseball power rankings or their playoff odds, cool down. Crack a beer, turn on the ball game, and relax. It’s April.

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