“Never tell me the odds” were words once spoken by one of my childhood heroes, who has since perished in the fight between the Light and the Dark. If you’re the White Sox, not knowing the odds is probably a good thing because they really have to beat the odds at this point to even sniff the playoffs. You know those things that happen in October? Anyways, let’s start breaking it down…
Since the second Wild Card was brought into play in 2012, the team to win the fewest games and make the playoffs was the 2015 Houston Astros, who won 86 games. Currently, PECOTA projects the White Sox to go 54-50 the rest of the season and end up with 83 wins on the year. That 54-50 record is good enough for a .519 winning percentage.
If we pretend for a second that 86 wins is the magic number that the White Sox have to reach, then the White Sox have to go 57-47 the rest of the way which translates to a .548 winning percentage. If we assume that the standard deviation of projected performance over a whole season is six wins, then the standard deviation of projected performance as a percentage of games played is something like 3.7 percent (or a difference in winning percentage of .03703). Simplifying the process, if we use a traditional one-tailed test assuming a normal distribution, based on the White Sox expected winning percentage and the necessary winning percentage required for 86 wins, the probability the White Sox win 86 or more games is roughly 21.68%.
Unfortunately for the White Sox, 86 wins is the lowest of all the bars to clear, so even that 21.7 percent chance looks like it may be optimistic. Only two of 40 teams since 2012 have made the playoffs while winning less than 88 games, with the Astros being the only team to win 86 games and make the playoffs. So if we move our bar to 88 wins, or 59-45 the rest of the way for our White Sox, using this new winning percentage of .567, the probability the White Sox make the playoffs drops all the way down to 9.75 percent. This second iteration suggests that you’re probably better off watching Requiem for a Dream and expecting to feel happy and lighthearted after the movie than you are to expect the White Sox to get into the playoffs. *Audible groan*
A look at the current standings does offer some more hope. If we add the wins from the current standings to the rest of season PECOTA projection for wins, we get the following playoff picture:
AL Central Winners: Cleveland Indians, 91 Wins (32 currently, 59 projected)
AL East Winners: Boston Red Sox. 89 Wins (34 currently, 55 projected)
AL West Winners: Texas Rangers, 87 Wins (36 currently, 51 projected)
Wild Card #1: Seattle Mariners, 87 Wins (32 currently, 55 projected)
Wild Card #2: Toronto Blue Jays, 85 Wins (31 currently, 54 projected)
So, this information is a bit bittersweet. It’s bad in the sense that the White Sox odds of winning the central division have taken a pretty drastic hit over the past month. Cleveland is a solid team that’s playing well right now and if they reach 91 wins, there’s roughly a 1.9 percent chance the White Sox could reach that win total with their current roster. Oh boy.
But it’s better news in the sense that PECOTA doesn’t see any excellent teams in either of the wild card spots and 86 wins could very well vault the White Sox into the playoffs. Again, this isn’t great news as there’s currently only a 21.7 percent chance this happens, but when you compare that number with the other two percentages I’ve calculated, it starts looking a lot better.
However, there’s one last wrinkle I’d like to add to this somewhat painful probability calculation sheet. The White Sox are currently mired in a 6-20 slump that’s not exactly showing any signs of slowing down. As it stands, none, NONE, of the forty teams that have made the playoffs since 2012 have had a 26 game span where they’ve lost 20 or more games. So, if the White Sox do indeed make the playoffs, it will be the most impressive turnaround against adversity that Major League Baseball will have seen since the implementation of the second Wild Card. All records are meant to be broken! The Golden State Warriors taught me that, so maybe this is the White Sox team to do that!
To offer some hope, there have been five teams, the 2012 Oakland A’s, the 2013 Los Angeles Dodgers, the 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants, and the 2015 Texas Rangers that have all had 25 game stretches where their records were 7-18, so there is some precedent of teams playing pretty darn awful and then going on to find some success in the postseason. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of the White Sox play, but at least it offers some proof that bad things happen to good teams.
The bottom line is, like Ethan Spalding said, is that the White Sox aren’t complete toast at this point in time. Hey, maybe the White Sox turn around, fire Robin Ventura, turn Carson Fulmer into Jonathan Lucroy, sign Justin Morneau, and promote Tim Anderson and everything comes up Millhouse! It could happen. I just wouldn’t bet on it.
*Han’s odds of successfully navigating an asteroid field were 3,720 to 1 and he did it. Maybe the White Sox can too.
Lead Photo Credit: Rick Osentoski – USA Today Sports Images