So you're saying there's a chance?: Reviewing playoff probabilities

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

A discussion on what the Kansas City Royals playoff chances are next season.

A lot of the defense/rationalization of the James Shields for Wil Myers trade seems to boil down to the fact that the Kansas City Royals now have a "chance" to make the playoffs. Very little of this discussion actually includes how much of a chance the Royals will have in 2013.

Scott McKinney discussed this issue in an earlier comment, but the subject deserves a full post. Nate Silver wrote a great piece about making optimal decisions based on the team's likelihood of making the playoffs, and I recommend reading it in full. For the purpose of this article, I will use his work on a team's probability of making the playoffs.

Silver estimated the chances of making the playoffs when a team wins a specific number of games, and when a team is projected to win a specific number of games. Scott says he's going to do the hard work with ZiPS and Cairo to estimate how many wins the team will reach this season, but my guess is that most of the projections will place Kansas City around 84 wins.

If the Royals win exactly 84 games next season, the team will have a nine percent chance of making the post-season in 2013. Teams who win 84 games rarely reach the playoffs, even in the new system. TheLegacyofJordanTata posted the minimum number of wins a team would need to qualify for the second Wild Card in the American League if the new system had been in place since 1996, and 84 wins qualified a team for the second wild card once.

The odds of winning the AL Central with 84 wins is less likely than grabbing one of the Wild Card spots, since it has never been done. So if the Royals stay true to their predictions, the odds they reach the playoffs are low.

Projections are not guarantees, and we must factor in uncertainty when using projection systems. When accounting for uncertainty, the Royals chances of reaching the playoffs next season increase, since the team could out-perform projections. Silver found that a team projected to win 84 games had a 30% chance of reaching the playoffs in the one wild-card system.

The addition of the second wild card does increase the team's chances of making the playoffs, but not drastically. Kansas City appears poised to enter next season with less than 40 percent odds of making the playoffs.

Dayton Moore and Co. seem to know their chances of reaching the playoffs in 2013 are not great, and will not currently commit to any guarantees. This sentiment is clearly demonstrated by Bob Dutton who sent out this tweet on Thursday:

The team will not publicly commit to reaching the playoffs next season because they also realize that the team is still likely to fall short in 2013. It is not wise to raise people's expectations and get their hopes up if you have less than a coin flips chance of actually reaching those expectations.

The Royals certainly have a greater chance of reaching the playoffs in 2013 than they did in 2012, but the chances are still low. If a team is going to harm itself in the future, it needs to have a high probability of reaching the playoffs in the present. Unfortunately, even with the addition of an "ace," the Royals as currently constructed still seem likely to fall short of playing in the post-season.

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