# Braves’ playoff chances only ‘cool,’ according to website

This would be Bobby Cox's reaction . . .

So if you’re obsessed with this Braves’ stretch drive and you bow at your Brian McCann shrine every morning and you’re wondering if a six-man rotation with Tim Hudson would blow away the rest of the National League and the last thing you want to hear is how two numbers geeks from MIT believe the outlook doesn’t look so good – well then, you may not want to read this. (No wait! Stay! I need the page views!)

There’s a website you may have heard of: coolstandings.com. It actually has been around since 2005. But since I’ve never been a big numbers guy, I guess it has eluded me, until alert reader “Stephen” tipped me off.

In short, coolstandings.com calculates every team’s division, wild card and overall playoff chances based on a half-dozen statistical factors, which I’ll get to in a minute. Bottom

. . . if you asked him what he thinks of coolstandings' view of the Braves

line: According to the site’s co-creator, Sean Walsh (possibly the first MIT grad I’ve ever spoken to, or at least understood), the Braves have only a 10.3 percent chance of winning the National League East, and a 12 percent chance of winning the wild card berth.

Overall, coolstandings.com lists the Braves’ playoff chances at 22.2, behind Los Angeles (94.2), St. Louis (92.4), Philadelphia (90.9) and wild card leading Colorado (63.5). San Francisco is listed as having a better chance than the Braves of winning the wild card (16.4 to 12) but a lower overall playoff chance (20.1 to 22.2) because the Giants are running third in the N.L. West.

Walsh says the site’s formula has an error rate of less than two percent. He would change that if he could because he’s also a big Red Sox fan, and right now the math says they’re dead, too.

Walsh said he and partner Greg Agami adapted the numbers-crunching formulas of baseball writer Bill James (who now works for the Red Sox) and “tweaked” them a bit. “We went back and looked at data for every game played since 1903, running a million simulations, to see if we could project how a team would do,” Walsh said by phone. “Like, in July of 1914: How did it look for the Boston Braves at this point and how did they fare in the end?”

The formula factors in runs for and against, home and road success, remaining strength of schedule, league scoring averages and the previous season’s results (the weight of which decreases as the year goes on). The model doesn’t take into account injuries or trades (although we’re past the trade deadline), but it heavily weighs late-season hot streaks (like the Braves’ current one).

For what it’s worth, Walsh wanted Braves fans to know that they also calculated the top comebacks and collapses in baseball history, and at at the top of the list is the 1914 Boston Braves (later of Atlanta), who only July 4 were given less than a 1 percent chance of winning the pennant but overcame a 15-games deficit.

OK, so I’m guessing I know what you think of all this. Feel free to vent. Meanwhile, here’s how the standings look today, according to the MIT grads. (Key: RS and RA stand for runs scored and runs against. EXPW and EXPL stand for expected win and loss totals. DIV and WC stand are calculated percentages for winning the division or the wild card spot. POFF is overall playoff chances.)

East                   W   L    Pct.    GB    RS   RA   EXPW  EXPL  DIV  WC  POFF

Philadelphia      71  50  .587    —      641  538   95.4   66.6  86.9  4.0   90.9

Atlanta              66  58  .532   6.5      563  503   87.9  74.1  10.3  12.0  22.2

Florida               65  59  .524   7.5     588  588   84.9  77.1  2.8     3.6   6.4

New York           57  67  .460  15.5    526  580   73.7  88.3  <0.1  <0.1  <0.1

Washington       44  80   .355  28.5    565  672   59.7  102.3  0.0  0.0  0.0

Wild card            W    L    Pct.    GB   RS   RA   EXPW  EXPL   DIV   WC  POFF

Colorado (W)       70  54  .565   —     632  549   91.7  70.3  16.7  46.8  63.5

San Fran. (W)       67-57  .540   3       501  464   87.7   74.3   3.7   16.4  20.1

Atlanta (E)           66  58  .532   4       563  503   87.9   74.1  10.3  12.0  22.2

Florida (E)            65  59  .524   5      588  588   84.9   77.1   2.8    3.6   6.4

Chicago (C)          62  60 .508   7       533  514   84.2  77.8   7.0     2.1  9.1

chemdawg

August 24th, 2009
7:18 pm

1.) Fair enough, but I was referring to your response to me earlier this morning which I incorrectly assumed you remembered. 2.) Up until this week, they have had a much greater shot at the division than the wildcard. Now, they have about the same shot at the division based on how all the NL teams have played this year. In other words, for the braves to make the playoffs they need to outperform their current record and other teams to underperform. Even if the division deficit is greater, the statistics of the situation dictate that the difference is easier to make up competing with 1 or 2 teams in the division than 4 or 5 for the wildcard. For each additional team you add to the race, you have to account for the chance that one of them will go on a hot streak as well.

DCB

August 24th, 2009
7:25 pm

Hey – speaking as a transplanted Yankee having spent over 30 years in the south watching with amusement the anti-north and pro SEC/ACC sports mentaility, there is no question how Braves fans would react to the coolstanding.com prediction of the Braves chances to make the playoffs – 0 credibility. I mean if the principals Walsh and Agami were Georgia or Georgia Tech grads, the fans might give the prediction at least a second thought. But as soon as it was mentioned they were from MIT, forget it. What the hey do they know about baseball, or basketball, or football, or …. ?????

Jim Grogan

August 24th, 2009
7:41 pm

Isn’t it amazing how much time, money and energy people will spend trying to predict the future: the weather, the stock market, national rankings, what various sports teams will do, who will win a golf tournament, what players will impact fantasy leagues and so on. Not too many years ago, George Rogers led an undefeated South Carolina team (7-0) against the Yellow Jackets (1 win against Furman and no wins against division one in over a year). SC was a 28 point favorite and the final score was indeed 28-0. But, it was Ga. Tech 28 and S.C. 0. They always play them on the field, not in the papers or on a computer, and that folks is why we are all sports fans!! GO BRAVES!!!!!!!!

i cant take it anymore

August 24th, 2009
7:43 pm

DCB

nice try.

jeffrey d

August 24th, 2009
7:54 pm

Dang…Look at the big drop off between Florida and Atlanta. We’re only one game ahead of them.

Tami

August 24th, 2009
8:00 pm

There is NO WAY that anyone can predict what happens in baseball! There are way too many factors that can in a blink of an eye change a team’s chances for the good or for the better. Basically, how it gets worked out is playing between the lines. We’ll have a very good idea of how they’ll do in one month’s time…trust me. And, we didn’t have to go to M.I.T. and major in mathematics or calculus or any of that stuff to figure it out either.

JSS

August 24th, 2009
8:27 pm

Bill-InAtl, if this has you stomped then why do you and so many buy into the FICO credit scoring algorithm? It is the same freaking model! Derivatives on the other hands those contracts were workable, but poor Congress (a willing conspirator) were willing to sell us sown the river to traders. See June 2000, ask Gray Davis and all of those poor people impaled on Enron and Countrywide’s excesses.. But always blame the victim, that the American way… Damn it is 2AM!!! I need to go sleep, power boat races in the AM

John

August 24th, 2009
8:29 pm

come on football. I hate the frecking Braves and the motor mouth announcers. Move the Braves to do dunk , africa.

bruce

August 24th, 2009
8:37 pm

I would think we have much better chance of winning the wildcard because Colorado and San Fran have tougher schedules to play than we do having to play each other and LA. And I do not see that Philly is going to lose very many series, except for the Braves if we can get healthy quickly.

Courtney

August 24th, 2009
8:45 pm

This is the opposite of Sports. The human element cannot be factored by this MIT idiot or anyone else.

bruce

August 24th, 2009
8:46 pm

Jeff –
Does it seem strange to you that Florida’s chances are so much lower than the Braves in both the division and wildcard yet they are only one game behind the Braves? It would seem that the odds would be much closer for these two teams.

Salty

August 24th, 2009
8:48 pm

OK…since they ran historical races…what were the outcomes for the ‘64 Cards and the ‘07 Phillies? Just wonderin’!

Ken Gunn

August 24th, 2009
8:49 pm

Considering that the Rockies have won 67% of their games since June 1st & the Dodgers have won 53% I believe the Rockies will over take the Dodgers & win the division & the Dodgers will win the wild card. Also, the Phillies have won 69% of their games since July 6th so I expect the Phillies will win the division.

chemdawg

August 24th, 2009
9:06 pm

The reason Florida has such a lower chance according to these calculations is run differential. The Braves have scored more runs than they have allowed whereas the Marlins are pretty much even. Bill James, a baseball statistician, has shown that if you take the square of the runs scored and divide by the square of the runs allowed it predicts win percentage with a high degree of accuracy (this is called the Bill James Pythagorean theorem). Throughout the course of baseball history, the discrepancy between this “expected win pct” and actual winning percentage is very small. The cases where a team outperforms or under performs this ratio can essentially be attributed to luck.

James

August 24th, 2009
9:17 pm

I don’t know about the model enough to really say one thing or another. It’s accurate given the 2% error rate, but for it to be really accurate for this particular Braves team it would have to give more weight to the Braves recent performance. Using the points for and points against to date isn’t accurate because of the months of the Frenchy/KJ debacle.

Either way, 12% isn’t 0%. This is the team that just won’t go away. They’ve been at death’s door 3 times and just keep coming back. It’s going to happen.

DHD

August 24th, 2009
9:21 pm

The problem with trying to calculate is that it doesn’t know who is going to get hot. Also, a BIG factor is the call-ups The Braves have needed extra players with all of the nagging injuries. Javy has had to pinch hit several times. Having Huddy, Heyward and a few others will help us more than the other teams, I bet. Skip always told us…”that’s why they play the games.” We won’t know until they get played. I like our chances because of solid pitching.

Coach (2010 or Bust)

August 24th, 2009
9:21 pm

Holy Crap, do we really need a couple of MIT grads and their computer simulation to make this kind of assessment?

I could have come up with the same thing based on one variable during spring training, Bobby Cox.

cdog

August 24th, 2009
9:33 pm

I SEE WHERE THE BRAVES ARE SENDIND JASON HEYWARD TO THE ARIZONA INSTRUCTIONAL LEAGUE. THEY SHOULD SEND KELLY JOHNSON ALONE TOO.HE IS TERRIBLE AS A BASEBALL PLAYER. HE MUST HAVE SOME POWERFUL RELATIVES IN PRO BASEBALL. I KNOW 12 HIGH SCHOOL PLAYERS RIGHT NOW BETTER THAN HIM. COX SHOULD KEEP HIM ON THE BENCH AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE

Don!

August 24th, 2009
9:51 pm

When you’re looking a relative odds for the playoffs with about 40 games to go, a single game won or lost makes about a 2.5% difference in and of itself. Plus, one important thing to consider is the remaining schedule … Colorado sees a lot of the Mets, Arizona, San Diego, and Cincinnati over the next couple of weeks. In fact, 19 of their next 22 games are against teams with losing records.

The Braves’ schedule is a little tougher — with this trip to Florida and another trip to Houston and St. Louis in the near future. The bright side to that is that we finish the season with a road trip to the Bets and Nats, then seven games at home against the Marlins and the Nationals. I think if we can just make up two games coming into that last trip home — we have a good chance. Better than 22%, IMHO.

Later,

Don!

Sonny Clusters

August 24th, 2009
9:53 pm

We was thinking we could do some statistical work of our own and prove a point but that would go over a lot of heads so we are just going to say that when we was playing ball we never gave up even when people was swinging at everything and refusing to take a pitch. We was state championship and so can the Braves.

Skeezix

August 24th, 2009
9:56 pm

Doesn’t take an MIT scientist to figure out that the playoffs are a longshot for the Braves. But 2009 has been a whole lot more fun than the last two years…and it ain’t over yet. Imagine a sweep of the Padres this week and then the Rockies blowing three in a row………

richbrave

August 24th, 2009
9:56 pm

Let’s play them one at a time. From late June, the BRAVOS have come a long way.

Sonny Clusters

August 24th, 2009
10:12 pm

Jeff has they been a winner from the best biscuit search and is it in Dunwoody? Man, wouldn’t that be some luck?

Steve McP

August 24th, 2009
10:14 pm

Lies, Damn Lies and statistics! Since 1905 – 1969 there were only 2 play off teams, expansion then saw 4 until 1993 and there have been 8 since 1995 (1994 strike year), therefore this rudimentary calculation gives us a total number of teams qualifying for the play offs since 1905 of 300. According to the list of comebacks, the Braves “chances” of 22.3% rank163rd, therefore there is a 54.3% chance that the Braves will make a comeback and make the play offs. The Braves chances suddenly look better than 50/50 using the very information that you produced to show that they had a minimal chance!

chemdawg

August 24th, 2009
10:26 pm

Steve, you’re confused. very confused.

NathanKing

August 24th, 2009
10:36 pm

Does MIT have a baseball team?

Stephen

August 24th, 2009
10:45 pm

First, thanks Jeff for the solid piece. It’s obvious that the column provoked a great discussion of something new, with people critically evaluating some complicated evidence. The discussion was about 10000000x better in my opinion than the usual.

A couple of are seriously missing the boat about what the website, and simulations more broadly, are trying to tell them. “Predictions don’t mean anything… anything can happen… look at Wall Street…” are all very natural feelings, but ultimately, they miss the mark.

Basically, what the website does is roll a very complicated dice a bunch of times and it says “this percentage of the time, the Braves came out on top.” Of course anything can happen! The Nationals win the pennant in some cases.

You basically got three types of comments in response to this great piece:

1) Yeah, 20% that sounds about right… here’s how that meshes with my general thoughts about the Braves and specific players. I’ll call that the Schurholtz. I say that because the Braves front office is totally clueless about how to systematically evaluate talent, but they have good gut instincts that have often worked out. Often these people had really insightful reactions to the piece, and I’d be willing to bet that they’re amenable to investing more thought into how they consider baseball. Much love to these folks.

2) Those statistics don’t account for XYZ (someone gets hot, call ups, a Rockies collapse, injuries, etc.) But yes, *they do*. That is the beauty of simulation. It accounts for those potential occurrences, but it also factors in *the probability that those things occur*. Could Chipper get crazy hot and carry us to October? Of course. But let’s think about the whole system of things going on, and also think about the likelihood that Chipper gets hot X the effect that would have on the playoff race. Etc. This framework is really valuable.

3) “Statistics are stupid. They can’t tell us anything. Wall Street. You can’t factor in the human element.” It’s kind of a natural human reaction to distrust anything you don’t understand. But I think that understanding these concepts really makes baseball more enjoyable.

For example, you can answer questions like:
- What is the probability the Braves make the playoffs?
- If they made the playoffs, how would that compare to the 1991 Wonder Braves? The biggest comebacks ever? The Mets’ epic collapse? If the Braves pull it out this year, I know I am going to seriously appreciate it because I now know just how unlikely that is to happen.

Finally, everyone should take a minute to give props to Jeff for even writing this piece. It was spurred by a comment I made a couple days ago, and Jeff jumped on it and responded. How many journalists do you know that do that?

Baseball is basically a function of two things: skill and luck. Ignore the second one, and ignore the random element, and you’re immediately handicapping yourself from being able to better understand baseball.

Now if there was only some way to get the UGA blawg’s comments to be this good…. Maybe a 10 week series devoted to the brilliant guys at smartfootball.com………

The Bird and Indian

August 24th, 2009
10:52 pm

I really enjoy Sonny Clusters posts.

Herschel Talker

August 24th, 2009
11:19 pm

The Bird and Indian likes men

Gen Neyland

August 24th, 2009
11:20 pm

It’s uphill but can be done. Diaz has it working. It’s a game of simple math from here on out. Win much more that you lose, Chipper will break his slump, the pitching will be there. Bring up Conrad. Get Prado right and convience Church there is life after September. Go Braves

eddie willers

August 24th, 2009
11:52 pm

Mishter Clusters makes us laff.

Timmaaayyyyyy....

August 25th, 2009
12:40 am

Wow Jeff… you must be bored.

bob

August 25th, 2009
2:17 am

Greg Norton and Kelly Johnson. They’re still here. Unlike Moe and Curly, they’re not even funny. Do folks realize the Braves carry only 13 position players, and these are two of them? Playoffs? You’ve got to be kidding.

Woody Woodward

August 25th, 2009
3:04 am

Dear Sonny,

I’m sorry if we Cobb County boys made you feel bad. You know there’s a lot of people not from around here in Cobb County and I think we might have caught some of that northeast snobbery. I hope you’ll accept my apologies cause I just never felt right about it.

Woody Woodward

August 25th, 2009
3:06 am

What would get us to the playoffs is a big stick at first. Or anywhere, for that matter. Has there ever been a team make the playoffs without at least one player to hit 25 home runs?

August 25th, 2009
3:51 am

Braves have a shot, but realistically a 1-in-5 shot seems about right. They are running out of time and games to play; it took them too long to shake the baggage off the cart and put a winning team together, and when they did the injury bug hit. This is a very fragile Braves team with a lot of rebuilt arms still hanging by a thread, and that makes it more unlikely they’ll sustain a run. I still think the key is Chipper — if he gets hot he can carry the team. If not, not much chance.

I’m old enough to have experienced 1964 growing up as a Cardinal fan in St. Louis. The Phillies choked up 6-1/2 games that year in about a week and half in September. You never know.

August 25th, 2009
3:57 am

Woody Woodward: Yes, teams have made the playoffs without a 25-homer man. Four come to mind immediately: 1985 Cardinals, 1982 Cardinals, 1973 Mets, 1959 White Sox. Most likely many others, but without looking it up I’d say highly unlikely in the steroid era.

abudefdef

August 25th, 2009
5:56 am

I agree with the statement that Greg Norton is hindering the playoff chances…he is dead weight and should be cut out! I truly appreciate what he did for the Braves LAST YEAR, but this year he is batting worse than some of our pitchers! And that’s his JOB! TO BAT! And I know the Brooks Conrad bandwagon may have come and gone, but at least he was making contact, and I bet there are at least a handful of batters in the minors who could come up and be successful at least 1 out of 4 times at the plate, DOUBLING what Norton is doing (almost, maybe).

Cut Greg Norton, bring up Brooks Conrad (or another deserving minor leaguer) and I bet the Brave’s chances go up at least 5%!

KEEP THE FAITH BRAVES NATION!!!
Keep the Faith!
***WHOOOOAAAAAA OOOOAAAAAA WHOOOOOOOAAAAA OOOOOOAAAAA***
**TOMAHAWK-A-CHOPPIN**

Nativebird

August 25th, 2009
7:48 am

probabilities are just that…probable…not (near) guaranteed. This is why they actually play the games. and what a lot of folks miss in this discussion is that these type of statistics are what actually CREATED the term “underdog”. Of which, many throughout history have prevailed. Without it these stats, there would be no “underdog” at all. then why play? because EVERY game is not predetermined, no matter how hard we try to make it.

bama92

August 25th, 2009
8:15 am

winning the east is a very simple formula, here goes:
NL East Title= Sweep 6 remaining games vs. Philly+ keep winning series.

Formula is simple, can they pull it off, sure would feel like 1991/1992 if they did!

Chopdawg

August 25th, 2009
8:50 am

Interesting stuff, but to me these predictions are like handicapping a horse race…one horse is favored, a couple more horses hold a little longer odds, then one or two longshots. When you consider the number of teams still in the playoff picture, 22% is actually not a bad percentage.

August 25th, 2009
8:53 am

[...] Braves postseason hopes dwindling. [AJC] [...]

Mitch C

August 25th, 2009
9:02 am

Jeff, you mentioned Lowe to the bullpen not happening. The interesting thing is, in 2001, Bobby put Smoltz as the closer at the end of the season, and he was lights out. Then again, Smoltz had been injured for most of that year, and hadnt pitched as many innings as Lowe has this year.

Personally, I’m concerned about Lowe. He has looked terrible his last two times out. The Mets beat him up last week, and he was far from great against Fla on Sunday. I’m going to my annual game this Sat night in Philly, and Lowe is pitching. He needs a good game, to get his confidence back, although with me there, I wouldnt be surprised if the Braves lose 10-0, lol.

Mitch

Guy Malool

August 25th, 2009
9:18 am

What a bunch of nonsense! There is no number to measure heart and this team is loaded with it! Hold on to your seats because the final six weeks will be the ride of your life. Paralysis through analysis doesn’t win games, heart and passion does and this team is peaking at just the right time!

Steven Lemon

August 25th, 2009
10:03 am

Why spend all this time and energy crunching numbers? The fact is, as long as Bobby Cox is manager, the only way the Braves will reach to post season is through some incredible good luck (I.E. a collapse of the Phillies in 07 or the Mets in ‘06), the emergence of a “Mr October” (I.E. David Justice 1991-95. Don’t even THINK Chipper Jones, who only rises to the occasion against the Mets ) or a lot of bad calls by umpires (I.E. Pittsburgh vs Atlanta 1991, Sid Bream was OUT!!!).

Cox has proven to be a great manager over the first 162 games of the year, but his style (and skills) are not what a post season manager needs to win. Most Braves rallies end with double plays after loading the bases with none out. There is no speed on the basepaths (Newcomers Church and McClouth have almost as many steals as the rest of the team combined.

Then there is the pitching staff, the only members with post season experience have proven less reliable than rookie Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens who have zero post season experience but would be leading the league in victories were it not for the bullpen, which has blown a third (16) of their save opportunities (45). The bullpen also has record of 19-21, which means the bullpen is involved in too many decisions.

Finally, during the post season, winning is 75% players and 25% manager. The skipper must be able to pull a rabbit out of the hat on occasion, and I haven’t seen that out of Cox in his entire career and I don’t see it in the foreseeable future.

Reid in EAV

August 25th, 2009
10:05 am

“So… you’re saying there’s a chance.”

I’m not terribly worried by mathematical models. Since 1991 the Braves have always been a team of second-half surges. Who can forget 1993? I sure can’t.

37YrBravesFan

August 25th, 2009
10:36 am

Stats can be made to say anything. The MIT folks are interesting, but not necessarily relevant in my opinion. I also think the WC will be where the Braves land in the play offs if they do. I’m still thinking next year is the year…

GO BRAVES!!

nique

August 25th, 2009
10:37 am

thank you for the disclaimer at the beginning, i wish i would have heeded your warning. did not find this particularly interesting.

Sutton's 'Fro

August 25th, 2009
10:59 am

DHD…Javy Vazquez leads the league in sacrifice bunts; that’s why he’s used as a pinch hitter. While I agree the bench needs help, using Vazquez is not an indicator of weakness. He’s just really good at laying a bunt down. :;):

who cares

August 25th, 2009
11:02 am

22% chance of making the playoffs seems high to me. It should be 0% chance. As long as Bobby Cox is the manager, this team will never make the playoffs again. His loyalty with players like Kelly Johnson, and Norton is the reason this team isn’t going anywhere. These guys clearly don’t have major league talent, yet Cox continues to play them, and they continue to fail in clutch situations every game. That coupled with the fact that the braves #1 starter has blown leads in two consecutive starts of 4-0, and 3-0. Your #1 starter should be your stopper in the stretch run for the playoffs, and this guy is pathetic. He is the weak link to the starting pitching staff now. It is only a matter of time before Cox puts his loyalty to the test again with the return of Hudson. Hudson is another #1 starter that never produced in the clutch. The way he is getting shelled in Richmond is a clear indication that he isn’t where he needs to be, and the best thing for him is to wait until next year. But watch Cox put him in the starting rotation and ruin the 22% chance the Braves have of making the playoffs.