What does a shortened season mean for the Padres’ playoff chances?

Credit: EVT Sports

Credit: Chihuahuas

A shortened MLB season appears to be a sure thing. What does that mean for the San Diego Padres?

As we continue into a desolate, baseball-less spring in which the only thing that seems inevitable is that we are due for more uncertainty in the immediate future, now seems as good a time as any to dive back into the reality of what baseball will look like in 2020.

Even the most optimistic folks across baseball agree that a shortened season is inevitable at this point, and with the San Diego Padres rolling out what should be their most competitive roster in quite a while, it’s worth examining what a shortened season would mean for the team’s playoff chances.

Padres playoff odds pre-pandemic

To consider how the Padres’ playoff odds may change, we first need to discuss what their playoff odds were, to begin with. Knowing that there is an absolute behemoth of a baseball club a couple of hours to the North, the wild card was always going to be the most likely route to the postseason for the Friars. That is unlikely to change unless the season is shortened to the degree that would make it pure chaos (and wildly entertaining?) in every division. That being said, here are what a few different projections systems had to say about the Padres’ playoff chances before the shutdown:

Source SD playoff odds Projected W-L
ZiPS 49.4% 87-75
Fangraphs 39.0% 83.5-78.5
PECOTA 6.90% 78.9-83.1

So, this is interesting. Depending on which projection system you prefer, the Padres are anywhere from a borderline playoff team to a scuffling club projected for yet another losing season. While this is a drastic contrast, it shouldn’t be very surprising. The Padres are a high-variance team, meaning their success (or lack thereof) depends heavily on production from unproven and recently injured assets such as Trent Grisham, Dinelson Lamet, Garret Richards, and Mackenzie Gore. Heck, even Fernando Tatis Jr., has only played 80 career MLB games. All this really means is that projection systems aren’t really sure what to do with the Padres, and that they have an extensive range of possible outcomes.

Projecting the Padres playoff chances over a shortened season

MLB hasn’t yet released any information as to what they plan to do for the season, and frankly, it would be unwise to make any kind of plans until we have a decent idea of how long the COVID-19 pandemic is going to last. This leaves us free to speculate, which is precisely what we’re going to do here. For a better idea of how a shortened season could affect playoff odds league-wide, check out Dan Szymborski’s article at Fangraphs about exactly this topic. We have no idea what the algorithms for proprietary projection systems look like, but we do know that a shorter season means a smaller sample size. A smaller sample size means increased variability. Basically, a shorter season is even harder to predict than a normal season (it’s very tough to predict team records, even in a normal season). Thus far, Szymborski is the only one who has tinkered with a projection system to show us what a shorter season would look like. Here are his ZiPS projections for a 140, 110, and 81 game season, without making any changes for COVID-19-related issues:

Season length ZiPS projected playoff odds ZiPS projected W-L Change
162 87-75 49.4% N/A
140 75-65 48.7% -0.7%
110 59-51 44.8% -4.6%
81 44-37 42.0% -7.4%

According to ZiPS, the Padres’ playoff chances get worse every time the season shrinks. Not by a lot, mind you. Every single team that initially projected for playoff odds of 32% or higher saw their odds decrease as the season was shortened. The biggest drop in playoff odds when the season was cut to 81 games? That would be our friends over at Dodger Stadium, whose projected playoff odds drop by a whopping 27.3%, and you just hate to see that. Conversely, the biggest gain in projected playoff odds when the season was cut in half belongs to the Texas Rangers, whose odds go from 1.6% in a 162-game season to 19.3% in an 81-games season. Keep in mind that these amended projections don’t account for material changes that will occur as a result of the delayed season, such as players who will have additional time to get healthy and a couple of other topics that we’ll touch on in a moment.

What about doubleheaders, expanded rosters, and all the other changes that we’ll see in a shortened season?

The short answer is there’s absolutely no way to know what major league baseball is going to look like in 2020 until we see how long the delay lasts, and what the schedule will look like. However, we can make a couple of educated guesses, and if we’re wrong, no one will remember anyway. There is a good chance that if play resumes in 2020, doubleheaders will be utilized to make up as much ground as possible. Rockies Managers Bud Black said he would be willing to go that route, and there are likely many others around baseball who feel the same way. So, what would that mean for the Padres?

Credit: Padres

The 2020 Padres probably aren’t going to have a very deep rotation until (and perhaps even after) they get reinforcements from the farm. Still, they have a couple of high-end starters atop the rotation in Chris Paddack and Dinelson Lamet, and enough serviceable starters on the back end to stay afloat. If doubleheaders are frequently used to make up for lost time, we’re going to see even less of the starters than we would after an ostensibly short “second spring training,” and the Padres are set up well to handle an all-hands-on-deck approach to pitching, as bullpen depth is going to be a necessity rather than a luxury, at least until starters have time to become comfortably stretched out enough to start pitching deeper into games. This could potentially give the Padres a chance to jump into the wild card race from day one, which will be very important since playing catchup in a shortened season will be extremely difficult.

It’s tough to even speculate as to what expanded rosters would look like, but it’s probably safe to assume that extra roster spots would primarily be used to add more pitching. For the Padres, this means we could see an extra starter, such as Cal Quantrill, and possibly a couple of bullpen arms who would’ve otherwise been squeezed out due to the multitude of relievers acquired this past offseason by A.J. Preller. We could see an extra position player as well. However, that probably won’t move the needle much for any team, since additional position players will mostly be guys who weren’t good enough to crack the already-expanded 26-man roster. Ultimately, there’s no telling exactly how this situation is going to pan out. We all miss baseball, but the absence of baseball is nowhere near as significant as a myriad of other issues that we’re facing at the moment, both in the United States and elsewhere. For now, stay home, stay safe, and drop your thoughts on what the 2020 season will look like in the comments section.

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Holden Phillips
Holden Phillips is an Occupational Exposure Scientist who also happens to write about baseball, primarily focusing on analytics. He is a huge baseball fan and fell in love with the Padres during his college years when West Coast baseball was often the only baseball on TV after 9pm in the Eastern time zone. Find his work at eastvillagetimes.com and maxsportingstudio.com.

2 thoughts on “What does a shortened season mean for the Padres’ playoff chances?

  1. As the saying says,” on any given day”. This is a very interesting thought, but the teams will have to play like every game is gold. The teams that are healthy, motivated, and like the Padres, have little to lose and everything to gain. This in mind, the season will be tantalizing to the fans, as each games importance will be magnified, considering this the emotions will be intense.

  2. Holden,
    This is the first time I’ve read one of your articles and I must admit I’m extremely impressed. This is one of the more interesting articles I’ve read in quite some time. Keep up the great work.

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