The Los Angeles Angels might be one of the teams that benefits the most from a shorter season in 2020.
With Major League Baseball unlikely to resume before June, what has always been considered a marathon, the drudgery of playing 162 games, might suddenly become a sprint. Commissioner Rob Manfred might still have hopes of playing 162 games, but the more months that flip on the calendar without players even practicing in groups, the harder it is to believe a full season will be played in 2020.
How does a shortened season impact the Angels? I wrote yesterday about the potential impact on the starting rotation. A delayed start gives more time for Shohei Ohtani to complete his rehab and return to the top of the rotation. It also helps keep his innings count down, rather than the Halos judiciously monitoring each inning and spacing out his starts, Joe Maddon might be able to deploy their best pitcher on a more regular basis. A June start gives Griffin Channing plenty of time to recover, as well.
Dan Szymborksi of FanGraphs reconfigured his ZiPS projections to see how a shorter season would impact each team’s probability of making the playoffs this year. One of the advantages of playing 162 games is the best teams usually rise to the top. Baseball is a game of numbers, and anomalies are corrected over larger sample sizes. A football team can catch a few lucky breaks, win two extra games, and suddenly turn a 6-10 season into an 8-8 finish. When you play everyday for six months, a few lucky breaks gets lost in the noise. Which is why a shorter season gives underdogs a better chance of making the playoffs.
As you can see in the graphic above, the Angels held a 15.6% chance of making the playoffs before COVID-19 interrupted all of our lives. Over 162 games, the Halos, with the addition of Anthony Rendon and the return of Ohtani in mid-May, were likely to improve over last season (when they finished 72-90), but unlikely to compete for the division title. Shorten the season to 140 games and their playoff odds increase to 17.5%; cut the season in half to play 81 games and their playoff odds dramatically jump to 33.2%, or a one in three chance of making the postseason. Given an 81-game season, the Angels division title odds improve to 17.4%.
The difference between the Halos’ odds of making the playoffs over a 162-game season versus over an 81-game season is a staggering 17.6%, the second largest difference of any team projected by ZiPS. Why do their odds improve so much? As mentioned before, it creates an opportunity for the pitching staff to get healthy, resulting in a higher percentage of games started by the team’s best pitchers versus the back of the rotation. It also opens up the possibility for randomness to impact the standings; for example, a heavyweight like the Astros could get off to a slow start and then have less time to recover.
However you cut the season, Angels fans will be happy to see baseball eventually return. Perhaps their playoff odds will improve along the way.
As you wait for baseball to return, I encourage you to keep reading FanGraphs, where they do an amazing job looking at the impacts of different scenarios using numbers. Of course, keep checking out Halo Hangout where we will have all of your Angels news, thoughts, and distractions.