Elimination numbers can be misleading

Here is a post I put on my MySpace blog earlier this evening, before the Monday, September 15 games were final.

Sometimes in baseball, a team’s chances aren’t as good as they look.

The Yankees and Toronto are right now tied at 80 and 70.  The Red Sox and Rays are ahead of these two teams, in the same division each with 88 wins (that’ll change by the time you read this, though).  This means that, even though their elimation numbers are 5, at least one of the Yankees and the Blue Jays will do no better than a tie for the division’s best record.

If you don’t know what an elimination number is, it’s the number of losses by a team in their remaining games that will eliminate them from being able to win the division.  In fact, if the sum of wins by the division leader in their remaining games, and losses by trailing team in their remaining games, adds up to at least this number, the trailing team is eliminated.  This number is calculated by subtracting from 163 both the number of wins the division leader already has, and the number of losses the trailing team has.

So if both the Yankees and Blue Jays have elimination numbers of 5, shouldn’t they both be able to pass the current division leader?  Interestingly, they can’t.  Why?  Well, they play each other three times more, so one must lose at least 2 more games, and thus will finish with at least 72 losses.  With at least 72 losses, they can have at most 90 wins.  And the Sox and Rays play 3 more against each other, so one must win at least 2 more games, and so will finish with at least 90 wins.  Hence, at least one of the Yankees and Blue Jays can do no better than tie one of the two current division leaders.

Of course we all know that neither of them will actually make it.  😛