The magic number in baseball represents how close a team is to making the playoffs or clinching their division during the regular season. The magic number in MLB calculates how many games you need to win and how many games your competition needs to lose. September is when teams begin watching the magic number to understand how many games remaining are left in the calendar to make the playoffs. Since it is a formula, the magic number can be used as a prediction percentage as well for teams who are trying to see if they can make the playoffs.
What is the Calculation of the Magic Number?
Teams that are not going to win the division have something known as the elimination number. Another phrase that teams and players go by is the tragic number. The formula to calculate the elimination number is as follows.
=RG + 1 – (L2 – L1)
RG = Number of games in the regular season remaining. Each Major League Baseball season has 162 games
1 = Represents a break in a tie in the calculation
L2 = Losses by the Second Place Team
L1 = Losses by the First Place Team
Example of How the Formula Works?
Imagine if the Tampa Bay Rays are chasing the New York Yankees to clinch the division title. Both teams have played 150 games each, so there is a remainder of 12 games in the season. The Yankees record is 90 Wins and 60 losses, while the Tampa Bay Rays are 85 Wins and 65 losses. So the Yankee’s question is, how many wins do they need to win the division with the remaining twelve games in the season?
=12 + 1 -(65 -60) = 8
The magic number for the Yankees to win the division is 8.
How Can a Team Reach Their Magic Number?
Taking the New York Yankees example above trying to get to the magic number 8, they have a few scenarios that can get them there. One example is that the Yankees need to win eight games out of the remaining 12 to win the division. Another way the Yankees can win the division is to combine Yankee wins and Rays losses.
For example, the Tampa Bay Rays could lose 8 of the remaining 12 games so that the Yankees would win by default. If the Rays lose eight games, then the Yankees automatically reach that eight number.
What Happens if Two Teams Tie to End the Regular Season?
While the formula above assumes the team with the most wins will win the division, there is a scenario where a tie takes place. If a tie takes place between two groups, the team who won the most regular matches against earns the division crown. However, there are times where a tie is between both teams, so MLB moves these two teams into a tiebreaker game.
If the Rays and Yankees won 9 games against each other, then a one-game playoff game takes place to find out who won the division. Whoever won that one-game playoff game goes into the postseason as the clinched division leader, while the other team goes in as a wild card via a playoff berth.
Has Baseball Seen Three or More Teams Tie?
As of 2021, MLB has not seen three teams tied fighting for a postseason spot to end a regular season. However, 2016 saw the Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles, Seattle Mariners, and Detroit Tigers within a four-way tie. Once the season was over, the Blue Jays and the Orioles finished with 89 wins, but that situation would have made things interesting.
How Many Tie Breaker Games Has Baseball Had?
As of 2021, MLB has had sixteen tiebreaker games. Since baseball extended the Wild Card to have two teams in 2012, teams spend more time watching the magic number. By allowing one more team in the American League and National League to make the postseason, you give more competition to different organizations.
Expands Trading for Teams
The MLB Trade Deadline heats up every summer and is more critical now with the magic number for teams in place. Since the expansion of the wild card playoffs, you have more groups that can make the playoffs. If a team has a high chance of making the playoffs with a reachable magic number, they can become buyers. Likewise, teams mathematically out of the race by the summer can sell off their players for cash and or prospects if they choose.
Conclusion: What is a Magic Number in Baseball?
The Magic Number is baseball is a fun way for players and teams to calculate their chances of making a playoff spot. With the expansion of the Wild Card format in 2012, more teams are now on the hunt to make the playoffs. By allowing more teams to make the playoffs, you give organizations more incentive to improve their team to make the playoffs.
All in all, calculating the magic number is relatively straightforward. You take the remaining games in the schedule, add one, and then take the difference between the two teams in contention. Some teams use this formula to calculate how likely they will make the payoffs as well.