Open Thread: On magic numbers


As of this writing, the Yankees’ magic number stands at 14. By itself, that magic number doesn’t really tell us too much though about the Yanks’ chances of making the playoffs. After all, they could have a magic number of 14 with 30 games left; they could have a magic number of 14 with, as they do now, 19 games left. In this day and age of exact baseball numbers, the magic number is a relic of another era.

Earlier this week, Walk Like a Sabermetrician proposed an adjustment to the magic number formula. Instead of a pure magic number, WLAS proposes a Magic Percentage. It is “the percentage of game outcomes that must go a team’s way in order for them to clinch. In this case, game outcomes include both the team in question’s games and the games of their opponents.”

He explains further:

Suppose that the race between the Alphas and the Bravos is shaping up like this, with ten games left for each team:


The Alphas’ M# is 9. Again, that means that a combination of nine Alpha wins and Bravo losses will clinch the division. Since each team has ten games left, there are twenty total game outcomes outstanding, and 45% of them (9/20) must go the Alphas’ way. Therefore, their M% is 45%. Since I always feel compelled to write out a formula, here it is:

M% = (M#)/(2*g – W – L – oW – oL)

In other teams, the formula is Magic Number divided by the number of total games left for the first and second place teams. The Yankees have a Magic Percentage of 33. They need only 33 percent of the remaining games to go their way — that is, a Red Sox loss or a Yankee win.

There are some similar problems with Magic Percentage as Magic Number. It still pays to know how many games the team in question has left. But other than running Baseball Prospectus-style Monte Carlo simulations — the latest post-season odds report give the Yanks the East 99.4 percent of the time — this Magic Percentage is a step toward a better magic number.

Here’s your Saturday night open thread. There’s some college football on, some rain-delayed baseball games. You know the drill. Play nice.

Categories : Open Thread


  1. “They need only 33 percent of the games to go their way — that is, a Red Sox loss or a Yankee win.”


    /Grammar Geek’d

  2. Few things in life are more depressing than looking at

    Yes, it will take me a while to get over this.

  3. Mike bk says:

    SI 3-0 Bot 2.

  4. Jay NJ says:

    The problem with magic percentage is that it is too vague for the average fan. Simple numbers, whether or not the fan understands how it works, or percentages, such as playoff percentage, give the average fan something simple to talk about. This is not to discredit magic percentage but something to consider when thinking about its universal acceptance and use.

  5. Andy In Sunny Daytona says:

    Eduardo Nunez playing for Scranton tonight.

    Axisa must be PISSED.

  6. Not that anyone’s reading tonight, but should I go for it?

  7. The Artist says:

    “What is an issue, more than the hits record he isn’t going to break or the controversies over his inevitable move off of shortstop and his contract that aren’t going to materialize, is Jeter’s legacy. For such a revered winner, Jeter has presided over a lot of failure as captain, from the worst collapse in playoff history to a nearly decade-long run during which absurd payrolls that routinely neared or exceeded $200 million bought not one world championship.

    All of this is less his fault than anyone’s, but there are probably college freshmen with no clear memories of the last time Jeter won a ring. It would be nice to think he doesn’t have anything left to prove. But is it really true?”


    Tim Marchman is usually pretty good, but he loses his mind when it comes to discussing the Yankee payroll.

  8. toad says:

    I don’t get the equation. Shouldn’t it be M%=M#/(G1+G2), where G1 and G2 are the games remaining for the 1st and 2nd place teams?

    What’s all that W and L business?

    • Ed says:

      That’s what it is, he just did it a more roundabout way. The g in 2*g is games in the season. Your formula assumes you already know the number of games remaining. Ben’s assumes you know how many games are in the season, and what the team records are.

  9. Free Mike Vick says:

    whats wrong with the current magic number system?

    i mean…any combo of yankee wins and red sox losses adding up to 14 between now and october 4th…means the yankees are AL champions. Thats pretty much all you need to know. It doesn’t need anymore explaining then that.

    this is the last number in baseball that needs fixing folks…

    • Free Mike Vick says:

      AL east champions i mean

    • 27 this year says:

      yea, but 14 doesn’t tell you too much unless you know how many games are left and such. Like Mike said, 14 with 30 games to go is different than 14 with 19 left to go. Percentage gives you a better idea as the first instance would have a lower percentage meaning less needs to happen.

      • 27 this year says:

        sorry, Ben wrote the post. I don’t always notice who writes it, generally, you guys do a great job writing with fairly similar styles with each having a specialty in some area.

  10. Mike bk says:

    good night on the farm. SI and Tampa both win and SWB up 7-2 in the top 6.

  11. Mike Axisa says:

    Man, Tampa has completely crumbled down the stretch here. Maddon’s dyed hair is turning white again.

  12. Mike Axisa says:

    Edwin Jackson has a 5.32 ERA and a 1.65 WHIP in his last 7 starts. Game 2 in the ALDS should be a blast.

  13. Charlie says:

    no dotf or games aren’t finished yet?

  14. [...] last night, the Yanks’ magic number to clinch a playoff spot dropped to nine and their Magic Percentage hit 23.7. No longer are we worried that the Yanks won’t make the [...]

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