I proposed recently that if the Pirates are 6 games behind in the Wild Card Race at the end of this month, they should attempt to trade imminent free agent Russell Martin – since they very likely would be out of playoff contention at that point. Some agreed. Some vehemently disagreed. So, I decided to take a deeper look.
I asked myself, “If the Pirates were six games out on August 31, how many games would they have to win in September in order to reach the playoffs?”
There can be no absolute answer to that question because it depends not only on how well the Pirates play, but also upon how well the teams ahead of them play. But we can make some assumptions.
First, if the Pirates are six games back on August 31, we can assume that they would certainly have to play very well in September. Second, we know that the teams who are holding playoff spots on August 31 would need to have a record of at least 6 games worse than the Pirates.
The Pirates play 26 games in September. If they go 16-10 in those games, they will have done very well in the last month of the season. 16-10 is a .615 winning percentage and a 100-win full season pace. But that might not get it done. The team holding the second wild card at the end of August – let’s assume it is the Braves – would need to go 10-16 in September just for the Pirates to forge a tie that would result in a one-game playoff to determine which team goes to the one game wild card playoff.
The odds may be fair that the Pirates can go 16-10 in September, but what would the odds be of the Braves simultaneously going 10-16, a .385 winning percentage and a 62-win full season pace? I’d say slim.
And the Pirates odds would be dimmed further by the likelihood that if they are 6 games behind in the race on August 31, the Giants and Marlins would probably also be ahead of them. If those teams are two games out of the race at the end of this month, they would both have to go no better than12-14, while the Pirates go 16-10 and the Braves go 10-16, just to end up in a four team tie for the second wild card.
It’s looking very much like the Pirates should try to trade Russell Martin at the end of the month – if they are 6 games behind in the race for the second wild card spot. But there is more . . .
Since the inception of the Wild Card playoff in 1995, there have been 42 wild card teams. Only two of them have ever been more than 5 games out of the wild card race on August 31. On that date in 2011, the Rays were 7.5 games out of the A.L. wild card and the Cardinals were 8.5 games out of the wild card. They both miraculously overcame that deficit and won the wild card spot.
2 teams in 19 years of the Wild Card Playoff have ever overcome a deficit of more than 5 games on August 31 to win the Wild Card. Those indicate very long odds of that happening again. But the odds get even more distant.
Of those 42 teams that have secured a wild card spot in the playoffs in the last 19 years, only 9 of them were not in possession of a playoff spot at the end of August. And 5 of the remaining teams who reached the wild card were very close on August 31. The 2002 Giants were 1 game behind. The 2003 Red Sox were 1.5 games back. 1995 Yankees – 2 games. 2001 Cardinals – 2 games. 2004 Astros 3 games.
If the Pirates are more than 5 games out of the wild card race at the end of August, they should trade Russell Martin – because getting to the playoffs at that point, with or without Martin, would just about require a miracle.
And consider the upside to trading Martin. He has a 3.5 WAR; the same number Marlon Byrd had when the Pirates traded for him at the end of last August. If the Pirates could get the same kind of return for Martin that they gave up for Byrd (Dilson Herrera, who now has a .945 OPS at AA, and Vic Black, who now has a 1.95 ERA with the Mets), they should race with ebullience to make the deal.