August 15, 2012
Melky Cabrera, PEDs, and the Giants' Playoff Odds
When news of Melky Cabrera’s 50-game suspension for taking testosterone broke this afternoon, the Giants had 45 games remaining, were tied with the Dodgers atop the NL West, and were half a game worse than the Braves and Pirates, the two teams tentatively holding the two NL Wild Cards. Shortly after that, they lost to the Nationals, 6-4, but let’s pretend that never happened. (Who knows, maybe with Melky they would have won.) This morning, with Melky, the Giants had a 60.5 percent chance of making the playoffs: 53.2 percent from winning the division, and 7.3 percent from winning a Wild Card. How much did losing Melky for the rest of the regular season affect their odds?
To find out, I distributed Melky’s playing time among other players, re-ran the odds, and compared them to this morning’s. Our depth charts had him projected to play 90 percent of the time. I gave 60 percent of that time to Gregor Blanco (who was already projected for 40 percent) and 15 percent each to Brett Pill and Justin Christian. The difference? A whopping 2.9 percent reduction in playoff odds, with most of that decline reflected in the team’s chances of winning a Wild Card. To put that into perspective, the Giants' trade for Marco Scutaro a few weeks ago improved their playoff odds by 2.5 percent.
There is a caveat here: because it takes several years of past performance into account, PECOTA isn’t quick to believe in breakouts. As a result, the system had Cabrera projected for a .270 TAv over the rest of the season, which would have made him worth an additional half a win. However, PECOTA doesn’t know Cabrera was taking testosterone. If—and this is really a stretch—you think that either all or some portion of Cabrera’s improvement in 2012 stemmed from his use of a banned substance, then presumably he would have outperformed that projection had he continued to play, and the percentage change should be bumped up accordingly.
Even assuming Cabrera wouldn’t have regressed at all, though—which is an even bigger stretch, regardless of whether his performance was actually enhanced—his loss couldn’t have moved the needle by much more than a few percent. Forty-five games just isn’t enough time for most personnel changes to make a major impact, and it’s rare that the addition or departure of a single player makes or breaks a season. Given the closeness of the race, Cabrera’s absence could come back to bite the Giants, but unless they miss out on a playoff spot by a single game, it probably won’t be worth wondering what might have been. As demoralizing as the suspension news might be for fans of Melky or San Francisco—and for those of us who can look forward to having an even tougher time persuading people that future career years could be clean—the Giants’ playoff push isn’t in much worse shape than it was this morning.