What is Magic Number in Baseball?

What is Magic Number in Baseball? Read This First!

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Have you ever wanted to have a clear understanding of what has to happen for your team to make the playoffs? Understanding magic number will give you the information you desire.

In baseball, Magic Number is an advanced statistic that shows what it would take for a team to make the playoffs. It uses a team’s total wins and its next closest opponent’s total losses to determine a team’s magic number.

Read more to get a full understanding of magic number.

What is Magic Number (Further Explained)?

Every team’s goal when entering a season is to win the World Series. The first step in achieving that goal is to make the playoffs. The magic number statistic is a way to quantify a team’s chances of making the playoffs.

A team’s magic number shows the combination of wins from the team and/or losses from the opponent that it would take to reach the playoffs. Once a team’s magic number is 0, then that means they have clinched a playoff berth.

For example, if the Yankees’ magic number is 12, it would take either 12 wins from the Yankees, 12 losses from their next closest opponent, or a combination of Yankees’ wins and opponent’s losses that equals 12 for them to make the playoffs.

Let’s say the Red Sox are their closest opponent. If the Yankees win 8 games, and the Red Sox lose 4, 8 + 4 = 12, so the Yankees would make the playoffs. This would also be true if the Yankees only won 4 games but the Red Sox lost 8.

As long as the combination equals the magic number, the formula works.

How is Magic Number Calculated?

Now that you know what magic number is, it is important to understand how it is calculated so that you can see what it will take for your favorite team to make the playoffs.

Magic number is calculated by taking the total number of games to be played (162 in the MLB) and adding one, subtracting the total number of wins from your team, and then subtracting the total number of losses from the next closest team.

Here is what it looks like in a formula:

Total Games to be Played + 1 – Team’s Total Wins – Opponent’s Total Losses = Magic Number

When measuring an MLB team’s magic number, you can always plan to use the number 163 because every team in the league plays 162 games. Adding one would give you 163. Therefore, the formula can be simplified to look like this (when calculating an MLB team’s magic number):

163 – Team’s Total Wins – Opponent’s Total Losses = Magic Number

Let’s practice with an example from five made-up teams:


Let’s calculate the Rams’ chances of making the playoffs. We must use their total wins and the Bulldogs’ total losses to get the Rams’ magic number:

163 – 75 – 48 = 40

This means that in order for the Rams to make the playoffs, they would have to win 40 more games, count on the Bulldogs to lose 40 more games, or the Rams’ wins and the Bulldogs’ losses must equal 40.

The last scenario is the most likely to happen as it is very difficult to either win or lose 40 straight games in the MLB.

Now, let’s calculate the Tigers’ chances of winning this division and making the playoffs. For this example, we must use the Rams’ total losses because that is the team the Tigers are chasing for first place in the division:

163 – 66 – 45 = 52

The Tigers’ magic number is 52. That is a steep hill to climb with 42 games left in the season. They must win the majority of those games and hope that the Rams go on a long losing streak as well.

When Was Magic Number First Recorded?


While it is not as common to see or hear about when watching a game, the magic number formula has actually been around for quite a while in the MLB.

In 1947, the Washington Post referenced the New York Yankees’ magic number for making the playoffs in their intense pennant race with the Boston Red Sox.

While it has been around for a while, it is still not the most popular way to understand a team’s playoff hopes among fans.

How is Magic Different Than the Games Back Statistic?

If you closely follow a professional sports team, you likely check the divisional standings often to look for two things: In what place is my team and how many games back are they from first place?

The games back statistic has been used for many years. It represents how many wins a team is behind the first place team.

Here is an example of what divisional standings usually look like:

TeamWinsLossesGames Back

The reason this is used so often in the MLB is because on any given day some teams may have played more games than others in the division. This is when you will normally see a .5 number in that category to indicate the discrepancy in games played.

Magic number is a little more difficult to calculate when teams have not played the same number of games. Also, the games back statistic has been more commonly known to the average fan, therefore it tends to get more publicity.

A downfall of the games back statistic is that, unlike magic number, it only focuses on wins and winning percentage. Being three games back assumes that your team will win three games and the team ahead will lose three games in order to take the lead.

Magic allows for the understanding that this is not always the case. The number represents a combination of things that can happen.

What Does it Take to Reach the Playoffs in the MLB?


Recently, the MLB playoff format has changed to allow more teams the opportunity at a playoff berth. Now, 12 teams make the postseason instead of 10.

To make the playoffs in the MLB, a team must either win its division or clinch a wild card spot. There are three division winners and three wild card winners in both the National League and the American League.

A wild card team is a team that makes the playoffs without winning its division. The wild card spots are given to the three non division winners with the best overall record.

In this new format, the six teams are seeded 1-6. The three division winners are seeded 1-3, and the three wild card teams are seeded 4-6 in order from best overall record to worst.

The numbers 1 and 2 seeds are given a bye while the 3 and 6 seeds as well as the 4 and 5 seeds play each other in a best of three series.

In the past, only five teams from each league made the playoffs: three division winners and two wild card teams. The two wild card teams competed in a play-in game to see who would take on the number 1 seed.

This is the first year of the new format, so the jury is still out on how it is received among fans and players.

How Many Wins Does it Take to Reach the MLB Playoffs?

Believe it or not, MLB front office employees use many projected statistics to make roster decisions. Projecting the number of wins it takes to reach the playoffs is one piece of information that teams use to make decisions.

In the new 12-team playoff format, 87 wins is a good target for teams to shoot for when trying to make the playoffs.

Of course, this is not a guarantee as teams may win fewer games and still make the playoffs. When trying to establish a goal for total wins, 87 is a good number to shoot for.

At the end of the day, a team cannot win the World Series if it does not make the playoffs, so this win total goal is a way to quantify what it takes to reach the playoffs before the season even begins.

Why Did the Playoff Format Change?

One thing fans can guarantee about professional sports leagues is that things change every so often. Whether it is a rule, a playoff format, expansion teams, etc., if the league office believes a change will bring in more money and improve the game, then they will make changes.

The new playoff format for 2022 allows more teams to get into the postseason, and the added wild card series adds a minimum of six playoff games. Playoff games make more money, and six extra games means six more chances to earn more money.

This change certainly benefits the league and the owners of teams who make it to the playoffs, but the change was agreed upon by the MLB and the MLB Players Association.

There was some concern among fans that bad teams would be allowed into the playoffs by expanding the number of teams in it; however, baseball is a sport where the best team doesn’t always win.

In this format, more deserving teams will be allowed to compete for a chance at the World Series. Even the 6th seeded teams will be quality ball clubs capable of making a Cinderella story run in the playoffs.

It is unlikely that teams with losing records will make the playoffs as to be in the top 6 of a league means that you are in the top 40% of it. In the NBA, more than half the league makes the playoffs which many have argued saturates the playoff field.

Related Questions

What is a Good Magic Number?

A good magic number is any number that is lower than the number of games remaining on a team’s schedule. The goal is for a team’s magic number to be 0 because that means they have clinched a playoff spot. All in all, the lower the magic number the better.

What Happens if There is a Tie for a Playoff Spot?

If there is a tie for a playoff spot, one winner takes all game occurs immediately following the end of the regular season. The team with the best record in head-to-head matchups that season is the home team.

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