Of the major sports, Major League Baseball has the toughest requirements for making the playoffs. Of the 30 MLB teams, only eight (26.7%) qualify for the postseason each year. As a result, it generally takes a big win total to make the playoffs.
But what number should teams shoot for?
If we look at the wild card era (1996*-present), we can see how often teams make the playoffs based on how many games they win. Here is the percentage of teams to make the playoffs based on how many games a team won that season…
What we see is that 94 wins seems to be the magic number. Since 1996, 68 teams have won at least 94 games and 67 of those (98.5%) went to the playoffs. The 1999 Cincinnati Reds (96-66) is the only team that didn’t play October baseball.
However, of the nine teams to win 93 games, only five played in the postseason.
After that we start to see a steep decline in the percentage of teams making the playoffs. Once we get past the 90-win mark, teams have a better chance of playing golf in October. And in the American League, 86 wins is the absolute minimum. No team in the AL has qualified for the playoffs with less than 86 wins.
So when general managers are putting together teams in the off-season, the key number is 94. If they can put together a 94-win team, they will almost certainly be in the playoffs no matter what other teams do.
* The Wild Card era actually began in 1995, but that season is excluded from this study since it was a strike-shortened year.
All data via Baseball-Reference.com
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