A Complete Explanation of MLB’s Magic Number


MLB's Magic Number Explained

Whenever baseball playoffs are around the corner, the one number I begin to hear quite often is a team’s magic number. Lots of emphases is placed on this magic number because this number gives fans an idea of how likely it is their team will make the playoffs. Although this magic number is important, one thing you don’t see too often is an explanation of how the magic number was calculated or what it even means. What is the MLB magic number?

In MLB, the magic number is a statistic that shows how close a team is to making the playoffs. The magic number is calculated by combining the wins needed by one team and the losses that team needs from their closest competitors.

The magic number might sound complicated at first, but there is an easy formula that is used to accurately calculate this number.

What is the Magic Number in Baseball?

When people think about the sport of baseball, the word “magic” is not a word that is commonly thought about. Although the term “magic number” does start to gain some momentum in baseball during September and early October of every year. What does the magic number mean in baseball?

In baseball, the Magic Number (MN) is considered an advanced statistic that adds up how many wins a team needs and how many losses that team needs from their closest competitor. When this number reaches zero, a team will have reached a specific goal, with that goal typically being a playoff spot.

The Magic Number can be used to calculate how many wins and losses a team needs to win their division, or it could be used to calculate how many wins and losses a team needs to clinch a Wild Card spot for the playoffs. The way to calculate the magic number for each of these scenarios is slightly different and I’ll cover both of those scenarios below.

In order to better understand the magic number, it sometimes helps to see a formula for how the magic number is calculated.

How is Magic Number Calculated in Baseball?

MLB Magic Number Infographic Image
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A Magic Number is a number that is used in most sports to determine how close a team is to making the playoffs, but the formula used is the same across all sports. Let’s dive into how to calculate the magic number.

The magic number is calculated by first taking the total number of games played in a season and adding one. Then taking that number and subtracting a team’s total wins and also subtracting the total losses from that team’s closest competitor. The result is a team’s magic number.

The formula for the magic number is:

(Total Games Played in a Season) + 1 – (Total Wins for Team A) – (Total Losses for Team B) = Magic Number

When looking at how this formula calculates a team’s magic number, one thing you’ll notice is that a team’s magic number will never go up. A team’s magic number can only go down.

This also means that at the beginning of every season, every MLB team has a Magic Number of 163. There are 162 games played during the regular season and if we were to use the magic number formula to find a team’s magic number, all we would need to do is add 1 to the 162 games because no team has a win/loss record yet.

Once a team’s magic number is 1, they have at least tied with their closest competitor for a playoff spot.

When a team’s magic number is 0, they have either clinched their division or clinched a wild card spot.

Seeing a formula definitely helps to understand how to calculate a team’s magic number, but let’s also take a look at some examples.

How to Calculate the Magic Number to Win a Division

To calculate the magic number that the top team needs to win their division, we need to find the win/loss records for the top two teams in that division. Below is an example divisional standings that we’ll use to calculate Team A’s magic number to win their division.

Team NameTotal WinsTotal Losses
Team A8955
Team B8163
Team C8064
Team D8165

To find Team A’s magic number to win their division, we would take the total number of games played in a season (162 games for MLB), add 1, subtract Team A’s total wins (89), and finally subtract Team B’s total losses (63).

The formula looks like: 162 + 1 – 89 – 63 = 11.

So in this example scenario, Team A’s magic number is 11. To bring this magic number to 0 and win their division, Team A has 3 options.

Option 1: Team A could win 11 games.

Option 2: Team B could lose 11 games.

Option 3: Team A could win some games and Team B could lose some games. When the combination of those two numbers are added up, they equal 11.

As an additional example, we can also find Team D’s magic number to beat Team A. The formula would be: 162 + 1 – 81 – 55 = 27.

In this scenario, Team D’s magic number is 27, but because there are only 16 games left in the season, Team D would need to win a lot of games and Team A would need to lose a lot of games.

How to Calculate the Magic Number to Win a Wild Card Spot

Calculating the magic number to win a wild card spot in baseball is similar to calculating the magic number to win a division, but it varies slightly because there are two wild card spots that can be won.

A baseball team’s magic number to win a wild card spot is calculated by taking the total number of games played in a season, adding one, subtracting a team’s total wins, then subtracting the third place team’s total losses (as opposed to the second place team).

Below is an example wild card standings that we’ll use to calculate Team A’s magic number to win a wild card spot.

Wild Card Team NameTotal WinsTotal Losses
Team A8163
Team B8064
Team C8165
Team D7866

To find Team A’s magic number to win a wild card spot, we need to take the total number of games played in a season (162 for MLB), add 1, subtract Team A’s total wins (81), then subtract Team C’s total losses (65). Here we are subtracting Team C’s total losses (instead of Team B) because there are two wild card spots that can be won for MLB’s playoffs.

The formula looks like: 162 + 1 – 81 – 65 = 17

So in this example scenario, Team A’s magic number to win a wild card spot is 17.

MLB Magic Number Calculator

To easily help with calculations, I created the magic number calculator below. All you’ll need to find is a Team’s total wins and then find the total losses for that team’s closest competitor. To get the most accurate standings for finding these numbers, visit the MLB Standings page.

Download a copy of the Simple MLB Magic Number Calculator. This link goes to a Google Sheet where you have the option to download this calculator as an Excel file to your computer or you can make a copy if you’re signed in to your Google account. The fields will be editable once you’ve downloaded this calculator or made your own copy.

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Steve Nelson

I'm the owner of Baseball Training World. I live in Denver, Colorado and I enjoy playing baseball on two different adult baseball teams in the surrounding area.

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