Thursday, June 9, 2011

8 comments Baseball Doesn't Need To Expand the Playoffs

David Schoenfield thinks the MLB playoffs need to be expanded to create more excitement. I disagree. I think the MLB playoffs are exciting right now as they are and attempting to create false excitement in the playoffs by adding more teams. More chances for teams to make the playoffs would not create more excitement, but would only serve to make the playoffs longer and less exciting. Let's face it, many Americans don't have a long attention span and baseball already isn't the most popular sport in America, so creating a longer playoff system may not work to the advantage of baseball. David Schoenfield disagrees.

"I would say we're moving to expanding the playoffs, but there's a myriad of details to work out," Selig said Thursday. "Ten is a fair number."

Why not have 12 teams? Isn't it fair to give the two best teams in the American League and National League a week or so off so they can rest? The NFL does it and it works so successfully for them. I think twelve teams is a fair number.

I was not, nor am I currently against the Wild Card system. I really like the Wild Cary system because I did think MLB needed to expand the playoffs at some point. Right now I think the playoffs are exciting and the teams that have performed well all season are rewarded with a spot in the playoffs. Expanding the playoffs would only cause the postseason to drag along or would eliminate a team who had a great season-long body of work in a one game playoff, which isn't something I would like to see happen in baseball.

The details include the possible scenarios and issues for a new system:

Would the two wild-card teams play each other? A one-game playoff is the popular suggestion.

I'm not sure I could despise this suggestion more than I currently do. Why is it necessary for 162 games to be played and then need ONE MORE game to decide which of two Wild Card teams, when the two teams may not even have similar records, deserve an opportunity to advance into the next round of the playoffs? What is decided in one game that 162 games didn't decide in terms of which team was superior to the other?

Would it be fair to have a 95-win wild card play an 84-win wild card in a one-game elimination?

We're not about what's fair, we are all about excitement, right? Fuck fairness. What's exciting for the fans? The fans have no interest in seeing a team that wins 95 games in the regular season being rewarded for this, they want to see one game played where a team is decided as deserving of advancing based on that one game, not based on an entire body of work.

I do realize one of my favorite sports, college basketball, has a setup similar to a one game playoff in order to determine which teams in mid-major conferences may make the NCAA Tournament. It is called the conference tournament. There are two major differences in the college basketball system and the idea proposed here.

1. If Butler goes 25-7 during the season and loses in their conference tournament, they will still make the NCAA Tournament. They will lose the one game playoff, but still be rewarded for their body of work. This wouldn't happen in MLB. A team could win 95 games then not advance into the divisional round because they lost a one game playoff.

2. Baseball is a different team game from basketball. Say Schoenfield's example holds true and a team with 84 wins is matched up against a team with 95 wins on a one game playoffs. For example, Team A may be better overall than Team B and have proven it over the season with 95 wins, while Team B had 84 wins. Team B may have the best pitcher in baseball, while Team A may have 2-3 really good pitchers. In a one game playoff, simply because Team B's pitcher throws a complete game shutout and Team B wins does not mean Team A is a worse team than Team B. It means Team A's best pitcher is better than Team B's best pitcher, so I feel a one game playoff isn't the best way to determine which team is better. In a three or five game playoff series, Team A could very well win the series.

A one game playoff after a 162 game season not only isn't fair to teams that play well throughout the season, it doesn't make sense in the concept of baseball being a team game.

Should the two wild-card teams play a best-of-three series? But that means four off days for the other playoff teams.

Absolutely. If the playoffs are expanded, and I don't think they should be, the two wild-card teams should play a best-of-three series at the very minimum. In fact, this three game series (and please hold your anger at this crazy suggestion) should be played in a span of three or four days. Yes, that means there wouldn't be a break between every game played and there may only be one day for travel. Shocking and crazy I know. It's not like baseball teams don't do this during the regular season.

Should the best overall record get a "bye" while the other four teams play each other? But again, that means a bunch of off days.

No. This shouldn't happen.

Aside from the logistics, there are three important issues to be answered:

If I am not wrong, David Schoenfield is Bill Simmons' editor. If you can't tell, notice how Schoenfield creates questions about issues that need to be answered for the second Wild Card plan to work. He does the whole thing Bill Simmons tends to do where he thinks of a solution or an answer to an issue, creates the questions that need to be answered to fix this issue, shockingly his solution (mostly in this case) answers the questions that needed to be answered, and then tells us all how is his solution or conclusion is the best because it answers the questions he created. Well mostly Bill Simmons tends to do this, but David Schoenfield sort of does it here.

Of course to his credit, Schoenfield does a much better job of posing the questions that should be answered than Simmons sometimes does. In fact, I would say the questions he poses aren't terrible so I am just being overly-critical, which at this point is a knee-jerk reaction for me.

1. The sanctity and excitement of the regular season must be maintained.

The regular season in baseball matters. You have to play well over 162 games to make the playoffs. You don't want an NBA scenario, in which teams can coast and the only interesting playoff battles are for an eighth seed that is going to lose in the playoffs anyway.

By the way, Schoenfield wrote this back in late April before the Grizzlies as an 8th seed beat the Spurs in the first round of the playoffs. I'm not sure if the Grizzlies beating the Spurs invalidates this statement by Schoenfield or not. I don't think so. Most of the time an 8th seed does lose in the playoffs.

If the regular season is cheapened, you risk losing fans.

Which is why a one game playoff between the two Wild Card teams is a terribly, horrible, stupid-rific idea. I would say a one game playoff between two teams that (most likely) don't have similar records to see which team moves ahead into the next round of the playoffs is the very definition of cheapening the regular season. If I were a fan of a team that won 89 games and they had to play a 83 game winning team in a one game playoff I would be pissed off. Even if my team won the one game playoff I would be pissed it was a one game playoff. Over an entire season my team has proven to be better than the other team by six games, I don't see what a one game playoff would prove that 162 games did not prove.

2. The playoffs must remain important enough for fans to care.

World Series and playoff TV ratings haven't fared well in the past decade. Do you risk losing more viewers by adding playoff games or making a championship seem less relevant due to the randomness of the baseball playoffs?

I do think you do risk losing viewers by adding more playoff games. I think rather than enhance the MLB playoffs you just keep some fans longer because their team is in a one or three game playoff. It has already been theorized many, many times the slower pace of the game of the baseball doesn't work well with the public that has increasingly become ADD-afflicted with the "don't bore us, get to the chorus" approach to life and sports. I'm not immune from this myself. I think a one game playoff isn't fair or representative to what a team has done over a 162 game season and more playoff games will cause fans to lose focus prior to a World Series that has slowly crept into the month of November. I may be in the minority, but the World Series (when my team isn't in the World Series) is sort of anti-climatic for me. Not sure why I feel this way.

I don't think a championship will seem less relevant, specifically if a team is able to win a Wild-Card series (or have a record good enough to avoid the Wild-Card game), a Division Championship series, a League Championship series and a World Series. I don't think the cure for baseball's (supposed) ills is to make the season any longer though.

3. A new system should be fair to the players and teams.

I hope the commissioner's office factors this in.

I am sure this will be factored in, but what is "fair?" Is it fair to even allow one Wild-Card team in the playoffs when that team couldn't win their division? Is it fair to not allow three teams into the playoffs out of a strong division in the current format? Is it fair to have only two Wild-Card teams when the sixth best team in a league may have only lost 1-2 games less than the fifth-best team?

Before we answer those questions, here's a look back at the past five seasons. We'll list the actual wild-card team first (with wins in parentheses) followed by the team that would have been the second wild card and then the next-best record after that. Let's assume the one-game wild-card scenario.

I wish we could just assume this one game wild-card scenario will never exist.

American League: Yankees (95) versus Red Sox (89). Next best: White Sox (88).
National League: Braves (91) versus Padres (90). Next best: Cardinals (86).

What we gain: Red Sox-White Sox wild-card race.
What we lose: NL West race between Giants and Padres becomes irrelevant.

So essentially 2010 would have been a trade-off in that we would lose the excitement of a division race, but gain the excitement of a wild-card race. I think we can all thank God there wasn't a Yankees v. Red Sox one game playoff last year. I'm getting a headache thinking about the coverage of that event.

This Red Sox v. Yankees games shows my very problem with the idea of having two Wild Card teams. The Yankees were a better overall team than the Red Sox last year (and yes, I know the Red Sox had injuries), so I don't see why the Yankees would have to play a one game playoff for the privilege of moving on to the next round. They won 95 games and had a better record in the same division as the Red Sox, what does one more game show?

The one game playoff format works well in the NFL because there are only 16 games, but in MLB I don't see it working as well. As it stands currently in MLB, there is a one game playoff in the event two teams end up with the exact same record in their division. I think that's fair to have a one game playoff in that instance.

American League: Red Sox (95) versus Rangers (87). Next best: Tigers (86).
National League: Rockies (92) versus Giants (88). Next best: Marlins (87).

What we gain: Giants-Marlins-Braves (86) three-team wild-card race.
What we lose: Nothing. Twins-Tigers AL Central tiebreaker would have still existed.

So it seems this would work out...except for the small detail a 95 win (and a 92 win team) team again has to play themselves into the playoffs. Such a small detail, I know...

American League: Red Sox (95) versus Yankees (89). Next best: Twins (88).
National League: Brewers (90) versus Mets (87). Next best: Astros (86).

What we gain: White Sox-Twins division race becomes a 3-for-2 playoff race with Yankees.
What we lose: Phillies-Mets NL East race (and Mets' collapse).

I'm a broken record, I realize this. 95 wins for the Red Sox and they have to play themselves into the playoffs against the Yankees.

In all, these playoffs would break even because the Mets-Phillies division race would be less dramatic and the AL playoff race would add one more team.

American League: Yankees (94) versus Tigers/Mariners (88).
National League: Rockies (90) versus Padres (89). Next best: Mets (88).

What we gain: Yankees-Red Sox battle for AL East now becomes relevant; Tigers-Mariners wild-card race.
What we lose: Rockies-Padres one-game playoff that the Rockies won.

94 wins in a one game playoff against a team with a win total in the upper 80's again for the American League. Maybe I am the only one who has a problem with a team that has a mid-90's win total having to play one more game to play an entire series in the playoffs.

Otherwise in 2007, we would only lose that unmemorable Rockies-Padres one-game playoff with a two Wild Card format. Does anyone even remember this game? I am sure it was completely unexciting.

American League: Tigers (95) versus White Sox (90). Next best: Angels (89).
National League: Dodgers (88) versus Phillies (85). Next best: Astros (82).

What we gain: Padres (88) and Dodgers both made playoffs, but would be fighting for a more important division title now. Same with Twins (96) and Tigers. White Sox-Angels-Blue Jays (87) wild-card race.
What we lose: Nothing.

Notice how many wins the Tigers have. 95. At least the White Sox had 90 wins as well, I guess. I wouldn't dislike this format so much if I didn't just know a one game playoff would be the setup between the two Wild-Card teams. I know MLB would make it a one game playoff. I wish they would make it a 3 game playoff at the minimum please.

We don't really gain anything by the Padres, Dodgers, Twins and Tigers fighting for a division title. Either way, they are in the playoffs. They are just fighting to avoid the shitty one game playoff format.

Back to our questions

1. The sanctity and excitement of the regular season must be maintained.

I am going to ruin the surprise. Most of the questions created by David Schoenfield are answered to the satisfaction of David Schoenfield.

I have to admit: I don't think you lose anything here. Yes, in some seasons -- like last year's NL West race -- you'll lose the excitement of a pennant race because both teams will be assured playoff berths.

I have to say, I don't think a one game playoff between two teams keeps the sanctity of the regular season when the two teams do not have the same record.

On the other hand, the one-game playoff scenario places a bigger reward on winning the division, so in theory you create exciting division races.

It does create a bigger reward for winning the division, but I don't know if this makes the division races more exciting. It would make them possibly mean more to avoid a one game playoff and win the division. The one game playoff to see which team gets the privilege of moving on to the division championship games seems to ignore regular season records in some ways.

Except ... imagine this scenario. The Rays and Yankees are tied for the division lead entering the final day of the season. David Price and CC Sabathia are both rested. Do you start them in hopes of winning the division title? If you win the division title, you move on to the best-of-five division series. But if you lose that game and the division title, you have one game to advance in the playoffs ... and you've burned your best pitcher.

Now imagine this scenario. The Yankees and Rays are still matched up. The Rays decide to go with David Price and try to win the division title. He pitches 8 innings of shutout ball, as does CC Sabathia, and in the bottom of the 9th Kyle Farnsworth gives up a home run to Robinson Cano and the Yankees win the game. Now the 94-win Rays play one day later at home against the 88-win Tigers in a one game playoff. The Tigers have Justin Verlander going on full rest while the Rays counter with James Shields. The Tigers win the one game playoff and the Rays go home for the winter.

So, as a baseball fan and a Rays fan, you know life isn't fair. Shit happens, but because the Rays are in the division with the Yankees they did not win the AL East outright. Let's say if they had played in any other division the Rays would not have had to play in the AL Wild Card game playoff, but their regular season record doesn't matter because of the division they play in.

So in the situation above, I don't think the Rays would ever pitch David Price against the Yankees, because they want to have him available in case they lose the game against the Yankees. There's no motivation for them to pitch Price in this game. If they lose the game, they still have Price in the one game playoff and if they win, they have Price pitching in Game 1 of the divisional round. So the exciting Sabathia v. Price game may never happen due to the Rays knowing they should hold Price back for the one game Wild Card playoff.

Sure, this whole "win or game home" format could happen today in a one game playoff between division rivals using the current playoff format, but at least those two teams have the same record.

Is it fair to play 161 games and then put teams in that scenario? One thing I know: Managers would vote 30 to zero against having a one-game wild-card playoff.

Who cares what the managers want? This is about excitement isn't it?

MLB officials would argue that allowing two more playoff teams creates additional September excitement because more teams have a shot at the playoffs.

I guess it would create more excitement by getting the fans of more teams involved over the short-term. Given MLB's short-term thinking ability, I guess they haven't factored in that by having four teams have one game playoffs to make it into the NLDS/ALDS, two of those teams and therefore the fan bases, will only have their excitement continue for one more game. So the September excitement would carry over for one more game and then it goes back to the playoff system as usual. I think the excitement factor is overrated on a long-term scale, meaning I don't think this format would increase viewership of the divisional/league championship round or the World Series.

2. The playoffs must remain important enough for fans to care.

I don't think one additional playoff game will really do anything to boost the TV ratings. You might get a little bump for that one game -- especially if it's the Red Sox or Yankees -- but adding two more playoff teams won't increase your World Series ratings.

So this idea of increasing fan interest in the playoffs (which should be the very idea of adding more teams to the playoffs, right? Why just increase the September excitement if it can't carry over into October?) really wouldn't pay off? Like I said above, after these one game playoffs are over, it is back to the playoffs as usual.

3. A new system should be fair to the players and teams.

This is the biggest issue I have with a one-game playoff: How can you ask players to grind it out for 162 games and then have their season come down to a one-game playoff?

My problem exactly with this idea.

So what to do? Look, the traditionalists who want only the best teams to make the playoffs so a championship means more are pining for a past that doesn't exist anymore.

Wild-card teams have won the World Series many times.

So, with all that, I have to say I like a second wild-card team even if I believe the overall impact is fairly minor, but this would be my scenario:

This is typical MLB thinking. They won't expand instant replay because they don't want to slow down an already slowed down game, but they are willing to make changes to the overall playoff structure even if it doesn't result in an increased interest in the playoffs, increased television ratings for the World Series, or even possibly an increase in the ratings of the Division and League Championship series'.

Let's change the things off-the-field that don't have a huge long-term impact, but not change the things on-the-field that could have a long-term impact like still using the All-Star Game to determine who gets homefield advantage (what is wrong with the team with the best record getting homefield advantage in the World Series?) using instant replay or forcing pitchers to not take half an hour between pitches.

1. Have the two wild-card teams play a three-game series. I think making the other teams have the extra days off isn't that major a factor compared to the one-game do-or-die scenario.

I 100% agree with David Schoenfield. I still don't like the idea of adding an extra wild-card team though. Maybe I just hate progress.

2. No off days in the playoffs, except for two days before the World Series. This gives an advantage to the deeper teams and keeps baseball from playing World Series games in mid-November.

What's interesting is that I started this post off hating the idea of a two team Wild Card and dissecting what David Schoenfield said about this, but I absolutely agree with this #2 point. I think there shouldn't be off days in the playoffs, even for travel. I think one of the problems with the playoffs is deep teams don't get as rewarded for their depth. Of course limiting the days off between games, would also be a benefit if more playoff games are added so the season isn't any longer than it already is.

3. And if the Florida Marlins sneak into the playoffs with 83 wins and go on to win another World Series ... well, there will always be next year.

I have no problem with a team sneaking in the playoffs and winning the World Series. If a team can win a five game series and then two seven game series' then they deserve to win the World Series. My problem is if the 83-win Marlins play a 91-win Dodgers team in a one game playoff and then the Marlins beat the Dodgers in that one game playoff. Even if this Marlins team wins the World Series, I would say they deserved it, but the Dodgers still got a raw deal. A one game playoff for a Wild Card team seemingly spits in the face of the regular season.


rich said...

The problem with any expansion in the playoff teams is that you cheapen the regular season.

Look at football, New Orleans had to go play in Seattle despite having 3 more wins.

Now I know that was a divisional winner against a wild-card team, but think about the 2006 season in baseball (it's the first one that came to mind).

Under any of the new systems, the 83-78 Cardinals would not have to play themselves into the playoffs, while the 85 win Phillies, 88 win Dodgers and 82 win Houston Astros would be fighting their way into the playoffs. Why? Why should a team with a better record be forced to do a play-in game just because an inferior team won their division?

Could you imagine having to tell your 88 win team that they have to play an 85 win team for the chance to play (on the road) against a 97 win team, while the 83 win team gets to play a team with the same record as you?

The same thing would have happened in 2005. An 89 win Houston team would have had to beat a beat an 88 win Phillies, while an 82 win Padres team would get to watch from home?

The only way that a one game showdown makes any sense (and I could see myself embracing this) is to force the two worst teams that qualify to play each other, regardless of whether they're divisional winners or not.

Bengoodfella said...

Rich, I would agree with you on that. I think the teams that make it in the playoffs are teams that deserve it b/c they have survived the grind of the regular season.

I don't know how many times your example would happen, but it is a problem. Even know, there is the issue of this happening, but there isn't a play-in game. So a team with 88 wins would have a chance to beat a 83 win team in a longer series, which I think is more fair.

Not that everything in life is fair, but why do Houston/Philadelphia have to "play-in" the playoffs while a team with a worse record is guaranteed to be in?

I don't know if I could ever embrace a one game playoff. I could do it if the two teams with the worst record have to play-in with a three game series. Still, that extends the season more and I am not sure I am in favor of that. It's a long season as it is.

Murray said...

If they do have a best of the all 3 games should be played at the stadium of the team with the better record. With no off days

Murray said...

I butchered that lemme try that again

If they do have a best of 3 series then all 3 games should be played at the stadium of the team with the better record. With no off days

Bengoodfella said...

Murray, interesting way. I would say two of the games should be at the team with the better record's home park. A 1-1-1 format. I doubt MLB would give the better team complete homefield advantage though depending on both team's records it may be deserved.

If the playoffs were expanding it would have to be a three game series and I completely agree there should be no days off.

Martin F. said...

And here's a terrible idea. Not the re-alignment per se, but teh fact that Bowden is such an idiot he can't even figure out a playoff system. He has 6 teams in it because first round byes hurt the team with teh best record.....leaving 3 teams in the second round in each League. Yes folks, he somehow comes up with a system that grants SECOND ROUND byes because first round byes hurt the better teams. Unfortunately Jim doesn't actually finish talking about or thinking through his playoff system to get to this point. The fact he wrote it, and ESPN ok'd it shows that baseball really is dying over there. Onward to the MLB Network!

Bengoodfella said...

I think the re-alignment is a bad idea in itself. So the Braves would be taken away from the Mets and Phillies and be put in a division with the Rays and Orioles...teams they have absolutely no history with? No thanks.

So there will be a division with the Phillies, Mets, Yankees and Red Sox? That's an even worse idea. I just hate the way his re-alignment works.

Of course as equally stupid is the idea teams shouldn't get a 1st round bye in the playoffs but a 2nd round bye is perfectly fine. No 1st round byes, but there are 2nd round byes? Really? I haven't watched ESPN for baseball, outside of when the Braves are on, since MLB Network came along.

UK said...

I agree..