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Monday, September 10, 2001

ESPN.com - MLB - Wild Card Standings

Initially, I didn’t like the Wild Card setup. It’s growing on me.

Jim Furtado Posted: September 10, 2001 at 11:46 AM | 21 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Eugene Posted: September 10, 2001 at 03:50 PM (#72562)
I would have liked two divisions in each league (based upon geography) plus an additional two wild card teams per league. That would be more likely to guarantee the four best teams in each league make the playoffs and prevent a few more run aways.

The NL Central would be tough to divide up, but with Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, plus maybe Milwaukee in the East, the West race/Wild Cards races would be even more interesting with Houston, Chicago, and St. Louis added to the West battle. Or, even with the old divisions with St. Louis and Chicago in the East, that would be some tight division. It's not purely a function of the Wild Card. It's more a function of the parity in the NL this year.

There are still 4 dominant teams in the AL, although Cleveland doesn't quite qualify as dominant.
   2. scruff Posted: September 10, 2001 at 04:34 PM (#72563)
I still like Costas' idea better. For those of you that haven't read Foul Ball:

Move Houston to AL West. Natural rival w/Texas. Interleague split up throughout the season, as opposed to in "blocks"

Then you have six 5-team divisions.

Only the division champs make it. Best record in each league gets a bye. Wouldn't really affect TV, because how many people watch those 1:00 ESPN games (now Fox) anyway?

For those of you who think the bye would hurt a team due to rust, ask Piniella or Brenly if he'd rather play Cleveland or Atlanta for a week, or take the bye and stay sharp w/some interleague games while awaiting a NY-CLE or ATL-HOU winner. I bet 10:1 they'd take the bye. Ask Jerry Manuel or Dusty Baker what would have been better for them last year.

One good thing about this system would be that the best team in each league during the regular season would be only one series from the World Series. They would also be rested for that Series while taking on a team that may have been through a 5-game bloodbath.

Another advantage to this system is that it returns the pennant race. No wild card to get you off the hook which would be great, unless you are A's fan :-) That Yanks-O's race in 1997 would have had a completely different spin to it, instead of the ho-hum atmosphere that actually existed. I'm a Yankee fan, so I can't complain with the results, but I'm a baseball fan first. Seattle should not have to risk their season two-steps from the World Series this year.

All of that being said, the wild card isn't too bad, at least under this system, the two best teams in the league are guaranteed a postseason berth (which is nice for teams like the 97 Yanks and 01 A's), which is better than the ALCS in 1984 and 1987.

But wait until we have an under .500 team in the playoffs. This would have happened in 1994.

The best team in the AL West was .456 Texas. They would have had to play 30-18 down the stretch that never happened to have made it to 82-80. Oakland would have had to have played 31-17, or Seattle 33-17 or California 35-12. If we would have had a 74-88 team in the playoffs in the first year (Texas' pace), people might not have embraced the concept like they did. But at least under Costas plan, they would not have been able to take out the 70-43 Yanks until after they had beaten 67-46 Chicago. Now this team could take out the best team in the league in round 1. And worse, if the wild card isn't from the same division as the team with the best record, the crappy team would actually play the team with the 2nd best record first, which is ludicrous.

I know you can say that if the best team loses to a crap team they deserve it, but I don't think the best team in the league should be put in that position. A 74-win team will beat a 95-win team in a 5-game series 27.1% of the time, just by random chance.

But if you are going to let the bad team in, at least force them to play the best team. Baseball should just reseed the teams that qualify, and not give the wild-card home field. Or give the wild card home field even, that wouldn't matter much to me either way, I see both arguments.

I think Costas' plan is a better compromise between the 1-league, 1-champion and NBA-NHL style playoffs then what baseball currently has. I'm ready for everyone to start poking holes in it, I'm curious as to what the other real objections might be (besides the "rust" factor).
   3. scruff Posted: September 10, 2001 at 04:43 PM (#72564)
By the way, just by random chance, Cleveland has anywhere from a 22.4% (using actual records) to 26.8% (using pythagorean records) chance of upsetting Seattle in the first round this year. This doesn't factor in home field advantage for a fifth game. But since Cleveland's worst starters have been MUCH worse than their top starters, the odds might actually be higher. Seattle's bottom starters have been pretty good, so they aren't weighing down the teams W-L as much as Cleveland's. Sabathia and Colon will get 3 of the 5 starts for Cleveland in that series, and their offense is pretty good. It will be an interesting series.
   4. scruff Posted: September 10, 2001 at 05:12 PM (#72565)
Eugene, just for fun, the 2-division standings:

AL EAST
   5. RichRifkin Posted: September 10, 2001 at 06:12 PM (#72567)
Scruff warns, "But wait until we have an under .500 team in the playoffs."

I am not worried about this eventuality under the current format. It was likely to happen about once every 8 to 10 seasons, under the balanced schedule. I suspect it is now likely to happen only once every 20 years.

What is amazing is that it very nearly happened in 1973 with only 2 divisions of 7 teams each in the National League, playing a much more balanced schedule than is being played today. The Mets won the National League East with an 82-79 record. If memory serves me, the Mets had to get hot in the final weeks to finish above .500. Yet, that mediocre club turned it on against the arguably much better Reds in the NLCS, and gave the Oakland A's a great World Series, before finally bowing out 3 games to 4.

How mediocre were the Mets? They had only 3 decent players on that team: Tom Seaver, who was very good; Tug McGraw, who was good, but not that important; and Rusty Staub, who was nothing special that year. Except for 3rd base, where the Reds were really weak, Cincinnati probably was better at every single starting position.

What put New York over the top was a fluke season by starting pitcher George Stone. In 1972, Stone's ERA+ was 69; in 1971, it was 71. But in his season in the sun, Stone's 1973 ERA+ was 130.

Should, in the next few years, a .500 or lower club make the playoffs, I think it would add an extra level of interest. Chances are, that sort of team would get snuffed out in the so-called Division Series. But if lightning strikes and that team goes on to the World Series, so be it. It sure didn't make the 1973 World Series any less interesting.

Of the above ideas discussed, the worst among them, in my opinion, is to go back to 2 divisions, yet add 2 Wild Card teams. While I am a fan of the single Wild Card - what we have now - I recognize that its presence tends to ruin the division penant chases. A case in point is with last year's AL West race and this year's NL West race. With a chance to win either the division or the Wild Card, in the end, the drama is greatly diluted. This would be made much worse by going to a 2-division, 2-Wild Card format. With that format, chances are strong that the only question in late September would be which of 2 or 3 teams would take the 2nd Wild Card spot - boring!

The only real drawback of the current system is that a truly dominant team, like Seattle, has a good chance of not making it to the World Series, because they have to win two short series. But I think there is great reward in a team having such a spectacular regular season as the Mariners have had this year. The post-season is a different animal. And, perhaps due to bad luck, or perhaps due to having a team not well-built for the post-season, the best team in the regular season is just not the best team for the post-season. Because of that likelihood, the playoffs are that much more fascinating.
   6. Robert Dudek Posted: September 10, 2001 at 06:21 PM (#72568)
I don't understand why Costas' plan isn't a realistic alternative. All MLB has to do is decide to adopt it.

You might as well have told me that moving the Milwaukee Brewers to the NL wasn't realistic, but it happened all the same.

Funny how things that happen suddenly become realistic in hindsight.

There used to be a bye-system in the NHL before they expanded the playoffs from 12 to 16 teams. There were 4 divisons and the winners received a bye. As I recall there were a few upsets but I don't think there were more than to be expected.

The other thing I'd like to see is no day off between games in a 5-game series and only one day off in the seven game series. This would mean that fewer teams would choose to go with only 3 starters in the first round, making rotation depth a little bit more important.

The 6-team playoff system eliminates 2 5-game series - not too much of a loss of TV revenue.

I would prefer 2 divisions, with the best second place team getting the wildcard and having to play the division champion with the worse record.

This year, it would mean the Yankees probably playing Oakland and Seattle waiting for the winner. On the other hand Cleveland would be giving the Yankees a fight for the East division and Oakland for the wildcard.

In the NL it would be a wiid race for both divisions and even more wild-card uncertainty than at present. Atlanta, Cubs and Cardinals (and Phillies, I guess) would battle for the East and the Giants, Diamondbacks, Astros and Dodgers would battle for 2 playoff spots one of which likely would be a bye.
   7. Robert Dudek Posted: September 10, 2001 at 06:50 PM (#72569)
Rich...

In 1973, the NL East had 6 teams, like all the other divisions in baseball.

If MLB expanded by 2 teams and had 4 divisions of 8 teams (and an unbalanced schedule), and a 1 wild card in each league system, the chances of a sub-.500 team entereing the palyoff would be very small indeed. I think it would be rare for a playoff team to have less than 90 wins.
   8. scruff Posted: September 10, 2001 at 07:01 PM (#72570)
Basil, I don't see why that (Oakland) doesn't make it a realistic alternative. People didn't complain in 1987 when Toronto lost to Detroit that they should've gotten off the hook. In my opinion they were clearly the best team in baseball, and they had a bad week. Same with the 1993 Giants. But that's why we remember those pennant races. Because they were pennant races.

Similar to Oakland 2001, the 1984 Blue Jays were the second best team in the AL, but Detroit blew the league out. When an inferior KC team got swept, I don't remember a cry that Toronto was robbed.

Unless you have the best record in the league, no one should really have a complaint that they didn't make it. We have to let the other two teams (at least) in because TV wants playoff games, and I understand that. But I'd rather see 2 other division champs in than a wild card. I guess I'm a traditionalist. Problem is, traditionalists are the only ones that really care. The general public will watch whatever you put in front of them.

I'm also not a fan of 4-team divisions (assuming another expansion). While that would eliminate the wild card, which is good, you'd almost certainly have a team every few years that is under .500 in the postseason. If you don't believe me, try spliting the AL and NL from 1901-1960 (add 1961 NL) into 4 team (geographic) divisions. Say:

AL East: NY, PHI, BOS, WAS (move KC to west in 1955, swapping w/BAL)
   9. scruff Posted: September 10, 2001 at 07:27 PM (#72571)
One note, I meant Aaron and Mathews would have been in the post-season every year from 53-59 (after the Braves moved to Milwaukee).

Talk about bad management. What are the odds of a team w/a Hall of Fame caliber player for 19 years (was pretty good most of those years) as a head start never being good enough to even win a 4 team division once. That is truly amazing ineptitude by the Cubbie GMs.
   10. RichRifkin Posted: September 10, 2001 at 07:56 PM (#72573)
Scruff,

I think you are wrong that with 8 4-team divisions, a sub-.500 club is likely to win one of the divisions. It doesn't make sense to look backward and base your divisions on geography, because that ignores the unbalanced schedule.

The teams in the AL West play each other 19 times. For each club, that's more than 35% of the schedule. The chances are about 19 in 20 that among those 57 intra-division games, one team will win 34 or more, and one will lose 23 or more. (This year, due to Seattle, it's more extreme.) The only way that the division winner will have a sub-.500 record is if the best of the 4 teams plays sub-.438 ball in extra division games and none of the other 3 plays very well in its extra-division games. That might happen, with 8 4-team divisions, about once every 20 years.
   11. RichRifkin Posted: September 10, 2001 at 08:00 PM (#72574)
Oops... I should have said, one team will win 34 or more and another will lose 34 or more.
   12. Robert Dudek Posted: September 10, 2001 at 08:21 PM (#72575)
Rich...

You are right about the unbalanced schedule likely creating an over .500 division champion. But if you had 4 mediocre and/or bad teams in one division (this can easily happen), then the unbalanced schedule will push one or more of those teams above .500 due to playing weaker opponents.

What you have is an artifically pumped up over-.500 team which in reality should be below .500. Just pointing to their record and saying they are not a sub-.500 team doesn't mitigate the fact that they are a mediocre team and don't deserve to be fighting for a World Championship.

The Athletics and the Yankees have the same record sp far this year, but the A's have been more impressive because they play in a tougher divison, and so in effect have a tougher schedule.
   13. scruff Posted: September 10, 2001 at 08:53 PM (#72576)
AMH, I don't see why odd teams in each league creates a scheduling problem. Just play interleague games in blocks. Have 1-5 interleague games every day.

Under the Costas plan, you'd have 30 interleague games each year. 3 games in each stadium for matched divisions, on a rotating basis. That would mean 450 interleague games total. This works out to 2.5 games per day over the course of the season. I'd prefer this to the blocks anyway. You could focus on Yanks/Mets, Cubs/Sox, Dodgers/Angels, Indians/Reds etc. one at a time instead of having to watch them all at once (and miss most of it). This seems to work fine for the NFL (one of the few things I would take from the NFL).

Also if you set it up this way, each team playing for the division title would face the same schedule, which is very important in my opinion.

The plan was

18 games in division (72 total)
   14. scruff Posted: September 10, 2001 at 08:54 PM (#72577)
That should say "just don't play interleague games in blocks," in the first paragraph above
   15. scruff Posted: September 10, 2001 at 09:49 PM (#72579)
Yes AMH, that is why exactly Milwaukee was moved.

I was talking about what baseball SHOULD do, as opposed to what they WILL do, although this thread has meandered through both topics. I think it would be great to have 3 non-voting "educated fan advisors" for Mr. Selig. He could still throw out whatever they've said, but it'd be great for us to at least have a voice. Think of what great PR that would be for the Commissioner's office. He could pull that off by giving a $10,000 a year stipend to the advisors. I'd do it for free . . . or World Series tickets.
   16. RichRifkin Posted: September 10, 2001 at 11:59 PM (#72583)
Robert notes to me above, "But if you had 4 mediocre and/or bad teams in one division (this can easily happen), then the unbalanced schedule will push one or more of those teams above .500 due to playing weaker opponents."

Robert, I completely agree. In fact, it has almost happened this year. Look at the New York Yankees. 46-17 in the AL East; 40-40 against all others. They have torn up against very weak teams in their own very sorry division, while they have just played .500 ball against the AL West plus the AL Central plus the NL East.

I don't think it's quite accurate to call the Yankees a mediocre team. However, if they had had to play the same schedule as the Texas Rangers, this year, I don't think the Yankees would have finished with a record better than .500.
   17. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: September 11, 2001 at 01:23 AM (#72584)
Rich...

In reference to one of your earlier posts on this thread, the 1973 NLE was ever stranger than you seem to realize. Going into the last regularly scheduled day of the season (a Sunday), the Mets were only 80-78, with a DH scheduled in Wrigley Field. They split this, leaving them 81-79, but only one game ahead of St. Louis, with another (makeup) DH scheduled in Wrigley the next day. They won the 1st game, which finally clinched the division, and so they simply cancelled the second game. So they bacame the only division winner in history not to have even clinched a winning record going into their final Sunday of the season.

As an aside, I was severely ticked off, having driven up from downstate that Sunday in order to see Willie Mays play his last game. Of course he never played, neither on Sunday or on Monday.

And of course the Mets then upset the Reds in the LCS and had the A's on the ropes after 5 games in the Series. As is often the case in a short postseason series, two or three hot starters can often trump 8 strong position players with a not so hot pitching staff. To translate that for 2001: Don't count out the Yankees quite yet. This isn't July. And with a healthy Hernandez, they might have even beaten .500, even playing Texas' schedule.
   18. RichRifkin Posted: September 11, 2001 at 01:39 AM (#72585)
Andy,

Thanks for the information. My direct memory of the 1973 playoffs is poor, as I was only 9 years old that year. However, I do have a foggy memory of one of the National League playoff games between the Reds and the Mets at Shea Stadium.

Pete Rose was playing left field for Cincinnati, and early in the game, the New York fans were verbally harrassing him. I don't think Rose responded in any way; but the angry crowd then began throwing junk at Pete. After a while, the umpires noticed this, as Rose was ducking for cover from all of the flying food, paper, clothes, hats, rocks, bottles, and other objects being hurled at him. After a short time, I believe that the umpires called the Reds in off the field, until the crowd settled down. I suppose that the Shea security force evicted a few of the rowdies, and then the game continued.

Perhaps this sort of hooliganism could still take place today. But I doubt it would. Not only have higher ticket prices forced many lower class fans out of ballparks, but I think Americans are just more civilized in general in 2001 than we were in 1973.
   19. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: September 11, 2001 at 02:23 AM (#72586)
Rich...

Pretty good memory for a 9 year old. That was the 4th game, and the Mets fans' reaction was due to Rose barreling into Bud Harrelson at second base while trying to break up a DP. Rose then---with his usual ability to rise to the occasion---won the game with a HR in the 10th or 11th inning. He did enjoy that trip around the bases. But of course the Mets then crushed the Reds in the deciding game the next day. This still remains probably the biggest upset in the history of the LCS.

You're probably right about fan behavior then vs. now. About the only cause for riot in parks like Camden Yards or Safeco these days would be if they ran out of Boog's barbecue or Starbucks. The first and only game I ever saw in Safeco, the Yankees and Mariners were locked in a tie in the ninth, with the Yanks having the go-ahead run at second---and half the fans had either left or were under the stands waiting for food and / or drink. Yankee Stadium and Fenway have the only real fans left these days. I doubt if the LA and SF fans burn each other's pennants to start fights any more, the way they did on one memorable night in Candlestick in 1971. They don't make fans like they used to. A pity.
   20. David Nieporent (now, with children) Posted: September 11, 2001 at 05:10 AM (#72587)
1) My first choice would be 4 divisions, 8 teams each. No wild cards. There's no chance of that, unfortunately. My second choice is like the one Costas proposed -- about the only thing in that book I didn't hate. Three divisions in each league, no wild card, bye for the best team in each league. That, in some ways, is better to me; it restores *real* meaning to the regular season. There's value for being the best team in the league. Major value. But anything with no wild cards is good.
   21. Robert Dudek Posted: September 11, 2001 at 06:41 AM (#72588)
Rich..

I did not mean to say that the Yankees are a mediocre team - clearly they would still have a winning record playing in any division.

The Red Sox and Blue JAys are not bad teams, but the Yankess have an excellent rcord against them this year.

I was thinking more of cases where there are 4 or 5 teams that are just not very good - in the .430 to .480 range in terms of true ability. If you take Cleveland out of the central and replace them with Texas that is what you would have. One or more of those teams is very likely going to be pushed over .500 because of its soft schedule.

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