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Monday, November 21, 2011

TFT: Mitchell: More Wild Cards, Fewer Pennant Races

Weeeee! And let’s throw even more meaningless playoff stats into a shiit-rimmed Vac-Con® debris tank!

As the number of teams in the big leagues has grown, determining how many teams should be in the playoffs, and what the playoff structure should be has been an evolving challenge. It is apparent that with thirty teams, it is no longer appropriate to simply award a World Series spot to the winner of each league as was done until 1969. It should be equally apparent that making it too easy to secure a post-season spot is not good and that if the post-season drags on too long, only fans of the teams involved will watch the games.

It is in this direction in which MLB is now erring. Since the current playoff system has been implemented, there have been no pennant races that are remembered by fans other than those of the two teams involved. There has been nothing comparable to the Cardinal-Phillies race of 1964, the Giant-Dodger race of 1951, the Yankee-Red Sox race of 1978 or the 1993 race between the Giants and the Braves which has been called “The last Pennant Race.” The pennant race, once the signature characteristic of the baseball season, has largely fallen victim to the wild card system. The 2011 season was an exception demonstrating that exciting wild card races are possible and potentially memorable. Under the new system, all we can look forward to are races for the fifth playoff spot about which it will be very difficult to get excited.

Repoz Posted: November 21, 2011 at 02:25 PM | 47 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: business, fantasy baseball, history

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   1. The Interdimensional Council of Rickey!'s Posted: November 21, 2011 at 03:09 PM (#3998412)
From the blurb, this article ignores completely the most likely effect of the expanded WC scenario - the fact that a coin-flip play in game for the two WC candidates will actually return intensity to true pennant races. If NYY and TB are locked within a game of one another, and the loser has to risk a one-game play in vs Justin Verlander, they're going to play their asses off to win the pennant. That's a good thing.

There are downsides to full year "interleague" play and the new schedule will be odd to get used to, I'm sure. But the double WC format actually fixes the problem Mitchell seems to be whinging about here, at least to some small extent.
   2. The Interdimensional Council of Rickey!'s Posted: November 21, 2011 at 03:11 PM (#3998416)
Having clicked through, it's even worse. He seems to be concerned that the new WC format will kill any chance that we'll see another epic collapse by two franchises (Braves, Red Sox) which create false excitement for WC races in lieu of pennant races. Very odd.
   3. FrankM Posted: November 21, 2011 at 03:23 PM (#3998425)
I agree with Sam. The article is hogwash. Besides, under the new system there's no less possibility of a wild card race (for the second wild card spot instead).
   4. dr. scott Posted: November 21, 2011 at 03:42 PM (#3998440)
He also seems to be pining for excitement that, according to his examples, only happen once every 8 years. He then claims the excitement of 2011 is an exception.
   5. booond Posted: November 21, 2011 at 03:51 PM (#3998449)
The play-in game adds value to winning the division. It lessens value on Wild Card #1.
   6. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: November 21, 2011 at 03:57 PM (#3998454)
He then claims the excitement of 2011 is an exception.

The thing about 2011 is that even though we would lose the last day craziness, we would have gotten two play-in games the next day, which more people would have watched.
   7. SoSH U at work Posted: November 21, 2011 at 04:04 PM (#3998460)
The play-in game adds value to winning the division. It lessens value on Wild Card #1.


It adds value to one of the divisions. It could very well subtract from another, such as in this scenario.

AL Central Winner: 100-62
AL Central Runner-up: 95-67
AL West Winner: 90-72
AL West Runner-up: 89-73
AL East Champ: 85-77

If it happens pre-2 WC, the AL West race is a dogfight for the only playoff ducat. Now, while the division title would be preferable, there would exist a rather significant consolation prize to the loser of the competition.

As I've said in my objections to the new 2 WC proposal, it solves one occasional problem. It also creates potential new problems that didn't previously exist.
   8. McCoy Posted: November 21, 2011 at 04:17 PM (#3998473)
I don't see how that subtracts from the race. The two teams in the AL West still would go at it down the wire because neither one of those teams would want to be the Wild Card team.
   9. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: November 21, 2011 at 04:19 PM (#3998476)
I don't see how that subtracts from the race. The two teams in the AL West still would go at it down the wire because neither one of those teams would want to be the Wild Card team.

Concur. The WC is no longer a good substitute for the division.
   10. SoSH U at work Posted: November 21, 2011 at 04:24 PM (#3998486)
I don't see how that subtracts from the race. The two teams in the AL West still would go at it down the wire because neither one of those teams would want to be the Wild Card team.


Pretty simple really: Winner takes all does not equal winner takes one, loser takes half. Whether the teams continue to fight until the end, the consequences for losing the division race are much stiffer in the old set-up.
   11. PreservedFish Posted: November 21, 2011 at 04:43 PM (#3998510)
There's no doubt that this "punishes" the wild card team, but it does so at the expense of rewarding the 5th best team in the league.

It seems all very gimmicky to me, but I also have an open mind. Some of the one-game playoffs will surely be legendary.

I'm a huge fan of balancing the schedule. Playing the same damn teams a million times was extremely boring.
   12. McCoy Posted: November 21, 2011 at 04:46 PM (#3998515)
Whether the teams continue to fight until the end, the consequences for losing the division race are much stiffer in the old set-up.

And nobody besides 1% of 1% will care.

Under the old setup you would have two teams playing down to the wire to get in and under the new setup you'll have two teams playing down to the wire to get in.
   13. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: November 21, 2011 at 04:50 PM (#3998518)
Whether the teams continue to fight until the end, the consequences for losing the division race are much stiffer in the old set-up.

Except for all the cases where there is zero punishment, as in numerous AL East "races" of late.
   14. The Interdimensional Council of Rickey!'s Posted: November 21, 2011 at 05:02 PM (#3998536)
As I've said in my objections to the new 2 WC proposal, it solves one occasional problem. It also creates potential new problems that didn't previously exist.


Yes, but it's a trade-off worth making IMHO. I've hated the WC forever and a day, and odds are I would never have had it in me to think of a way to address the most damning aspect of the WC setup - the fact that it completely devalues the regular season and pennant races - by creating ANOTHER wild card. But that's what this does, and the knock-on effects seem limited enough to me to justify that. Kudos to the competition committee who cam up with this.
   15. SoSH U at work Posted: November 21, 2011 at 05:05 PM (#3998544)
Except for all the cases where there is zero punishment, as in numerous AL East "races" of late.


Damn snapper, I already acknowledged that. I'm talking about the specific instance I laid out - it strengthens one division race but weakens another. And I simply disagree with McCoy. Part of what makes a great race is what's at stake. If the loser gets a backdoor entry into the playoffs (even an entry that's not quite the equal of the division champion's route), the race itself is weakened compared to a loser-goes-home competition.

And let's play it out. The Angels trail the Rangers by one game entering the final game of the season (while KC has already locked up WC No. 1). In a situation with no wild card, the Halos must play final game all out to catch Texas. If the wildcard play-in exists, LAA may back off from using a Johnny Wholestaff approach (including running Weaver on short rest), knowing that, even if they don't catch Wash's gang, they'll still have a game to play one or two days later.

The whole argument for two wild cards is that it strengthens division races. My point is that, while it may strengthen one per division race per league each year (though not necessarily), it creates new problems (of different degrees) that didn't exist in any of the older system. Now some, like Sam, may decide that the've considered all of the unintended consequences* and they still like the two WC system. I think otherwise.

What I most object to is pretending there aren't downsides to the two WC system.

* FTR, neither Sam nor anyone else has considered all of the unintended consequences.
   16. McCoy Posted: November 21, 2011 at 05:16 PM (#3998563)
In a situation with no wild card, the Halos must play final game all out to catch Texas. If the wildcard play-in exists, LAA may back off from using a Johnny Wholestaff approach (including running Weaver on short rest), knowing that, even if they don't catch Wash's gang, they'll still have a game to play one or two days later.

This is the same scenario teams run into when they have a 1 game lead and are playing their final game. All this is doing is guaranteeing that every year will have a tie-breaking one game playoff instead of occasionally having one.


If I'm the owner of the team with a one game lead I'd be pissed if my manager decided to play it safe and not go all out to win the final game. That is a lot of my profits he would be potentially leaving on the table.
   17. winnipegwhip Posted: November 21, 2011 at 05:20 PM (#3998573)
I agree with #7. I also propose this scenario:

Division Winner 100-62
Division Runner Up Wild Card #1 (99-63)
Wild Card # 2 91-71
Wild Card # 3 86-76 (not in contention)

While the first two teams go into the last day of the regular season fighting for the division and avoid the WC, the loser ends up playing an opponent that has clinched their spot several days prior and have spent the time setting up for the one game playoff.
   18. SoSH U at work Posted: November 21, 2011 at 05:25 PM (#3998582)
This is the same scenario teams run into when they have a 1 game lead and are playing their final game. All this is doing is guaranteeing that every year will have a tie-breaking one game playoff instead of occasionally having one.


Huh?

A guaranteed consolation prize doesn't make a race better (which is the whole point of the 2 WC system).

In the scenario I listed, the AL West race is weaker in 2013 than it would be under the current system. You can argue that you're all right with that, but you can't make a logical case that the race isn't weakened without partially contradicting the primary argument for the two WC system to begin with.
   19. McCoy Posted: November 21, 2011 at 05:34 PM (#3998593)
A guaranteed consolation prize doesn't make a race better

Doesn't mean it makes it worse.

The bottom line is that teams in your scenario will still play all out to win the division. Nobody in your scenario is going to want to settle for the #2 wild card spot and have to play a superior and more well rested #1 WC team in an away game for themselves.
   20. Nasty Nate Posted: November 21, 2011 at 05:37 PM (#3998596)
I think that part of the old (pre-WC) races is always ignored - that a pennant race could go on for months, happening in July, August, and September. Just because a race was decided on September 15 doesn't mean that it wasn't a race, and doesn't mean that it wasn't exciting. The idea that the 1978's or 1993's were the only pennant races in the old system is hogwash. If you have a system in which only first place moves on, then you know who is competing against whom and you can follow the pennant race as soon as the contenders emerge. As more and more wildcards emerge, it's so much of a cluster-#### that you don't know which race the team is in or when they are in it until the very end. I think this sort of thing works in the NFL (I like the late-season hecticness of "so-and-so needs to win and have Cleveland lose or tie, and also Seattle to win etc") but it doesn't work as well in baseball.

It's giving up weeks- and months-long races between the best teams that may or may not come down to the last week of the season in favor of days-long races between worse teams that is much more likely to come down to the last week.
   21. SoSH U at work Posted: November 21, 2011 at 05:41 PM (#3998600)
Doesn't mean it makes it worse.


This is where we disagree. Yes, it does make it worse. The stakes are part of what makes a race appealing.

If the AL East teams had decided to play it hard to the finish in order to secure HFA for the playoffs instead of cruising until the end like they have been, from a fan's perspective the races would still have been weakened by the backdoor entry into the playoffs for the loser of that race.
   22. McCoy Posted: November 21, 2011 at 05:52 PM (#3998611)
Because the fans would have understood what was and wasn't at stake. Just like people will understand what is and isn't at stake under the new format.
   23. Nasty Nate Posted: November 21, 2011 at 05:55 PM (#3998613)
Because the fans would have understood what was and wasn't at stake. Just like people will understand what is and isn't at stake under the new format.


Well, it's because they understand that the stakes are lower that they think the races are "weakened" (some people at least).
   24. bobm Posted: November 21, 2011 at 06:09 PM (#3998626)
[20]
The idea that the 1978's or 1993's were the only pennant races in the old system is hogwash. If you have a system in which only first place moves on, then you know who is competing against whom and you can follow the pennant race as soon as the contenders emerge. As more and more wildcards emerge, it's so much of a cluster-#### that you don't know which race the team is in or when they are in it until the very end. ... It's giving up weeks- and months-long races between the best teams that may or may not come down to the last week of the season in favor of days-long races between worse teams that is much more likely to come down to the last week.


Even 1 wildcard per league greatly increases the number of fans whose teams have playoff hopes beyond July 4. The second wildcard increases the likelihood of a race for a division title (vs only 1 WC).

I would guess that the average, say, Blue Jay fan cares more about his team's chances of making the playoffs via the wild card and will happily trade off the lost experience of watching the Yankees and Red Sox compete in the purer playoff set-up without Wild Cards.
   25. Nasty Nate Posted: November 21, 2011 at 06:14 PM (#3998630)
I would guess that the average, say, Blue Jay fan cares more about his team's chances of making the playoffs via the wild card and will happily trade off the lost experience of watching the Yankees and Red Sox compete in the purer playoff set-up without Wild Cards.


The Red Sox have been in 3rd place for the past 2 years, so why assume some permanence of a situation that doesn't even exist now? I would think the average Blue Jays fan would like their team to be in the race for first place most of all.
   26. SoSH U at work Posted: November 21, 2011 at 06:14 PM (#3998631)
Just curious:

Have they determined how the LDS pairings will be determined. Will the team with the best record automatically get the wild card winner (even if one or both WCs have a better record than a division champion)?
   27. winnipegwhip Posted: November 21, 2011 at 06:37 PM (#3998655)
Just curious:

Have they determined how the LDS pairings will be determined. Will the team with the best record automatically get the wild card winner (even if one or both WCs have a better record than a division champion)?


Knowing MLB, the 3rd place division champ will have to sit in an airport and wait for the wild card game to know where they are heading.
   28. esseff Posted: November 21, 2011 at 06:38 PM (#3998656)
Besides, under the new system there's no less possibility of a wild card race (for the second wild card spot instead).


I'd say greater possibility as the playoff cutoff line moves toward the bell part of the curve. In fact, I think, for this reason, that there will be greater chances for one-game play-ins before the one-game playoffs. Some of them involving multiple-team ties to sort out.

And I still haven't seen anything definitive on my question of last week about whether ties for division titles will now be played off when both teams are guaranteed playoff spots (as with the 2006 NL West, 2005 AL East and 2001 NL Central).

I wouldn't be surprised if one of the unintended consequences, in some years, is several days of extra games before we get to the actual playoffs.
   29. Random Transaction Generator Posted: November 21, 2011 at 06:42 PM (#3998660)
I'm curious to know what would have happened if this setup had been in place for 2007.

The season could have easily ended:

Colorado - 89 wins (tied for 2nd in NLW)
San Diego - 89 wins (tied for 2nd in NLW)
Philadelphia - 89 wins (tied for 1st in NLE)
NY Mets - 89 wins (tied for 1st in NLE)

The only teams secured a spot for the NL playoffs was the 85 win Chicago Cubs and 90 win Arizona Diamondbacks.

With the current setup, I assume Philly and NY would play a one game playoff (to determine division title and WC1), while Colorado and San Diego would play a one game playoff (to decide WC2).

The winners of that would then have the regularly scheduled one game playoff (as WC1 and WC2) to determine who gets into the NL final four.

So Colorado could have:
- played in Colorado on Sunday (against Arizona, game 162)
- played in San Diego on Monday (playoff to determine WC2 spot)
- played in Philadelphia on Tuesday (playoff to determine final 4 spot)
- played in Chicago on Wednesday (game 1 of NLDS)

4 different teams, in 4 different cities, in 4 consecutive days.

(Something similar would have happened in 2007, but I'm not sure how they would have handled the NY/Philly tie.)
   30. SoSH U at work Posted: November 21, 2011 at 06:42 PM (#3998661)
And I still haven't seen anything definitive on my question of last week about whether ties for division titles will now be played off when both teams are guaranteed playoff spots (as with the 2006 NL West, 2005 AL East and 2001 NL Central).


I haven't either, but I'd guess they have to play those off. The weaker wildcard certainly hopes so.
   31. SoSH U at work Posted: November 21, 2011 at 06:48 PM (#3998667)
With the current setup, I assume Philly and NY would play a one game playoff (to determine division title and WC1), while Colorado and San Diego would play a one game playoff (to decide WC2).


I believe Philly and New York should play off to determine NL East champ. Then, the loser (let's call them the Mets) would be tied with Colo and SD for the wild card. In which case, you'd have three teams vying for two wild card spots, and I have no idea in hell how you settle that.

Based on current rules, it should be coin flip to determine the three teams. Two teams play Game 1, other gets reverse bye* Winner takes WC 1, loser plays the Mets for WC 2).

By the way, great question.




* In this case, having the bye would be disadvantage, since it gives you only one try to secure WC rather than 2).
   32. Nasty Nate Posted: November 21, 2011 at 06:57 PM (#3998672)
I would guess MLB would institute some tiebreakers instead of playoff games for some of these situations, right?
   33. SoSH U at work Posted: November 21, 2011 at 07:14 PM (#3998693)
I would guess MLB would institute some tiebreakers instead of playoff games for some of these situations, right?


Where? You add a second wild card to strengthen the importance of winning the division title, but awarding one on the basis of a tiebreaker seems to take the opposite tack.
   34. Random Transaction Generator Posted: November 21, 2011 at 07:16 PM (#3998697)
I would guess MLB would institute some tiebreakers instead of playoff games for some of these situations, right?

Normally, I think they should use a tie-breaker for WC/division winner decisions.
However, given that the WC has an extra play-in game, I don't see how fair that would be to the other 2 teams not involved in the tiebreaker (in my 2007 example) who would be competing for that WC2 spot AND had the same record as the division winner.

Even with the proposed coin-flip and reverse bye scenario, the Mets would still play in city W (Florida?) on Game 162, lose the tiebreaker to the Phillies, play in game 1 in city X (say, Colorado), lose that game, and then have to play in city Y (either NY or San Diego) for game 2, win that, and then play in city Z for game one of the NLDS. That might not be 4 in 4 in 4 nights, but it would still be a nightmare.

Man, I'm really wishing 2007 ended differently. It would have been like Game 162 this year, except spread over 3 days!
   35. OsunaSakata Posted: November 21, 2011 at 07:24 PM (#3998716)
I think MLB uses a paper tiebreaker to determine seeding. There would be no playoff if both teams would qualify for the playoffs anyway. Let's say the Mets beat the Marlins to get to 89 wins. Phillies win the division on the basis of head-to-head record versus the Mets.

October 1: San Diego at Colorado. Regular season tie-breaker game.
October 2: Mets at San Diego-Colorado winner. (Both teams won season series versus the Mets.)

Alternatively, there could have been a seeding coin flip set up for 3-way ties have never happened:
One team gets a bye, but must play their game on the road.
One team gets both games at home.
One team starts on the road, and plays the second game at home if they win.
   36. Nasty Nate Posted: November 21, 2011 at 07:27 PM (#3998721)
Where? You add a second wild card to strengthen the importance of winning the division title, but awarding one on the basis of a tiebreaker seems to take the opposite tack.


It doesn't help with the situation above, but if 2 teams were tied for WC2 or if 3 teams were tied for both wildcards, they could use a tiebreaker (head-to-head or intraleague record).
   37. SoSH U at work Posted: November 21, 2011 at 07:33 PM (#3998728)
It doesn't help with the situation above, but if 2 teams were tied for WC2 or if 3 teams were tied for both wildcards, they could use a tiebreaker (head-to-head or intraleague record).


And I don't see how MLB can justify that.

In the past, MLB reluctantly* determined that no tiebreaker would be played if the two teams would both qualify for the playoffs and HFA was really all that was at stake. Following that, I could see using a tiebreaker to determine HFA if WC1 and WC2 are tied.

But in all other cases, there is something far more meaningful at stake between tied teams (either a division title or relegation to a play-in game, or inclusion/exclusion from the playoffs entirely). Using some silly ass tiebreaker method like head-to-head or intraleague records is a big step away from that, and really flies in the face of the stated reason for the second wildcard to begin with.

* Originally, MLB had two teams in that situation playing off.
   38. Nasty Nate Posted: November 21, 2011 at 07:44 PM (#3998738)
But in all other cases, there is something far more meaningful at stake between tied teams (either a division title or relegation to a play-in game, or inclusion/exclusion from the playoffs entirely). Using some silly ass tiebreaker method like head-to-head or intraleague records is a big step away from that, and really flies in the face of the stated reason for the second wildcard to begin with.


Maybe, but from a practical point of view it makes things much easier. And some on this site have suggested that the play-in game shouldn't be considered part of "the playoffs," but part of determining who makes the playoffs. Under that thinking, MLB still doesn't award playoff spots based on tiebreakers.

Am I correct in thinking that ties become more common as you move toward .500? i.e. have there been more teams in MLB history with 82 wins than 92 wins? If so, as more and more playoff spots are added, ties become more likely.
   39. SoSH U at work Posted: November 21, 2011 at 08:01 PM (#3998770)
Under that thinking, MLB still doesn't award playoff spots based on tiebreakers.


I think determining that the runner-up White Sox (in the weaker AL Central) gets a spot in the play-in game over the runner-up Rays by virtue of a slightly superior intraleague play record will be a tough sell, and rightfully so.
   40. Nasty Nate Posted: November 21, 2011 at 08:05 PM (#3998775)
I think determining that the runner-up White Sox (in the weaker AL Central) gets a spot in the play-in game over the runner-up Rays by virtue of a slightly superior intraleague play record will be a tough sell, and rightfully so.


Maybe so. Head-to-head record might be preferable.
   41. SoSH U at work Posted: November 21, 2011 at 08:15 PM (#3998780)
Maybe so. Head-to-head record might be preferable.


I was assuming head-to-head would be the first tiebreaker, and that they would be tied there as well.

On an unrelated note, H-to-H has never knocked me over as a tiebreaker mechanism. If one must be used, say in an inferior sport, SoS would always be my first method.
   42. Nasty Nate Posted: November 21, 2011 at 08:21 PM (#3998793)
On an unrelated note, H-to-H has never knocked me over as a tiebreaker mechanism


Isn't the rationale for H-to-H the same as for playing a one-game playoff, which you seem to favor as a tiebreaker?

edit: Actually I don't know if you favor it or just think it likely. I don't necessarily prefer tiebreakers, I'm just guessing MLB will use them.
   43. SoSH U at work Posted: November 21, 2011 at 08:30 PM (#3998803)
Isn't the rationale for H-to-H the same as for playing a one-game playoff, which you seem to favor as a tiebreaker?


No. A one-game playoff unties teams that were previously tied. Head-to-Head (or other non-competitive mechanisms) is merely differentiating between two teams that will remain tied.

If the aforementioned Angels win a season series 4-3 against the Rays, it means that they finished one game worse than the Rays in all their other games (which may have been compiled against a much weaker schedule). I just have never seen H-to-H as some firm grounds for differentiation.
   44. valuearbitrageur Posted: November 21, 2011 at 08:36 PM (#3998814)
the Yankee-Red Sox race of 1978 or the 1993 race between the Giants and the Braves which has been called “The last Pennant Race.”


Thank god there was no wildcards those years to sully those glorious pennant races!
   45. Nasty Nate Posted: November 21, 2011 at 08:40 PM (#3998820)
No. A one-game playoff unties teams that were previously tied. Head-to-Head (or other non-competitive mechanisms) is merely differentiating between two teams that will remain tied.


I see what you mean.
   46. winnipegwhip Posted: November 21, 2011 at 09:24 PM (#3998906)
MLB should stick with a foolproof formula like the BCS.
   47. RMc Has Bizarre Ideas to Fix Baseball Posted: November 22, 2011 at 12:58 PM (#3999308)
I would guess MLB would institute some tiebreakers instead of playoff games for some of these situations, right?

Paper. Rock. Scissors.

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