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Tuesday, September 04, 2012

TFT: Oster: Why the MLB’s Expanded Playoffs Might Not Be Such a Bad Thing

______ _______ has the all-time record for home runs in One-Game Play-In/Playoff Round history!

I’m a bit of a baseball purist. I think both the designated hitter and interleague play were bad for the game. So, naturally, when I first heard of the plans for an expanded playoffs I was horrified. “Isn’t one wild card team enough?” I thought. I wondered whether Bud Selig would finally ruin baseball for good. Since then I’ve reconsidered my position.

...Adding a team makes baseball’s playoffs more like other sports both by increasing the number of teams and adding an instant elimination round (perhaps a concession to the commercial success of the NFL’s playoffs, but also perhaps the best way to make adding an extra wild card team work). But that one-game round also gives division winning teams more of an advantage over the two wild card teams — who will likely start their best pitcher in a must-win situation, likely making him unavailable for the first game of the Divisional Series. There’s something to be said for this.

By incentivizing winning the division, the new format makes pennant races more exciting (and this year’s AL East race is shaping up to be a good one). This is something that has been mostly lacking in baseball in the Wild Card Era. Sure, there have been great pennant races, but their importance was greatly diminished when the second place team in that division would simply win the wild card; think of all those years where the Yankees and Red Sox won both the division and wild card spots to inevitably meat up in the ALCS. How much were those teams gunning to win the division down the stretch, and how much were they thinking that they just needed to stay sharp and focus on the playoffs?

So although I was skeptical at first, I’ve come around on the expanded playoffs. It’s an imperfect system, but still better than the one it is replacing. And while it’s easy to resist change in the name of tradition, the truth is baseball has always been an evolving game (and the playoffs as they currently exist aren’t much of a tradition anyway). Give the new system a chance and it may just win you over.

Repoz Posted: September 04, 2012 at 05:42 PM | 34 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Willie Mayspedes Posted: September 04, 2012 at 06:00 PM (#4226586)
to inevitably meat up in the ALCS


Cowboy up?
   2. PreservedFish Posted: September 04, 2012 at 06:07 PM (#4226589)
I think the idea is a stupid gimmick, but I've also decided not to complain about it every year. It's happening, and some of those one-game playoffs are going to be incredible.
   3. mashimaro Posted: September 04, 2012 at 06:17 PM (#4226597)
Going to six divisions was the real problem.
   4. zack Posted: September 04, 2012 at 06:30 PM (#4226609)
The solution to this problem is just to stop referring to the wild card teams as playoff teams, they're not. The wildcard team is the winner of the one-game playoff.
   5. AndrewJ Posted: September 04, 2012 at 07:48 PM (#4226642)
Going to six divisions was the real problem.

This.

The solution to this problem is just to stop referring to the wild card teams as playoff teams, they're not. The wildcard team is the winner of the one-game playoff.

Also this.

   6. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: September 04, 2012 at 08:20 PM (#4226652)
The solution to this problem is just to stop referring to the wild card teams as playoff teams, they're not.


So what are they?

I hear this a lot, and I don't get the rationale. This isn't the same thing as the traditional one-game playoff, because these teams aren't tied (some of them will have clinched a berth up to a week before the game is played). This game will go on annually, not just a one-off during special seasons. I presume they will be listed as postseason games on BBRef and the numbers put up in these games will not count toward regular season stats (if I'm wrong, then you've got a real point). The wins and losses won't be added to their final record. They will be playoff games in everything but the Best-of-designation.

It will be a wholly unsatisfying playoff appearance for the losers of this travesty, but I don't see how that precludes the participants from being called playoff teams.
   7. Chris Needham Posted: September 04, 2012 at 08:37 PM (#4226664)
Not only does it make winning the division, it also increases the importance of winning homefield. Since the #1 seed gets the WC winner regardless of division, there's a pretty big incentive to face a tired WC winner who's probably gone all out to win the previous game the day before. If their ace goes, that guy's only going to pitch once in the division series.
   8. STEAGLES is all out of bubblegum Posted: September 04, 2012 at 08:49 PM (#4226669)
Not only does it make winning the division, it also increases the importance of winning homefield. Since the #1 seed gets the WC winner regardless of division, there's a pretty big incentive to face a tired WC winner who's probably gone all out to win the previous game the day before. If their ace goes, that guy's only going to pitch once in the division series.
except for this year.

because i'm fairly sure that as a result of MLB shoehorning the wildcard playoff into this year's preexisting schedule, the #1 seed will have to go on the road to play the first two games at the wildcard winner. so, in addition to not knowing who they'll play, this year, the #1 seed also won't know where they'll play.
   9. God Posted: September 04, 2012 at 09:39 PM (#4226700)
It's MLB. Not the MLB. This used to be pretty well universally understood, but there has been a disturbing amount of " 'the' creep" over the last five years or so.
   10. Gaelan Posted: September 04, 2012 at 09:59 PM (#4226713)
I thought it was agreed that this was the greatest idea baseball ever had. It has singlehandedly rejuvenated the regular season division races.

The solution to this problem is just to stop referring to the wild card teams as playoff teams, they're not. The wildcard team is the winner of the one-game playoff.


This is, of course, true. Really, this idea is a classic example of falling into genius. They've come upon the perfect solution all by accident.
   11. Misirlou is on hiding to nowhere Posted: September 04, 2012 at 10:37 PM (#4226741)
think of all those years where the Yankees and Red Sox won both the division and wild card spots to inevitably meat up in the ALCS. How much were those teams gunning to win the division down the stretch, and how much were they thinking that they just needed to stay sharp and focus on the playoffs?


In 2009, the Yankees won by 8, and were up by 10.5 with a week to go, and were never up by less than 6 after the middle of August. Not much of a race there.

2007: the Red Sox were up by 7 on Aug 1, up by 5 on Sep 1, but after that, the Yankees went 14-5 in their next 19 games to cut the lead to 1.5. At that point, the Red Sox won 6 of 8 to clinch it. Seems like the opposite of coasting to me.

2005. On Sep 30, the Yankees were 94-65, red Sox 93-66, White Sox 96-63, and the Indians 93-66. The Yankees had a three game series against the Red Sox, and the White Sox a three game serieas against the Indians. None of the 4 teams was guaranteed a spot in the playoffs, and no one was coasting.

2004: Ok, there could have been some coasting here.

2003: The Red Sox finished 2 ahead of the Mariners, who were 3 behind the A's. No one was coasting here, except maybe the last game.

1999: Possible coasting opportunity. With 12 games to go, after a 6 game winning streak, the Sox were 4 behind the Yankees, and 5 up on the WC. They went 6-6. Without the WC, yeah, maybe they would have tried harder. But they would have had to go 10-2 just to tie.

1998: the Red Sox finished 22 behind.




   12. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: September 04, 2012 at 11:10 PM (#4226762)
Meat up?

The extra wild card potentially improves one race, and undeniably makes winning one of the divisions more important than it was in the old-set up. At the same time, it potentially weakens one division race, and potentially makes winning one less important. And it invites one weaker team into the postseason (or baseball limbo, for those who don't want to classify the wild card play in game as the playoffs) and some other stuff that, on the whole, isn't very good. But as long as we ignore the downsides, it should be great.
   13. zack Posted: September 05, 2012 at 12:19 AM (#4226797)
Who will be the first team to hang a "2nd Wildcard Champion 2012" banner in their stadium after losing the playoff?
   14. KT's Pot Arb Posted: September 05, 2012 at 12:22 AM (#4226800)
It's slightly better than the previous single wild-card, not because of the 1 game "playoff" but because it keeps more teams in the hunt and makes September games more meaningful for more teams. But it would be far better with a full series. I think they need to go back to 154 game seasons, so they can end the regular season 2 weeks early to do the playoffs right.

This would allow them to move back to a two division format, and have 4 wild-cards in each league, starting the playoffs with the wild-cards facing off in 5 game series during the first week. Then start the full playoffs with the wild-card winners facing the division champs in 7 game series a week earlier than the current schedules.

More playoff games is better. Far fewer meaningless end of season games, since half the league will still be fighting for wildcard spots and positioning up till the end, is even better. And ending the World Series before snow falls, priceless.

If the owners don't want to give up 8 regular season games, schedule more double headers, presumably Saturday day/nighters, to finish the regular season early enough. Or have the teams that miss the playoffs can play each other for their remaining 2 weeks, could even make it a round robin competition for draft positioning to make the games meaningful.

   15. smileyy Posted: September 05, 2012 at 03:15 AM (#4226826)
[13] They'll probably label it as "2012 Postseason" or something.
   16. AJMcCringleberry Posted: September 05, 2012 at 06:15 AM (#4226836)
that one-game round also gives division winning teams more of an advantage over the two wild card teams

This is why I hate this new system.
   17. God Posted: September 05, 2012 at 07:27 AM (#4226849)
No, that's why the system is better. You want an advantage, finish in first effing place. You finish second, quit your ####### whining.
   18. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: September 05, 2012 at 07:41 AM (#4226854)
i would rather the commissioner quit trying to shoehorn more teams into the playoffs and instead focus on the quality of umpiring.

Which is eroding rapidly
   19. RMc's desperate, often sordid world Posted: September 05, 2012 at 08:19 AM (#4226868)
It's MLB. Not the MLB. This used to be pretty well universally understood, but there has been a disturbing amount of " 'the' creep" over the last five years or so.

Major League Soccer is almost universally referred to as "the MLS", the way one would say the NFL, NBA or NHL.

I guess these guys have the same problem...
   20. jyjjy Posted: September 05, 2012 at 09:01 AM (#4226888)
Who will be the first team to hang a "2nd Wildcard Champion 2012" banner in their stadium after losing the playoff?

I'd think Pittsburgh would take what they can get at this point.
   21. BDC Posted: September 05, 2012 at 09:24 AM (#4226899)
I agree with SoSHU here: there's always a tradeoff. The play-in game is meant to improve division races. It's currently doing that for the AL East, where there's considerable pressure to win the division. (Of course, there would be a heck of a race under the old rules too, because several teams would be pressing the East "loser" for the Wild Card; nobody would be coasting in.) It's not doing much extra for the AL Central, because those teams are behind the Wild Card pace, and the race would be good anyway. The Rangers have considerable breathing room right now (relatively), so the play-in isn't adding much spice to that race at the moment (it might do so later this month).

In the NL, there aren't any really close division races right now, so none of them are markedly improved. (You still can't improve a race that isn't there to start with.) Instead you see a number of teams in contention for the two play-in spots. Whether this is mildly more interesting than the old system is a matter of taste. The usual rule is that the more spots open, the less interesting the race, so I'll go with that: hence the tradeoff.

After the play-in games occur, everything will be just like last year, with three long playoff rounds and lots of potential for a Wild Card team to win it all (only now, it might be a fifth-place team). So the overall picture has gotten a little more random. But they're still playing baseball, so it beats a lot of other things in life :)
   22. Eddo Posted: September 05, 2012 at 09:27 AM (#4226901)
2005. On Sep 30, the Yankees were 94-65, red Sox 93-66, White Sox 96-63, and the Indians 93-66. The Yankees had a three game series against the Red Sox, and the White Sox a three game serieas against the Indians. None of the 4 teams was guaranteed a spot in the playoffs, and no one was coasting.

Actually, the White Sox clinched the division the game before the Indians series, when they beat the Tigers. I'm not sure exactly how or why, considering they were only three games up with three to play, but they had a champagne celebration and everything.
   23. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: September 05, 2012 at 09:31 AM (#4226904)
2007: the Red Sox were up by 7 on Aug 1, up by 5 on Sep 1, but after that, the Yankees went 14-5 in their next 19 games to cut the lead to 1.5. At that point, the Red Sox won 6 of 8 to clinch it. Seems like the opposite of coasting to me.
Disagree. I was there, and both teams were resting their regulars and giving tryouts to possible playoff roster competitors. They happened to win a lot of games because they had a ton of talent, but there was absolutely no division race happening. It was maddening, since as a fan I wanted to finally beat the ####### Yankees in the regular season, but neither team played the games or was managed with any particular urgency.
   24. Misirlou is on hiding to nowhere Posted: September 05, 2012 at 09:34 AM (#4226907)
Actually, the White Sox clinched the division the game before the Indians series, when they beat the Tigers. I'm not sure exactly how or why, considering they were only three games up with three to play, but they had a champagne celebration and everything.


OK, that makes sense. The Sox had 96 wins, and it was impossible for the other three to all have 96 or more wins, so they were guaranteed a spot at that point.
   25. Misirlou is on hiding to nowhere Posted: September 05, 2012 at 09:53 AM (#4226917)
It was maddening, since as a fan I wanted to finally beat the ####### Yankees in the regular season, but neither team played the games or was managed with any particular urgency.


I defer to your first hand knowledge.
   26. S.F. Giangst Posted: September 05, 2012 at 10:04 AM (#4226924)
Add two teams, go to 8 divisions and a balanced schedule, and make this horrible horse #### go away. Please. All discussion of wild card methods is centered upon determining who is the most deserving loser. None of them are. Win a division or play golf in October.
   27. McCoy Posted: September 05, 2012 at 10:14 AM (#4226929)
Actually, the White Sox clinched the division the game before the Indians series, when they beat the Tigers. I'm not sure exactly how or why, considering they were only three games up with three to play, but they had a champagne celebration and everything.

The White Sox had a better record head to head agains the Indians (11-8)and since the Yankees and Red Sox were playing each other over the next 3 games it guaranteed at least one of them would not have a better record than the White Sox or Indians should the Indians sweep the White Sox.

2005 was one of those years where the presence of a WC really killed the importance of the playoff races in the AL.
   28. Eddo Posted: September 05, 2012 at 10:54 AM (#4226950)
Thanks for the clarification, McCoy.
   29. BDC Posted: September 05, 2012 at 12:23 PM (#4227139)
8 divisions and a balanced schedule

But with a balanced schedule and 8 four-team divisions (plus interleague play!) you are going to have a sub-.500 playoff team sooner or later. The smaller the divisions get, the more that heavily imbalanced play helps ensure that their champions are nominally winning teams (and are potentially very good winners of tough divisions, even if they have lesser records).

I do agree that the current system is a weird ad hoc mix of cycles and epicycles and if-then-nots. And by going to 15-team leagues, it's only fixing to get messier and harder to follow.
   30. BourbonSamurai Is a Lazy Nogoodnik Posted: September 05, 2012 at 12:56 PM (#4227192)
No, that's why the system is better. You want an advantage, finish in first effing place. You finish second, quit your ####### whining.


I am on the side of the Lord.

   31. Random Transaction Generator Posted: September 05, 2012 at 12:58 PM (#4227198)
Add two teams, go to 8 divisions and a balanced schedule, and make this horrible horse #### go away.

ADD two teams?!

   32. BDC Posted: September 05, 2012 at 02:11 PM (#4227306)
ADD two teams?!

For all its rhetorical nonsense, and for all the peculiar tiebreakers that make the wild-card races notoriously hard to follow in the last couple of weeks, the 32-team NFL has the best system and best balance between regular season and postseason of the four major team sports, IMO. Imbalanced schedule that means that you can win by beating your division rivals consistently, rivalries that (many of them) have been around a very long time, clear path to the postseason, big potential advantage (the bye week) for excelling in the regular season. And the 32-team balance of things contributes a lot to it.

Now there are drawbacks – only the most extreme fantasy or gambling addict knows or cares about the rosters of NFL teams that rarely play his/her own team. But heck, 30-team MLB is like that for me, anymore. Going to 32 wouldn't mean much of a difference in whether or not I recognize anybody on the Arizona Diamondbacks.
   33. JJ1986 Posted: September 05, 2012 at 02:42 PM (#4227339)
I think the best solution at this point is to go to 2 leagues, 2 8-team division in each and the playoffs are four division winners and four wild cards (with some disadvantage like a 1-4 home layout in the first round). You'll never cut the number of playoff rounds so we're stuck with three and you'll never cut the number of teams.
   34. TVerik, the gum-snappin' hairdresser Posted: September 05, 2012 at 02:54 PM (#4227355)
I'll say it on the record here: If the Yankees win the first or second Wild Card, even if they advance to the World Series, I would still consider this a largely unsuccessful season.

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