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Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Wild-Card Contenders Are Content to Be Sellers, and That’s a Problem

A consideration of one of the most unfortunate developments in baseball over the last decade, in its less-dramatic form.

QLE Posted: July 24, 2019 at 04:53 AM | 23 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: diamondbacks, tanking, wild card hunt

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Statements posted here are those of our readers and do not represent the BaseballThinkFactory. Names are provided by the poster and are not verified. We ask that posters follow our submission policy. Please report any inappropriate comments.

   1. Steve Balboni's Personal Trainer Posted: July 24, 2019 at 10:24 AM (#5864508)
I'm not a big fan of the current WC format, because I think it devalues one of the unique and fundamental characteristics of baseball relative to other sports - the length of the season. It's so many games, played almost every day for six months, where (many seasons) the worst teams win 40% of their games, and the best teams win 60% of their games. Every day is a different matchup, and even in a matchup of the best and worst teams, the best team wins often enough that nobody calls an individual win an "upset". That language isn't used in baseball, the way it is for an NFL regular-season game ("the Jets go into New England and upset the Patriots!") or even the NBA ("The Knicks go into Oakland and upset the Warriors!"). Nobody would say, "The Orioles go into Yankee Stadium and upset the Yankees!"...because that exact outcome will likely occur several times a year, no matter how good or bad the two teams are.

Anyway, all that makes a one-game WC play-in very exciting for fans, but it doesn't seem to be having the same effect on .500 teams who (in the modern format) have a reason to make a playoff push, whereas for most of baseball history they would not. Why? Because well-run teams know that a .500 team pushing their chips into the center of the table, so that they can have a, say 40% chance...of getting the opportunity to have a 42% chance of winning a play-in game...so that they can have a 42% of winning a best-of-five...so that they can have a 42% chance of winning a best-of-seven...so that they can have, at best, a 50% chance of winning the World Series...and in so doing, weaken their organization for the next few years...is probably stupid.

Even if you want to say the D'Backs have a 50/50 chance of winning at every point, that is still a 1 in 32 chance of winning the WS. This is where the long season of baseball works against a playoff system that floats away from attempting to be a meritocracy. Prior to 1969, the best team in each league played one best-of-seven. Upsets would happen (1960 WS, for example), but there's a reason the Yankees won all the time - it was because they were the best team most of the time. The system that made it easy for the Yankees to maintain their grip was not competitive or fair, but the playoff format obviously tended to reward the best team in a given year.

Now, we have a system where the advantage of winning 100 games and dominanting a division start-to-finish, versus squeaking into a WC play-in game with 85 wins, is minimized. The chances that the best teams are going to be there in the end is lower than ever - when I used to think that a longer playoff format would reward the best teams. But the chances of an 85-win team winning the WS, while better than ever, are still really low.

All of this is to say that the current system makes fans of dominant teams say, "This is nice, but all that matters is 'making the tournament'", while fans of "bubble teams" say, "Don't sell the farm just to increase your chances of getting a lottery ticket." This decreases fan base intensity, IMO, which devalues the regular season.
   2. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: July 24, 2019 at 10:28 AM (#5864512)
Even if you want to say the D'Backs have a 50/50 chance of winning at every point, that is still a 1 in 32 chance of winning the WS.

1 in 16 chance. They have a 50% chance of entering the 8 team tournament.

The Dodgers only had a 1 in 7 chance of winning the world series at the beginning of the season (per Vegas odds), they probably should have just traded all their veterans. 1 in 7 is a sucker bet. /s
   3. Ithaca2323 Posted: July 24, 2019 at 11:02 AM (#5864533)
As snapper points out, every team has pretty lousy odds to win the WS once the playoffs start.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I believe the mentality that has crept into sports that constantly emphasize rings over everything, and the games 7 years down the line over the ones today is one of the worst developments in recent years.

Teams deciding that 88 wins and a loss in the LDS isn't worth it sucks.

   4. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: July 24, 2019 at 11:05 AM (#5864537)
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I believe the mentality that has crept into sports that constantly emphasize rings over everything, and the games 7 years down the line over the ones today is one of the worst developments in recent years.

Teams deciding that 88 wins and a loss in the LDS isn't worth it sucks.


Co-sign.
   5. PreservedFish Posted: July 24, 2019 at 11:07 AM (#5864539)
The Dodgers only had a 1 in 7 chance of winning the world series at the beginning of the season (per Vegas odds), they probably should have just traded all their veterans. 1 in 7 is a sucker bet. /s

This is why this should not actually become a huge problem - the Dodgers are also aware that their chances are slim, and that it's stupid to overpay for deadline acquisitions. If the DBacks and others can't get anything worthwhile for their veterans, they won't move them.
   6. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: July 24, 2019 at 11:12 AM (#5864540)
So you give everyone a snowball's chance in hell of using the wild card to actually get anywhere, then complain that the idea isn't working?

Arizona has the 9th best record in the NL. Why would you expect them to be buyers?
   7. Nasty Nate Posted: July 24, 2019 at 11:14 AM (#5864543)
In recent years, have wild-card contenders actually been sellers?
   8. SoSH U at work Posted: July 24, 2019 at 11:16 AM (#5864544)
In recent years, have wild-card contenders actually been sellers?



Yeah, it's not like you have to be one or the other. You shouldn't mortgage the future to chase the WC. But you also don't have to piss away the present because you're only looking at a potential WC.
   9. Jeremy Renner App is Dead and I killed it Posted: July 24, 2019 at 11:47 AM (#5864561)
Half the Crew fans wants the Stearns to sell and half want him to buy. So bizarre.
   10. Jose is an Absurd Time Cube Posted: July 24, 2019 at 11:54 AM (#5864565)
The concept of buyers and sellers annoys me. Every team should consider themself a buyer, in some cases those teams are buying long term assets but this idea that you can’t lose a player for nothing is silly. People pay money to go see games, if you aren’t getting what you want for the player then you should be content to put your best team on the field.
   11. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: July 24, 2019 at 12:07 PM (#5864573)
So you give everyone a snowball's chance in hell of using the wild card to actually get anywhere, then complain that the idea isn't working?

Arizona has the 9th best record in the NL. Why would you expect them to be buyers?


Because lots of assets are cheap at the deadline. No one's saying "trade you top-5 prospects for an ace".

The Diamondbacks got JD Martinez at the deadline a couple of years ago for a pile of nothing.
   12. Steve Balboni's Personal Trainer Posted: July 24, 2019 at 01:24 PM (#5864616)


Even if you want to say the D'Backs have a 50/50 chance of winning at every point, that is still a 1 in 32 chance of winning the WS.

1 in 16 chance. They have a 50% chance of entering the 8 team tournament.


I believe it is 1-in-32. There are five hurdles in my hypothetical:
- Make the wild card game
- Win the WC game
- Win the divisional round
- Win the LCS
- Win the WS

That said, I agree that we've entered a phase in professional sports (and, to some extent, major college football) that it's championship or failure, and that makes being a fan much less fulfilling. I'm just arguing that the current play-in WC game format makes the journey of the long regular season even less engaging. It's like a marathon where the top ten finishers would all get to move on to a 10K race the next week, where the top finisher of that race would be the champion. You'd care a lot less about the marathon if you knew that an increasingly-dissimilar race would take place after to determine the champion.
   13. SoSH U at work Posted: July 24, 2019 at 01:32 PM (#5864621)
I believe it is 1-in-32. There are five hurdles in my hypothetical:
- Make the wild card game
- Win the WC game
- Win the divisional round
- Win the LCS
- Win the WS


How can it be 1 in 32? Before the season, every team has a 1 in 30, and some of those 30 would have decidedly worse odds at this point.

Edit: I guess it could, given the extra round that six teams avoid. But it seems unlikely a wild card contender's chances of winning the WS now would be worse than when the season started.
   14. . Posted: July 24, 2019 at 01:35 PM (#5864623)
Even from an analytical perspective the math doesn't really add up. Even if your asset accumulation makes you a powerhouse -- unlikely -- it only raises your crapshoot odds maybe 5%. The odds of actually asset accumulating your way into a powerhouse are also low, which makes the expected value of the strategy -- measured the only way it should be, in increased ultimate crapshoot odds -- miniscule, if not zero. You're way better off even purely by the numbers maximizing your odds each year to get into the crapshoot.
   15. . Posted: July 24, 2019 at 01:43 PM (#5864627)
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I believe the mentality that has crept into sports that constantly emphasize rings over everything, and the games 7 years down the line over the ones today is one of the worst developments in recent years.


I again co-sign your theory. We'll see how it goes with Zaidi and the Giants -- I'm still wary -- but the idea floated about seems to be if the contention was "unplanned" or can't really be "explained" then it somehow isn't really real. Together with the fatuous notion that pythag record actually means something, when exactly the opposite is true -- there's enough give in the relation between pythag and actual that you can contend even if your pythag is bad.

It's a bit unclear exactly how we've come to this pass (*), but we are indeed at the point where what's actually going on in the current sports season is subordinate to what might have gone on or what should have gone on or what will go on in the future. It's bad enough in itself, but when it starts actually affecting decision making in the current season, it's really bad.

In point of fact, the San Francisco Giants are contenders. Since they've hit upon something akin to the right roster after spending the first couple months throwing #### against the wall and seeing if anything sticks, they've been the hottest team in baseball. They've just won two straight against the Cubs and are only 2.5 games behind the Cubs. The "why" and the "how" is irrelevant. Whether their GM "planned" it is even less relevant. They've positioned themselves to have the distinct possibility of winning the 2019 World Series. Any sale of players that shrinks the likelihood of achieving that goal is sports malpractice.

(*) Most of it is what's developed as the auteur theory of GMing, with its planned and plannable outcomes and its distinct, identifiable visions and philosophies -- as if these people are Kubrick or Tarentino or something. The absurdity of that should speak for itself but unfortunately it does not.
   16. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: July 24, 2019 at 01:50 PM (#5864631)

#13 Arizona has the 9th best record in a 15-team league, and plays in a division with the best team in baseball. Their odds probably have gone down.

BPro gives them an 0.8% chance at winning the WS — 1/125. It only gives them a 23.7% chance to make the playoffs (rather than 50%), and also probably gives them a less than 50% chance to win each round, accounting for the remaining difference between 1/32 and 1/125.
   17. . Posted: July 24, 2019 at 01:55 PM (#5864634)
As a bit of an aside to the Giants comment, it's not even the second wild card that's put them in contention -- the first wild card is only half a game ahead of the second wild card. The Giants are only 2.5 games out of having the third best record in the National League. The thought of selling in that situation is preposterous.
   18. SoSH U at work Posted: July 24, 2019 at 02:02 PM (#5864640)
#13 Arizona has the 9th best record in a 15-team league, and plays in a division with the best team in baseball. Their odds probably have gone down


Gotcha.
   19. Davo Posted: July 24, 2019 at 02:11 PM (#5864646)
The concept of buyers and sellers annoys meEvery team should consider themself a buyerin some cases those teams are buying long term assets but this idea that you can’t lose a player for nothing is silly

I loved the way Tampa handled their deadline last season, as they had faint hopes of a Wild Card:

* Traded SP Matt Andriese to the DBacks for AAA catcher Michael Perez (who was then immediately promoted to be the Majors and hit .284 as their backup.)
* Traded SP Nathan Eovaldi to the Red Sox for AAA reliever Jalen Beeks (who was then also immediately promoted to the Majors, struggled a bit, but has been solid this year.)
* Traded SP Chris Archer to the Pirates for AAA SP Tyler Glasnow and AAA OF Austin Meadows. Both Glasnow and Meadows were then immediately promoted to the Majors and played very well down the stretch.
* Traded a couple of low-level prospects to the Cardinals for the disgruntled OF Tommy Pham, who hit .343 with 7 homers for Tampa down the stretch.

You can buy and sell at the same time...if you're smart!
   20. JAHV Posted: July 24, 2019 at 02:31 PM (#5864653)
That said, I agree that we've entered a phase in professional sports (and, to some extent, major college football) that it's championship or failure, and that makes being a fan much less fulfilling. I'm just arguing that the current play-in WC game format makes the journey of the long regular season even less engaging. It's like a marathon where the top ten finishers would all get to move on to a 10K race the next week, where the top finisher of that race would be the champion. You'd care a lot less about the marathon if you knew that an increasingly-dissimilar race would take place after to determine the champion.


I agree with the general sentiment here that I don't care for the "championship or failure" dichotomy that currently exists in fandom. I enjoy a good season, even if it doesn't mean my team ends up with hardware. Unless you're talking about one of the top 3 or 4 spending teams, I don't like the argument that a team that's won the division or made the playoffs several years in a row without winning a championship is a failure.

However, I still like watching playoff baseball, so I remain engaged in the marathon with the hope that my team can earn a spot in the playoffs, even if it's the one game Wild Card. I don't find that it's made the regular season less engaging at all.
   21. Steve Balboni's Personal Trainer Posted: July 24, 2019 at 06:51 PM (#5864734)
I loved the way Tampa handled their deadline last season, as they had faint hopes of a Wild Card:

* Traded SP Matt Andriese to the DBacks for AAA catcher Michael Perez (who was then immediately promoted to be the Majors and hit .284 as their backup.)
* Traded SP Nathan Eovaldi to the Red Sox for AAA reliever Jalen Beeks (who was then also immediately promoted to the Majors, struggled a bit, but has been solid this year.)
* Traded SP Chris Archer to the Pirates for AAA SP Tyler Glasnow and AAA OF Austin Meadows. Both Glasnow and Meadows were then immediately promoted to the Majors and played very well down the stretch.
* Traded a couple of low-level prospects to the Cardinals for the disgruntled OF Tommy Pham, who hit .343 with 7 homers for Tampa down the stretch.

You can buy and sell at the same time...if you're smart!


No team gets it right all the time, but Tampa strikes me as being extremely clever. Smart, well-run, but also clever. You wonder what would happen if they ever got to a more successful market...(kind of what people used to say all the time about Billy Beane).
   22. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: July 24, 2019 at 10:27 PM (#5864767)
You can buy and sell at the same time...if you're smart!

A strategy that Tampa must have learned in the Zambrano-for-Kazmir trade.
   23. Greg Franklin Posted: July 25, 2019 at 05:43 PM (#5865019)
I question the author's use of the Dbacks as the poster child for this. As snapper noted, Hazen traded for JDM in 2017 and he was an excellent rental to get them to the NLDS. In 2018 the Dodgers were down and Arizona made it to September with a chance of winning the West outright.

Perhaps Cleveland or Pittsburgh would be better examples. One winning team that intentionally dumped talent to save on payroll, one mediocre team that got to within 4-5 games of the WC pack and didn't even try to improve the club midseason (the anti-SF).

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