— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Wednesday, January 15, 2003
How much of the recent Yankee success is due to the expanded playoff format?
Before 1969, the American League was comprised of one division in a format that whomever won the most games during the regular season would represent the American League in the World Series against their National League counterpart. From the years 1969-1993 this format changed somewhat by splitting the American League into two divisions, the AL East and the AL West, and the two divisional winners would meet in the ALCS to determine who would represent the AL in the World Series.
I was not yet born in 1969 so I am not sure why they would split into two divisions, but knowing a little bit about what happened in 93-94, I think that a lot of the reasons behind this was so that baseball would be more interesting to the casual fan, there would be two pennant races instead of one, there would be more playoff games, and thus more money for the owners of baseball teams. I am sure there must have been other reasons, but for my purposes here I will not go into those. For many of those same reasons, the AL split into three divisions in 1994, giving us now even more playoff series and supposedly even more pennant races (or so they tell us) to keep the casual fan interested and coming to the ballpark.
I am 26 years old so I do not remember what is was like to have only one division in each league, but I think that it had to be the best of times in baseball because it proved just how far superior MLB was to the other major sports of football, basketball, and hockey. The regular season meant something in baseball. Teams had to go to work day in and day out to secure their shot at a world championship and there was not any coasting into the playoffs without being the best team in the league.
Even the two division format prevented this to some extent although you might have a hard time convincing the 1993 Giants that they deserved to go home while the Philadelphia Phillies went on to the World Series. However, the 3-division format with the wild card is an embarrassment to baseball of the worst kind. A perfect example of this was the 2000 World Series where the Yankees went on to win the World Series with the fifth best record in the American League. No they did not have the fifth best record in baseball, they just had the fifth best record in the AL! This is just inexcusable. Baseball has always rewarded the best team during the regular season. Is it a more reliable indicator to see who?s better in a 7-game series or a 162 game regular season schedule?
This all lead me to start to think about the mass media?s insistence that there is such a chasm in competitive balance that things must change in order for more teams to compete with the hated New York Yankees! They say that there is no way anyone can compete with the Yankees because they will just go out and buy another championship. They tell us that most fans do not care because they already know that their hometown teams cannot compete with those capitalist pigs, the Yankees! How dare they play within the economic rules of baseball in order to field a winning team year in and year out.
I am a fan of a small-market team, the Cincinnati Reds, but I look upon the Yankees with more envy than I do hatred. I would love for George Steinbrenner to own the Reds. I?m sure that no matter what his economic limits might be from being in a smaller market than New York, I can assure you that Mr. Steinbrenner would not idly sit by and watch the Reds field losing team after losing team all the while blaming it on an uncompetitive balance and whining about salary caps and payroll.
But have the Yankees dominated as much as we think? Most in the media would have you believe that from 1996-2001, the Yankees have ruined baseball by the way they have handled their teams, but I think the 3-division format with the added on Wild Card has been more influential to Yankee dominance than the idea that they have bought championships.
If we go back to the pre-1969 days or even the era between 1969-1993, I think we?ll see that the Yankees aren?t as dominant as everyone would have us believe them to be. My method for figuring this is using the Pythagorean method incorporating runs scored and runs allowed between teams during a given year. For example, in 1996, the Yankees scored 76 runs against the Angels while allowing the Angels to score 76 runs. Using the Pythagorean method, the Yankees expected winning % against the Angels would be .500. So in the era of 1969-1993, the Yankees would have split the 12 games they would have played against the Angels.
For the pre-1969 era, I had to readjust the schedule to 156 games to allow every team to play everyone 12 times. Again this would mean that the Yankees would split their 12 games with the Angels. I took the top teams in the AL in each year to see what the expected regular season record would have been had the Yankees been vying for a playoff spot in 1969-1993 or the pre-1969 era.
AL East 1969-1993
As we see what would have happened in the other playoff formats, the Yankees did not belong in the playoffs. If we were in the pre-1969 era the Indians should have been going to the playoffs instead of New York. Even if we were in the 2-division format, the Yankees would have been home because Cleveland would have won the AL East this year. However, the Yankees were in the playoffs this year and eventually went on to win the World Series. Were they as dominant as they seemed to be? I don?t think so. Essentially the playoff format had more to do with the Yankees squeaking into the playoffs rather than them being the best team in the AL. Overall, the Yankees seemed to be the third best team in the AL.
New York 102-54
AL East 1969-1993
1997 usually doesn?t come into most arguments because the Yankees didn?t win anything this year. They actually were the wild card team in 1997 and didn?t advance to the World Series so most people conveniently leave 1997 out of the big picture of the Yankee dominance because they didn?t win, but by my method, it further incriminates the 3-division format with the Wild Card because now it looks as if the fourth best team in the AL represented the AL in the World Series. Cleveland benefited from playing in the AL Central, giving them a playoff spot when they hardly deserved it. It seems a lot of people believe that the Yankees run of great teams began in 1996, but we really see that it began in 1997 even though they have nothing to show for it other than further evidence that the 3-division format is a complete disaster.
AL East 1969-1993
There isn?t much to say about 1998 other than the Yankees were absolutely amazing. They were by far and away the class of the American League and this is the first time since 1996 that the rightful owner of the AL Championship represented the AL in the World Series. I don?t think this was due to their being an absence of competitive balance, but rather the Yankees having the season of a lifetime.
AL East 1969-1993
1999 was the year that really showed the devout baseball fan that the 3-division format with the Wild Card completely ruined the pennant races. Can you imagine what would have happened in the AL East with New York, Boston, and Cleveland all within 3 games of each other going down to the wire? What a pennant race that could have been!
However, it was ruined because these 3 teams were the class of the AL and were in no danger of not having a playoff spot. All three were in the playoffs. What if all three were playing with 1 chance at the AL East crown, or even the shot to go to the playoffs had we been in the pre-1969 playoff format?
MLB didn?t give anything more to the fans by having more playoff teams; they cheated the fans out of what could have been the greatest pennant race of all time. In my opinion, 1999 was the end of the Yankee dominated AL. New York had great years in 97 and 98, but by my method the Red Sox and Indians were within 2-3 games of the Yankees and the Pythagorean method has swings within 4-5 games so it would be easy to envision the standings ending up in any combination of the 3 teams. The Yankees do end up winning by my method but not by so much that you could make the argument that the Yankees are buying championships.
1969-1993 AL East
Now we come to the World Series debacle of 2000. If anyone should be screaming about competitive balance it should be Oakland because they should have won the AL hands down. It could be argued that the Yankees were the third best team in the old AL East, yet they won the World Series. In the pre-1969 era, the Yankees would have finished in fifth place, hardly buying a championship. There isn?t really much to say about 2000 with regards to the Yankees. They should not have been anywhere near the playoffs let alone in the World Series. The Subway Series was a nice story, but it was a display of the feebleness of MLB to have the 2 best teams competing for a World Series title. An interesting note about the 2000 series is that MLB once again robbed the fans of a great pennant race.
According to my method the AL West using the divisional format of 1969-1993 would have looked like this:
Three teams all within four games of making the playoffs, but because of the 3-division format, there was not pennant race because all three teams ended up making the playoffs along with the Yankees, who didn?t belong. The only team that should have been complaining about imbalance this year was Cleveland who got robbed out of a playoff spot.
AL East 1969-1993
Seattle and Oakland were the class of the AL by a wide margin yet neither of them represented the AL in the World Series. Granted the Yankees did win the AL East so they should have at least got into the ALCS, but again, the best team in the AL did not represent the AL in the World Series. If we went to the playoff format before 1969, the Seattle Mariners should have been to the World Series.
So in recap, in the pre-1969 format, here is who should have won the AL:
In the 1969-1993 playoff format here is who should have been in the ALCS:
1996- Cleveland vs. Texas
In conclusion, I think it is fairly easy to say that scheduling and playoff format have been a bigger factor in this era of Yankee dominance than Mr. Steinbrenner going out and buying a championship. If we used the pre-1969 playoff format, the Yankees only legitimately win two AL Pennants and I don?t think anyone was screaming about competitive balance issues when Toronto won back-to-back AL Pennants in 92-93 or when Oakland won AL Pennants from 88-90.
Why should everyone be so quick to jump on the "Bash the Yankees" bandwagon? Even in the 1969-1993 playoff format the Yankees would have won 4 AL East titles, but who is to say they really would have won in 1999, bringing them down to 3 AL East titles and who is to say that they would win each ALCS in those 3 years? Maybe they would have, but maybe they wouldn?t have.
What is fair to say is that instead of ruining baseball with another terrible bargaining agreement, let?s try to fix the competitive balance problem by changing the scheduling and playoffs format. Eliminate the 3-division format with the Wild Card, and watch the Yankees championships disappear.
NOTE: Starting in 1998, the Devil Rays replaced the Brewers in the AL, so I just replaced Milwaukee with Tampa Bay from 1998 forward. The teams in the AL remained at 14 so it didn?t pose a problem.
NOTE: Special thanks to www.retrosheet.com for providing me with all the information I needed to complete this study.