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Thursday, September 24, 2020

WaPo: If baseball keeps these grotesque expanded playoffs, it will have lost its soul

I suppose it’s a sin to submit one’s own piece to the site, but what’s done is done.

With the three gradual expansions of the playoffs over the past half century, postseason outcomes have become more unpredictable due to the unique nature of the game: Your most critical players (starting pitchers) are only available once in a short series, or may be off their game, or maybe the opposing team is using an elaborate series of buzzers and trash cans to steal their signs. In fact, if history is any guide, the Dodgers will probably lose the NL wild-card series when Clayton Kershaw is abducted by aliens during the seventh-inning stretch of Game 3, because it always happens the way you expect it to.

That’s why the regular season, the 162-game grind, has always been so important: It separates the truly great teams (and, in this wild-card era, the scrappy upstarts and comeback kids, like last year’s Nationals squad), from the mediocrities and pretenders. But not this year! This year, you can bumble your way into the postseason, with the same puncher’s chance as any other team, by playing ball either at or barely above the .500 waterline.

The 16-team format not only threatens to make the meaning of a championship meaningless given the randomness of small-series outcomes, it also destroys the entire rationale of the regular season, which is so long precisely because it was designed to create significant separation, over time, between the best of the league and the rest, ensuring that even the weakest teams that made it to October still had a record of genuine accomplishment.

Esoteric Posted: September 24, 2020 at 05:29 PM | 37 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: aliens abduct clayton kershaw, business, history

Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. Starring Bradley Scotchman as RMc Posted: September 24, 2020 at 05:44 PM (#5978567)
Baseball "lost its soul" the minute the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings cashed their first paychecks.
   2. The Duke Posted: September 24, 2020 at 07:21 PM (#5978593)
To be honest I wouldn’t be surprised to see MLB pare back regular seasons to 100 games or even less and then have some grand round robin playoff. The issue here is that owners seem to get much more of playoff revenue. I expect next year to be much the same as this year. The union will then need to figure out how to respond.

It would be a sad state of affairs but the money at stake now is huge. This is what happened to corporate America too. High leverage, cut people costs, find a way to make money some other way/goose existing revenues and sell the pile of #### before the bottom falls out.

Luhnow was a symptom, like the first scan that tells you that you have cancer. But the disease is metastasizing all over the sport. Gamblers are being brought in, rules that are tv friendly/fan unfriendly are being made. The only hope is fans tune out both on TV and in person.
   3. the Hugh Jorgan returns Posted: September 24, 2020 at 07:28 PM (#5978595)
Baseball "lost its soul" the minute the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings cashed their first paychecks.


For me it was interleague play. I really liked the idea of 2 separate leagues playing by slightly different rules and strategies, then the 2 survivors through the playoffs contesting in a 7 game battle where the rules changed for each city.
   4. Zach Posted: September 24, 2020 at 07:29 PM (#5978596)
The gamblers being brought in is a bad sign. It suggests that the more attractive ways of increasing revenue are starting to get tapped out.
   5. Zach Posted: September 24, 2020 at 07:32 PM (#5978598)
The expanded playoffs, at least, are just a money thing. Teams are losing a lot of money this year, and want to get some of it back. But the daily fantasy stuff is just tossing fans to the sharks.
   6. McCoy Posted: September 24, 2020 at 09:03 PM (#5978605)
Linking to your own piece?

You've lost your soul
   7. Belfry Bob Posted: September 24, 2020 at 09:13 PM (#5978607)
I dread playoff expansion on so many levels...the idea that management is no longer playing for excellence, but mediocrity. Who cares? A totally random post-season. No pennant races. What, exactly, is the point of being involved as a non-fantasy sports playing fan? I'm not really sure that I would be.

Thinking of the fans of a team that shines all season, winning 100 games, being knocked out in the first round of playoffs by a 80-82 eighth place finisher in a three game set.
   8. Walt Davis Posted: September 24, 2020 at 09:16 PM (#5978608)
The gamblers being brought in is a bad sign. It suggests that the more attractive ways of increasing revenue are starting to get tapped out.

I don't know about that. It's mainly reflective of the court ruling opening legalized sports gambling to the states, opening up a huge source of new revenue. They'd go after it whether other sources are tapped out or not. Those other sources might be tapped out but I don't this tells us anything about the answer to that question.

I do notice 13 MLB states have not yet legalized it, including CA covering 5 teams.

Anyway, Pandora's box has been smashed to pieces on this issue -- the other day the U of Colorado signed a sponsorship with a sports gambling corp. Don't worry though, college sports is still about providing educational opportunities to athletes, not money.
   9. Howie Menckel Posted: September 24, 2020 at 09:17 PM (#5978609)
The gamblers being brought in is a bad sign.

that was at least 130 years ago
   10. Gold Star - just Gold Star Posted: September 24, 2020 at 10:38 PM (#5978628)
Linking to your own piece?

You've lost your soul
Eh, there's a chance I'll be doing the same in the next few days.

Same publication, too.
   11. SoSH U at work Posted: September 24, 2020 at 10:41 PM (#5978630)
FWIW, Jim said several years back that he changed his tune on self-linking, and he no longer has a problem with it. You're in the clear Eso.

Post 23.
   12. Ron J Posted: September 24, 2020 at 11:14 PM (#5978647)
#1 Please. There was whining about the under the table payments before then.
   13. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: September 25, 2020 at 12:53 AM (#5978664)
First corporations are people, and now they’re supposed to have souls, too? Where does it all end?
   14. depletion Posted: September 25, 2020 at 01:10 AM (#5978666)
Linking to TFA is not a sin. If I had read the article, now then it would be a sin. The paywall has set you free.
   15. McCoy Posted: September 25, 2020 at 10:26 AM (#5978692)
It was sarcasm
   16. John Northey Posted: September 25, 2020 at 11:59 AM (#5978711)
Meh. 1969 started to shift things. Last year Houston Dodgers should have been the WS (well, Houston should be in the NL still but that is a whole other kettle of fish). 2018 Boston/Cubs, 2017 LA/Cleveland, 2016 Cubs/Texas, 2015: St Louis/KC, you get the idea. Of course, then we'd have teams finishing 40 games out many years and that would be ugly. With a wild card we still have had 10+ year gaps for teams reaching the playoffs (Jays 1994-2014, Baltimore 1998-2011, Pittsburgh 1993-2012, and 2016-now). That loses an entire generation of fans. 16 teams in the playoffs gives hope to those kids cheering on the terrible teams. Yeah, sometimes a bad team will win it all (St Louis 2006 83-78 but WS champs anyways comes to mind immediately) but that is a small price imo to build a fanbase. The Jays sneaking in this year is exciting even though they were just there in 2015/16 as this is a whole new team with new kids - my daughter enjoys it all and was shifting to basketball as her #2 sport (hockey is her true love) so a good run helps hold her and others in.

To me it is 2 things - regular season shows you who is really the best, playoffs are the silly season where you get massive highs and lows sometimes in a single inning.
   17. AndrewJ Posted: September 25, 2020 at 12:49 PM (#5978721)
As I said in an earlier thread, paraphrasing Monty Python's "Summarize Proust" sketch, for all I care they can award the World Series trophy to the woman with the biggest breasts. I could just do without condescending takes like these...
   18. Jay Z Posted: September 25, 2020 at 01:39 PM (#5978732)
Way back in the day of the 8 team leagues, you also had second place money, third place money. That was incentive for those good but not great teams to continue to play hard, and the players to get a little renumeration as well.

In today's world, teams not going to the playoffs will just tank and dump players. I don't think you can set the playoff bar where it used to be. If you want players to continue to play hard, it's got to be playoffs.
   19. Nasty Nate Posted: September 25, 2020 at 01:48 PM (#5978735)
With fewer teams in the playoffs, there used to be "big" games (or at least series) in June, July, August, and even May. Now who gives a ####?
   20. Walt Davis Posted: September 26, 2020 at 02:23 AM (#5978893)
#18: I hadn't thought about those bonuses in a long time. Do they still exist? Anyway, in this era, they'd have to be worth millions for the team/players to worry about and really no reason for the fans to care extra.
   21. John Northey Posted: September 26, 2020 at 12:43 PM (#5978943)
With 16 in the playoffs tanking should be less as it would be far easier to get to the big dance. 14 miss, 16 make. In 2019 we saw a crazy amount of tanking from day one in the AL. If 8 teams per league made it then it would've been the Rangers as the 8th team with a 78-84 record, by 6 games over the 90 loss Angels & 5 1/2 over the 89 loss White Sox. The Red Sox would've been in rather than 12 games out. Would that have increased excitement in fan bases and made more games interesting? You bet. Instead in the AL we had Cleveland finish 3 behind Tampa for the final slot and 3 division winners with over 100 wins each. Under the pre-1969 method we'd have had Houston winning by 4 over the Yankees and 6 over the 101 game winning Twins. Or the East/West method (2 per league) the Twins also would've been SOL with over 100 wins and tanking would've been even more nuts.

A system with few playoff teams strongly encourages tanking as your only hope is to build a strong farm and get lucky with the draft. The more who are in the easier it is for fans to dream even if their team isn't that good. It is all about entertainment value. In 1993, the last year of 2 per league, we had the Giants miss out by 1 game to Atlanta 104-103 wins. Yeah, that was a heck of a race just like the 1987 AL East one between the Jays and Tigers going down to the last inning and the 1985 Jays/Yankees on the 2nd last day (I'm sure others can dream up of other cases). Yeah, those were fun (and painful as a Jays fan in 87). But this is more fun to me. I LOVED watching the young Jays of 2020 sneak into the playoffs by winning 3 of 4 from the Yankees this week. If we get a Miami/Jays final I'll be watching. Dodgers/Rays is what the 50+ year ago system would've been giving us starting next week while all other teams in the NL have been out of it for awhile, the AL would've seen the Yankees pulling their hair out as the kiddie Jays beat them this week to knock them out after the Yankees pounded them into the dirt the week before. Yeah, that would've been fun too but only for us 'real' fans. For the casual viewer the season would've been dull outside of NY, Tampa, and LA.
   22. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: September 26, 2020 at 01:27 PM (#5978958)
Unfortunately we don’t have attendance numbers as a metric to see if there is any increased interest in, say, the Marlins or the Reds this year as they’ve made the playoffs. Are they getting better TV ratings? Is there any other evidence that there is a bandwagon effect for a near-.500 team getting a shot at a best-of-three playoff series?
   23. Ron J Posted: September 26, 2020 at 02:08 PM (#5978974)
I haven't looked at recent years. When I did look (over a decade ago) I found no evidence that coming close to making the playoffs helped. The effects that I could measure were, made playoff, reached World Series and Won World Series.

Mind you, the best models I was able to build had a standard error in the range of $10M in revenue and was only able to explain around 92% of team revenue. So it's certainly plausible that I could have missed a weak "got close" effect.

Attendance based models tend to have larger standard errors than revenue. Sometimes teams respond to success by raising prices (or by getting better media contracts). Still, without access to the books the revenue based models are reliant on Forbes' revenue estimate. But MLB isn't a particularly complex business. And their estimates have pretty much lined up with reality when we did get a look at the books.
   24. Doug Jones threw harder than me Posted: September 26, 2020 at 03:44 PM (#5978997)
With 16 in the playoffs tanking should be less as it would be far easier to get to the big dance. 14 miss, 16 make, etc.


I agree, and would add that, whereas as Fangraphs says an expanded playoffs may discourage "greatness", it may encourage "goodness", and hence perhaps increase the supply of 1 or 2-year contracts to middling veterans, which should make the players association happy, if not Scott Boras (though smaller-time agents might be happier). Are a number of teams with a chance to win better than the Los Angeles Dodgers winning the NL West six straight times? Baseball is more of a local game than either Basketball or Football, and relies less on national television for it's revenue, it's in the interest of the game for teams to have something to play for.

The Pacific and Central Leagues of Japan have as their intra-league playoffs the Climax Series, where the league champion gets a game-advantage (best of six). That's a pretty high incentive for a team to win their division/league/etc. Something like that could be tried to make playoff seeding (and hence winning one's division) meaningful.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climax_Series

In the 1950's, before divisions, there were whole swaths of the league, mainly non-New York teams, that had no hope whatsoever of making the playoffs for many years in a row. Whereas baseball in the 1950's is remembered as a "Golden Age" by those from New York, I think those in Kansas City, Washington D.C., or fans of the St. Louis Browns or Boston Braves would beg to differ. That's bad for baseball.
   25. Ziggy: social distancing since 1980 Posted: September 26, 2020 at 04:52 PM (#5979005)
Playoffs of any sort are just a gimmick to goose profits, and they do so by pretending that getting lucky is what makes for a good team. When there were legitimately different leagues, the World Series made sense (although maybe it should be longer than seven games), but as long as there's interleague play that too is just gimmickry.

If the Dodgers are a better team than six random teams, I'd rather have the Dodgers win it every time. It's more fun too - a great team is a beautiful thing, mediocrity + luck is not.
   26. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: September 26, 2020 at 06:13 PM (#5979017)
for all I care they can award the World Series trophy to the woman with the biggest breasts


What’s Morganna up to these days, anyway?
   27. ReggieThomasLives Posted: September 26, 2020 at 06:18 PM (#5979019)
Oh noes, more playoff games replacing those meaningless dog days games? When did we expect baseball to be entertaining?
   28. Doug Jones threw harder than me Posted: September 26, 2020 at 09:10 PM (#5979037)
Playoffs of any sort are just a gimmick to goose profits,


Some folks, I think, will only be satisfied when the championship is awarded when one team distances itself from all the other teams by six standard deviations, as judged by Fangraphs, or perhaps Baseball Prospectus. At that point in time we will all be dead, I think, so it will hardly matter.

Baseball is supposed to be fun for the fans. The fans are what keeps the game going. Fans across all of America. Individual baseball games, especially playoff baseball games, are meaningful to the humans involved, both the spectators and the players. Each game is not a meaningless continuum of statistics-generation, if so why do they declare a winner of each game? We could simply play 9 innings per "session", play 162 sessions, and then tabulate up each team's WAR at the end of the season, and declare the champion that way, without having ANY team having a won-loss record. That would be fairest, wouldn't it?

   29. bigglou115 is not an Illuminati agent Posted: September 27, 2020 at 09:08 AM (#5979097)
Oh noes, more playoff games replacing those meaningless dog days games? When did we expect baseball to be entertaining


I mean, painful as it was I still remember the Braves dropping a 10 game lead in the last month of the season. Those all had meaning.the new format takes all the drama and pushes it down to .500 teams duking it out for the 7 and 8 seeds. That's inherently less interesting.

I don't know which way I go on tanking though. Yes, fewer teams will tank. But if you've got to get through a 3 game series there's virtually no real incentive to go for a high seed. Now, there's an apparent one if you don't realize how random a 3 game series is, so we may see teams still try that for a few years. My guess is though after a few years of at least half the 1 and 2 seeds getting knocked out they'll have to change something.
   30. AndrewJ Posted: September 27, 2020 at 11:12 AM (#5979105)
Baseball is supposed to be fun for the fans.

And I happen to find a 162-game regular season a much more "fun" way to determine a champion than endless playoff rounds. So sue me.
   31. Dale Sams Posted: September 27, 2020 at 01:25 PM (#5979139)
Ghead baseball. Ill always have OOTP and you can have your shitty ratings while you continue to disaffect your largest demo.

####...we've barely had time to absorb: "Fans like one-game playoffs!! One-game playoffs every year then!!"
   32. Starring Bradley Scotchman as RMc Posted: September 28, 2020 at 03:45 PM (#5979422)
There was whining about the under the table payments before (1869).


Jim Creighton was probably the first sub rosa pro player, as early as 1860. The first "fix" scandal was just a few years later.

Whereas baseball in the 1950's is remembered as a "Golden Age" by those from New York, I think (...) fans of the St. Louis Browns or Boston Braves would beg to differ.


Which explains why there are no more St. Louis Browns or Boston Braves.
   33. Ron J Posted: September 28, 2020 at 04:11 PM (#5979430)
#32 The fix was certainly anticipated by the rules makers. Even without organized leagues the earliest versions of the rules did not permit any player to have money on the game.

Makes sense since a lot of the organizers came to baseball via cricket and the problems with rigged games (and all of the other corrupting influences of betting) in cricket goes back to at least the 1820s. It's a minor subplot in Bernard Cornwell's Gallows Thief.
   34. dejarouehg Posted: September 29, 2020 at 10:08 AM (#5979515)
To me, part of what has made baseball better than the other sports, IMO, is the reluctance to let everyone in the playoffs.

Any playoff format, regardless of sport, that allows losing teams to participate, is an abomination.

I would much prefer 2 leagues, 2 divisions, no-interleague, 2 division winners, and then the 2 other best records in each league to serve as the wild-card.

I just don't want to see a 6 seed pick off a top seed. Why bother having a regular season then?

Who wants to turn into the NBA? (Hey Mookie, why don't you take off 2 games a week. We're in the playoffs regardless.....)
   35. Pat Rapper's Delight (as quoted on MLB Network) Posted: September 29, 2020 at 10:40 AM (#5979519)
Who wants to turn into the NBA?

Rob Manfred would undoubtedly consider it.
   36. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: September 29, 2020 at 02:49 PM (#5979587)
Whereas baseball in the 1950's is remembered as a "Golden Age" by those from New York, I think those in Kansas City, Washington D.C., or fans of the St. Louis Browns or Boston Braves would beg to differ.

Which explains why there are no more St. Louis Browns or Boston Braves.

Of the 7 teams covered by that original comment, only the Yankees remained in their original city after 1960. The only thing "Golden" about 1950's baseball outside of New York and Milwaukee was the easy availability of good cheap seats.
   37. . Posted: September 29, 2020 at 02:59 PM (#5979594)
The Oafball Chronicles, 2020 chapter:

TTO rate up to 36% of appearances.

Average game time up to 3:07.

Triples, singles, sacrifice hits, sacrifice flies, intentional walks all at per game historical lows.

Batting average the lowest in the DH era.

Strikeout rate for the first time in history over one per inning per team.

Although the ball is rarely hit, when it's hit it's hit hard ... yet BABIP still at the lowest since 1992.

Hit by pitch rate the highest since 1900.

Pitches per plate appearance at all time high.

Number of full counts up 14% in only the last five years.

Yeah, there's the sights and the sounds and the colors and the crack of the bat and the history, but the game itself is pure, unadultrated dreck. Awful in every dimension. A terrible product.



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