Expanding Playoffs Rewards Mediocrity

Apparently baseball’s GM’s support the plan to expand the postseason (via Craig):

The general managers are all meeting in Florida this week and, as we’ve expected, one of the items on the agenda will be making a proposal to Commissioner Selig about expanding the first round of the playoffs with an additional wild card team. The news nugget here is that the GMs USA Today’s Bob Nightengale spoke to all prefer that the first round of the playoffs, which would be between each league’s two wild card teams, either be a one-and-done elimination game or, at most, a best of three scenario.

This plan will have some consequences that I fear may be detrimental to the sport. As Craig notes, a 1 or 3 game series simply adds to the randomness of the postseason, and will often result in the better team going home. Relatedly, this system rewards mediocrity and will allow weak teams into the postseason. A perfect example of the ill effects of this idea can be found in the events at the end of the 2010 season.

If there had been an extra wild-card round in 2010, the AL might have been more exciting down the stretch. The Yankees and Rays likely would have been playing much harder so as to win the East and obtain a first round bye. On the other end, the 89 win Red Sox and 88 victory White Sox would have been locked in a battle for the second Wild card spot. Conversely, some of the drama may have been pulled from the NL race to the finish, as the Giants, Padres, and Braves would have all been guaranteed of at least a wild card berth.

The question that needs to be asked, of course, is whether we want those teams in the postseason. Why should the 95 win Yankees and 89 win Red Sox, with a clear gulf in talent between them, be put on equal footing in a wild card round? By the same token, does anyone really believe that the 2008 Yankees belonged in a postseason series with the 2008 Red Sox? The short nature of the series means that the highly inferior clubs would have a legitimate chance to advance. This plan diminishes the importance of the 162 game schedule, which is the feature that distinguishes baseball from other major sports.

A better plan would focus on tweaking the current system to make the wild card berth significantly less valuable than a division championship. One solution would be to give the team playing the wild card team an extra home game, with the wild card club getting only Game 3 in their building. This would make winning the division a priority, while serving to create a race for the best record in the league (and right to play the wild card team) as well.

Do you like the playoff expansion idea? Do you have an alternative?

0 thoughts on “Expanding Playoffs Rewards Mediocrity

  1. Let me add:


    “In the 32-league seasons since the wildcard was implemented (1995-2010), the average W% for the best team in the league is .620. The second-best division winner averages .583, the third-best .556. The wildcard team is .573 on average, while the team that would be the second wildcard averages .548.

    Ten times (31%) the wildcard has had the second-best record in the league, better than every team except the one that bested it for the division title. It has happened 6 times in the AL and 4 in the NL. You might expect that this happens disproportionately when an AL East team wins the wildcard, benefiting the Yankees or Red Sox. That is in fact the case. The wildcard has come out of the AL East twelve times, and in five of those seasons (42%) has had the second-best record in the league. That still leaves five seasons out of 20 (20%) in which the wildcard was not an AL East team and had the league’s second-best record.

    Only eight times has the wildcard had the worst record of the playoff participants (25%), twice in the AL and six times in the NL.”

    The first wildcard tends to reward a team that belongs, is maybe the 2nd or 3rd best team in the league, but happens to be in the wrong division. The second wildcard will typically reward the 5th best team in the league.

  2. Easy. Add 2 more teams and make each league with 4 divisions with 4 teams each. Only the winner of each division goes to the playoffs. Not only that but each league will be competitive since there are 4 in each.

    • Adding teams only adds to more mediocrity when you add an expansion team you fill that club with cost offs and young nobodies, it takes years for towns to build the clubs into a real ball club and it takes just as long or longer for the talent flow to distrubte more equally and in a sport where the best players are on fewer and fewer clubs adding more ball clubs let alone 2 is the last thing we need to do.

      If anything baseball should take teams away and let some of the failed franchises go, let the players on those clubs go through waivers before clearing into free agency and allow the bad clubs to get better and have a more equal distribution of talent.

      However this is about 1 thing MONEY! More games means more TV more TV means more money and more money means the rich get richer and they will do that inspite of the good of the game, it’s the same reason football is going to add 2 regular season games when no one really want it.

  3. A modest proposal. Start the season with all the teams in the playoffs, let’s say each round is best out of 25. The 6-8 teams that emerge get to play in the regular season. The team with the most wins is the champion. Fans get to strut and brag that their team made the playoffs, drinking gallons of beer in the process. In the process baseball will have joined hockey, basketball, and football, smelling like that cheap perfume they all sell, “Mediocrity”.

  4. I like adding the WC, but only if it’s a one and done play-in game. That’s an enormous disincentive to being a WC, so the answer for the 95 win Yanks is to not take the last 2 weeks of the season off and try like heck to win the division. Currently, there’s no real disincentive to being a WC, and having your season come down to one game, where anything can happen, is a huge poison pill no one will want to swallow.

    Further, whatever WC team emerges from the play-in game would be screwed up for the ALDS. Chances are they’ve used their ace in the play-in game, so he would either only get to pitch once in the ALDS or possibly not at all if they get swept (depending on schedule). I would further put the play-in game immediately before the ALDS with no off day, so the winner has to get on a plane and play a division winner the very next day. For me the whole purpose of adding a WC is to add excitement for the division races, but also to put such a disincentive on being a WC that a premium is placed on winning the division. Right now, winning a division means little. When good managers like Girardi and Maddon openly say they value resting regulars over winning it, that shows that in the minds of two very smart baseball men there’s not much on the line.

    BTW-I want the playoffs to start October 1 and end by the 31st, so a 3 game set is a no-go for me.

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