Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Changing the MLB Playoff format

This post is prompted by two things -- Little Cuz's Facebook post regarding his support of adding one team in each league with a one-game Wild Card playoff, which I vehemently dislike, and listening to Colin Cowherd on ESPN radio this morning suggest something radically different, which if there is going to be a change, I would prefer.
Cowherd expressed his idea in general terms and my intent is to take that general idea and add specific details regarding how I would prefer to implement it.  I will also briefly state why I dislike the one-game Wild Card format that is running around the MLB ethernet.
There is no arguing that MLB is struggling to find ways to maintain interest in the game during the long regular season but what they are proposing I would suggest would make a mockery of the game.  It is already possible for a nondivision-winning team to win more games than a division winner.  At least with the current format that team with the better record has a seven-game playoff series to prove who's the better team.  A one-game playoff proves nothing and I would argue it makes the regular season a joke.  Look at this year as an example.  The Red Sox or Yankees are going to be a Wild Card team, likely with more wins than the other two division winners.  People argue that this system would put more emphasis on winning the division but I would argue that adding another playoff slot would have the opposite effect.  If this plan is the only plan, then I say keep what we've got.
But the real problem with waining attention during the season is the length of the regular season.  Cowherd's suggestion was to cut as much as 1/4 of the regular season to add urgency to the regular season games because as it stands as of today only 10% of the remaining regular season games have any bearing on who will make the playoffs -- those being the games played by the Giants and the Diamondbacks.  I like Cowherd's premise, just not in love with the detail (cutting 25%) and lack of any other details.  So I'm going to take that premise and run with it.
Let me sidestep for a second and say that I love baseball history as much as I love the game itself.  So suggesting a drastic change like this is hard on my heart but the game needs something dramatic for its long-term viability.  The game will live, just like it did when the regular was expanded twice before.  We still manage to compare Ruth's 60 homerun season to Maris' 61, even though Maris played a longer season, and Bonds had a longer season than that. 
If you really want to make the regular season more relevant and have heightened interest from beginning to end, then I think you need to cut the length of the regular season to something like 140 games and add more playoff rounds.  It's been argued that you need to have a one-game playoff round of Wild Card teams if you're going to have byes.  Well, why can't a team sit for a week while other teams take as many as seven days to play a best-of-five first round?  My suggestion is to have six teams (three division winners and 3 wild cards) make the playoffs in each league with the two teams with the best records (regardless of whether they're division winners or not) sitting out the first round while the other four teams play a best-of-five first round.
What my plan does is overall shorten the season, add more interest in more markets and puts an emphasis on winning games without penalizing you for which division you're in.  I'd keep the 3 division just for the romance of raising a flag as a division winner but it becomes irrelevant for the most part.  Currently you have 162 game regular season, plus 21 games worth of playoffs (potential total of 183), running from the 1st of April into early November.  With my plan the potential total would be 159, resulting in a more exciting regular season, especially the last couple of months.
Go ahead and pick it apart but I contend it's much better than any other option and would add some much needed excitement to the game.


littlecuz said...

A small correction first, the Division series is only 5 games, not 7. So the current number of potential play off games is 19. I understand it is a technicality but I think it needs to be stated.

As I said on FB I don't like a team sitting for an entire week. Even when one team closes it's series in a sweep and the other series goes 5 or 7, the difference isn't an entire week. I just don't like the idea of the better teams getting "rusty" while the weaker teams "keep in the groove", even if it's only a perception.

If you're shortening the season and adding teams, then have 8 in it and everyone plays through. You rank by record regardless of division winners and then 1 plays 8 and so on and so forth. That's better than adding one team or 3 and having teams sit.

What makes the one game play off interesting to me is that winning the division means something then, there's an advantage to winning the division. If you so anything like adding wild card teams you then lessen the need to win the division thus making the regular season more and more irrelevant.

If anything I'd like to see them go back to 2 divisions, lose the 5 game playoff round and make the division something you need to win.

The one game playoff makes winning the division nearly a necessity and makes settling for the wild card a lot less desirable of an option. I'd be willing to see it go to a 3 game series in a neutral site (no travel days), so the team that plays the winner gets a couple days off which makes having the best record even more desirable, and settling for the wild card more painful but also more likely the better team advances.

Zebster said...

8 teams is more than half of the league, which is why I don't like it. Look up the results of NFL playoffs vis-a-vis week off versus keep playing. I think you'll find a week off of rest for the better team wins out most of the time. A one-game playoff in baseball is most problematic when you consider that one great day by an average pitcher makes an average team as good as a great team and that's not how baseball should work.
Cuz, you don't make any comment about the value of shortening the season but I'm going to assume you like the idea.

littlecuz said...

I don't see how shortening the season makes any difference. All it means is that at this point in the season the Sox would have already packed it and settle for the wild card. So I don't see how a shorter season makes any difference.

Baseball is so much different than football that comparing doubling the normal time off (the normal time off is a week in football) to seven times the time off (a day is normal in baseball) isn't a valid comparison. It makes more of difference to hitters than pitchers I think. We hear all the time about guys needing to see "game pitching" for a few games when back from an extended time off. Such as Ortiz when he comes back hopefully Thursday.

I don't like 8 teams in the playoffs either, starts to look too much like basketball, but when compared to teams sitting a week it's the lesser of two evils and would get more casual fans involved.

Your point about an average pitcher having a great day and making an average team better then they are only reinforces my argument for a one game play off. Don't you see that's a damn lot of incentive for teams to win the division. At this point there's absolutely no difference between winning the division and settling for the wild card. That one game playoff makes the difference huge.

Zebster said...

I really feel like you're picking points to defend a position you already have rather than actually evaluating what I've said.
The fact that Bud came up with the one-game playoff idea says all you need to know about its efficacy. Nothing in baseball should ever be decided that way because, as I said, one great pitching performance by a pitcher on a mediocre team can ruin a whole season by a great team (or a light hitting fucking shortstop like Bucky Fucking Dent.) Your logic is to artificially prop up winning the division to avoid the artificial and nonsensical one-game playoff (same logic that has the WS hosted by the team who wins the All Star game). The point of all of this supposedly was for fan interest, and fan interest has waned in this era because people are busy and tired and watching 6 baseball games a week for 9 months is too much for them. That's why the NFL rules these days. If you shorten the season, every game matters more, which is what you said you want; and people are less bored by the time we get to the playoffs. At most we should go back to the 148? of the '40s.
I would love to hear a 3rd opinion on this.

AaronN said...

Well, I don't really care for either proposed scenario. Given those two options, I say leave it the way it is.
I'm not sure I agree that the percieved waning interest in the game needs to be addressed to begin with. The true fans will always be there and the peripheral ones, well, I don't think that shortening the season or adding another wild card team will make a damn bit of difference.
As I see it, the real issue is that, at every level, baseball is no longer as important as it always had been. It seems to have been overshadowed by other activities, whether other sports not requiring as many participants or those of the electronic variety. I mean, do kids go out and play pick-up games like they used to? If so, i'll bet it's at a greatly reduced rate compared to the sandlot/stickball days. It's just not on the radar to the extent it used to be. As such, that relates to the general apathy towards the sport at the higher levels, MLB included. I don't see that changing moving forward (and probably getting worse), and I don't think that either of those scenarios will change a thing in terms of overall interest at the highest level.
Baseball will always be around and popular to a (changing) extent, but the days where it was THE sport are sadly over.
My nonsensical two cents...

Brent said...

I liked Colin's point as well. Shorten the season to about 140 games like Zeb has said. I would also expand MLB by 2 teams making 32 teams in the Majors. Put 4 teams in each of 8 divisions by Geographical regions and then each Division Winner makes the playoffs. And sorry Zeb, your Red Sox would be in a hellacious division with the Yanks, Phillies, and Mets.

No wild cards and no one game playoffs. No teams take a week off and get "rusty". Eliminating over 20 games would make me more attentive to what is going in in baseball. Right now, I just glance and don't pay enough attention to it because we are sitting about 30-40 games to the finish and I still am not really geeked about following the season that is left closer that the rest of the season.

Deron said...

During the Wild-Card era, the team with the better record has won in the first round 55% of the time and has won the LCS and World Series 52% of the time.
During the Wild-Card era, the team with the better record has won in the first round 55% of the time and has won the LCS and World Series 52% of the time.

So, the fact that higher seeds don't win the as much as they should is more a function of the nature of baseball rather than the series being the best-of-5 or best-of-7.