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Two wild cards are one too many

I don’t care for this.

Major League Baseball expanded its playoff format to 10 teams Friday, adding a second wild card in each league.

The decision establishes a new one-game, wild-card round in each league between the teams with the best records who are not division winners, meaning a third-place team could win the World Series.

This is the only change in baseball’s playoff structure since the 1995 season, when wild-card teams were first added.

“This change increases the rewards of a division championship and allows two additional markets to experience playoff baseball each year,” commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement.

Actually, Joe Sheehan and Scott Lucas have shown scenarios in which the new playoff structure would actually put a division winner at a disadvantage. Indeed, if this had been in effect last year the Red Sox would have benefitted at the expense of either the Rays or the Yankees, as both of them would have had to go all out to win the division and avoid the play-in game while the Sox, who were comfortably ahead of their competition for the #5 spot could have rested the roster and gotten their ace ready for the game. Add in the one-year provision of the team with the home “advantage” playing the first two games on the road, and the 2012 playoffs may not be the bonanza being envisioned.

I don’t care for Sheehan’s solution – contract two teams and go back to two divisions per league. If it were up to me, I’d expand by two teams and have four four-team divisions per league a la the NFL. You could even consider an NFL-style playoff structure, with two wild cards and the top two teams getting byes. Or you could just go with the four division winners. I understand Sheehan’s appreciation of pennant races, but once the divisions were introduced you allowed for the possibility of an inferior team winning the pennant while a better team goes home without getting a chance to play. It’s a tradeoff, and you have to decide whether it’s better to force good teams to miss out or to let mediocre but lucky teams benefit. Personally, I think what they had before this change was fine, and if they kept it as is, with the Astros remaining in the NL, it would be better. I don’t necessarily oppose the idea of expanding the playoffs, I just don’t think MLB is doing it in a smart way. I’m willing to bet they’ll figure that out and tweak things further in the coming years.

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One Comment

  1. blank says:

    The only way I would expand the playoffs would be with games, not teams. I’d rather go back to 4 teams, making the LCS’s, and World Series 9 or 11 games. Nate Silver did a regression study on predicting team performance in the playoffs and found an R^2 around 0.3 with only 3 predictor variables, none of which were offense. In other words, the playoffs might as well be a couple of turns at the roulette table but it’s near meaningless in terms of baseball merit. The season by contrast is far more indicative of team skill. If you want to add more games, let the division winners play each other more to get a slightly better sense of who the better team is.