Saturday, November 19, 2011

Friday Baseball Post

Realignment, the Bud Selig way. Ugh.

OK, let's start with what's good about it. Expanding the playoffs with a one-game play in...well, it's not my favorite solution, but I guess I mildly prefer it to the status quo. The big plus is that it restores, to a very large extent, the possibility of two great teams having a meaningful pennant race (fine, I know, division-title race). That's been missing since the realignment after 1993, and it's a big deal, IMO. I think Christina Kahrl doesn't give enough credit to that in her discussion of it.

But otherwise, Christina is right and this stinks.

First...you know what? I'm not convinced that anyone likes interleague play, other than for the intracity rivalries. The only worthwhile thing about it, as far as I'm concerned, is that it did break up the schedule a bit, which isn't a bad thing over a six month season. It was a nice little ritual that helped shape things. That's to be gone now, replaced by one interleague matchup at all times. And forever: it's going to be a real pain to get around it, although I suppose that another round of expansion will come sooner or later. So there's that.

More importantly, the problem with Wild Cards in general is that it's a format that's bad for meaningful games. In the first half of two thirds of the season, a WC contender doesn't even know who its competition is, so you can't get all excited for the big games. That stinks.

Then -- well, it depends, and I don't think we know yet whether we're headed for a balanced or unbalanced schedule. Both work badly with WCs. Unbalanced (lots of games within the division) works badly because it introduces unfairness, since teams competing for the same slot play very different schedules (note that interleague play adds to the problem). A balanced schedule solves that, but it's bad for meaningful and rivalry games.

WCs are, indeed, bad for rivalries in general. The normal course of things in league or division competition is that you build rivalries by having hard-fought, meaningful contests. If you have relatively small divisions, and unbalanced schedules, you build history with the other division teams over the years. Part of what that does is cushion against the down years -- Giants fans loved knocking the Dodgers out in 1982, and Dodgers fans loved returning the favor in 1993.

Oh, odd numbers of teams in each division are a problem, too, because it means that one team has to be playing out of the division at the end of the season, thus reducing the chance of great head-to-head elimination series (like the great Tigers/Blue Jays last week in 1987).

Now, the other thing I'd say about the Selig re-alignment is that I think the odds of it being long-term stable are very low. The odds of something that seems horribly unfair are high, whether it's a sub-90 (or sub-81) win division winner getting in automatically while two better (higher win) teams have to play in, or a play-in game between two WCs with a huge spread between their records, or a few other possibilities (again, see Christina's article). I'm mostly OK with those things, but people will see them as unfair, and they'll wind up changing it depending on the random draw of which "unfair" things happen first.

All in all, I'm not thrilled but not too upset about the 2nd WC (I'm still convinced that there's a much better solution out there), but I'm definitely not happy about the 15/15 business.

It really is like Bud Selig doesn't understand the product he's selling, isn't it? I mean, football doesn't need to worry about meaningful games, because with their schedule every game is an event. That's great, for football. But baseball just has different strengths, and its schedule should be set up to emphasize the strengths. Selig just doesn't get that.

9 comments:

  1. Well they seem to be determined to add a 5th playoff team to each league for revenue reasons, but it's not my preferred approach to changing the playoffs.

    I'd like to see them add 2 teams, and have four 4-team divisions in each league. The division winners advance, everyone else goes home. Then 3 rounds of playoffs as now, but with all 1st place teams.

    While we were at this I'd like to expand the first round to 7 games to take a little off the randomness of the initial round.

    Hell, while we're at it, how about another go at a 9-game WS? That would give the ultimate series even a little more baseball, and would again cut down the randomness just a bit. I know they did this for a few years back in the old days; any idea why it died?

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  2. Now, for the more important question:

    What does it do to fantasy?

    I mean, yes, I like the fact that the currently-AL free agent you traded me now has an even 50/50 chance of signing with an AL team. This slightly reduces some of the silly gamesmanship where an AL-only league had to focus on the length of players contracts/likelihood of being traded to the NL when signing players to FAKE CONTRACTS. Of course, it increases that for an NL-only league, but I'm not in any of those. :P

    But, doing this should also reduce some of the silly NL/AL splits for number of games played in given weeks, which make for odd rewards in weekly format leagues, particularly with there no longer being "interleague week" where your AL pitchers would be counted on to get pulled out early or your NL pitchers would stay in longer or whatever.

    Expansion of the AL and contraction of the NL make rotisserie leagues different as well. In the AL, another team means that picking the least-worst 5th OF isn't as important anymore. In the NL, it's now more important than it was, though pinch-hitting duties always made them more valuable already.

    From a fan's perspective, you, as a Texan, have to be unhappy about the fact that you're not going to be able to watch a lot of games finish.

    However, I do have to say that I favor one element of this plan (although ResumeMan's plan would work just as well, and I'd be more in favor of that): equal division sizes. Honestly, it's just not been fair to the NL Central that they got to beat up on the bad team (lately, Houston) less often than the AL West got to beat up on Seattle. Between leagues, not a big deal, but within them? Remember when the AL East had 2 patsy teams in Baltimore and Tampa? The Yanks and Sox got to have great win records by beating the hell out of two awful teams, whereas in those same years, the AL West only got to beat up on Texas. Now, you could say that the AL Central only had the Royals, but I think that unbalanced divisions tends to lead to unbalanced strengths of schedules.

    I'm in agreement that the plan sucks. However, I do think Selig had the right idea that the leagues/divisions should be the same size. It's just that he combined it with some really stupid league assignments (Texas teams are in the West?) and stupid playoff structures.

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  3. As we are no longer in the bus and train era, there's no compelling reason for MLB to have "leagues", let alone divisions. Every team should play every other team 5 times or 6, and the team with the most wins should be regarded as the best.

    If several teams won so many games that the difference between them and the leader was thought to be statistically negligible, you could have a playoff among just those teams. But there's no reason the number of teams making that playoff would have to be fixed from year to year, or even to have one every year (e.g., the leader had 10 more wins than the runner-up).

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  4. I'd rather have the top teams in each league get a first round bye then have 3 or 5 game series between the other teams. That would make having the best record in the league really worth something (automatic slot in the LCS) while ending a very good wild card team's season in 1 game because they couldn't beat a much lesser wild card team's Cy Young contender ace pitcher.

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  5. I remain in favor of adding two teams and moving to 4, 8-team divisions (leagues, whatever). Play an unbalanced schedule (little inter-division play). The four champions are in the playoffs. The four teams with the next-best records are also in. The champions are seeded by record, and choose their opponents in the first round (the team with the best record has the first choice; I love thinking about the game-theory implications of this). All playoff series are best-of-7.

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  6. For a guy who writes a weekly baseball post, you sound like a casual fan. Meaningful games? Is that what it takes to get you to watch?

    I hate the idea that games at the beginning of the season don't matter. They do. Hell, both WC teams won by a game. Those games might not matter to you, but they do at the end.

    It's a beautiful game. It really is. And I'm usually the first person to hate on Selig, but this just doesn't seem to be that big of a deal to me. It's more baseball. That's always good news.

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  7. Gotta respond to some of these...

    Boz,

    There are a lot of different ways to enjoy baseball. I've enjoyed games between second division teams in September, and certainly isolated April and May games, and minor league games with players I didn't care about for any particular reason. But I really like the way that baseball can generate stories and history, and IMO Selig's various reforms take away from that, instead of highlighting it.

    (Also: it's not really more baseball -- it's two extra games a year. Eh.).

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  8. As far as four divisions of four teams each per league...I probably have a mild preference for that compared with three divisions, two WCs. It preserves the chance for a pennant race between great teams, but four teams in a division does have some real problems: the odds of a sub-500 team are reasonably high (or, alternately, a bad team that scrapes above 500 by beating up on three awful divisional rivals). The other problem is that short divisions tend to have fewer close races overall.

    BTW, I didn't put it in this post but my assumption in all of this is that I don't think it's reasonable for fans to expect MLB to leave money on the table. My real preference, just for me, would probably to go back to the 24 team, LCS + WS, unbalanced schedule, no IL, that was there (1969-1976) when I started watching baseball -- and my second choice would be still be the 1977-1993 setup, preferably with unbalanced schedules. But presumably they're making money from the extra round of playoffs (and from keeping more teams alive after June), and so I mostly can't blame them too much for that.

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  9. Selig's under pressure to get more teams into the Playoffs. Those Playoff games are revenue producers, and that's what the greedheads want. The NHL and NBA (when they play) put 16 teams into the Playoffs, and that's MLB's goal, whether they state it openly or not. So you start by sneaking in a couple teams, then sneak in a few more later.

    It's not good for the game, and frankly, my Tigers were not even a worthy Playoff team this year, much as I hate to admit it. So Playoff expansion just wouldn't seem to do much for the quality of play, imo. But the pressure is there to add teams/games, sadly. Give these greedheads their head, and they'll be playing the World Series in December snows.

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