Yeah, we've got a new playoff system. No, I'm not particularly happy about it. I continue to believe that the real problem here is Bud Selig, who makes changes on the fly in response to (1) his personal preferences and (2) the last thing that went wrong. It's no way to run a multi-billion dollar industry.
However, I do take issue with some of the complaints about the new system. In particular -- and I'm very late to respond to this, but the issue alas isn't going away -- I'm going to disagree with some of the usually very sensible Joe Sheehan's comments in SI.
Joe's complaint is that the new system can, in the right circumstances, be brutal for the second-best team in a league. He lays out the worst-case scenario, in which two great teams are in close competition for a division title. Since avoiding the WC play-in game (or as he calls it, the Coin Flip game) is a big deal, both teams would go all-out to the last day. Meanwhile, if it played out the right way, some inferior team could have a lock on the 2nd WC slot and rest and set its rotation for the game.
Well, OK. That stinks for the second-best team. But Joe's solution is to dump the WC altogether go with just three playoff teams per league, giving the top one of the three a bye round. I don't really get this. How is it better to just send the losing great team home rather than giving them a 50/50 chance to continue on?
Not that I care a lot about second place teams: I don't think that the system should be designed to be "fair" to them. They lost; they're lucky, as far as I'm concerned, to continue on at all. If they're improperly seeded or otherwise disadvantaged, tough luck.
So which do I prefer: the 1995-2011 system with one WC; Selig's new 2WC "fix"; or Joe's division winners only? This is where I'm pragmatic. Joe notes (fairly, I think) that the "division series" round of playoffs hasn't exactly been a big success, and believes that baseball wouldn't be losing much if they removed half of that round by eliminating one series per league. I'm willing to buy his preference for eliminating the WC in the abstract, but I just can't expect MLB to leave money on the table. Even if it's not a huge amount of money. And it's not just the postseason games; it's also that eliminating the WC is going to hurt attendance and ratings for some middling teams, teams that remain plausible winners thanks to the WC. For me, as a die-hard fan, I like Joe's solution -- but then again, for me, as a die-hard fan, I'd be even happier returning to the 1969-1993 system and just living with 7 or 8 team division. But while I'm going to listen to or watch (almost) as many games either way, and if I lived in a major league city I'd attend as many games either way, I know that overall keeping .500 teams alive makes money for them. So I suppose I'd say Sheehan > Selig > old status quo -- but I understand why MLB wouldn't consider Joe's plan.
At any rate: I'm confident that if baseball hired, say, Dan Okrent (who knows a thing or two about game design); Matthew Shuggart (who knows a thing or two about institutional design); Joe Sheehan; and, well, me -- and gave us access to the financial information necessary, we could without very much trouble come up with a system that would give baseball both a meaningful, exciting regular season and a fun and exciting postseason. You all know what mine would look like, but I'm very open to beating it.