Saturday, October 6, 2012

Friday Baseball Post

Matt Jarvis asked during question day for thoughts on this:

Keep the expanded 2-wild-card setup
The wild-card teams play a best of 3 game series, in the better-seeded teams' stadium, over 3 days...just like a regular series.
Reduce season to 161 games (helps eliminate ties)
The wild card team thus has only played 163 games before the "real" playoffs (just like now), the luck factor is reduced somewhat, and there's no more than 1 extra day inserted into the calendar.
Well, off the bat, I'm not sure why he thinks that a 161 season eliminates ties more than 162; a shorter season should produce more ties (not that one game would make a difference). Plus I like ties!

But the real point of his proposal is what we're almost certain to get eventually, which is shifting the wild-card round from a one to a three game series.

I hate it! Even if it's all at the higher seed's park, there's really not much difference in randomizing between a one and a three game series. And everyone else has to sit around and wait.

Is it unfair to the Braves that they could be eliminated in one game by the Cardinals? I don't care. My motto on postseason arrangements is simple: the lowest priority is fairness for lower-seeded teams. The Braves and the Rangers, it turns out, were both tied for third best in their leagues. My view? Who cares if things are fair for the tied-for-third-best team in the league? They're lucky just to have any remaining chance. If it didn't work out, so be it.

What I actually dislike the most about the present setup is something that I don't really think can be fixed -- I think it's a shame that the current system generates too many great stories, and therefore reduces the value of them all. Think about it so far. There were two great, epic "pennant" races in the AL East and West, and a damn good one in the Central also. Then both of the wild card games today were the type that could have been legendary, what with the crazy infield fly call in the NL game and the whodat-style Joe Saunders start shutting down the mighty Rangers offense in their offense-happy park in the AL. And fans of these teams will likely remember them. But the rest of us won't; there's just too much.

The problem is that asking them to cut back is asking them to leave money on the table, and that's simply not a reasonable thing to ask. So realistically, we've been stuck with the extra playoff round that Selig added in the 1990s. Probably this wild card round, too, as long as Selig can sell it.

(Regular readers will know my preference, but I'll add it in here anyway: two leagues, two divisions each. In each league, the first place team in the West advances against the second place team in the East and vice versa, with the first round heavily weighted to the first place team, probably by having them need three to advance while the second place teams need four. You have no problem with meaningful pennant races, you can have teams only competing with teams with like schedules, and it's terrific for rivalries since you're always competing only against your own division during the regular season. But back to what we really have...).

Given that extra round, I think the current set-up beats the previous one because it resolves the great division races problem without, as far as I can see, causing any major new ones (since, again, I don't care about fairness for the third best or fourth best team in the league). But we all know that Selig won't leave it alone, and we'll likely see the wild-card round expanded soon enough, and who knows what after that.

Ah well. Enough griping; we have the LDS beginning tomorrow.


  1. Sudden death playoff games make sense in the NFL where in the regular season you play a different team every week too. It could even make sense in the NBA if they wanted to do it. But baseball is built around playing series. Even the worst team in the league can win one game. You need at least a 3 game series to get a true test of who is better. Baseball could easily get a 3 game wild card series in the future. Just get rid of a few off days and play a few scheduled double headers in the regular season as needed.

    The Braves mainly lost because of their poor defense and lack of hitting with runners in scoring position, but after winning 94 games, they deserved at least another game to try to put forward a better effort.

    If sudden death games are so awesome, just make all of the rounds sudden death (yeah I know that won't happen because they make too much money off the additional games). If you're not going to do that, then the wild card round should be more than one game too.

  2. I think my problem with not caring about lower seeds is that the divisional setup that every sports league uses (X divisions, team with the best record in each division gets an automatic playoff birth) is inherently unfair. Texas beat Detroit by 5 games in spite of the fact that Texas played in the much harder division, having only one pushover team instead of 3. That's not Texas' fault, and the idea that their harder schedule shouldn't matter is silly.

    We should use a modified version of what international soccer teams use. Two leagues, no divisions, everyone plays everyone else an equal amount of times at home and away, with a preference toward intra-league games (So 70% of games against teams within your league, say). Top four teams in each league make the playoffs, 1-4, 2-3, seven games each series. You could even weight it a bit to match your preference for the higher seeds needing fewer games to advance in the opening round.

    The old reasons for divisions don't matter anymore; travel is much much easier, all of the big rivalries will still exist, etc.

  3. I concur that the new system is better than the last one, and that fairness for the lower-ranked teams is a low priority. (Though I think the idea of having one of the teams need to win less games to win the series is too far out there; it is fundamental to sports that if you win the most games in the series, you win.) But in general, a sound principle.

    Still, one must have a certain amount of sympathy for Braves fans at this point, right? In 2011, they pulled an epic collapse to drop the Wild Card to St. Louis, which went on to win the World Series. In 2012, they soundly beat St. Louis-- but had to play them anyway, in a brand-new play-in game.

    And then they lost the play-in on one of the most terrible calls I've ever seen. They called the Infield Fly Rule way the heck out in the outfield! It was like the NFL replacement refs were in town.

    So, was it systematically unfair? No. Is it better than the old way? Yes. But that was just a brutal two-year stretch for Braves fans. I felt awful for them.

    And I'm a Mets fan, so that should tell you something...

  4. I think the comment about "too many great stories" is really spot on. I was thinking something similar on Wednesday, when ESPN was shilling its TB/Balt + NYY/BOS games as a potential reprise of last year's final day. All I could remember from last year (which should be remembered for all-time as The Greatest Hour Ever (TM)), was that someone blew a save and Evan Longoria hit a home run, but for all I could recall, it might actually have been Eva Longoria.

    That this "signal to noise" issue is a problem is a terrific insight. It probably doesn't outweigh the additional revenue from extra playoff games, but as you note, it does dilute the impact of special games and thus the brand. Back in the 70s, when we nerds were being indoctrinated, we all read "Strange But True Baseball Stories", of which there were only about a dozen, so while none of us were alive for either, we all knew that the Shot Heard Round the World did not refer to the Revolutionary War but rather the Miracle at Coogan's Bluff. Nowadays there are way too many miracles for any one to matter.

    This dilution issue isn't unique to baseball; I see where Texas A&M is playing Missouri Thanksgiving weekend in what may well be billed as the SEC game of the week, though I doubt any of us will see it as such. The changes are probably economically justifiable for CFB (as for baseball), but the equity dilution could - big emphasis on "could" - come back to haunt these sports.


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