Here's why the current baseball playoff structure is totally stupid and can easily lead to a random team, that no one would argue is the league's best, winning the World Series: because a great winning percentage in baseball is .600, and a horrible one is .400.
When the best teams win just 60 percent of their games, and unimpressive playoff teams win in the mid-50s (in the Cardinals case it was even worse), anything can happen in a short series. Over a 162 game season, having a 60 percent chance versus a 55 percent chance to win an average game makes a huge difference. Over a seven game series, it means very little.
In a sport like baseball where the top teams only win a few percent more than your run of the mill teams, you need to have a huge sample to determine who's the best. That's why the old way they did it - two season long pennant winners meet up in the Series - makes the most sense and is most likely to crown the best team as champs. Moreover, even the way they did it in the 70s and 80s with four divisions each comprising 7 teams is better because there's less likely to be a low-winning percentage team in the playoffs. And there's also one less playoff round for the favorites to get tripped up in.
In leagues like the NBA and NFL, where the top teams win a very high percentage of their games, having more teams in the playoffs or more rounds doesn't randomize things. In the NFL, home field is so big that the regular season means a lot. In the NBA, the team that wins is typically a top team as well. I'd actually argue in the NBA, it would be better to have shorter series and randomize it a little more for the sake of excitement since the being an 75 percent winner gives you a huge edge in a short series. But baseball is in large part a random process once you get to the postseason.
Posted by Chris Liss at 11/3/2006 4:18:00 PM