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The Problem with Baseball
Posted by Chris Liss at 11/3/2006 4:18:00 PM
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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.


In the CFL, they play 16 games to eliminate two teams from the playoffs, and the NHL skates through 80-plus to eliminate 40 percent of the franchises.

I bring this up for the sake of banality, just cuz I can. Baseballís 162-game test is severe enough I donít believe you can begrudge the Cardinals and their weakish record. That being said, the NHL doesnít have a shortened playoff series format and it doesnít matter, the best team (the Red Wings 90 percent of the time) usually gets bounced early. Baseballís a different sport and you canít really have a good playoff team versus a good regular season squad. The only thing that impacts on paper is pitching depth. A lengthened first round would be better but is it really that germane in the overall entertainment value?
Ignoring the capitalism that impacts playoff franchises and playoff races, Iíd hate a return to the old days. You can maintain your puritan philosophy, but Iíll pay for the entertainment value of the meaningful races the current playoff format produces, and a short series still provides enjoyment under the same guise. Does it really matter a decade later who wins, as long as a good time was had by all? It does to the purist I guess.

Posted by arwen at 11/4/2006 7:12:00 AM
Luckily the solution is on the horizon. When baseball next expands by 2 teams, probably next decade, they'l have two leagues of 16 teams. Then they'll have four divisions of four teams. That won't be perfect (I'd still rather have just 4 teams make the playoffs), but at least then seeding and home field advantage will make more sense.

Otherwise, right now I'd go with Bob Costas' plan. Drop the wild card. It's very overrated. It doesn't add any playoff drama (take this year for example). And just have 3 playoff teams in each league. The top team would get a bye in round one. Then the best record would really mean something.
Posted by schoenke at 11/4/2006 8:28:00 AM
Watching the Cardinals win it all was about as satisfying as kissing your sister. I agree with Peter that the wild card should be eliminated. How about taking the teams with the best records in the first and second halves and calibrating the play-offs that way? That's how it was handled in 1981 (strike-shortened season) and those play-offs were highly competitive. There are more teams now of course, so it would take a bit of fine tuning. However, it would reward teams starting hot while also giving streaking second half clubs that started poorly a shot.
Posted by Jazzy 1 at 11/4/2006 8:48:00 AM
I think the World Series was a dud this year because people were just tired of baseball. First there was the World Baseball Classic, then the 162 game season, then a wild card series, another round of playoffs and then a huge rain delay with some baseball thrown in.

I live in the Detroit area, but by the time the Series came around I was ready for it to be over. If you ask me, the season should start a couple weeks earlier. Play the cold weather games in spring training and the first couple weeks of the season, not in the World Series. I'm a big Placido Polanco fan, but I really don't need to see him bundled up like Nanook of the North during the World Series.

Maybe the regular season should be shortened. What was wrong with 154 games?

Get rid of the current schedule. I don't need to see 4 teams 19 times each. That's ridiculous. It doesn't create rivalries. It creates boredom. Having to see KC 19 times is just cruel.

As for seeing the Cardinals win was fine by me. Of course I wanted my Tigers to win it, but I was just happy that the Yanks and Redsox were eliminated. I don't need to see those teams on ESPN every friggin' day. Why is it that when the RedSox won it all they showed them every other day the following season? The Whitesox didn't get that kind of treatment, and I guarantee the Tigers wouldn't have.

If ESPN picks up a bunch of Cards games in 2007 it won't be all bad. Getting to watch Pujols more often would be a treat.

One more thing. I'm sick and tired of writers and analysts bitching that there isn't a New York team in the World Series. Boo hoo! I'd gladly watch the Devil Rays versus the Padres if it meant I wouldn't have to listen to everyone rave about the Yanks and Mets!
Posted by lvtdude at 11/4/2006 2:14:00 PM
I need to fire my editor.

The first line in paragraph 5 should have read, "As for seeing the Cardinals win, that was fine by me."
Posted by lvtdude at 11/4/2006 2:17:00 PM
If you are a Tigers fan living in the Detroit area and you couldn't get excited about the World Series, nothing MLB could have done would have helped you. And how could your team losing in the World Series be fine by you? I don't get that. You hate the Yankees and Red Sox more than you like the Tigers? Also, ESPN doesn't televise the Red Sox as much as you seem to think, but if given the option ESPN would no doubt televise the Red Sox, Yankees and Mets as much as possible because ESPN is in the ratings business.

To the original point, the current playoff format punishes the best regular-season teams. I'm on board with the Costas Plan.
Posted by Jason Thornbury at 11/4/2006 5:08:00 PM
I agree 100% with Chris. Of course, we all know the reason the format exists...$$$. Off topic: Btw, I really enjoy the fantasy football show Chris does on XM. I would still bet on the other 27 teams even this year.
Posted by Thomas10966 at 11/4/2006 8:26:00 PM
Chris - The Costas plan makes too much sense for Bud Selig to implement. In fact, I bet we see a college football tournament before we see something done to improve the MLB playoff format. I was always a fan of the wild card once I saw how it stimulated fan interest, but what's wrong with trying to make things better continuously?
Posted by vtadave at 11/5/2006 10:03:00 PM
Ok, let's throw out the Wild Card winners this year and imagine the Cardinals(they beat both division winners) playing the A's, Yankees or Twins instead. You really believe that would affect the ratings? Obviously, if they were playing the Yankees it would, but in Oakland, and Minnesota's case I highly doubt it would change the national viewpoints and interest that much. If the big market teams don't make it(Mets,Yanks,Sox) I just don't see it being that big of a change just because there is 1 less series. Maybe I'm wrong.
Posted by schwang2u at 11/6/2006 12:01:00 AM
To add to that, it was much better ratings when Boston won the Wild Card, beat the Yanks, and then went onto win the World Series.
Posted by schwang2u at 11/6/2006 12:08:00 AM
I don't think that has to do with Boston beating the Yankees so much as it had to do with the incredible drama associated with that series and the fact that Boston, while not New York, is still a massive media market.

The problem with the "top team gets a first-round bye" idea is the layoff. We all saw how flat the Tigers looked after waiting around for a week for the Mets/Cardinals series to end. If there was a first-round bye, the top team in each league would have an automatic disadvantage of a week/ten day layoff.

(It might be a benefit for some teams, getting healthy, etc., but for the most part, baseball players just aren't used to having a whole week off.)
Posted by czegers at 11/6/2006 9:20:00 AM
Thanks for the good word about the show.
Posted by cliss at 11/6/2006 4:35:00 PM
Charlie- the fact is, Boston came from the Wild Card that year. You can call it overrated, and having a Wild Card ruins the playoff system, but you can't say that every year running. Sometimes having a Wild Card does make the playoffs more interesting, sometimes it doesn't. With no Wild Card this year, the Padres would have played the Cardinals, and the Twins would have played the A's(which happened anyways) with the Mets and Yankees awaiting a winner. I agree 100% with Chris in that you would have better teams winning more often, I don't think it would change the TV ratings, however.
Posted by schwang2u at 11/6/2006 7:00:00 PM

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