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  1. I never understood the rationale of playoffs. It’s almost as if we shouldn’t even play the regular season. It is really exciting because teams step up their games and we see the test of character when teams have their backs against the walls. However, the team that does the best through the grind of a full season should be the champion, correct?

    Comment by BK — April 13, 2011 @ 2:14 pm

  2. Great article.

    So much talk goes into the debate about whether a team is built to win the WS or simply constructed to make a playoff run. IMO they are all the same. Building an 85-90 win team is about all you can ask for. Getting your team to the post-season is what matters. What happens in a short series is in large part based on luck and small sample sizes.

    Comment by BJsWorld — April 13, 2011 @ 2:17 pm

  3. Excellent article. I agree with most of it, but I do have an issue with “giving byes to only the top two teams in each league.” Which teams? The ones with the best records? The best teams may not have the best records if they play in more competitive divisions.

    Comment by Russ — April 13, 2011 @ 2:17 pm

  4. The fact that the MLB regular season is 162 games, but the first round of the playoffs is a best-of-5 series is a criminally insane joke.

    Thank you, Bud Selig, for the Wild Card, but NO THANK YOU for your ineptitude towards the rest of the playoff system and the implementation of modern day technology.

    Comment by Will — April 13, 2011 @ 2:18 pm

  5. The problem is, all of your suggestions; longer division series, extra playoff rounds, longer world series; they would already lengthen an obscenely long season. Baseball can’t be played through mid November, unless we use neutral sites in Arizona or Florida or California. And that certainly won’t happen.

    Comment by Jay — April 13, 2011 @ 2:19 pm

  6. i completely agree will and its the only thing I would change at the moment other than a complete realignment of each league for better playoff matchups

    Comment by trebek29 — April 13, 2011 @ 2:24 pm

  7. Very true but there is too much money to be made by a playoff system.

    Comment by drtrix — April 13, 2011 @ 2:25 pm

  8. To follow up on a few points:

    1) I’d abolish the divisions altogether to eliminate the issue of, say, the Rangers winning 100 games in a crappy AL West this year.

    2) I’d shorten the regular season to 154 games. Still more than enough test to prove who the best teams are, but those extra days gained would eliminate that mid-November scenario.

    Comment by Jonah Keri — April 13, 2011 @ 2:29 pm

  9. “If MLB does expand to 12-team playoffs, giving byes to only the top two teams in each league and having the other four playoff teams all play in round one could help.”

    This makes me wonder if you truly understand what an advantage is in baseball. Getting a bye round would not help any team. If anything, it would throw off their batters’ rhythms.

    Comment by Rich — April 13, 2011 @ 2:30 pm

  10. But what about the Royals and Pirates? They’ll miss out on the revenue derived from selling 5,800 tickets to those last four home games.

    Comment by Chris — April 13, 2011 @ 2:35 pm

  11. I dunno…if you gave teams the option of playing a series that they have (at most) a 60-65% chance of winning, and not playing one (a 100% chance of advancing), I think they would opt for the latter.

    (I would!)

    Comment by Jason B — April 13, 2011 @ 2:35 pm

  12. “but no thank you for your ineptitude towards the rest of the playoff system and the *LACK OF* implementation of modern day technology.”

    /fixed/ :)

    Comment by Jason B — April 13, 2011 @ 2:37 pm

  13. That’s an interesting thought. Do you have evidence to suggest that rhythms would be thrown off so much that it would override the benefit derived from rest and healing from injuries? Would make for a cool study, actually.

    Comment by Jonah Keri — April 13, 2011 @ 2:37 pm

  14. …not to mention the most obvious advantage of a bye of course, that of playing one less opponent in your quest to win it all.

    Comment by Jonah Keri — April 13, 2011 @ 2:37 pm

  15. The playoffs aren’t the problem. The fans are the problem. Sports have never been a true meritocracy. The best team rarely wins the title. That’s OK. Fans have proven to be OK with that reality. That’s why we want a playoff in college football. If we wanted the best team to win all the time, the BCS doesn’t seem so terrible. Most of the time, the best team in the nation is in the title game.

    Let’s just watch baseball because it’s the greatest game on Earth. Enjoy the ride. At the end of the day, who really cares who wins and loses?

    Comment by JD — April 13, 2011 @ 2:39 pm

  16. Has anyone thought of giving the top seeded team the flex option of a best of 5 or 7 in the first round?
    Lets say team 1 finishes with 110 wins playing the WC team. In this sytem if T1 is first to 3 they advance like normal.BUT if the WC team is first to 3 they must win a 4th game to advance on to the next round. Thoughts?

    Comment by btesch70 — April 13, 2011 @ 2:43 pm

  17. I wonder what we could look at to test this. How often do teams with long layoffs play teams without such layoffs?

    Teams that sweep postseason series vs. teams who played series that went the distance?

    Split-season leagues where one division has a team win both halves?

    A team coming off multiple rainouts playing one that’s had games throughout?

    Comment by Rick — April 13, 2011 @ 2:44 pm

  18. If baseball were to go out and try to make the playoffs more fair then MLB should

    1. Scrap divisions
    2. Limit playoffs to only the top 2 teams in each league
    2a. 7 games must be scheduled to be completed in 8 days
    3. Expand season 168 games

    Comment by YankeesJunkie — April 13, 2011 @ 2:48 pm

  19. Maybe the team on a bye can play some exhibition games against the Royals/Pirates to keep their rhythm while the Royals/Pirates get some extra revenue!

    Too much?

    Comment by Will — April 13, 2011 @ 2:48 pm

  20. I like how European football handles all this. There is a league and its winner and winning the season is a big deal, and there is no league play off. Then there is the champions league, euro tournaments. Which play in parallel with each season. The Key to me is that to play in one of the tournaments you have to finish in the top of your league the year before. So you get both a loose and go home play off and a meaningful regular season.

    Comment by Hglman — April 13, 2011 @ 2:54 pm

  21. I think it’s fun to toss about alternative playoff idea, but the idea that A,B or C is unfair is moot on the basis that all teams that make the playoffs face the same challenge. That is your point, I know. But the reward for being a top 8 team is the playoffs. So much of this game is projected, graphed, and analyzed. The playoffs are a chance to enjoy not knowing what’s going to happen. When the playoffs start, screw the sample size and enjoy the game.

    Comment by SkyDomeMyHome — April 13, 2011 @ 2:57 pm

  22. They’d still have to win 3 series, just like now. It would improve their odds compared to those that needed to win 4 series, but not compared to a playoff team this year, who would still need to win 3.

    Comment by JR — April 13, 2011 @ 2:59 pm

  23. Best of 5? Best of 7? Best of 9? Why not best of 163? There’s always a chance of an inferior team winning a short series. Does it matter? Isn’t that part of what keeps fans of the other teams hoping? Isn’t that part of the fun?

    Comment by Triandos — April 13, 2011 @ 2:59 pm

  24. Kinda funny that of all the major American sports, the one system most likely to give the championship to the best team is the BCS.

    Comment by JR — April 13, 2011 @ 3:03 pm

  25. Not to mention the vendors at those stadiums, or restaurant owners in the vicinity of those stadiums, but nobody really cares about them…

    Of course, if the playoffs are expanded, and a percentage of the revenue is shared among all teams, the Royals and Pirates may actually make MORE money in that scenario.

    Comment by David K — April 13, 2011 @ 3:08 pm

  26. It sounds a lot like a double-elimination tournament, where the team in the loser’s bracket would have to beat the team in the winner’s bracket twice to win the tourney, but the team in the winner’s bracket would only have to win one. I think that’s fair.

    Comment by David K — April 13, 2011 @ 3:12 pm

  27. Or just simulated games like they do in ST.

    Comment by Mike — April 13, 2011 @ 3:16 pm

  28. Here’s my proposal:

    1. Go back to two divisions per league
    2. Go back to 154 game season
    3. 4 teams in playoffs per league (2 division winners, 2 wild cards), 8 total
    4. Double-elimination playoff within league, but with added caveat that division winners must lose 2 series to be eliminated, while wild cards are one and done.
    5. League series are best 3 of 5.
    6. World series are single-elimination, best 5 of 9.

    Comment by Ken — April 13, 2011 @ 3:18 pm

  29. I donno, I think the NBA is the best at having the best team win it all, but it’s also the worst because it takes 2 months.

    That’s why there’s only been 7 franchises in the last 30 years to win a title. If you’re the best team in your time, you keep winning.

    Comment by Mike — April 13, 2011 @ 3:19 pm

  30. But what if all teams are within 5 games of each other and the top seed is only the top seed because they play in a weak division? I think that’s a little too unfair (but in your example, 110 wins vs. WC is likely a good idea)

    Comment by Mike — April 13, 2011 @ 3:20 pm

  31. I agree with you; I don’t understand why basketball has way more playoff games (and a best of 7 series in round 1) while baseball doesn’t. Look at these stats:

    2010 NBA Season
    Best team: Cleveland Cavs 61-21, win% = 74.4
    Worst team: New Jersey Nets 12-70, win% = 14.6

    2010 MLB Season
    Best team: Tampa Bay Rays 96-66, win% = 59.3
    Worst team: Pittsburgh Pirates 57-105, win% = 35.2

    Even the worst MLB team is going to win more than a third of the time. I can’t really figure this out on my own but I would think the Pirates may have like a 3-5% chance of winning the WS if they were randomly declared the Central division winner. IMO, the division round should be best of 7 and the championship and world series should be best of 9. I mean there are so many WS winners that leave fans bitter because they are barely even a top 10 team; most of them mentioned here.

    Comment by Nick — April 13, 2011 @ 3:23 pm

  32. I’m surprised the Butler and UConn final has affected you this much, Jonah. You’re reacting (overreacting really) to sample of *one.* Find me other recent college basketball finals that could have pushed this column.

    I also feel UConn is a very worthy champion (and I say that having no stake in them whatsoever). Winning five games in five days in the Big East Tournament is sick, and winning 11 consecutive elimination games is ridiculous as well. They peaked at the right time, and some of their younger talent matured. They have nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to apologize for.

    Yes, UConn was part of the brick parade in the first half of the final, but they played well the second 20 minutes. And let’s also credit UConn’s interior defense for forcing some of Butler’s misses (Alex Oriakhi was fantastic all night).

    But back to the broader point – small sample, dude! One game or result does not reveal a trend! Sometimes a final game or a final series stinks. That’s just how it goes.

    PS: Bruins in six (muhahahaha).

    Comment by lester bangs — April 13, 2011 @ 3:27 pm

  33. Glad you took some much needed shots at the NCAA’s bloated bracket and useless regular season. College Football unquestionably has the most meaningful regular season. I’m tired of fans that keep trying to standardize sports rules and playoff formats across leagues…..if you want to be a robot, that’s why we give you the NFL.

    As for MLB playoffs…..yes, the wild card did suddenly make being the best regular season team worth less than it had been. But the balance prior to this was in favor of powerful franchises and big markets…now with a measure of chance added to the 8 team MLB postseason, I feel the balance is just about right between allowing lesser franchises get into and winning a World Series.

    This is much more preferable to me than a NFL style salary cap system……

    Adding another round….I sure hope not….. switching from 5 games to 7 does make sense and it can be done without adding to the season by cutting out an off day or two. Easy.

    Comment by LionoftheSenate — April 13, 2011 @ 3:31 pm

  34. Lester, UCONN didn’t finish 9th in the Big East by playing one game. The point was that UCONN was 9th after playing an ENTIRE SEASON of games.

    College Basketball’s regular season is utterly meaningless.

    Comment by LionoftheSenate — April 13, 2011 @ 3:33 pm

  35. **The MLB Wild Card system also allows dominant teams that happen to be in a great division a route to the playoffs. Example the AL East the past few years.

    Prior to this, we witnessed the 2nd best team in MLB or AL or the NL sitting at home because of arbitrary division construction. Thank god MLB has yet to have a losing team make the playoffs…..the NFL should be embarrassed by the Seahakws getting to and HOSTING a home game. What a flipping joke.

    Comment by LionoftheSenate — April 13, 2011 @ 3:36 pm

  36. One of the issues in this discussion is that “best team” is ambiguous. On the one hand, there is the judgment of the sports observers, which will often not coalesce on a consensus, which is unsatisfying. On the other hand, *any* playoff system can by definition bring results in which the “best team” doesn’t win, but you get certainty. What is certain is that being the “best team” provides absolutely no consolation to Ohio State, any more than it will to the Rangers, Phillies or Reds (the three “best teams” so far, in my opinion) if they don’t win the World Series. No one wants to be the best team, they want to win it all. This seems right to me.

    That being said, this ambiguity causes problems which seem especially pronounced in baseball, viz. that the qualities most likely to lead to regular season success don’t overlap enough with the qualities most likely to lead to postseason success. I suppose the 116-win Mariners are the best example. Cutting out the crazy scheduling and off days would do a lot to minimize these problems, as would shortening the season (or beginning it earlier?) so that the WS was always over by October 12 or so to minimize weather interventions.

    I’ve always thought a cool playoff systems would be something like this: Assume eight teams:

    Round 1: 8th seed (based on regular season record) plays one game at the 7th seed for the right to advance to R2.

    R2: Winner of R1 vs. 6th seed in a three-game series with two of the three (all three?) at the 6th seed’s ballpark. Could even throw a doubleheader in there to minimize time off for higher-seeded teams, which would be a cool throwback.

    R3: Winner of R2 vs. 5th seed in a five-game series etc. etc. with the number of games in the series increasing each round to a max of seven or nine, I guess.

    Comment by bureaucratist — April 13, 2011 @ 3:39 pm

  37. A best-of-five series is not much flukier than a best-of-seven series (nor is the old best-of-nine series substantially *less* fluky).

    If you assume that Superior Team beats Inferior Team 55% of the time for any single game, the probability of Inferior Team winning…

    …a single game = 45% (obviously)
    …best of three = 42.5%
    …best of five = 40.6 %
    …best of seven = 39.2 %
    …best of nine = 37.9%

    To get to, say, the Inferior Team winning the series only 30% of the time, you’d need to play a best of TWENTY SEVEN game series.

    (Calculated using http://stattrek.com/Tables/Binomial.aspx)

    Comment by sourdoughboy — April 13, 2011 @ 3:45 pm

  38. 1. Abolish divisions, but keep AL/NL and balance them at 16 teams apiece
    2. Each team plays the other teams in its league 10 times each — two 5-game series (1 home, 1 away) — for a grand total of 150 games
    3. Playoff seeding based on regular season record; with each team playing a “balanced” schedule, things should shake out pretty well over the course of the regular season
    4a. Playoffs (all best-of-7): 4 teams per league; #1 seed in each league gets all Division Series games at HOME
    4b. World Series: Best overall regular season record gets home-field advantage and decides whether or not the DH rule will be in effect for the entire series

    Comment by Chris C. — April 13, 2011 @ 3:46 pm

  39. Jonah, great stuff.

    “fairness” needs a definition. “Best” needs a definition. There are a lot of articles on the internet about running cub scout pinewood derbies to find the best car. Is the best car the one that can run the fastest one time, or that can run the fastest over and over and over? Is the best car the one that might not be super fast at the beginning of the competition, but stays the same speed while others slow down?

    There are lots of math studies about how to best determine this. The fairest way is for every team/car to play every other team/car and to figure out who wins the most games (if I remember that correctly). There are a lot of math articles about playoffs and their ability to reward/predict the “best” team the most “fair” way. It kind of depends on what you want to reward.

    I do have one nit. Parity isn’t just about who wins the overall playoff championship. It is also about even making the playoffs. Baseball people love to only talk about WS championships, but not about the “larger” parity conversation regarding who has a chance to make the playoffs. I’ve never understood that from stats’ minded people, because it seems like you are rigging the answer.

    Comment by mike wants wins — April 13, 2011 @ 3:56 pm

  40. Exactly. You can come up with any playoff scenario, and there will always be a legitimate “but what if this happens…” situation that makes it seem unfair. There is no perfect system.

    Comment by vivalajeter — April 13, 2011 @ 3:56 pm

  41. The playoffs need to eliminate days off. That will force teams to play with a similar team that they used to make it to the playoffs. The playoffs favor teams with 1 or 2 dominant starting pitchers over teams with 4 or 5 good starters. The 2001 Mariners won 116 games because they had 5 decent starting pitchers with good hitting and defense. They lost in the playoffs because they didn’t have a dominant starting pitcher to pitch three times in one series.

    Comment by gu03alum — April 13, 2011 @ 3:57 pm

  42. Add another Wild Card in each league and have Wild Card As host Wild Card Bs the day after the season ends in a play-in game. Winner plays the team with the best record from their league in a series that starts the following day.

    The extra travel and, presumed, use of their best pitcher(s) during the play-in game, along with home field advantage, should be adequate reward for the team with the best record.

    Plus, we’d get 2 must-win games every year, keep hope alive for more fan bases, not extend the playoffs and return the premium on winning your division.

    Comment by Priv8Pete — April 13, 2011 @ 4:00 pm

  43. College Football unquestionably has the most meaningful regular season??? Absolutely not true.

    The problem with college football’s regular season is that most of the top teams don’t play each other and they are allowed to pad their win totals by playing patsies like Eastern Montana Bible College or Southwestern New Mexico Institute of Dentistry. They also rarely have more than a couple common opponants unless they play in the same conference, so how do you compare an Ohio State team to a U of Colorado team, or a Florida team to an Oklahoma team?

    College football needs to create a 40 team super division of schools
    that play 90% of their games within the super division. That would produce some win-loss records that were truly meaningful, then they could have a 4 team playoff to decide a true national champion.

    Comment by stratobill — April 13, 2011 @ 4:04 pm

  44. I’d keep the regular season how it is but make the following changes to the Wild Card round.

    1) Top seed in each league gets to pick either the 3rd ranked division winner OR the wild card team as their opponent.

    2) Wild Card is reduced to a best-of-4, R-H-H-H for the higher seed. A 2-2 tie means the higher seed advances. There is a travel day between game 1 and 2, but no other travel days.

    Comment by Mountainhawk — April 13, 2011 @ 4:04 pm

  45. I like your approach and I think you’re right, no 1 or 2 week series is
    going to prove to any degree of certainty who is the better team.

    But I think your odds don’t take into account that a team’s chances of winning can be dramaticly improved depending on the quality of their starting pitchers and how many off days are in the schedule. The 2001 Diamondbacks only won 92 regular season games but were a formidable post-season team because they could call on Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling to start a larger percentage of their games.

    Comment by stratobill — April 13, 2011 @ 4:19 pm

  46. Just realized I said 16 teams in each, so just go ahead and add two expansion teams (Portland, Vegas) or keep it at 15 each and switch to a 140-game league schedule.

    If you really wanted to keep the schedule at our around 150-162 games, you could take the standings at the end of the first half of the season and then do an interleague schedule, where the team in the NL with the best record plays the teams in the AL with the worst, second-worst, etc. records (depending on how many interleague games you’d want to add).

    Comment by Chris C. — April 13, 2011 @ 4:20 pm

  47. Plus UConn had Kemba Walker, who willed his team through the tournament as so many college basketball legends before him have done.

    Comment by Mike — April 13, 2011 @ 4:41 pm

  48. IMHO, the best a league can do is create as fair a regular season schedule as possible and then send the team with the best regular season record directly to the World Series. This would require the elimination of divisions. Just have
    each team play every other team the same number of games. Thus the NL
    could have 150 game season (10 gms vs each opponent) and the AL could play 156 games (12 gms vs each opponent). Or move an NL team to the AL
    and then everyone could play 154 games (11 gms vs each opponent).

    This will never fly because the owners would lose out on revenue produced by 162 game season and multiple rounds of playoffs. Their goal is not to determine who the best team is. Their only real goal is to maximize their revenue.

    Comment by stratobill — April 13, 2011 @ 4:42 pm

  49. Hey no fair – that was the same point I made earlier. 100% chance of advancing vs. “Bye” > 60ish% chance of winning vs. [insert random playoff opponent here]. :)

    Comment by Jason B — April 13, 2011 @ 4:45 pm

  50. I generally agree…but why 168 games? You dropped that in like it would be self-evident why that would be the most sensible approach.

    (I’m assuming so you play the other 14 teams in your league 12 times each, and eliminating interleague play?)

    Comment by Jason B — April 13, 2011 @ 4:51 pm

  51. n baseball, the most obvious move should be to ….

    … return to 2 divisions per league, and only have the LCS and WS.

    The thing that made baseball unique was its long season. 162 games to sort out the 2 teams in each league that play for a chance at the WS.

    Now, we have ….

    [1] a 2nd place team in the playoffs, and
    [2] Baseball in late October and November

    There are conflicting goals, so there is a conflicted system. I just hope baseball never becomes like the NBA and NHL where half of the teams make the playoffs despite having a 82-game season. The NFL can have longer playoffs, because it has a shorter season.

    Any additional round or wild card team that makes the system worse by adding teams that shouldn’t be playing and games that don’t need to be played.

    Comment by CircleChange11 — April 13, 2011 @ 5:04 pm

  52. We are kidding ourselves if we think that MLB will scrap the playoffs, a big time money maker.

    I agree, however, that the playoffs dilute the meaning of the regular season and its whopping 162 games considerably.

    From the purist’s standpoint, the solution appears to be to eliminate divisions completely and to give the team that finishes with the best record in the league a first round bye. This would mean eliminating the wild card. The playoff format would look like this:

    #2 vs. #3 = best of 7
    #1 vs. winner of #2-#3 matchup = best of 7

    However, this means that teams in areas of the country most impacted by long term economic decline suffer. The teams in each league’s Central division are generally Rust Belt teams. As capital has shifted from industry to manufacturing to service-oriented jobs, and from the North and Midwest to the Southeast and West, the franchises in these areas have declined, as well. The primary (although perhaps unstated) rationale behind the shift to the three-division format appears to be to maintain interest in MLB in these regions, which is a perfectly understandable and defensible goal. Which means that we’re likely stuck with the status quo.

    My suggested solution is to a) eliminate divisions completely, b) expand to seven playoff teams per league, c) give each league’s #1 team a first round bye, and d) re-seed after each round, so as to ensure that the best remaining teams are playing the worst remaining teams. The playoff format would look like this:

    First round

    #2 vs. #7, best of 7
    #3 vs. #6, best of 7
    #4 vs. #5, best of 7

    Second round

    #1 vs. lowest-remaining seed, best of 7
    The two other remaining seeds, best of 7

    Championship series

    Two remaining teams, best of 7

    World Series

    Each league’s champion, best of 7

    This would add about two weeks to the playoffs, which historically would be a problem. However, the planet is getting warmer, and many teams play either in domes or in warm(er) areas. The regular season could get off to a start two weeks earlier and we could simply play all games in domes and outdoor stadiums in warm(er) areas. Yes, this would be an inconvenience to a team such as Boston, since they wouldn’t get a home game until we were in the regular season’s third week, but home-away splits in MLB are not outrageous by any means, and you have to compromise somehow in order to resolve the problem identified by Mr. Keri and others here.

    Another point: Would the teams’ shooting percentages in the Final Four have been so lousy if the game were played in an actual basketball arena rather than a massive football stadium? I think not. And while I agree that it is somewhat irritating that the championship game was between a ninth place finisher in its league and a “mid-major” team that barely even qualified for the tournament after a somewhat disappointing regular season, it is also worth pointing out that this was one of the all-time fluke championship games in modern American sports history.

    Comment by Robbie G. — April 13, 2011 @ 5:06 pm

  53. NBA is really good at having best teams win it all because NBA has officials who make sure the best teams win it all.

    Comment by glassSheets — April 13, 2011 @ 5:07 pm

  54. The “no divisions” talk I keep hearing wouldn’t fly because the west coast teams would be at a severe disadvantage with travel schedules.

    Comment by Glen — April 13, 2011 @ 5:11 pm

  55. With unbalanced schedules or no interleague play they make some sense. If the AL and NL never met each other in the regular season you wouldn’t really know which team was best without a playoff.

    But @drtrix is right. It’s not about who the best team is, it’s about money. More games, more teams, more money. And more chance for fluky results.

    Comment by MikeS — April 13, 2011 @ 5:41 pm

  56. I hear you, David K, but 154 games would mean you’re only losing 4 games in a given location. You can raise the price of a hot dog from $5 to $5.25: they will do that anyway.

    Maybe more teams can play one or two exhibition games in their home stadium to offset those losses. In any event, if the game is better, it theoretically means more benefits for all. With 12 playoff teams. there will be several more clubs in the hunt later in the season, potentially generating more attendance and revenue for teams and local businesses.

    Comment by Sophist — April 13, 2011 @ 5:49 pm

  57. Eliminate most of the days off. No days off for travel, which would mimic the regular season. This would force teams to use their weaker starters more often, exposing more shallow ballclubs.

    Comment by Eddie — April 13, 2011 @ 5:49 pm

  58. Correct, if the teams don’t play each other at all until the “playoffs”, then you realy have no idea who the best teams are in the regular season.

    Comment by mike wants wins — April 13, 2011 @ 5:51 pm

  59. yeah, that’s my thought, too. Except you can make it a 3-game play-in. Would give a rest to the top 3 teams. I suppose you could let the top seed pick opponent—3rd seed or wild card winner, just to avoid a case like this. NYY: 97 wins Bos 95 wins (WC1) Chi 89 wins Tex 90 wins Min 84 wins (WC2)

    Imagine if Yankees took Red Sox 12-6 in season series to win division and then had to play them again, the team with second most wins league, in first round.

    Comment by Sophist — April 13, 2011 @ 5:57 pm

  60. …unless you play half of your games in minneapolis, minnesota

    Comment by fredsbank — April 13, 2011 @ 5:59 pm

  61. you dont want more baseball? what kind of person are you?

    Comment by fredsbank — April 13, 2011 @ 6:00 pm

  62. I disagree

    Comment by Boise State University — April 13, 2011 @ 6:04 pm

  63. If everyone seems to wants the best regular season teams to win in the playoffs, hell, why even have playoffs at all?

    Comment by lester bangs — April 13, 2011 @ 6:36 pm

  64. And the first structural thing baseball *badly* needs to fix is the joke of the NL Central having six teams vs. the AL West having four. That makes no sense at all. Play an interleague series at all time, problem solved.

    Comment by lester bangs — April 13, 2011 @ 6:37 pm

  65. one problem is that teams get huge revenues for post season games held at home because all prices are jacked up, so having a series entirely in one venue makes the visiting team get no money for their postseason games, which team owners would hate and never agree to. otherwise, the only difference i would make is that teams play each other either 9 or 11 times so that you can’t “tie” a season series 5-5 with another team (never liked the 18 game thing. no one likes a tie!). it just makes things more interesting. and personally, i would want it to be 11 because more baseball is always better!

    Comment by phoenix2042 — April 13, 2011 @ 7:07 pm

  66. My Ideal scenario would scrap the AL and the NL and have one large league that plays everyone an equal amount (5 games 29×5=145). Scrap the playoffs and play 7 game series 30 team tournament congruent with the reg season, based on the previous seasons standings. The top two teams from the previous regular season get byes. Finally, the winner of the regular season and the tournament are both considered champions, but they play each other to finish off the season in the World Series. The WS champ will still be the seasons grand champion. You get both the satisfaction of a meaningful regular season and the surprises of a tournament.

    The only major problem would be if the same team wins both the tourney and the reg season, but then thats the ultimate prize. You get all 3 trophys! the ‘treble’ for my futbol brethren.

    feel free to crush my dream season!

    Comment by ppabich — April 13, 2011 @ 7:22 pm

  67. Fairness and revenue are born enemies, and revenue wins every time.

    Comment by Vinnie — April 13, 2011 @ 7:27 pm

  68. “ineptitude towards the […] implementation of modern day technology.”

    It doesn’t need to be fixed.

    Comment by sleepingcobra — April 13, 2011 @ 7:29 pm

  69. I’ve been hocking a playoff system periodically for the last couple of years… I think the playoffs have 3 problems.

    1. The cheapening of the division title – Winning the division used to be a championship of sorts, in and of itself. Now it is a mere footnote on a season, because of the wild card (and, of course, because one division actually has only four teams.)

    2. The inequity of scheduling for wild card competitors – Teams in tough divisions, like the Blue Jays, have an inherent disadvantage when compared to teams in easier divisions, like the Angels. The Blue Jays might have been one of the five or six best teams in baseball in 2010, but they were never really in the race. Competition for playoff spots should be on equal terms, if at all possible.

    3. The “early coasting period” for elite teams – Both the Yankees and the Rays coasted to the playoffs because of the division/wild-card model. In a better system, the two would have had an epic September.

    I offer the following proposal:

    1. Switch the Arizona Diamondbacks to the American League, and the Tampa Bay Rays to the National League.

    2. Realign the league as follows:

    NL East – Mets, Phillies, Braves, Marlins, Nationals, Pirates, Reds, Rays
    NL West – Giants, Dodgers, Padres, Rockies, Astros, Brewers, Cubs, Cardinals

    AL East – Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles, Blue Jays, White Sox, Indians, Tigers
    AL West – A’s, Mariners, Rangers, Angels, Royals, Twins, Diamondbacks

    3. Division winners get into the playoffs. The 2nd and 3rd place teams in each division play each other in a one-game playoff in the home stadium of the 2nd place team. Winner goes to the playoffs; loser goes home. This gives you four elimination games per season. This is not a fair approximation of the marathon that is a baseball season, but it is the correct method, because it reestablishes the importance and significance of the division title.

    This system addresses the major problems of the current system. You can now have a fair unbalanced schedule, because teams only compete for playoff berths against their own divisions.

    As far as objections, the Rays would probably not be happy to lose the nine sellouts to the Yankees, but they would gain a potential revenue stream by increasing their playoff odds as they move to the easier league (right now, the Rays would clearly be the best team in the National League). The Diamondbacks would be moving to the tougher league, but the AL West is no better than the NL West, and does not have the financial imbalance issues of the AL East.

    This system also ensures that the Orioles and Blue Jays, the two teams most disadvantaged by the current system, always have a legitimate chance to get into the playoffs (as the #3 team in the AL East).

    Comment by Dan — April 13, 2011 @ 7:52 pm

  70. Agh, I wrote that a while ago… Rays wouldn’t be the best team in the NL this year, but I think they would have been in 2010.

    Comment by Dan — April 13, 2011 @ 8:02 pm

  71. It is about money, but not solely. How boring would the MLB season be for fans if the champion became obvious in mid-August?

    With playoffs you trade fairness for excitment and interest. As Jonah points out, it’s a tough balance.

    Comment by DJG — April 13, 2011 @ 8:18 pm

  72. If we’re talking about fairness, let’s also talk about how baseball is the only American sport I can think of in which it’s easier to win some divisions than others for purely mathematical reasons. (Hard to win NL Central because there are 6 teams and easy to win AL West because there are 4 teams). In a perfectly fair world MLB contracts 2 teams, and moves to two 7-team divisions in each league. But that will never happen.

    I don’t know why no one talks about this though…

    Comment by Fred Katz — April 13, 2011 @ 8:40 pm

  73. I don’t want to see the best team win—that’s boring. I want to see the most exciting baseball. I don’t know if that’s served by giving more advantages to the teams that win more over the season. Also, what happens in the years where the teams are only separated by a couple games? As you said, in a 164-game season, that’s nothing. Is it fair for the “better” teams to noticeably gain from such a small discrepancy?

    Comment by AndrĂ© — April 13, 2011 @ 9:25 pm

  74. I talked about this at 6:37 pm – does that count?

    Comment by lester bangs — April 13, 2011 @ 9:44 pm

  75. If you view the regular season as “everything that happens before the NCAA” tournament, UConn went 14-9 in division.

    The sky is not falling. This year’s tournament does not reflect some major problem.

    Listen to Bill James on the Pozcast this week, he says a lot of stuff that needs to be said.

    Comment by lester bangs — April 13, 2011 @ 9:46 pm

  76. more doubleheaders, LDS should be 7 games, and WS should be returned to 9.

    Comment by fredsbank — April 13, 2011 @ 9:56 pm

  77. That’s because despite the NBA being more of a team game than baseball, superior talent wins out in the end. You can put 9 scrubs – maybe not scrubs, but not “quality” guys – around LeBron James and that team still makes the playoffs and can push deep into the playoffs. Do the same with Albert Pujols and you have a mediocre team.

    Comment by BlackOps — April 13, 2011 @ 10:02 pm

  78. None of these ideas make any sense unless divisions are eliminated, anyway. We also need (better) balanced scheduling.

    Comment by BlackOps — April 13, 2011 @ 10:08 pm

  79. He “willed” his team? How about he was simply so much better than his teammates and opponents that it clearly stood out? UConn didn’t win because Kemba Walker made his teammates better, they won because Kemba Walker is a fucking beast.

    Comment by BlackOps — April 13, 2011 @ 10:18 pm

  80. Well, this year, Ohio State actually is playing CU, but that’s just bad luck on your part.

    Comment by BlackOps — April 13, 2011 @ 10:31 pm

  81. I am a huge fan of the 162 game schedule and feel the best team is the team with the best record. To solve baseball’s problems playoff-wise I’d do this. 1) First off balance the schedules and rid of interleague play. This way the records actually are reflective of a team doing better than another not of having an easier schedule. I am an A’s fan so this year we play Boston and New York in two series’s in New York and Boston, yet only one series each in Oakland (only 2 games against Boston!) and get Philadelphia on the road along with six games against the defending World Champs. Balance the schedule.

    I actually like the idea of a one-game playoff, it is crazy it is exciting. So I’d do it this way. WC1 and WC2 have a one-game playoff to determine the wild card. Then the WC plays the #1 ranked team (regardless of if theyre in the same division or not) but the home field advantage goes 2-1-2. So you need to win on the road or you are screwed. None of this one win and you have home field advantage crap. Make it worthwhile to win the league. Likewise in the LCS the #1 seed, or the next highest ranked from regular season should there be an upset, gets home field advantage to the tune of 1-5-1.

    World Series is an even 2-3-2 because it is determining the best team amongst two leagues that havent played each other.

    Theres my idea.

    Comment by David Wishinsky — April 13, 2011 @ 11:26 pm

  82. In the Korean League the team with the best record goes straight to the finals and gets something like 2 weeks off. And that team, SK, has won 3 of the last four championships. Japan has some different system but I’m not sure how it works. I think the best team gets spotted a win or two.

    Comment by nathan — April 13, 2011 @ 11:52 pm

  83. In fact the one year they didn’t win it they had the second best record, and lost the series to the team with the best record.

    Comment by nathan — April 13, 2011 @ 11:58 pm

  84. The BCS is the most likely to put the best team in the Championship and that is exactly why people hate it. I’ll never understand fans, at least not football fans.

    Comment by My echo and bunnymen — April 14, 2011 @ 1:29 am

  85. Personally I’m a fan of destroying the divisions in MLB, then having each team play each other 6 times (keeping the NL/AL format is a close second) for a total of 174 games. Top 8 teams make the playoffs, with a seeded tournament occurring. The series are best of 7. Makes the season longer, but I’ve never understood the issue with that. Spring training games could be cut shorter, and the playoff games happen in series stylized 2 – 5 (2 away games, 5 home games).

    Comment by My echo and bunnymen — April 14, 2011 @ 1:39 am

  86. Also the doubleheaders option is on the table. I’m actually going to head to Oakland for the first “true” doubleheader in a while.

    Comment by My echo and bunnymen — April 14, 2011 @ 1:50 am

  87. Bringing up the 19% shooting outing of Butler is absurd. Flukes don’t get much bigger than that, and it isn’t fair to suggest they weren’t a great team because of it.

    I agree that the teams that do best in the regular season do deserve a bit more of an advantage with regard to baseball, and adding more postseason teams should help. But if some team gets on a month long hot streak to win it all, they deserve it. The talent of each team is constantly changing with players improving/regressing, injuries, roster moves, etc…

    Comment by TC — April 14, 2011 @ 2:28 am

  88. Echo: You say that as if it it’s obvious. A system in which some of the best teams are categorically excluded (Boise, TCU) and in which good teams have zero incentive to ever play each other outside of conference play is the one which is the most likely to match the two best teams against each other? Starting from 2003, I can count two times that one can reasonably claim that the two best teams played for the national championship.

    (People also hate it because it’s mind-numbingly corrupt and a total sham, but I digress)

    Comment by Joe P. — April 14, 2011 @ 7:40 am

  89. He should have willed more shots to go in.

    They won because Butler couldn’t get anything to fall in the paint. 1-for-25. Some of defense, some of influence, some of it not.

    Based on that single game, nobody on the court was a “beast”.

    Comment by CircleChange11 — April 14, 2011 @ 9:19 am

  90. Boise lost to frigging Nevada! What about that do you not get?

    Comment by LionoftheSenate — April 14, 2011 @ 11:19 am

  91. People are completely intellectually dishonest when they claim the BCS doesn’t match up the two best teams more than every other sport. It does. Pure and simple.

    They are also lying when they try to argue College Football doesn’t have the most meaningful regular season. It does, pure and simple, deal with it. This isn’t the NFL where 7-9 teams are hosting playoff games. This isn’t the NFL where weeks 16-17 are mailed in. Why does fantasy end on week 16? Um…because the NFL mails in week 17.

    People are dishonest when they claim a playoff in college football would not weaken the regular season, it will, pure and simple.

    I have no problem arguing for a playoff, but don’t make us total BS to support your position. Admit you just want teams that had weaker regular seasons to have a shot to get hot and win it all. Admit that at least.

    The best team wins the BCS title 90% of the time. College Football matches up the two best teams well over 66% of the time. Without debate. BCS even matches the only two remaining undefeated teams 33% of the time.

    When was the last time the NFL matched up the only two remaining undefeated teams? Um….that’s what I thought.

    Comment by LionoftheSenate — April 14, 2011 @ 11:24 am

  92. Lester, the realignment makes perfect sense when you consider that it occurred PRIOR to interleague play. 16 and 14 are even numbers; it’s that simple. You can lobby to see it changed now, but stop acting like it was lunacy from the start.

    Comment by Matt — April 14, 2011 @ 11:56 am

  93. If you want complete fairness for the title, then it has to start with a salary cap. You can’t ask that the “best” team should win it if their payroll is 2x as much as the next highest payroll. Honestly, the playoffs are there as a form of entertainment, and to give the “Cinderella” teams a chance to win. There is nothing like David slaying Goliath. With that said, I think the system should be expanded to 6 teams from each league, but with a few caveats:
    – Abolish divisions and create a balanced schedule. This would mean 15 teams in each league, 154 games on the season, and a team playing their 14 opponents 11 times each.
    – The top 6 teams advance, from both leagues, with the top 2 seeds getting byes.
    – The four “wild cards” will play best of five series with only 1 day off during the series. When the series finishes, there is 1 off day and then the next series begins.
    – The four remaining teams play a best of 7 with two days off for traveling. When the series finishes, there is 1 off day and then the next series begins.
    – The ALCS and NLCS are the same as they are now, only with two days off for traveling.
    -As soon as both league champions are decided, there is one off day, and then the World Series starts. Which is a best of 7….

    This schedule would take a maximum of 36 days and a minimum of 21 days. I also think this gives the top seeds a decisive advantage. It also greatly benefits a team for sweeping their series.

    Comment by Patricio — April 14, 2011 @ 12:56 pm

  94. Back in the heyday of the Atlanta Braves under Bobby Cox, the team was constructed to win during the regular season with a large portion of the payroll going to a four-ace pitching staff (and frequently, a pretty good fifth starter) that was designed to prevent losing streaks and keep the team in any particular game during the regular season. As a result, division crowns came regularly for more than a decade. BUT, in the playoffs, where three-man rotations were the norm, the season-long Atlanta advantage disappeared partially into the bullpen. And the result was a whole lot less World Series titles than the Atlanta regular-season record might have warranted. It will be interesting to see how Philadelphia’s recreation of the concept fares this fall … assuming the Phils make the post-season.

    There is a way to make things work better for the best of the regular season in the long haul. Add the second wild-card. BUT have the wild cards play each other in a one-game sudden-death match on the Tuesday after the end of the season. Both teams really have to consider using their best pitchers to start the game. And if they decide to go with somebody else, that choice will certainly be one of their top three. And pitching on the Tuesday prevents that starter from appearing in the league semi-finals until the third or fourth game, depending on whether you allow for a travel day. That’s a clear advantage to the team that gets to play the wildcard.

    The new playoff system would have the wildcards play on Tuesday. The semi-finals between the two non-best divisional winners would start on Wednesday. The best versus wild-card survivor semis would start on Thursday. Two days of play and a travel day, followed by three more days of play, with no travel day between fourth and fifth games, if necessary. The compressed series timeframes are advantageous to the better teams since it’s likely four-man pitching staffs will be required to get through.

    The pennant finals will begin on the Saturday and follow the same process. The one travel day between games two and three, but no off day from then on. The World Series starts three days after the conclusion of the pennant series, since we ARE looking for the best World Series possible and the rest allows for a rotation to get it’s act together again. And neither participant has had the opportunity to earn the advantage that should accrue them whilst still within their own league’s playoffs. I still compress the World Series because playing November baseball is an anathema. This way, the champion should be crowned somewhere around the third week of October depending on the vagaries of the weather. And that champion will be the best team from one of the leagues on a more regular basis.

    And you know, having that second wildcard will give all kinds of hopes to the likes of my favoured Toronto Blue Jays.

    Comment by Gary M. Mugford — April 14, 2011 @ 1:18 pm

  95. So the East teams barely travel, and half the West games are in timezones two hours apart? No thanks.

    Comment by mike wants wins — April 14, 2011 @ 1:22 pm

  96. Great points, Andre. If one team wins over another by 1 game, that is well within the margin of error. Is it really “fair” to reward one team, and not the other with some playoff advantage?

    That’s why you first need to define “best” and “fair”, assuming you want your playoffs to be more about those things.

    Comment by mike wants wins — April 14, 2011 @ 1:24 pm

  97. Balance is mythical. Is it fair that the Twins missed on Hughes? How do you account for injuries and players being brought up or down from the minors.

    there is no purely “fair” way to schedule. There just isn’t.

    Then you argue against yourself by suggesting a 1 game playoff….

    Comment by mike wants wins — April 14, 2011 @ 1:26 pm

  98. “Peaked at the right time” sounds a lot like “got lucky” to me, just like my team (Giants) in last season’s MLB playoffs.
    I like having a lot of teams in the playoffs, thus giving a lot of teams a chance to win. What’s annoying is fans who assume the champion was by definition the best team or, thru some sort of arcane skill, “peaked at the right time.”

    Comment by GiantHusker — April 14, 2011 @ 1:26 pm

  99. Only a little…

    Comment by Fred Katz — April 14, 2011 @ 1:29 pm

  100. I agree that the BCS pairs up the 2 best teams more often than any other system.

    With the BCS, it’s always the “what if” situations, where the “what if” rarely happens.

    I think the other point is well made too, the NCAAF season is, by far, the most important regular season of the major sports. 1 loss and you could be out of the championship.

    Comment by CircleChange11 — April 14, 2011 @ 1:38 pm

  101. Except that we have unbalanced divisions and rotating interleague games and other things that make records not comparable. If the Rangers win 95 games in the AL West does that mean they were better than the Yankees who won only 94 games in the AL East?

    Personally I like the system the way it is (plus or minus a few things). Every game is a new day. The league that has first-round byes (NFL) also has a pretty strict salary cap, creating more parity from the beginning. Adding playoff byes to baseball I think exacerbates the inherent inequity in the franchises.

    Comment by Craig — April 14, 2011 @ 1:44 pm

  102. Mike referenced the tournament, not the title game. You must not have been watching the rest of the tournaments UConn played in this year, because Kemba was a beast during all of them.

    Comment by BlackOps — April 14, 2011 @ 1:52 pm

  103. The 2007 Rockies. They rode a hot streak into the playoffs, swept through the first two rounds, then had nine days off before the World Series. They completely froze up and got swept by the Red Sox.

    Playoff success has a lot to do with who is hot at the time, and you don’t want to break up that rhythm with a week off.

    Comment by Craig — April 14, 2011 @ 1:55 pm

  104. I still like the idea of 5 playoff teams in each league and have the 2 WC teams play a 1 or 3 game playoff to determine who gets into the “real” playoffs. I think that will give a big advantage to the division winners. Then you can expand the “real” first round to 7 games.

    I think a one game playoff gives the division winners a bigger advantage since the winner would not be able to use the starter, presumably their ace, until game 3. This assumes that the season ends on Sunday, the WC playoff is on Monday, and the “real” playoffs start on Wednesday or Thursday.

    Comment by twac00 — April 14, 2011 @ 2:13 pm

  105. The fact that the Twins didn’t have to face Hughes doesn’t prove that there is “no purely ‘fair’ way to schedule”. It only shows that on any given day, your opponent might be stronger or weaker than normal, due to injuries, pitching rotations, etc.

    But this does point out the absurdity of trying to determine the ‘best’ team by having post-season playoffs. The best team on April 15th may be a very different (and weaker) team on June 15th due to injuries. Likewise, the 8th best team on July 30th might be the best team on September 30th due to the return to health of key players and the acquisition of players from teams who are out of contention.

    The best we can say is that the regular season sometimes proves to a high degree of certainty who the best team over that six month period was. I say ‘sometimes’ because if a team wins by only a few
    games there is a real possibility that it was due to luck. Winning by 14 or 15 games is very unlikely to be due to luck, though if the schedule isn’t balanced then it could be the result of playing patsies most of the time.

    Comment by stratobill — April 14, 2011 @ 2:42 pm

  106. 174 games? With 3 rounds of playoffs as well? That is a bit excessive.

    That kind of schedule would just increase the chances that key players would be injured or worn down by the time the playoffs begin, resulting in teams not performing up to their true abilities. To me it sounds like saying let’s lengthen the Kentucky Derby from whatever it is now (1.25 miles?) to 2 miles. You’d be turning a race into a mini-marathon.

    Comment by stratobill — April 14, 2011 @ 2:47 pm

  107. Lion: I was, of course, referring to the 2006 and 2009 iterations of Boise State football with that parenthetical. They played football in years other than last year, you know. Now that you’ve blown the head off of that straw man, I’ll make my point again: Since 2003, there have been all of two seasons in which a team with a legitimate case to be in the national championship was not excluded. I agree that it often puts two out of the three or four best teams in the game very often, but that’s hardly more fair than any other current system. (And the NBA more often gets it right, but by nothing to do with its setup)

    You mention the “meaningful” regular season. I don’t see how a system which encourages scheduling the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Southwest Assemblies of God in lieu of a legitimate non-conference opponent makes a regular season “meaningful”. Moreover, because very good teams are categorically excluded because of the conference in which they play, their seasons are “meaningless” – winning all of their games still is not good enough for championship consideration in all but the unlikeliest of scenarios. You make the NFL comparison – at a minimum, I’d call the “meaningful-ness” a wash. A few teams may get to rest their starters in weeks 16 or 17, but the rest of the playoff spots and seeding are nonetheless always being determined in the last two weeks, and good teams actually play each other outside of division and conference during the regular season. I’d sooner take over-inclusive than over-exclusive, I suppose. Ideally, the NFL would scrap divisions and put the best four from each conference in the playoffs.

    (And for baseball, I’d get rid of divisions and send the best two from each league)

    Comment by Joe P. — April 14, 2011 @ 6:25 pm

  108. I think the best thing MLB could do is reduce/eliminate the off-days that take place during playoff series. One of the things that makes baseball unique among team sports is pitching rotations. The fact that there are so many off-days duriing the playoffs means that the rotation dynamics of the regular season aren’t mirrored in the playoffs. No other team sport has a similar departure from its regular season dynamics during the playoffs.

    Play a 7 game series in 7 or 8 days, and you not only stop allowing teams to use two top pitchers in 6 of the 7 games (something that’s impossible during the regular season), you also help address the issue of the length of the playoffs.

    Of course, TV contracts mean this suggestion is impossible, sadly.

    Comment by Todd — April 14, 2011 @ 11:15 pm

  109. the added playoff round will give the teams with the best record a much bigger advantage. For 1, they’ll have to condense things so they won’t have days off to pitch their 1 and 2 starter over and over again and it gives the wild card teams time to “cool off”.

    to me that pretty much fixes it. Yea it’s still not perfect but who cares. It’s fun and if Bud Selig would initiate something in the new CBA that says stations have to negotiate broadcast rights through the league instead of through teams. Anyone else already REALLY annoyed that the Yanks and Sox have been in pretty much every whatever night baseball game they show?

    it’s no wonder the WS had crap ratings, baseball has become regional. No one except the AL East powerhouses get national exposure.

    Comment by Anthony — April 14, 2011 @ 11:37 pm

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