Should MLB Eliminate the Entire Playoffs?

Over at NBC, Joe Posnanski raises this provocative question: Would Major League Baseball be better off if it eliminated the postseason, and just crowned its champion based on regular-season record, the way that England’s Premier League does?

He quickly backs off of that particular recommendation. The column is an enjoyable conversation with Billy Beane, who is both a huge soccer fan and a repeat victim of the playoffs, and Posnanski eventually recommends a dual-tiered structure, where the winner of the most regular-season games is crowned as the “pennant winner,” and then the postseason essentially functions as its own separate tournament.

“The season should be viewed as its own thing, starts around the first of April, ends at the end of September,” Posnanski writes. “Sure, of course, the World Series will still matter a lot more because it has history behind it and because, yes, we love our playoffs. But I’d love to see the 162-game champion recognized in a bigger way.”

This is a fascinating thought experiment, and it deserves to be taken seriously, ignoring for the moment that this would obviously never ever happen. The problem with the playoffs is that they are unfair to good teams. This is a different notion of “fairness” than Bud Selig used when he proposed the most recent playoff expansion. Bud essentially seemed to be saying that putting more teams in the playoffs was fair because more teams would have the chance to win.

Essentially, Selig couched fairness in terms of distributive justice. Posnanski and Beane would couch it in terms of procedural justice, and I would agree. I would argue that it is procedurally unjust for a better team to lose in the playoffs to a worse team just because random chance went against them. So would Beane. “The playoffs are a great thing for our sport – I want to make that clear,” Beane tells Posnanski. “But let’s call it what it is: we allow small sample sizes and random events to determine the champion. That’s how it is in baseball.”

The playoffs are a crapshoot, or, as Billy Beane says to Joe Posnanski, “a gauntlet of randomness.” They have only become more random in recent years, as the playoffs have expanded from one round (the World Series) from 1903 to 1969, then two rounds from 1969 to 1993, then three rounds since 1995, with an added Wild Card play-in game starting in 2012. As I wrote last fall:

Wild Card teams experienced extraordinary success in the first 17 years of the Division Series, from 1995 to 2011. In 17 years, 68 Division Series were played, of which 34 involved a Wild Card team. By my count, the Wild Card team actually won 18 of those 34 series, 53 percent of the time.

Through no fault of the Wild Card planners, it appeared that division winners were if anything disadvantaged by the time they got to the postseason. That extraordinary success is a big reason for the creation of the Wild Card Game, which was meant to make it a little harder for Wild Card teams to march through the playoffs.

The more the playoffs expand, the greater the likelihood that the best team in baseball will not win the World Series. Nowadays, fully one-third of the teams in baseball go to the playoffs, compared to one-eighth in the pre-division era, and one-seventh as recently as 1992.

So the two of them appreciate the purity of the Premier League, where the team that wins the most games is recognized as the best team that year. All regular season, no playoffs. Of course, they recognize that there is a postseason, the UEFA Champions League, in which the best club teams from across Europe play one another for a shot at being crowned the best team in Europe.

(The Premier League has another facet, realignment relegation, that some have occasionally proposed that baseball should adopt. But that is not relevant to the present discussion.)

One problem with the Barclays Premier League is that the same teams always win every year: since 1992, Manchester United has won 13 championships, Arsenal and Chelsea have won three apiece, and Blackburn and Manchester City have won one apiece. There’s no real parity. Manchester United almost certainly was the best team for the majority of the past two decades, so procedural justice was satisfied, but it still feels unfair, like other teams must not have even had a chance to win. That is why, as Billy Beane could tell you, the subtitle to Moneyball is “The Art of Winning an Unfair Game.”

That is why Posnanski ends up proposing something that sounds a bit like the best of both worlds: two penannts for the regular season, which go to the teams with the best record in each league; and one champion of the postseason. All would receive glory aplenty, and would help to correct for the role of luck in awarding the pennant: no second-place team could ever again be league champion, even if they could be world’s champion.

This plan is less ambitious than the idea of simply eliminating the playoffs, and is more appealing, receiving endorsements from Craig Calcaterra and David Pinto. I’ll admit, it is a nice thought to think that the best regular-season team would receive at least some recognition for its accomplishment, rather than being regarded as just another division-winner who failed to live up to expectations in the playoffs.

But I just don’t think that sports works that way in America. The point of the regular season is that it leads to the playoffs. The reason to do well in the regular season is so that you will be in a better position in the playoffs. As a rule, Americans have short memories when it comes to also-rans. We have sayings like “Second place is the first loser” and “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” A team that wins the most regular season games should feel proud of its accomplishments, but I don’t think that it is likely to be independently lionized for them.

Ultimately, that’s because we generally agree that the strategic goal in baseball is to win championships. That’s “championships,” plural — so, short-sighted moves that wreck the team in the long term in order for a better chance at a title in the short term may still be ill-advised. But the ultimate strategic goal in baseball is not to win the most games at the end of the season, nor to have the highest run differential, nor to draw the most fans. The ultimate strategic goal is to win championships, and all decisions should be made in order to increase the likelihood of achieving that end.

Giving a special prize to the team that wins the most games is like giving a prize to the team with the highest run differential. The only reason that run differential is important is that it is highly correlated with wins, and a team that confuses near-term goals with ultimate ends is a team that will make very poor strategic choices.

So, while I might agree with Joe and Billy that it is unfair that worse teams often beat better teams in the playoffs, I don’t think that the solution is to redefine the meaning of a pennant, because I just don’t think that the regular season and playoffs can be usefully separated. I’d much prefer to reduce the size of the playoffs, which will never happen, and to eliminate the stupid rule that gives home field advantage to the team from the league that won the All-Star Game.

I don’t want my Braves to win the most games this year. I want them to win the World Series.




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Alex is a writer for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times, and is a product manager for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @alexremington.


303 Responses to “Should MLB Eliminate the Entire Playoffs?”

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  1. danno says:

    “But let’s call it what it is: we allow small sample sizes and random events to determine the champion. That’s how it is in baseball.”

    And that is exactly why I love it.

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    • Yes, in many ways, it emulates life

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    • Vegemitch says:

      The ultimate small sample size and random chance playoffs that I can think of in American sports is the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Coincidentally, or not, it is the most beloved playoff in sports (other than the one game spectacle of the Super Bowl, as the NFL playoffs as a whole don’t generate the same kind of buzz as the NCAA tourny). From a statistical standpoint, the NCAA men’s basketball schedule is far too short, and the division far too large, to competently determine which teams are actually deserving of a more limited playoff structure, so the grand run off is both necessary and exciting as teams from different sub-leagues in a loose regional format face off.

      At least in baseball, due to the long season, we know that the most deserving teams will end up in the playoffs even if the *best* team doesn’t always win.

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      • Cliff says:

        But basketball has much lower variance. The better team will win far more often than in baseball. And the skill disparity is greater early on in the tournament. So the difference is not as great as you imagine.

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        • SoledadY says:

          In the NBA sure where teams enjoy a significant home court advantage and veteran experience. In the NCAA they have neither which is why there are so many upsets. Upsets being one of the main sources of buzz surrounding “March Madness.”

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        • Big Daddy V says:

          Soledad, it’s not so much about the things you mentioned as it is about the sheer number of scoring opportunities. It’s the law of large numbers – the longer the game goes, the more likely it is that the better team will win.

          Not to mention that in the tournament, you are playing a lot of games against teams that you’ve never played or even seen before. Just like FGCU this year – there was very little video out there showing what they could do against a tournament-caliber team. No one knew what to expect.

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        • Hawk Heckleson says:

          Big Daddy V::

          Law of Large Numbers goes both ways here. The more variables you input into a system, the lower the probability the expected outcome will occur.

          Consider that these teams are thought of as “better” without ever truly encountering every team that exists, every play, or performance of play types, nor every general strategic scheme.

          Expected outcomes are derived from KNOWN assumptions. As Rumsfeld once said: the thing to worry about is not the known-known, unknown-knowns, or even the known unknowns; worry about the unknown-unknowns. A tournament that is the culmination of smaller tournaments that filter hundreds of teams will produce a prodigious amount of variables.

          The unknown unknowns are insane. A tournment never had a name so apropos.

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        • Baltar says:

          Cliff, you must be watching a different NCAA Basketball Tournament than the one I have seen. It seems to me that the best team almost never wins, and it is not unusual for teams with 10 or more losses to win the tourney over teams with only a couple of losses.

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      • Mike says:

        I would argue that the fan interest in the NFL playoffs as a whole is much closer to the NCAA tournament than you think. And the gulf closes more every year.

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        • Synovia says:

          Agree here. Frankly, in my experience, the interest in the NFL playoff is much higher.

          Most of the people I know’s only interaction with March Madness is filling out a bracket and seeing if they won any money a couple weeks later. They all watch the NFL playoffs.

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        • Doug Lampert says:

          The four NFL divisional round games average over 34 million viewers EACH. I can’t find numbers for the wildcard round, but I did find a reference to carryover from the wildcard giving Fox shows that followed over 26 million viewers and an unusual ratings win for Sunday night.

          The numbers I can find for March Madness viewers are all less than 10 million. I’m sure the finals do better than that. But I’m not sure they do much better.

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      • Judd says:

        March Madness should be changed too. Get rid of the selection committee and reform all NCAA leagues. The NCAA needs to create 16 equall (size of school, tuition cost, academics, TV market, etc.) leagues. Each league’s regular season champion will get an invitation to the NCAA tournament to play for the national title. They will also be excluded from thier own conference tournament. Each conference tournament winner will also be invited to the NCAA tournament.

        All schools will profit share based on enrollment numbers.

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    • Judd says:

      The amount of teams in THe MLB playoofs is not the issue or the reason why the best team is not winning. The main factor is the schedule. During the regular season, teams play 6 times per week and have to use a 5 pitcher rotation. Recently, because of the playoff games are so spread out, many teams have been using only three starters.

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      • Straw Man says:

        The amount of teams isn’t the problem, nor is the fact that teams can alter the roster for the games. The fact that those teams play 21 games max to decide the championship is the problem.

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        • The point stands, but I’m not sure how you come up with 21 — by my count, it’s a max of 1 for the Wild Card Game, 5 for the LDS, 7 for the LCS, and 7 for the WS, which is 20.

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        • Baltar says:

          The 20 games max is small, but what is more relevant is that some teams face a round of only 1 game and all teams face a round of only 5 games max.
          Go back to one wildcard and make all the rounds best 4 of 7.

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    • thebamoor says:

      It might be “fun”, but an absolutely horrible way to crown the best team in any given year.

      You talk like a fan who never had your team who won well over 100 games in the regular team only to be eliminated in in the first round in a 4-3 series and quickly forgotten.

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      • Ian says:

        Well at the very least your team got to play and lose in a historic LDS that featured two extra games.

        As a fan of the Blues, I got to watch my team once win the President’s Trophy in the regular season, then promptly lose in the first round once it counted. Winning the President’s Trophy didn’t make it feel any better. It may have even made it feel worse.

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      • Baltar says:

        I agree with you. I can’t think of any reasonable objection to awarding a pennant or whatever to the regular season best teams, and then still have a post-season tournament (playoff).
        However, this will probably have no effect whatsoever on the American obsession to have a “best team” crowned, no matter how weak their regular season was.
        I am a Giants fan, but I barf whenever some stupid announcer or writer says they were the best team in 2 of the last 3 years when they were demonstrably not the best even once. They were just the tourney winner twice.

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  2. Kevin says:

    I’ve often thought about this scenario. In my opinion the best middle ground would be just a World Series featuring the NL and AL Standings leaders. The pre-requisite though is that each league would have to have a completely balanced schedule, which is problematic when there are 15 teams in each and 162 games.

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    • elkabong says:

      Yes, I think the scheduling issue would be the more major issue. The “no playoffs” method of the Premier League works mostly because each team plays the other teams once at home and once on the road for a “truly” balanced schedule. For this to happen in the MLB, the number of games would have to be a factor of 58, likely 174 (the closest factor to 162). No divisions, just a mass of 30 teams competing for one pennant.

      I personally love the idea, but I’m realistic in realizing that the playoff/division method has been around for so long there will be no changing it. Everyone knows the rules, so you have to play to the format you’re given.

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      • BL says:

        No changing it? Why? For nearly 70 years, pennants were decided in the regular season and the winners went straight to the World Series. That changed. Why is the current system so sacred?

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      • Jeff says:

        EPL has also other ways to make game relevant for the rest of the teams, not only the winners even without the play-offs:
        the 2 europeen leagues
        relegation fights
        final purse varies where you finish, so fight for 9-10th place affects how much money you get to balance your budget

        this still makes games relevant by april/may

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    • MidwestIsTheBest says:

      Exactly what I was scrolling down to post myself. My own additional thoughts on the subject: the biggest disqualifier is the size of our country. You can have a fully balanced schedule in England (or Spain, or any other European country) because it’s the equivalent of a twenty team league playing in an area the size of New England. With schedules weighted towards (pretty much) regional divisions as they are now, travel budgets stay manageable.

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      • BL says:

        Nonsense. Look at what the players make in salary. A few more plane rides is literally pocket change.

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        • MidwestIsTheBest says:

          Yeahhhh… But that’s not actually how it works. I mean, you certainly could try to have the players buy their own plane tickets, and then increase their amount of travel by a significant amount… I’m sure the players wouldn’t have any sort of problem at all with that plan… They could, as you point out, pay for it simply using the literal money that they carry in their literal pants.

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        • BL says:

          No, I didn’t mean that the players would buy their own plane tickets. The team owners are spending far far more on salaries than on plane tickets under any feasible travel schedule.

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        • drewcorb says:

          Still not literally pocket change. No matter how much money I make, I don’t want to carry hundreds of dollars in coins in my pocket.

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      • badenjr says:

        What was wrong with the old approach of only playing the teams in your own league. Remember when there were two distinct leagues? The winners played each other having not played each other before. I like that.

        I’d take it a step further. Realign into four leagues, geographically arranged. (7-team leagues, 8-team leagues, two of each… I don’t really care.) All games during the season are against teams in your league. At the end of the season, the four league winners advance to the playoffs. Now though, instead of fans of a few teams being interested in the outcome, everyone is engaged because they’ve seen the team representing their geographic area play all year long. Maybe players and fans would take more pride in their league this way, as used to be the case.

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        • Baltar says:

          I have been advocating this for years. Two leagues consisting of two geographically aligned divisions of 8 teams each. This requires expansion to 2 more cities. As an example, another team in the New York-New Jersey area and one in North Carolina could result in a clearcut Northeast, Southeast, Central and Western set of divisions.
          Two divisions would be combined to make a league every year. Two division winners and two wildcards in each league would play 4 of 7 series to qualify for the championship. I would like to see the combinations rotate so that everyone plays everyone else in 3 years, but that would just be Cool Whip on the pumpkin pie.

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      • MidwestIsTheBest says:

        BL:

        Okay, that’s fair. I guess my point would be that the increased travel expenditures, while relatively small compared to player salaries, are going to cut into some part of the budget. Will it be player salaries, and the players agree to smaller salaries? I don’t see that happening. What other part of the budget would those increased expenditures cut into? I don’t see that happening, because the divisional play model is built into the business of baseball, and I think changing it would have a significant effect on that.

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      • Travis says:

        Well that and they only play for the most part once a week. They play some extra games in other tournaments, but the Premiership itself is only 38 games in 40 weeks. Much more time to travel between games.

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  3. Brian says:

    “But the ultimate strategic goal in baseball is not to win the most games at the end of the season, nor to have the highest run differential, nor to draw the most fans. The ultimate strategic goal is to win championships, and all decisions should be made in order to increase the likelihood of achieving that end.”

    Sure, because we as American glorify the World Series. If the playoffs are eliminated then the goal shifts toward winning the most games.

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    • KJG520 says:

      This is the key point. North American Sports have a different standard of success. We, North Americans, are used to having champions crowned through playoffs and Europeans are used to having champions anointed by having the best record/most points.

      A large concern of mine is how playoff success, a gauntlet of randomness, determines attitudes towards players, coaches and teams. Making the argument that Joe Montana is a better quarterback than Dan Marino because he has won more championships is problematic and riddled with randomness and logical fallacies. Such is the outgrowth of the playoff paradigm, however.

      By determining championships based on small sample sizes randomness large amounts of variance meaning some players and coaches are going to outperform randomness and other under-perform and it does not necessarily reflect the character of the winners or losers of variance.

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      • Jaker says:

        You realize that many, many European sports have playoffs right? The Premiere League is kind of the exception, not the rule.

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        • BL says:

          Yeah, a few years ago I followed Russian pro women’s basketball for a while. Not only did eight of 12 teams make the playoffs, but nobody really got eliminated. While the championship was taking place, the other teams were playing for 3rd and 5th and 7th. Oh, yeah, the bottom four teams played a round-robin to see who got relegated.

          I still say this makes the regular season rather pointless. At least it was only 22 games.

          It didn’t seem to draw many fans. The arenas didn’t seat much more than a respectable high-school gym in the US, and they weren’t usually full.

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        • randy borrow says:

          actually, russia is in asia, not europe

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        • Gandalf says:

          Super pedantic, not actually accurate. It’s in both.

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        • Jason B says:

          “Yeah, a few years ago I followed Russian pro women’s basketball for a while.”

          Yikes. Did you lose a bet? Cable on the fritz? Live in Des Moines?

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  4. All Balls No Brains says:

    How about we do it like professional tennis, we just points rank all the teams and then put them in a series of tournaments every year. Each tournament has a team get recognized (Congratulations Boston for winning the April tourney!), but then there is an overall winner based on overall performance (not Boston). Distributive justice and procedural justice accomplished. Mind blown?

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    • Justin says:

      I definitely agree that adding some sort of award or achievement for monthly performance could get fans more interested in the game. The summer months can get a little boring to the casual fan.

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  5. Cody Kelly says:

    It’s a noble idea to recognize the best team every year, not just the World Series Winner. If you take that approach, however, who’s to decide the best team? Using simple W-L record suffers from the same variation as the playoffs, albeit to a much lesser extent. Do we use team WAR? Pythag?

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    • Luis Matos says:

      You’ve lost track of why we watch team sports in the first place.

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      • Paul says:

        Huh?

        The point is directly relevant to the premise. What appears to be unchallenged is the notion that 1) the teams with better W-L are “better” from a statistical point of view; and 2) there is a boatload of statistical variance in a short series so that “better” teams often lose to “worse” teams.

        If you are arguing the second, you have to acknowledge the first. And the first point is that even over the course of a 162 game season, statistically it is incorrect to say that a team that won 92 games is “better” than the team that won 91 games. In fact, because randomness is inherent in the game of baseball, if you weight all the variables correctly, it is probable that the range of outcomes would be much wider than a single game.

        This is where the entire premise of the argument is faulty. Variance is inherent in baseball where in other games it is not. Which means that annointing a champion based on a measure that is highly variable itself, would be the definition of arbitrary.

        The playoff system as it is embraces and accounts for the variance. Ironically, it is a statistically superior model for addressing the inherent variance in the game (with expanded playoff entrants actually helping) and crowning a champion, while simultaneously being mocked on statistical analysis sites as the merely the remnants of the traditions of curmudgeons.

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    • W2BTD says:

      Above is the worst post in the history of the internet. Why even keep score? Just total up the WAR, bro.

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  6. YP says:

    “The Premier League has another facet, realignment” I believe you meant relegation, not realignment.

    I do appreciate the “purity” of determining champions in international soccer leagues solely via the league standings (or “table”, as they’re usually called) but it would require not only a balanced schedule as most of them have, but a cultural shift that would be tough to achieve here. I don’t think we’d see relegation either, mainly because of the way that our farm systems are set up, and because we have the idea of teams belonging to and having rights to a specific geographic market.

    One idea I’d like for baseball that is also probably unlikely is to do away with divisions entirely. Let the 15 AL and 15 NL teams play their unbalanced schedules, and pick the top four teams from each league to go to the playoffs. Switch the first round to best of seven, give the fourth place team in each league just one or two home games in that round, and let’s see if they are still able to advance to the World Series as easily.

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    • Argh, yes, I meant relegation. That annoys me — after all, I wrote the column I linked to!

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      • AMAC says:

        Relegation is great. It’s a trophy without handles for the ones that avoid it and it’s always a big incentive to spend money to try and stay in the top tier.

        Sometimes it’s detrimental the amount of money the clubs spend but you’re never seeing teams lie down and wait for their beating. As a fan that’s preferable to watching the Marlins or Astros make a mockery of it all.

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        • Deelron says:

          At least the Astros seem to be making an effort to do it in the short term to actually get better in the long term. Now the Marlins…

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  7. Charlie says:

    Does the MLB and its teams want to eliminate huge revenue streams by eliminating the playoffs? Won’t happen.

    Although the “best team” may not win in the playoffs, the best team may not be indicative of record. Baseball is a game driven, somewhat, by variance. We saw it last year with the Orioles winning an astounding number of 1 run games at an unsustainable rate. Can record truly indicate the best team every year? No. Baseball is an imperfect sport, where the better team may not be crowned the champion no matter if there are playoffs or no playoffs.

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  8. SK says:

    It would be simplier to eliminate DS and CS.
    4 teams-per-league postseason, 18-game round robin postseason, the winners go to World Series.
    Equity and excitement.

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    • MrMan says:

      That’s the most interesting suggestion I’ve read. Would create some interesting scenarios. Six games, off day, six games, off day, six games. I think ties would not be that uncommon and there’s even potential for a 3-or even 4-way tie.

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    • Ivan Grushenko says:

      I like this idea and would add teams from other countries like the NPB Pacific League and Central League, and the winners of a tournament in Asia ex-Japan, Europe and Mexico. By adding more countries to this tournament you would boost local leagues throughout the civilized (i.e. baseball-playing) world.

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  9. MikeS says:

    A “league’s best record” trophy is pointless. Hockey has one and nobody really cares about it the day the playoffs begin. Ask any hockey player or fan whether they would rather win the President’s Cup or the Stanley Cup and be prepared for laughter that you would even ask the question.

    One problem with baseball is how different the post season is compared to the regular season because of pitchers. The post season is a little different in any sport, but more so in baseball. Jerry Reinsdorf once compared Baseball to Basketball and he said that in basketball you have the same team every night so the best team usually wins a best of seven series. In Baseball, you have a different team every night because the starting pitcher is the most important player in any given game and he can’t play every day. In the regular season he can only play in 21.6% of the games at most and that is 35 starts. In the playoffs with extra days off, he may start 42% of a series. It allows a team to really cover up a weakness or leverage a strength if they have a top heavy rotation or an especially weak back end and it is all due to schedule. They could not do that if they were playing six days out of seven like in the regular season.

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    • Anon21 says:

      I think Posnanski would disagree with you that hockey and basketball aren’t played very differently in the playoffs. http://joeposnanski.blogspot.com/2010/10/baseball-playoffs.html

      I don’t watch either sport, but it’s an interesting argument, at least.

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      • MikeS says:

        I think he agrees with me more than he disagrees. He points out that the better team does not have as good a series winning percentage in baseball as in other sports and he cites pitching as a reason later on.

        Every sport is at least a little different in the playoffs. Many have different rules even.

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      • Blofkin says:

        ahaha, I read this as “hockey and baseball” at first so I was pretty alarmed that you would then say you don’t watch either sport and yet you would be commenting on a Fangraphs article.

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    • DowntownChico says:

      This is Spot-On MikeS.

      Basketball and Hockey have the same lineups playing one another for seven games, so a truly best team arises, even in the first round. However, baseball is a game about depth (read: starting rotation, cycling relievers, platoons, etc.) and situational performance. Despite this, we see a shorter playoff series in the first round, at five games. Now, we see a joke of a first game play-in to further remove us from the foundations of what makes a great baseball team.

      Could we please just have seven game series throughout the playoffs? Whoever you let in, and however many are let in, just let the teams play enough games for a truly best team to be decided.

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      • rdj3video says:

        Agreed. A Best of 7 Division Series was needed well before this silly NCAA play in game that MLB now stages.

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      • Simon says:

        Why do we think that a best of 7 series tells us anything much about which of two teams is better? I don’t know how many times you’d have to play to get a good idea of which team out of two reasonably competent teams is better, but it’s an awful lot more than 7.

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        • kdm628496 says:

          however many games it takes to reject the null hypothesis that the probability of each team winning one game is 50%, with say 90% confidence. i’m not sure the exact numbers, but it might be something like one team winning the first 4 games, or 5 out of 6, or 7 out of 9, or 9 out of 12.

          the problem with this is that the teams could trade wins ad infinitum and we could never say that one is better than the other.

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    • Billy says:

      I dunno Mike S. Ever hit a message last year or in 2011 with Canucks fans? Winning the President’s Trophy was their Stanley Cup. They even mention it now, after 3 straight failures in the playoffs (and it looks like a possible 4th coming) that they won President’s Trophies back to back years. It’s not the Stanley Cup, but it’s a great achievement still.

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  10. BobbyM says:

    My biggest gripe is the new one-game Wild Card playoff. It severely hamstrings teams like the Braves that lack a true ace. The Braves had, I believe, a 6-game regular-season advantage over the Cardinals (effectively learning its lesson from 2011′s collapse to the same Cardinals), but found themselves in the unfortunate position of having to beat the one team you don’t want to face in a one-game playoff. They did everything they could’ve done to avoid that situation, but because the league wanted that one-game-and-go-home excitement, they had to play it. Imagine, for instance, what this means for a team like the Dodgers. They no longer have to play for the division OR the WC; they just have to play for the 5th best record in the NL. With Kershaw, they’re as good as a lock to move on. Whereas teams that pride themselves on depth are disadvantaged. This counters what we “know” about baseball. That one-game (hell, a week of games or a month even) is reductive ad absurdum when you’re talking about baseball. Baseball is a large sample-space game.

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    • MrMan says:

      The flaw in your scenario is if the Dodgers win the WC play-in game with Kershaw they are severely disadvantaged moving into their divisional series by not having Kershaw till game 3 or 4.

      Frankly your post just sounds like a bunch of whining. The Braves didn’t do “everything they could have done” to avoid the play-in game…they didn’t win the division!

      I also hate the play-in game but it’s ridiculous to think that a team with an ace is as well-served by finishing 5th as it is winning the division.

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      • The Braves have won the division and lost in the division series, they’ve won the wild card and lost in the division series, and they’ve finished as the wild card and lost in the wild card game. They can lose any playoff format you put in front of them. They’re versatile like that.

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  11. cass says:

    Just go back to two divisions in each league and have the division winners face each other in the LCS. Each division will have 7 or 8 teams and will be essentially equivalent to the pre-expansion eight-team leagues. You could even call them leagues and just have four different leagues with no divisions. Each division/league winner would win a pennant.

    This will never happen due to money, alas.

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    • Alex says:

      The division realignment looks a lot like what just passed in hockey, but I don’t think the amount of playoff teams would decrease due to money reasons, which would be the whole point of realignment. So half is possible, but not the important half.

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  12. Daniel says:

    The NHL does this with the President’s Trophy (given to the team with the best regular season record each season). However, no one ends up caring about it anyway. Every team only wants to win the Stanley Cup. As a fan of a team which won the President’s Trophy last year and then lost in the 1st round of the playoffs, I can tell you that the President’s Trophy means absolutely nothing at all…

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    • Majesty says:

      No, the President’s trophy means much more than the Stanley Cup. That’s objectively true. You mean that people don’t have as much of an emotional attachment to the President’s trophy as they do to the cup, and that’s true, but it’s not the same thing. People care about a lot of things that aren’t true (religion, most political ideology, voodoo) but that doesn’t affect reality.

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      • I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you’re saying. What do you mean that it “means much more”? How can meaning be objective? The whole notion of meaning is subjective. Trophies are symbols that are vested with the meaning that we give them. How could the meaning of a trophy possibly be objective?

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        • LTG says:

          I’m pretty sure you’re talking past one another here, especially with regard to the meaning of ‘meaning’. But at the very least this: bare facts don’t generally give rise to norms. That the President’s Trophy more reliably indicates the best team in the NHL than the Stanley Cup, fails to give us a reason to value the former more than the latter without a further premise.

          Also, what reality are you talking about? Both the value of trophies and the games for which trophies are awarded are socially constructed. Why does the President’s Trophy track reality but not the Stanley Cup? Why aren’t they just tracking different aspects of a single piece of social reality called ‘the NHL’?

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    • MikeS says:

      Yup. Ask the Blackhawks how much they are enjoying their trophy right now. Most of them have come out and said it doesn’t mean squat without a Stanley Cup. They have been saying that since before they even clinched the President’s Cup.

      Nobody skates around the ice with the President’s cup. Nobody spends a day with it. Nobody gets there names on it. The Blackhawks other President’s Cup winning team is best remembered as a team that lost in the first round. They are remembered as a team that choked, not a great team.

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  13. Dingbat says:

    2001 Mariners as retroactive AL Pennant Winners!

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  14. JD says:

    If your goal is a fair champion, then create a balanced schedule and crown the regular season champion. Any other method rewards a team for being hotter (or healthier) at the right time, not over the long run.

    If your goal is to make money, have a long season and a long postseason, and riddle both with controversy to keep fans engaged.

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    • cass says:

      Bud Selig actually defines his legacy by how much the financial value of franchises has increased. Not by how popular the game is. not by how good the game is. Not by how fair the game is. Not by how healthy the players are or how well they play. Not by providing a wholesome environment full of good role models for kids.

      He actually said this in his own words. So yes, I think there is a lot of truth in what you say.

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  15. tomdog says:

    Another thing to consider is that the focus of many baseball fans is on statistics of individuals typically accumulated only during the regular season. In a way, the regular season is “most important” and the playoffs serve as a fun (and revenue-generating) post-season. (In a literal sense of the word “post-season”) In this way I feel the regular season appeases the nerds and hardcore fans while the postseason is more for the masses, or the casual fan (and possibly a majority of the players).

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  16. MrKnowNothing says:

    for a long time, baseball had an NL and AL pennant winner, and then a WS winner.

    looking back, no one really cares about those pennant winners all that much.

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    • Anon21 says:

      My understanding is that it actually was a pretty big deal to win the pennant back in the day. I wasn’t around then, so I don’t know.

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      • MrKnowNothing says:

        people were happy to win it, sure, but historically, did it mean much? do cubs fans feel any joy in knowing they won the pennant in 1945 and are thus not at over 100 years without a Series championship?

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      • Oh, I think it was a very big deal. But that was precisely because winning the pennant meant playing in the World Series. These days, winning your division means bupkis.

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      • cass says:

        Winning the pennant still means a lot. Seeing the blank flag where “2012″ should have been at Nationals Park still hurts. Even if they had lost in the World Series, winning the National League would have still meant a lot more than losing in the ninth inning of game five of Division Series.

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        • baycommuter says:

          It used to be the pennant was a big deal even if you lost the Series. The Phillies ran the A’s out of town because they won in 1950.
          In 1951, “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” Everyone knew the Yankees would beat them in the World Series (they always won), but it didn’t matter that much to Giants fans.
          Even as late as 1980, the Royals fans mostly wanted to beat the Yankees after losing to them three straight years in the playoffs, losing the World Series to the Phillies was too bad but didn’t spoil the glow.
          Now it seems like your team is a failure if it doesn’t win the series.

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        • Mr Gman says:

          You can find that 2012 World Series Champions flag at AT&T Park in San Francisco. This beautiful flag is right next to the 2010 World Series Champions flag. The dynasty happening right now is the 2 in 3 years Champion S.F. Giants!

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    • RJ says:

      I think the 59 Sox and 65 Twins are fondly looked back on.

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      • MikeS says:

        The 59 Sox are not as fondly remembered as the 2005 Sox. Not even close.

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        • Dan J. says:

          I grew up in Illinois in the 1960s and the ’59 Sox were very fondly remembered. When the Sox clinched the pennant, Chicago set off the air raid sirens. It certainly was a big deal. Obviously, winning the World Series would have been even better, but to say nobody really cared is just nuts.

          And no one in the ’60s talked about the Cubs not winning a World Series, it was that they hadn’t won a pennant since 1945. Winning a pennant was a much bigger deal than getting into the playoffs now.

          Since you have to be near 60 to remember the ’59 Sox, of course more people remember the 2005 team. But if you ask fans old enough to remember both teams, I think they’ll tell you they loved both of them.

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      • Tony Bidwell says:

        Comparing the ’65 Twins to the ’59 Sox is absolutly ludacrist. The Twins didn’t even win the Series in ’65! You would’ve made a better arguement had you said ’91 instead of ’65!

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  17. LK says:

    The EPL is probably the chief example that shows why all the parity fetishists are missing the point. Soccer is the most popular sport in the world and the same set of teams are good basically every single year.

    I think soccer has a significantly better structure than baseball. The issue, though, is that there are too many changes that would need to be made to bridge the gap between the two. It’s not just emphasizing the regular season championship (analogous to the EPL title) and then having playoffs (analogous to the Champions League). Soccer also has the tournaments like FA Cup (which Posnanski doesn’t mention) where a lot more parity exists than the other 2. The truly great teams in soccer are the ones that manage to win all 3 titles, like Inter Milan a couple years ago.

    I also think that relegation, which the author identifies as a separate issue, plays heavily into this structure working. The idea in soccer is that you can maintain interest in the sport even when your team is bad. Even if your team sucks, you still might make a run in the FA cup, or might have a match that has a huge impact on the EPL championship, or need to win a game late in the year to avoid relegation. In MLB once you’re eliminated from the playoffs you have essentially nothing to play for (even if you play “spoiler”, the team you spoiled only had a puncher’s chance at the title anyway, making the chances you had a true impact fairly unlikely).

    While I think the EPL model is superior, it’s so drastically different that we’ll never see it in MLB. Making a change here and there to move toward that setup isn’t really appealing to me, as I think you really need the whole package of soccer rules for it to have the desired effect. Awarding a trophy for finishing with the best record in the AL won’t make a difference because most people won’t care – and the people that would probably realize that having the best record is better indicator of quality than winning the WS already.

    /end essay

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    • BL says:

      I don’t think the FA Cup or Champions League can be compared with playoffs. Those are tournaments. They don’t start with 162 games of sorting-out and include the mediocrities of the sorting-out.

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      • David says:

        Champions League entry is determined by performance in your league, so they are similar to the playoffs in that way.

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    • Adam B says:

      I was waiting for an FA Cup reference, I have been thinking for years that baseball could do an FA Cup style tournaments throughout the season.

      With the established system of minor league teams there would be a huge tournament between all teams top to bottom. Of course a ML team would still likley win the overall title. But one thing that makes the FA Cup great is you have Man U going to a small town with 2,000 seats to play a lower league team. In my mind this would be great fun, but thats where the thought will stay as it will never see the field.

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  18. SK says:

    As an European I have to say that the Champions’ League (a 32-team round robin + playoff competition among the best teams of the domestic competitions) is way more popular than the domestic comps.
    This season the final will be played between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, two german teams. Bayern won the national league, with an huge margin, but if they will lose the Champions’ League final they ‘ll envy a lot the Dortmund fans.
    Same thing happened in 2003 in Italy (I’m Italian) when Juventus won the domestic comp but lost the Champions’ League final against the italian AC Milan.

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    • kamikaze80 says:

      not really true. the group stages of the CL are a bore, playing small teams from third tier leagues. things really only start to heat up in the knockout stages.

      most real fans care more about their domestic league (not to mention, most teams don’t even play in the CL, and the europa league isn’t prestigious at all).

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      • Nick44 says:

        Why would only madrid fans care about their domestic league (La Liga)?

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      • SK says:

        Yeah, but the knockout stages are way more heated than the domestic leagues.
        Barcelona this summer will spend a huge amount of money on players (Hummels, Neymar, Aguero…) because they lost the semifinals of CL. Otherwise why they would spend so much? They dominated the Liga.

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        • Simon says:

          Football is fundamentally broken unless you support a Champions League side. It’s not really a great model for baseball.

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      • DodgersKingsoftheGalaxy says:

        CL sucks til the quarters and yes it seems most fans care more about national titles

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  19. mike wants wins says:

    Lots of good articles on “best” and competition. Most of them can be found when googling how to run a pinewood derby for cub scouts. Best is also an interesting word that can have many meanings. Right now, the playoffs are mediocre at saying who the best baseball team is, if you think baseball is about 6 months, and not 1 month.

    Personally, I would put EVERY team in the playoffs. The regular season would be about placement in the tournament. I posted a first draft of this plan on Fangraphs last year, I believe, but I’ll admit I typed it up pretty fast and may have missed a thing or two.

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  20. AaronEd says:

    How is this different than every other sport?

    Take football: Fumbles Lost on offensive as a correlation to wins: -0.543. But fumbles lost is a random event. So are INT in a sense. And in the NFL there is 4 quarters, where the lucky team can use the clock to their advantage. Plus, it is only one game.

    Another note: It may be random, but that is because there really is only a slight difference between the top 4 teams. This would apply to other sports as well. When it comes to the top teams, it would be near impossible to EVER know who is better. That is the nature of empiricism. Knowledge is restricted by the measuring stick.

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  21. Matt says:

    To eliminate the small sample size post-season, better to expand it.

    Hockey has an 82-game regular season, and a team must in 16 playoff games to win the Cup (1/5). Football has a 16-game regular season and a team has to win 3-4 games to win the championship (1/5-1/4). Baseball has a 162 game regular season, and a team only has to win 11-12 games (1/13 or so) to win the championship.

    Really, if you want to get rid of the small sample size issue, MLB should switch to a 140 game regular season, add an extra playoff round (or 2), and then expand out even further each series. So take a 140 game regular season, then have best of 5/best of 7/best of 7/best of 9 playoffs, for example, and that makes it a lot more “fair”. Get rid of most off-days in the playoffs and it will truly be a test of the best teams, not the teams that can best run out a 3-4 man rotation.

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    • Majesty says:

      That ratio has no inherent meaning or value.

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      • My echo and bunnymen says:

        Yeah exactly. In football the whole season and playoffs isn’t a large enough sample to mean really anything. Just because the math works out nicely, how about a 5 game season and 2 game playoff? Or 40 game season 100 game playoff? It means nothing to know the ratios of playoffs to regular season.

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    • Just for comparison, the 1887 World Series was best-of-19.

      http://www.baseball-reference.com/postseason/1887_WS.shtml

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      • MikeS says:

        I wish that were the case now just so we could see stupid prognostication like “Yanks in 14!”

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      • cass says:

        Whoa. I had no idea there were World Series in the 1800s!

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        • They were regarded as exhibition games, rather than official playoff games. The official World Series didn’t start until 1903, after the creation of the American League.

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      • binqasim says:

        WOW Look at the number of stolen bases. 70 SB in 15 games. and look at one of the pitchers? Pretzels! haha.

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        • mockcarr says:

          I bet they counted an extra base advance on a hit, passed ball, wild pitch, deepish flyball, etc. as a “stolen” base that year.

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        • binqasim says:

          mockcarr, you are right about advancing an extra base. Under modern rule, most won’t be steals.

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    • TheSinators says:

      I agree with having best of 9 series. What are the downfalls of this for the World Series?

      In fact, why not shorten the regular season back to 154 games, make the Wild Card round best of 3; LDS, best of 7; LCS, best of 9; and World Series, best of 9?

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  22. MrKnowNothing says:

    i like the playoffs shorter. the longer they are, the less important the regular season feels. in basketball, it’s not even hyperbole to point out that the good teams don’t even start trying to around february, and even then they’re just getting into shape for april/may

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  23. Jaack says:

    I’m not even sure that crowning the team that won the most games in a season is the most ‘fair’ way to say who is the best team. The top teams are generally within a couple of games within each other. Last season, both regular season league champions (Nats and Yankees) were only up by one game over the second place teams (Reds and A’s). While the 2011 NL had a 6 game difference, there was another single game difference between the AL teams, the Yankees and the Rangers, with the Tigers only one more game back. In 2010, the differnece in the NL was 5 games, the AL a single game yet again. 4 of the past 6 regular season champions only won their ‘title’ by a single game, which is about as heavily influenced by randomness as the short series playoff games. Despite being 162 games, I don’t think the baseball season is long enough that we can actually separate two top level teams in a truly fair way.

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  24. Majesty says:

    I think the answer is that the regular season is meaningful while playoffs are fun. Unpredictable things are exciting. Last year the meaningful result was that about a half dozen baseball teams were identified as being better than the other couple dozen, but beyond that we can’t really say much. The playoffs, however, were fun. The World Series didn’t even include any of the best teams and that doesn’t make it less fun.

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    • cass says:

      All because of Pete Kozma.

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    • Ivan Grushenko says:

      I’d disagree that the Tigers weren’t one of the best teams. Their talent level was a lot better than an 88 or whatever win team.

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      • BalfourRage says:

        The Tigers were built more on star power than depth. They were sub-par defensively and the offense revolved around 2 guys. Verlander was the big difference in the playoffs for the motor city kitties last year.

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    • DrEasy says:

      And that’s also the difference between North American pro sports leagues and European ones (and pretty much worldwide outside of North America, and even here as long as it’s an amateur sport). It’s the difference between competition and entertainment. MLB is a business and needs to offer a fun product (BTW, this introduces a conflict of interest, as the league’s revenue heavily depends on who wins), hence the playoff format. A non-for-profit federation, OTOH, organizes a competition among clubs to determine who’s the best, regardless of whether that competition is in itself boring or not, hence the round robin format (and variations thereof), and the fact that it doesn’t matter if it’s always the same team winning.

      It’s for that reason also that relegation won’t work here. In MLB, teams are called franchises for a reason. They exist because MLB decided there’s a market for them where they are, and if that changes they happily contract them or moves them elsewhere. The notion of “moving” Barcelona to Madrid would make any soccer fan laugh, because we’re talking here about clubs that pre-existed the competition, and the federation has no power over their existence. All the soccer federation can do is find a way to select the top 18 or 20 who have the right to participate in their competition. The federation doesn’t care what happens to the teams that perform badly and get relegated.

      Once you think in terms of business vs federation, franchise vs club, entertainment vs fair determination of who’s best, everything becomes much clearer.

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  25. ABravesFan says:

    If you do make the regular season means more, the unbalanced schedule needs to go.

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    • Ivan Grushenko says:

      Where would it go? How do you create a balanced schedule with 15 team leagues? You’d have to have a 168 game season or a 140 game season. Neither sounds as appealing as 162.

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      • Jason B says:

        Why does 162 ‘sound more appealing’ than 168 or 140? I’m not arguing for one or the other, it just seems odd that you’re strongly opposed to a number that’s only 3.7% higher than the 162-game schedule already in place. Is it the snowman shape of the number 8? The fact that it looks like sideways eyeballs?

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  26. Kevin says:

    I enjoy soccer, but the league layout has absolutely no place in American sports. The idea of only 2-4 teams in the league having any real shot at the championship just doesn’t work here, too many other fan bases will lose interest and the teams will fail financially. The idea of something like the Champions League doesn’t really work for baseball either, or any American sport, as no teams in the world can compete with our best teams since we are really the only country that spends this much money on our players.

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    • Ivan Grushenko says:

      Well other country teams might spend more money if they had the chance to win a world title that included playing the best US/Canada teams.

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  27. White Blood Cells says:

    I guess I just don’t think “justice” should have anything to do with it (as William Munny might say). Having a good team is important to get to the playoffs, but once you’re there, everything before gets thrown out the window. It’s not about who “deserves” the title; it’s about who does best in crunch time. That might lead to worse teams beating good teams, but so what? That’s part of the appeal of the whole thing. The Mortal Kombat free-for-all melee is exciting and unpredictable and excellent drama.

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  28. rdj3video says:

    The silly baseball unbalanced baseball schedule makes this idea unreasonable. How about every team just get a trophy for participating. You can’t script October so let’s leave it that way.

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    • Jason B says:

      I’ve seen several references to the unbalanced schedule here…does it bother people as much in the NFL? Does it make their playoffs less legitimate or less meaningful? I’m really curious; I mean, the unbalanced schedule is a MUCH bigger factor in a 16-game schedule than a 162-game one, no?

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  29. Sick Ducker says:

    drop the reg season to 100 games, with a playoff bracket similar to ncaab with seeding

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  30. Ams says:

    Why doesn’t baseball actually give the team with the best records a real advantage by allowing them to play the entire playoff series at home? Radical–sure, but not as radical as eliminating the playoffs.

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    • Straw Man says:

      Or give the higher seed an even bigger advantage.

      4 teams from NL and AL make the playoffs. 1 v. 4 is a best of 9 (or 7 or whatever) The 1 seed has to win 3 games, the 4 seed has to win 7 games. 2 v. 3, best of 9, 2 has to win 4, 3 has to win 6. Therefore, you can still have the excitement of playoffs while the regular season really really matters b/c of the huge advantage you get in path to the WS.

      I’d like to think this could actually happen some day, but I doubt it.

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  31. Bobby Cox says:

    Yes please. And can we award winners retroactively?

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  32. rtcrules says:

    The only top 3 sport I could see using the EPL format would be basketball. They have the smallest roster sizes and an abundance of talent. There are 347 Division 1 schools and only 60 kids get drafted every year. There is more then enough talent to run a multi-tiered league and the same 5-6 teams will still win every year. Will some of the teams suck? Yes, but that happens in soccer and they get relegated back a league.

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  33. Xeifrank says:

    Let only the better teams in to the playoffs and then make it a bit of a crapshoot. Just like it is. The English Soccer way is borrrrrrrrrrrrring. Especially in the era where teams buy the best players.

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  34. Wade8813 says:

    I’ve often argued that baseball’s playoffs system is horribly unbalanced, but that I didn’t see any solutions. This would definitely be a solution.

    I do think that soccer’s Relegation system might be a relevant side-note; if we’re going to talk about how one team has been overly dominant in their (lack of playoffs) system, the fact that some teams get relegated – and thus some players have even more reason to not play on those teams, matters. Players often want to go to a winning team, but they would likely want it even more if they had to fear being relegated.

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  35. JuanPierreDoesSteroids says:

    Lets use a combination of human polls and computers to pick the 2 best teams in both leagues. We can call it the Baseball Championship Series.

    TBH, I have actually thought about something like that. A system in which you effectively eliminate organized baseball leagues, and have various proffesional baseball teams organize their own schedules against each other. They could even, in theory, bring in teams from Japan or Korea to play. Then, the BBWAA would select the 2 best proffesional baseball teams in the nation to play in the World Series. I had the idea because I wanted to think of a system of baseball in which the Miami Marlins would be allowed to go out of bussiness.

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  36. hoser says:

    I think it is an excellent idea. What would make it meaningful would be adding money to the pennant. Just like a portion of the gate from the playoffs is awarded to playoff teams and players, a portion of the regular season gate and media revenue could be given to the players and teams. Give the pennant winner 24M to share with the players and I guarantee that the players will care.

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  37. DCN says:

    Should, but won’t.

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  38. Alvaro says:

    I think anyone can cherrypick his way to an argument.
    What if the best record (97 wins) goes against the second best in the LCS (95 wins) and the latter sweeps the former? Hows 162 games any fairer than 166?

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  39. Andriko says:

    When the same team wins the league (under EPL rules) every year with 20 games still to go, you’d start missing the playoffs pretty damn quick.

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  40. seth says:

    I think calling it a crapshoot is a little strong. There is something to be said for the competition that you get and arises when everything is hanging in the balance. Giving an award to the regular season wins leader would only diminish the World Series Champions and i am not a fan of doing that. Teams play for the rings. The one game playoff was a disturbing move and i would like all series to be 7 games.
    Teams and players play for the rings.

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  41. PackBob says:

    Of course players are going to hold up the playoffs as more important than the regular season. When elimination comes at a whim and a whisker, that is the necessary attitude. Any team in the playoffs has the chance to be crowned world champion, the one and only, which doesn’t happen for a league champion.

    For fans, it’s the opportunity for glory over a season-long emotional investment, not unlike the hope and hype of spring training, but in a bite-size time frame. For a fan it doesn’t matter if their team was not quite as good as some other teams if they can be the last team standing.

    To ask players and fans which is more important is the preacher asking the choir to sing.

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  42. Preston says:

    I like the idea, and I don’t think it re-defines what the meaning of a pennant is. Traditionally, before the playoffs, the pennant meant the team with the best record in the NL and the AL. In a way it would be restoring the terms historical meaning. Obviously winning the WS would still remain the ultimate goal. But winning the pennant would become the team version of an individual award that only counts the regular season.

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    • BL says:

      What’s utterly weird is that MLB insists on still using the term “pennant race” as if it still had any meaning.

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      • LTG says:

        Ummmm… Division winners get pennants.

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        • Ivan Grushenko says:

          They do? I mean some teams hang pennants that say XXX Division Champs in their stadium, but the NL and AL pennants go to the LCS winner. The latter are “real”, whilst the former are bogus.

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  43. David Scott says:

    I’ve advocated a plan like this for years, the main reason being that the division format can cause teams with superior records to lose playoff spots to teams with inferior records (see 2012 Angels and 1993 Giants) simply because they play in the wrong division.

    Here’s what I would do:

    1) Eliminate divisions.
    2) Eliminate the first two rounds of the playoffs.
    3) Create a round-robin for the last sixteen regular-season games. The top four teams in the AL would play each other, the top four teams in the NL would play each other, and the top two teams from each league would advance to the playoffs. We would give the pennant to the teams with the best regular season records after the round robin. A separate round robin for the rest of the teams in both leagues would allow those teams to finish the regular season. This step would have the advantage of creating 64 playofflike games, far more than the playoffs we now have.
    4) First round of playoffs: AL pennant winner vs. NL runner-up; NL pennant winner vs. AL runner-up. This step would guarantee that the teams with the two best records regardless of league have a chance to meet for the World Series.
    5) World Series with winners of the first round. Imagine the league rivalries that would occur if the WS had only NL teams one year, or just AL teams.

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  44. Frank Lee says:

    This author clearly does not talk to college football fans who all know that the only fair system in sports is a playoff. The bigger the playoff, the fairer.

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    • The bigger the playoff, the fairer? Do you really think that every program in America should automatically get to send their team to the playoffs?

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      • Frank Lee says:

        I was just being facetious, I don’t like oversized playoffs at all. But it is a noteworthy fact that this issue seems to be drifting exactly the other way with people in recent years, playoffs are touted as awesome and fair, while regular season records are looked on with what can best be called suspicion.

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    • BL says:

      Playoffs are only playoffs if they follow a regular season (which used to be “the season”) but then why have a regular season at all?
      Just play a knockout tournament and be done with it.

      Of course, they don’t do that because people are stupid enough to watch regular season games.

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    • sean says:

      Difference is that in college football (or college basketball, for that matter) there aren’t a lot of games and there are a lot of teams. You can’t have every team play against each other, so a playoff is fair for those sports, and the NFL as well. But in baseball, 162 games is more than enough to give each team a fair shot at each other.

      Unbalanced schedule, no divisions. Team with the most wins in each league after 162 go to the World Series. That way the best team in MLB has a 50/50 shot at the crown, as opposed to the 12.5% chance they have now. This system eliminates November baseball, rewards the true cream of the crop, and prevents mediocre winners (cough2006Cardinalscough). The only reason we’ve veered from that setup (which was the pre-1969 setup) is television ratings (read: money for owners).

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      • BL says:

        It’s true enough that college basketball teams can’t all play each other round-robin. But the NCAA Championship could be done, and once was done, with only league champs and a few at-large spots for independents and the like. The current system includes teams that barely finished in the middle of their leagues. Is there even a point in leagues or a regular season at all?

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        • sean says:

          Not a huge fan of the NCAA basketball setup either, just pointing out that a playoff system makes sense when it’s impossible for each team to play each other in the regular season.

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      • Synovia says:

        ” That way the best team in MLB has a 50/50 shot at the crown, as opposed to the 12.5% chance they have now”

        The best teams have a much higher than 12.5% chance, because the best teams not only have home field advantage in each series, they’re better than the team they’re playing.

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        • sean says:

          Then how come the team with the best record in MLB has won the WS just 3 times (one of those times there was a tie for the best record) in 19 years? That’s 15.8%. So no, it’s not “much higher” at all.

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        • sean says:

          also, the crux of the “playoffs as a crapshoot” theory is that a team that wins 60% (97 win team) of its games does not have a significant advantage over a team that wins 55% of its games (89 win team) over a 5-game series, even with home field.

          The 97 win team has like, a 55% chance of winning that series, mathematically, even after home-field advantage. The team that won 8 more games over 162 deserves better than to have a 55/45 shot in a series. The lesser team will always have a better-than-40% chance at taking the LDS.

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        • sean says:

          one last thing, the team with the worst record of in the playoffs has won the WS three times since 1995, in 2011, 2006 and 2000. The best record, again, has won three times in that span in 2009, 2007 (tie) and 1998.

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        • Synovia says:

          “The team that won 8 more games over 162 deserves better than to have a 55/45 shot in a series. ”

          Why? Why should we artificially inflate the win percentage of the team with the better record, when there’s no actual evidence that they’re actually a better team.

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        • sean says:

          If you win more games, you’re a better team. That should be one iron-clad rule among every sport.

          If there’s a balanced schedule, of course. Why should winning 8 more games over 162 count for nothing except one extra home game, while winning 1 more game over 5 counts for everything?

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        • Jason B says:

          “If you win more games, you’re a better team. That should be one iron-clad rule among every sport.”

          That is NOT true. Look at the unbalanced schedules in the NFL, NCAA basketball, etc. Weber State won 30 games last year; were they better than Indiana, Miami, Florida, Georgetown, Ohio State, etc?

          OF COURSE if you win more games you’re not necessarily better; but wins are OF COURSE one thing among many factors to consider, and as good a place to start as any (much like WAR provides us a starting point to compare players, but is not a ‘be-all, end-all’ of an argument).

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  45. bgburek says:

    The EPL format wouldn’t work at all in the MLB for several reasons. First off, relegation would be nearly impossible to pull off. Also, there is no such thing as the draft in the EPL, so teams have no motivation to lose games in the later months of the season. With no playoffs, there would be a controversy about a team such as the Cubs tanking a few games late in the season against a team in the running for the championship. Finally, the MLB would lose millions of dollars from TV deals and ticket sales from playoff games which would make this plan impossible to pass.

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  46. Dan J. says:

    What’s the best and fairest format is irrelevant. The only thing baseball cares about is what will make the most money.

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  47. Synovia says:

    Your entire argument is based off the idea that the team with the best record is the best team in baseball, and thats simply not true.

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    • How would you determine the best team in baseball?

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      • Synovia says:

        Pick a handful of teams at the top, and let them play each other… like we do now.

        I’d say baseball records over 162 games are probably +/- somewhere in the range of 5-10 games, maybe more (between luck, and the unbalanced schedule, it may be more).

        So, lets stop pretending a 95 win team is actually better than a 93 win team.

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        • Oh, sure. I’m happy to agree that a 93-win team and a 95-win team could have about the same true talent. Wins are like wine ratings.

          But in the playoffs, you often see 88-win teams beating 98-win teams. That is a better case to illustrate what I’m talking about.

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        • Synovia says:

          I’m still not sure an 88 win team is actually worse than a 98 win team. The unbalanced schedule is HUGE.

          From what I could find googling, strength of schedule in the MLB seems to range from .450 to .550. If you took two 93 win teams (.574) and had them play those schedules, here’s what you’d get (using BJames’s Log5):

          Team A: 101-61
          Team B: 85-77

          Throw in a couple games either way to luck, and I could see having an 88 win team being better than a 98 win team every couple of years.

          Atleast with a playoff system, you can say “well, when we put them together, B won”

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        • Very fair point, and I appreciate your doing the math on strength of schedule.

          But remember, unlike in other sports, in baseball, head-to-head record is not a tiebreaker. Not infrequently, teams lose in the playoffs to teams that they owned in the regular season.

          For example, the 2005 Braves won 5 of 6 regular season games against the Astros, but lost the NLDS to the Astros 3-1. Just last year, the 2012 Braves won 5 of 6 from the Cardinals during the regular season, but lost the wild card game to them. So I don’t think you get to preserve the “well, when we put them together, B won” argument.

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        • Synovia says:

          Right, but we’re talking about sample sizes of 8 games here. What’s to say the 2005 Braves were actually better than the 2005 Astros?

          A tournament may not decide who is better, but thats not the real goal. The goal of a tournament is to decide who was playing best at that moment, and I’m fine with that.

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        • T-Lu says:

          Well thats the beauty of the sport. Its the upsets in baseball that makes things interesting because it would be very predicatable in determining the WS winner. Like Marlins winning 97′ WS was unexpected. So playoffs expanding does hv its benefits such as more teams hv a chance to win. But cons is that the Team with best record has a better chance of losing. The MLB should try and balance out the schedule so we hv more a clear idea of which teams would fare well against one another so I’m thinking division games in regular season should be reduced and sort of hv a balanced schedule.

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  48. one occupancy says:

    Money is the only agent for change in the absence of concentrated, prideful power. (For better or worse). Once financial weight gets entangled with a particular outcome, feedback loops are usually introduced to protect and channel the money. The financial haves assume power (or is the power deferred to the money?), and their main objective must be to preserve, leverage, and grow their cash flow.

    So if you want to see any significant change in baseball’s reward structure, root for the Royals, Marlins, Pirates, and Rays. And if the balance of power (read: cash flow) begins to shift, hope for a disruption of the oligarchy.

    Because even the mightiest look drastically frailer at first sign of decline.

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    • one occupancy says:

      By the way, great article on a fascinating subject. The relationship between performance and reward is the whole reason this site exists.

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      • Thanks. But I disagree with your analysis. In my opinion, the issue is not that baseball is an oligarchy. The issue is that there are two relevant stakeholders, owners and players — management and labor — and both have an incentive to want more money; neither has an incentive to negotiate towards less money.

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  49. John says:

    The 162-game season is still a “gauntlet of randomness”–it’s just that the randomness is less determinative of the final number. It seems to me that changing the current system to any of the many possible configurations suggested in the article and comments would create little, if any, recognizable change. It would still be a question of variation distinguishing the teams at the margin.

    We could call the Nats the “penant winners” for 2012 because they won the most games (98), but calling that meaningfully better than the Reds (who won 97) is just as much a random variation trap as making them play a series for the title. Really, we should look at something like ALL the teams that came within 10 wins of the Nats… in other words, the Yankees, Orioles, Rays, Tigers, Athletics, Rangers, Reds, Nationals, Braves, Cardinals, and Giants. And now we just have a playoff.

    It’s true that the larger sample size means that it’s more likely the “penant winner” system picks the team that’s truly “best,” but it removing randomness is inevitably a futile exercise and the entertainment value we derive from a playoff seems worth the imprecision to me. Besides, as with all things baseball, the sanctioned truth is never what the engaged community accepts. I’m open to changing the way the sport I love is organized, but I’d prefer it be because it would increase my enjoyment of it–and not because it would closer align my opinions with those of MLB, the trophy-distributing entity.

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    • During 162 games, every team is subject to randomness, but the long season is not a gauntlet. Over a sufficiently long period of time, randomness just comes out in the wash. In a short period of time, it can be determinate of outcome. Over 162 games, randomness has far less to do with a team’s success than it does over a best-of-7 series.

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      • Synovia says:

        ” randomness just comes out in the wash”

        This just isn’t true. 162 games isn’t nearly enough for that. Especially when teams finish within 1 or 2 games of each other.

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        • I agree with you. In the long term, randomness comes out in the wash. 162 games isn’t the long term, but it approaches the long term.

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        • John says:

          Right. My point is that 162 games isn’t long ENOUGH for us to consider randomness washed out over that period. So really the regular season just tells us what teams are candidates for being the best.

          Choosing between those teams inevitably creates something like the playoffs. That might introduce more randomness, but the value we get from enjoying those games is greater than the marginally less random result of asserting a team with 98 wins is better than a team with 97 or 96 wins.

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        • evo34 says:

          “I agree with you. In the long term, randomness comes out in the wash. 162 games isn’t the long term, but it approaches the long term.”

          Easily the dumbest comment by a Fangraphs author in 2013.

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  50. rjbiii says:

    I say more randomness, including through the regular season. Baseball should resemble test cricket with each series the key factor. The Mets play the Braves in a three-game series, and win two games. The Mets get a win, the Braves a loss. End of season record is based on the W-L record of these series. World Series randomness every week, with some added bite to mid-season games.

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  51. Visitor says:

    I am completely with Posnanski.

    I know I’m pretty much alone in this, but I quit watching baseball at the end of the regular season. I don’t like the playoffs. As far as I’m concerned, the Nationals were the champs last year, and I really do not care that the Giants won the World Series.

    The only thing the playoffs accomplish, as far as I’m concerned, is providing fodder for the worst arguments people make about the sport. We’re all going to have to listen to morons argue things like “The Giants winning after not bringing back Melky Cabrera proves that keeping PEDs out of the locker room makes teams better!” and “The Giants winning with Lincecum in the bullpen proves that relief pitchers matter more than starters.”

    If they have to have a tournament, make it a big tournament of all (or nearly all) teams that doesn’t start until a month after the season and has nothing to do with the season. It won’t happen, but I wish it would.

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    • Synovia says:

      And if you removed the playoffs, 2/3 of the fans would have stopped watching by August, because by then, their team is irrelevant.

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      • Visitor says:

        Hence I said, “It won’t happen.” I figured someone would immediately respond ignoring that.

        How many fans are watching does not have to affect my enjoyment.

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    • Visitor says:

      By “the only thing the playoffs accomplish,” I meant the only non-economic thing the playoffs accomplish. They obviously also accomplish a ton for the game economically.

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      • baycommuter says:

        No business would operate in a way that would reduce its revenue. But according to Congress, ratified by the U.S. Supreme Court, baseball is a sport, not a business, and is exempt from antitrust law. Hmmmm…

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  52. A's fan says:

    0-5 in ALDS game fives. The other ALDS the A’s have played in was the only one that they won, and it was the worst of the 6 A’s teams to reach the ALDS (swept a superior Twins team in ’06.)

    Not complaining, just sharing my experience and why I have trouble caring about the playoffs. Fox telecasts sure don’t help either.

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    • Ivan Grushenko says:

      True, but the A’s weren’t clearly the best team in any of the five ALDS they lost other than in 2002, and they got revenge for that in 2006. If I had to pick I’d call the 2003 Red Sox and 2012 Tigers clearly better and the 2000-2001 Yankees about even with the A’s.

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  53. Robert says:

    Soccer does have a playoffs. It’s called the “League Cup.”

    Difference is, the League Cup is viewed as secondary to the regular season trophy.

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    • Michael says:

      There are generally two cups, in England there is the FA Cup the more prestigious one and then the League Cup. This is mirrored throughout Europe.

      I think perhaps a Champions League group style initial playoff between the top 4 in each league might be an option.

      I like the playoffs, though oddly I get bored of it by the World Series.

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  54. Andrew says:

    TL;DR: If you’re not first, you’re last.

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  55. Mike G says:

    I don’t like the short playoff series. 5 games series is bad enough, 1 game playoff for the wild card is just plain asinine. Puts too much emphasis on having one or two dominant starting pitchers whereas having a winning regular season requires depth in a 5-man rotation.

    IMO Every round of the playoff in baseball should be 7 games. Go back to even numbers of teams in each league. Eliminate all interleague except perhaps a few exhibition series, which should only be used as tiebreakers in determining the standings.

    Division champions + two wild cards get into the playoffs. Then play three rounds of 7 game series.

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  56. Shaun says:

    A true, best-of-both-worlds scenario would be to truly seed teams in terms of regular season success. It seems there are at least a few ways to do this without reducing the size of the playoffs. Here’s the most obvious:

    MLB could keep the current system and, instead of two wild card teams playing in the one-game playoff, the teams with the worst regular season records would face off in the one-game round. Either eliminate divisions or keep it as is. Even if MLB kept the current divisional alignment, winning a division would still mean a little something because it would still be possible for the worst division winner to be worse than a second wild card team. But the team with the worst record, not just an inferior team that won a weak division, would be forced to take the path of the one-game round.

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  57. Pat says:

    I remember thinking when I was a kid, I don’t want to win a World Series, I just want to win a whole bunch of games!!!

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  58. Matt Thurlow says:

    Worst issue is the unbalanced schedule. Its all well and good to say for example if Texas win 97 this year and Boston or the Yankees win 95 Texas are the best team in the AL. Factoring in a possibly historically bad Astros – is this actually true?

    Dump interleague, dump the unbalanced schedule and go back to Division Series, Championship Series and WS but make all best of 7. Either that or scrap divisions entirely. Can’t stand how much the unbalanced schedule effects standings yet is never really discussed about how this “skews” W/L %.

    Oh and using the English PM as an example doesnt work. I’m from the UK and the parity that exisits is a myth. No revenue sharing and the imbalance caused by the haves/have nots trying to compete simply to stay in the league doensttranslate. In addition teams are overspending to try to compete (see Portsmouth, QPR) and are close to going out of existence. Would anyone want a MLB team to dissapear? (ok Miami excluded)

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    • BL says:

      I’m not sure why you mention “scrap divisions” as an afterthought. A “balanced” schedule with divisions is just silly. What’s the point of divisions if you’re not playing those teams more often?

      (I wonder why nobody mentions “unbalanced schedules” when talking about the NFL.)

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  59. Larry says:

    It is real easy to fix the Wild card problem. Add 2 more teams and make 4 Divisions (North, South, East, West). Then No more wild card at all is needed! You also go back to a simple back & forth for home field advantage for the World Series. Division Series is 7 games, League Champions Series is 7, World Series is 7.

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    • Ivan Grushenko says:

      This will never happen since it would mean the Yankees and Red Sox couldn’t both make the playoffs….unless you put them in different divisions and that would mean that they’d play each other fewer times.

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  60. Jim Radburn says:

    Get rid of Charlie Manuel of the Phillies. This guy is the dumbest manager that I have ever seen. He rarely bunts and always plays against the odds. His batting and pitching coaches are pathetic also.

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  61. John says:

    First off due away with the DH in baseball, this will put more strategy in the game. Second due away with the All-star winner hosting the first game. Finally have league winners with the best season record, wait and play the winner of the teams in the playoffs who finish 2,3 4 and 5. This will get more teams in and the almighty dollar will not be lost.

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  62. Larry Blaze says:

    Some things to remember:
    Whole idea of wild cards being implemented is to keep fans interested in the regular season….no fun or reason to go to games if your team is way out of the race

    Baseball for economic and labor reasons is welded to a 162 game schedule. Any planning seems to have to work around that.

    They can’t ignore the calendar. Look at all the snow this year in Denver and Minneapolis. That is a real risk with playoffs running so deep into October. To extend the season longer would require a real change in so far as venue: Move the final series, aka World Series, to a neutral site/warm weather or domed field.

    Considering the number of fans who travel to the Super Bowls or BCS/college bowl games, it seems feasible baseball fans would be able to get on charter flights to the WS in Miami or Phoenix for a few days. Imagine the feel of the stadium for those games with both teams having significant fan support. I think it would be quite an experience for the fans and the players would really love it, especially since Fox has them starting games at 820 PM in the east with temps in the 40′s. At least they’d be able to sweat without risking getting sick.

    Brings one question to mind though: If a 40 degree temp is cold for baseball and fans use it as an excuse not to go, how is it that NFL playoff games in January are being played at night in temps sometimes in the 20′s and it’s OK and everyone shows?

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  63. Bryan says:

    Like it or not, the playoffs in north america mean more culturally and symbolically than an afternoon game in May. The fans care more. The coaches care more. The players definitely care more. You’re fighting against Durkheimian totemic symbols (hey, I gotta put my Sociology degree to use somehow). I mean, in this regular season win total scenario, you could have Texas beating the Astros to determine the “best team” in the last game. Yawn.

    Are you saying you want to eliminate the situations and excitement that only a playoff atmosphere can produce? Its a bit like two sides of the same coin. You’re focusing on the small sample size of the playoffs, and how that spoils everything, while I am focusing on the higher leverage situations that the playoffs create. I like that. The extra inning debate: waste next game’s starting pitcher, or put your worst reliever out there? Or the pull the pitcher debate: pull a strong starter early, hoping he can pitch on 3/4 days rest, or do you keep him to be safe? And on it goes: the playoffs force new situations, situations that never happen in the regular season because the games don’t matter as much. And I think that side of the story is missing from this otherwise excellent piece.

    Cheesy line to finish: pressure creates (better baseball) diamonds.

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    • BL says:

      So maybe the right question is: should we just eliminate the regular season? Remember, playoffs are the latecomer. The regular season (when it was just called “the season”) decided league championships originally. If it no longer does that, does it have a purpose? 162 games is a bit long for “group stages”, which is all it is anymore.

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  64. Nathan says:

    I’ve always wondered this. What is it in the world of North American sports culture that draws us to small sample size tournaments as being a better way to crown a champion than the long sample size seasons that are played before-hand?

    Definitely, it would be more rational to award the primary trophy to the team that proves to be the best over the large sample size. But I will fully admit, I’d cry like a baby if the NHL playoffs were devalued. Baseball’s postseason doesn’t have the same luster and excitement, but it would still be disappointing to lose a lot of the legend of the Fall Classic, those October/November hot streaks, etc.

    In the end, my theory as to why we’ve come to be playoff-focused on our sports in America is because to have regular seasons that were balanced would be costly and difficult due to the geographic size of the U.S. and Canada. The travel is rough enough for certain teams in each major league, but if you had to ensure each team played each other team an equal number of times, it would be even worse. So, once it was established that travel made an optimal, balanced schedule unlikely, why not do playoffs?

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  65. bobabaloo says:

    then we realize its just sports, its entertainment, are the playoffs are much more entertaining the watching the standings. life aint fair and neither is baseball

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  66. Tim says:

    With each team not playing the other teams an even amount, you turn a ‘crapshoot’ of the playoffs into a ‘crapshoot’ of which division you are in.

    The reason Wild Card teams see decent rates of success is because often the second best team from a power division is better than a division winner in a weak division.

    This ignores the randomness injuries play on a season, there’s better times to be injured (ie: weak schedule stretches).

    Faring well in the playoffs requires a lot more management of the roster, and while it might negatively impact some ‘thrill’ areas of baseball it makes the game more interesting than watching a weak division team having a distinct advantage from wire to wire.

    Unless they paired the divisions down by removing the teams that refuse to put out competitive teams (its still a business) and standardized schedules (at which point you have travel disadvantages) .. the playoffs really are the best way to determine a champion.

    At least the series’ are longer than one game, look at the NFL and how many times the top record team is one-and-done.

    With 7 game series’, its a lot less ‘random.’

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    • BL says:

      “removing the teams that refuse to put out competitive teams”

      That’s the advantage of the European promotion/relegation thing. The non-competitive teams end up playing before 500 people in Nowhere-by-the-Sea and the Man U’s (and their fans) don’t even see them.

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  67. No f***ing way Playoffs are the most important thing in baseball

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  68. ron says:

    Interleague Baseball should be eliminated. Ever since the 1994 baseball strike and cancellation of the World Series Commissioner Bud Selig has been making a mockery of the sport of Baseball ever since. Traditions are gone Leagues don’t mean anything and the precious playoffs are a excuse to make money from TV networks. Baseball should go back to the system they had pre 1994.

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    • Ivan Grushenko says:

      MLB wants the leagues to mean less and less. It makes the future radical realignment easier.

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  69. David says:

    If we want to crown a league champion in the most statistically relevant way possible we’d have to eliminate the AL and NL and have every team play a balanced schedule at least. You’d probably also need to homogenize the stadiums. If we’re going to drastically change baseball then there’s a lot of tradition that should be reexamined too.

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  70. Anne says:

    Ithink this year it should be decided on the team records as of 5/3/13. Go Red Sox !!!

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  71. xenotech says:

    Is this guy even a baseball fan? Billy Beane is just resentful because his one A’s team that got hot the second half of the season got beat by the yankees. Note to Beane: There’s no crying in baseball. No one is going to X the world series and playoffs cause you can’t put together a champion.

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  72. Vancity says:

    Vancouver Canuck fans are so proud of their President’s Trophy win two years in a row (2011 and 2012)… said no one. I can see it now. On the last day of the season, the Boston Bruins beat the Nashville Predators in a shootout win to edge out the Canucks by 1 point and win the glorious “best team in the league by most statistically appropriate method,” and Vancouver erupts into a violent riot, burning down the overpriced condo units.

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  73. Baseballman says:

    I think to call a team that barely finishes over .500 the Champion of baseball is a mockery of the game. We have an NL and an AL and the 2 best teams during the season should be in the World Series. It worked for 70 years and we ALWAYS had the best teams playing each other in the series, now we get teams that can’t win their division being called World Series Champions!! Money is the reason it will never change… but I hate it!

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    • Ivan Grushenko says:

      It didn’t work for 70 years. If it had we would still have the Boston Braves, St Louis Browns, Philadelphia Athletics, Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants. The problem with the original 16 team format was that the weaker teams were so crappy financially that they had to move. Even pretty good teams like the 1957 Giants drew very poorly.

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      • The Brooklyn Dodgers’ problem was real estate. Ebbets Field was small and had very little parking, so their attendance was being artificially constrained. It was a popular team. They wanted to move to a spot in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, but Robert Moses — who controlled basically everything in the city — wouldn’t allow it, because he wanted to offer the Navy Yard in a sweetheart deal to Fred Trump, Donald Trump’s dad. Instead, Robert Moses offered the Dodgers a spot in Flushing, Queens. They turned it down, saying that they’d rather move to California than Queens.

        The Flushing site later became the home of Shea Stadium. The Navy Yard site lay unused for decades, because Fred Trump didn’t want to do anything, and it was just renovated for the Brooklyn Nets.

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  74. trey7 says:

    Too many playoff teams! Devalues the too-long regular season.
    Either shorten the season (by ~a month or ~20 games) OR…

    get rid of BOTH ‘Wild Card’ teams (unnecessary) and have the 2nd and 3rd best division winners play the 1 game playoff and then that team plays a best of 5 @ the best record team, ALL 5 games–that way the best league record actually wins something for winning the best league record.

    Then the 2 winners play in the World Series, with home field advantage going to the better record team.

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  75. Jeffrey Lauria says:

    Expand the playoffs to 32 teams, and let owners of any team south of 26N longitude pay their players in Confederate money.

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  76. Bernice says:

    you would need to get rid of division then, and have everyone play each other an equal amount.

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  77. People hate that the home team is decided by the All Star game but they forget that it was even more stupid the old way: it alternated between AL and NL each year. How assinine is that? How is that better than letting the All-Star game decide the home team?

    Don’t knock the rule without giving a better alternative, as the prior alternative was not better.

    About Verlander, what he did is on the manager’s head. The manager should have made it clear to Justin what he should be doing on the mound. He should have made it clear to his team that they are there to win the game.

    Yes, it is a fan’s game and to that point, we want to see Verlander at his best trying to get the best NL hitters, not for him to be a batting practice pitcher. That’s why they call it the All-Star game and not the “Hit a Homerun” game.

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    • Alternating between years makes a lot more sense than trying to pretend that one of the two leagues has earned it after a single meaningless exhibition game.

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      • It’s meaningless when the manager treats it in that way.

        And I’m still not seeing any great alternatives. Alternating is a stupid method no matter how you want to slice it.

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        • Oh, sure, it’s dumb as bricks. But at least it’s simple. Tying it to the All-Star Game adds a layer of unnecessary complexity, and moreover, it further disadvantages the National League — the NL is already at a slight disadvantage against the AL, because AL teams are likely better equipped to hit with a pitcher in the lineup than NL teams are to play with a DH, so when the NL loses the All-Star Game the NL team in the World Series is at a double disadvantage.

          It’s not a huge deal, but there’s just no real good rationale to tie the ASG to the WS, and so I’d prefer that they just go back to the previous stupid but predictable method of allocating home field.

          Or, hell, they could do it the way other sports do it: give it to the team that won more games in the regular season, and if they had the same record, they could go on head-to-head record if they’d played each other in the season, and if that didn’t resolve it they could flip a coin.

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    • msg333 says:

      We have interleague play. Best way to determine HFA in the world series is best record against common opponents.

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  78. Kay Clark says:

    Joe Posnanski is an idiot blow-hard who thinks he knows baseball but doesn’t. He doesn’t have enough credibility or knowledge about the sport to be making such provocative comments like eliminating the post season. If we are all reduced to listening to his expertise on baseball, that’s a sad commentary

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  79. Bip says:

    I think a big problem with that is also the large separation between the NL and AL. For all of baseball, those two leagues have been considered so separate that some people identify as fans of the “AL” or “NL,” and a percentage of fans still don’t like interleague play.

    The world series, on the other hand, has always been seen as the best of the NL vs. the best of the AL. You spend the year vying for the top spot in your league, and then the two go head to head. I think any suggestion that doesn’t preserve the AL vs NL rivalry is not viable.

    One suggestion for rewarding the best team in the league putting that team straight to the LCS, and let the other two division winners play a 3 or 5 game LDS for the right to challenge the best team for the pennant.

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    • Ivan Grushenko says:

      So last year the Giants would have played the Nationals and the Tigers would have played the Yankees? That’s almost what actually happened.

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  80. “The playoffs are a great thing for our sport – I want to make that clear. But let’s call it what it is: we allow small sample sizes and random events to determine the champion. That’s how it is in baseball.”

    Of course Billy would say that. That’s because he doesn’t have a clue as to what he is doing. GM’s who have traded away Ethier, Hudson, and Car-Gon (or equivalents) and let Giambi and Tejada go away for nothing (plus how did those Moneyball drafts go?) while keeping the wrong player at big money (Eric Chavez) normally are not still around, they would have been fired by now. He’s who BP should have been agitating to fire in their 2010 annual, not Sabean.

    FYI, randomness has a huge hand in football. If Justin Smith didn’t get injured near the end of the season, the Superbowl game would have been much different, he was a key defensive cog and with him out/reduced, that dominoed into the rest of the defensive unit. And you can’t tell me that the very rare and random kickoff return for a touchdown right after the half didn’t change the game dramatically. The Niners win without that return.

    Or we can go back further to when surehanded Roger Craig fumbles the ball in the last moments of the game, killing the Niners chances to win that game. And injuries are very random and can kill a team’s chances in the playoffs, if not the regular season. There are all sorts of randomness in football.

    The thing is that baseball and Beane have not really caught on yet to what to do to win in the playoffs consistently. BP and THT did studies on how to win in the playoffs and both found that it was pitching and fielding and that offense did not matter, good or bad, whether hit a lot of homers or not a lot. Yet most baseball fans still worry greatly about offense and homerun hitters, all the time, yet I rarely see any clamoring for ace starters.

    And Billy’s teams are rarely if ever top K/9 pitching staffs. Since BP published Baseball Between the Numbers in 2006, the A’s (in the AL, not MLB) has been basically right around the AL average, they are not even among the best in the AL. He either don’t read BP (despite them quoting him on their annuals) or didn’t follow/believe what their study showed.

    BP’s study found that key metrics for a team to do well (i.e. go deep and win it all) were K/9 for the pitching staff, a great closer, and good fielding defense. When a team had the three of those among the best in the history of the playoffs, they were pretty much guaranteed a spot in the World Series and the vast majority of the Top 10 won, and out of the ones who didn’t, two lost to another Top 10 team.

    My study of PQS (sabermetric QS) shows that when a dominant PQS game was pitched, that team won a large majority of the time. It is not foolproof but that is what happens. This is also “no duh!” obvious but then fans don’t realize how that improves the chances of a team, having four starters who can throw quality starts at a high rate, in the playoffs. The Giants have been using that formula to win in the playoffs, but as the Phillies showed in 2011, your pitchers can deal quality starts and you still lose.

    And there are ace starters who can throw a high PQS start (quality start) consistently 60-80% of the time, like Lincecum (back in the day), Cain, Bumgarner, Halladay, Lee, CC, and others. If you have a good pitcher, who is roughly 40-50% quality start, that’s nice, but having ace starters gives you 50% more quality starts, improving your chances of winning in the playoffs that much more as well.

    But Billy still thinks that closers are fungible and easily replaced. If that were really that easy to do, then there should be 30 consistently great closers in the majors, right? And despite sabermetrics showing the efficacy of strikeouts, his teams are very average in strikeouts. And his starters in 2012, basically 40-50% quality starts (using PQS), so they are good, just not GREAT! And great is what wins in the playoffs.

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    • Every single GM has made a lot of bad deals. Beane has made a lot of good deals, too. The Hudson trade was bad, but the Mulder trade was sensational, bringing him Dan Haren, and then of course he actually received Carlos Gonzalez when he flipped Haren to Arizona.

      Ace starters are hard to find, and even when the A’s had their aces, they got bounced. That’s how the cookie crumbles. And no, you wouldn’t expect to find 30 consistently great closers in baseball. There aren’t 30 consistently great of anything in baseball. Talent is unevenly distributed and relievers are the most volatile commodity in baseball, particularly because of health. The reason that you shouldn’t invest a lot of money in a closer is because closers never stay healthy.

      I mean, seriously, just look at the Giants. Robb Nen took you to a World Series then threw his heart out in the Series and never pitched again. So they turned the ball over to Tim Worrell, Matt Herges, Tyler Walker, Armando Benitez, Brad Hennessey, Brian Wilson, Santiago Casilla, and Sergio Romo. Every single one of them only held the job for one year, except for Wilson, and of course he threw his arm out, too. Spending money on closers is insane. Closers have to be replaced, whether or not it’s easy.

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    • suicide squeeze says:

      I like how in your list of grievances against Beane, you fail to mention who let Zito walk and who signed him to a nine-figure deal.

      Also, BP retired their secret sauce 3 years ago (http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=12085), so it’s probably best that Beane didn’t follow/believe what their study showed.

      The Giants of the last few years have had what the A’s had a decade ago: A great top of the rotation, an array of nice closers, and enough offense to get the job done. Just because the Giants have two more world series doesn’t really mean their process has been so much better.

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    • evo34 says:

      You should permanently banned from the site for making this false statement:

      ” BP and THT did studies on how to win in the playoffs and both found that it was pitching and fielding and that offense did not matter, good or bad, whether hit a lot of homers or not a lot. “

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  81. Disagreements! says:

    Round 1 needs to be best of 7. World Series needs to be best of 9.

    And this could be an interested twist:

    Wild Card spot should be best of 3. Double header with expanded rosters. 2-day playoff (if necessary).

    That would be a lot of fun.

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    • Ivan Grushenko says:

      I like the doubleheader idea for the WC playoff. Nobody wants the best teams sitting at home while the 4th and 5th best teams play each other in a long series.

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  82. Josh says:

    Limit the number of times a starting pitcher can pitch in a playoff series.

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  83. Tiers for Fiers says:

    Here’s a thought: Fangraphs, both as a community and as a database, is amplifying its influence with each year (arguably, with each passing month).
    The Gold Glove is awarded by Rawlings; the Silver Slugger by Hillerich and Bradsby; heck, even the MVP is elected by the BWA, a consortium of media people. What is stopping Fangraphs, and the SABR-community writ large, from establishing its own set of honorariums?– a statue for the highest WAR position player and pitcher, a pennant for the winningest teams, or (getting imaginative here), an award for best defender, baserunner, and tactician?
    Publicizing such honors would only enhance the game, enrich the league, and, at the same time, open a door for a wider audience to encounter the new analytics.

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  84. Anthony Lucci says:

    EQUALITY OF OPPORTUNITY is what determines fan engagement. It’s why March Madness is such a superior contest to any other playoff structure (the Super Bowl not counting as a playoff). MLB is a for-profit businesses and should make its product (regular and post-season baseball) optimized for its customers (fans) if it hopes to optimize its profits in the long run. Fan engagement is what drives profitability.

    Now, March Madness is an unrealistic playoff model for MLB to pursue. People would NOT pay to attend and watch 162 games if their team would make the playoffs regardless. So the league could not pursue that strategy and still provide a quality product.

    But MLB could mimic the NFL’s regular season & playoff models to great success. Having a regular season schedule that is difficulty-weighted and a first-round bye in the playoffs for the top 2 teams would solve everyone’s problems:

    1) The NFL’s wildcard/divisional/championship round structure would increase the number of rounds a wildcard has to currently win by +1 and that greatly decreases variance. (Stathead fans are happy)
    2) The difficulty-weighted regular season schedule would give every team a better chance at the playoffs (more fans going to games in small-market cities)
    2.5) Stronger and weaker teams will play more games with teams closer to their level and that makes games more fun to watch (more fans watching and attending games in both small- and big-market cities)
    3) MLB big-market cities would not be punished as harshly as NFL ones because of the lack of a cap (which is more logical to this theory of fan engagement because big markets have more fans)

    Having a purely blended schedule ignores how much of an advantage big-market teams would still have with the same schedule as everyone else. But honestly, allowing big-market teams to spend more is logical in this framework because those teams have way more fans and should get a bigger say. A difficulty-weighted schedule with no cap would actually be an improvement on the NFL’s model because the NFL currently punishes big markets too much under this framework.

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  85. Paul Holmes says:

    Best of both worlds.

    Most wins per league. Sits. Automatically advances to ALCS. The wildcard isn’t a 1 game series anymore, expanded into a 3 game series.

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    • Paul Holmes says:

      To elaborate:
      2 Wildcards, 3 Division Winners ; that’s the current setup
      The team with the most wins per league is also a division winner, lets call that team the Pennant Winner (PW)

      So now
      2 Wildcards (WC), 2 Division Winners (DW) that don’t have the most wins in their league, and a Pennant Winner (PW)

      Division winners faces the WCs in the first round. The winners face off against each other in the second round. The winner of that bracket moves on to face the Pennant Winner in the third round.

      All series are 7 games long. Yes. that means the Pennant Winner has an advantage.

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      • Paul Holmes says:

        Okay new rule needed to reward winning the division. In the first round, the WC needs 5 game wins to finish the series, the DW needs 3 games wins to finish the series.

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  86. fromthemachine says:

    Just make each series longer. 9-13 games each. I don’t think fans will complain about more baseball, and rosters would look more likely represent regular season strategies.

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    • Ivan Grushenko says:

      But this would make each game only slightly more pressure-packed than a regular season game.

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  87. Ben Markham says:

    I’ve always thought it should be best of nine series. Best of five is a complete crap shoot. Best of seven is better but not much. I like the idea of a best of nine for divisional and LCS and best of eleven for WS. Now the most obvious reason fans won’t like it is that it’s too drawn out, but I would love it. Best of nine could go 3-4-2 and best of eleven could go 3-5-3. Underdogs would still have a chance but less of one at least.

    The single game wild card playoff is an atrocious idea. Hopefully they decide to just get rid of it in a few years.

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  88. Disagreements! says:

    We should create official proposals and send them to MLB officials.

    My official proposal is to have the season be 154 games.

    The wild card playoff be a two day 3 game series with a day/night double-header (day 2 if necessary).

    Round 1 is a best of 7 game series.

    World series is a best of 9 game series.

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  89. Jeff says:

    quick note on playoff history

    1981 also had 3 Rounds of playoffs.

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  90. Bill says:

    1 game play off in each division. Loose a game and your out. American winner plays National winner best of 3 out of 5.

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  91. Jim says:

    This article is absolutely ludicrous! It is supposedly not fair that the team who has the best record over the season doesn’t get handed the World Series? I just lost a lot of respect for Billy Beane for even letting those words fly out of his mouth.

    And I think the Wild Card going to the winner of the All-Star game is a great idea. The MLB All-Star game is now actually meaningful and fun to watch. These things, the play-offs and the all-star game, are good for FANS! That is who pays the bills and who should be considered first and foremost when making policy. Not poor little Billy Beane, who can’t seem get to the World Series.

    It is not fair? It won’t be fair either when an asteroid one day comes hurtling into the earth, or when the best looking girl you ever dated dumps you.

    Our existence is random, not some ordered play put on by a benevolent God who values fairness.

    There are certainly areas where fairness is economically and socially essential to a functioning democracy, but taking it to this extreme makes me sick. Now go celebrate your kids half-birthday and don’t forget the gift bags at the party for all of the kids whose birthday it isn’t. It wouldn’t be fair for one kid to get presents and for no one else to get any.

    Plus, I don’t even get the argument. It is not random at all. When the pressure is on some people perform and other don’t. Don’t just write off the David Freese’s and Scott Brocious’s to randomness or luck. They stepped up when it mattered and you are trying reduce their performance to some statistical anomaly or luck.

    Cry babies, cowards, and finger-pointers are the only ones who would want to reduce a great thing like the MLB playoffs to some separate title. Quit making excuses for you failures Billy Beane and go win a World Series and shut the hell up!!!!

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    • sean says:

      All I want is for the A’s to win the World Series (and I’m a Cubs fan) so that I never have to read comments like this again. All of this is post-hoc analysis.

      Nobody, at least not me, has a problem with crowning a champion. But I’d like to see fewer than 10 (!) teams get a shot at it. I think if you took the top team in each division after an unbalanced schedule, and had them battle it out in a 7-game series, you’d still have your dramatic David Freese moments, but those moments would belong to the true best teams.

      The playoffs shouldn’t be an entitlement for teams that skated by in the 67th percentile. They should be for the best of the best. I think that’s all Beane is saying. He’s not saying the A’s should have been in the WS last year… he said the BEST team should have been in it, and he conceded that the best team was the Yankees.

      Bruce Bochy called the playoffs a crapshoot too, for the record.

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    • evo34 says:

      I’m with you on Beane. What an embarrassment to have someone who has never won say that winning championships is random. P.S. to Beane: 15 years of failure is not exactly a tiny sample.

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      • suicide squeeze says:

        Question, with regards to the “15 years of failure” quote:

        Who do you think has accomplished more over the last 15 years: The Marlins or the A’s? Who would you rather be a fan of?

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  92. Jim says:

    Oops, the All Star game determines home field advantage not the wild card. Greatest idea ever!!!! And, maybe it ain’t exactly fair, but so what. Also, awarding it to the team with the best record in the league isn’t exactly fair either because one league might have more or less balance in regard to overall quality of teams.

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  93. Eric Chase says:

    The way to mitigate some of the Man U effect is to implement a salary cap, and a floor, in addition to other financial principals that MLB already has in place.

    I know, even then bad business will still be bad business, but it would make things far more competitive.

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  94. Casper says:

    The team with the best record in each league should get a bye to the League Championship Series. To keep their edge, they could barnstorm and play the best of other countries while waiting to find out who their opponents will be.

    All other playoff teams would then vie for the chance to play them. It wouldn’t even matter then how many rounds of playoffs you had before the LCS. Heck, let everybody into the playoffs, with their seeding dependent on how they did in the regular season. It would be loads of fun to see Houston or San Diego pull off a miracle and win their way to the LCS. People would talk about it for decades. And yet, they’d still have to beat the best in the finals to take that last step to the World Series.

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  95. Maverick Squad says:

    Home field advantage for World series should be decided by the interleague results. Whichever league wins more games in all the interleague matchups should get HFA.
    Last year the AL ‘won’ interleague 142-110 so you could argue the AL is the better league and thus earns HFA in the WS. If the number of games is tied then you could use the Allstargame as the tiebreaker. This adds a little bit of interest to all the interleague schedule since it impacts the WS.

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  96. cheryl says:

    I hate baseball. .the most boring sport ever. Its such a long dry spell between the end of of basketball and the start of football. even though I live in LA I know very few people who follow baseball.

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  97. wenesdae says:

    all pro sports should be done away with, if you all want to go watch

    a pile of apes chase a ball , go to the zoo

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  98. Tony says:

    Different formats are better suited for different sports of course. However, it is difficult to argue that declaring a regular-season champion in baseball (where teams play 162 games) doesn’t make sense (especially given that EPL teams play a mere 38 domestic league fixtures).

    Granted, European soccer has a level of international competition that is simply unheard of in any American sport (save soccer when Whitecaps or Toronto play lol); I think being able to play for that certainly mollifies the sting of perennial 2nd-5th place sub-championship finishes.

    The real problem in playoff formats is in three sports: football, hockey and baseball. The playoff home-ice advantage in hockey is downright laughable to begin with (LA Kings, seriously 2012?) and the fact that series last SEVEN GAMES gives underdogs even more opportunities to flip the script. The Pens had 12 more wins than their 8-seed opponent and all they get for that is a game seven at home IF they are unlucky/bad enough to get bounced early, but not lucky/good enough to go through in six or less.

    For hockey I don’t mind seven games, but give the 1-seed all seven at home, the 2-seed six (1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7), the 3-seed five (1, 2, 4, 5, 7) and the 4-seed 4 (1, 2, 5, 7). Home playoff games are a prized possession for owners, as each tilt presents a massive revenue draw. From a merit standpoint, this system would reward excellence in the regular season with both an economic and an environmental advantage that is proportional to that team’s excellence. In the second round, reseed the remaining four teams and give the top seed five home games and the 2-seed four as usual. For the semis it can be traditional 2-2-1-1-1 because it is increasingly likely that we are actually watching the two best teams in the conference. While I enjoy parity tremendously (I think it’s what makes the NHL playoffs more exciting than those of any other professional sport), I nonetheless believe that excellence should be rewarded in some capacity. If you’re going to effectively disregard the regular season results in the playoffs like the NBA does, you might as well shorten the season like the NBA does.

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  99. Michael says:

    I don’t endorse Posnanski’s recommendations, however, I do believe he is correct that the playoffs in their resent form require changes to reward teams for success over the 162-game season.

    My suggestions
    1. Expand the playoffs to 6 teams in each league (like the NFL does presently)
    2. Give 1st round byes to teams with the two best records. They would not play until the divisional series.
    3. Have 3 vs. 6 & 4 vs. 5 in a 3-game set at the higher seed park.
    4. Winners play 1 & 2 in a 5-game series.
    5. Winners of that series play a 7-game LCS

    This model would reward regular season excellence, expand playoff opportunity, and address some of the randomness of playoff outcomes.

    In order to do this, however, you may have to reduce the season to say 154 or 156 games so the season could end before Halloween.

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  100. don wilson says:

    Yes ! How about we 15 AL teams and 15 NL teams. The winner of each league plays in a 7 game World Series. That way baseball is over before the snow and cold step in. I bet the owners would love that!!!!!!!!

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  101. Nick says:

    This is the stupidest idea. We don’t need some sort of designation to understand who the best team in the regular season was. We can all look and judge that based on whatever criteria we choose. And we can all make our own decision as to what that means to us and what it means in relation to whichever team ultimately wins the “championship.” Calling some team “The Regular Season Champ!” would change absolutely nothing.

    Therefore, literally the only result of eliminating the postseason would be to take away an incredible amount of joy and entertainment from baseball fans. This really isn’t even worthy of a debate. Let’s move on.

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    • Jim says:

      I agree Nick, but look at all of the replies. I think there is a segment of the sabermetrics crowd that doesn’t even watch or enjoy baseball games.

      It is a purely cold, intellectual dissection of the sport that misses the whole point.

      I saw Brian Kinney? interviewing Bill James a few months back and James was touting a player (I think it was Brandon Phillips) who he valued above others simply because he loves to watch him play.

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  102. B N says:

    “By my count, the Wild Card team actually won 18 of those 34 series, 53 percent of the time.” Doesn’t that just mean the wild card teams were better? After all, the wild card team usually comes out of the strongest division and then plays a team that won another division (or did, previously). Studies found that those wild card teams typically had better records than the 3rd best division winner (e.g., they were the 2nd or 3rd best team of the 4 in the playoofs, by record).

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  103. seanhoman says:

    Why reward a team who did the best in 16-28 games (playoffs), and not the team who did the best in 162 games?

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  104. DJ says:

    You have to have a wild card or 2 with divisions. In 1978 the Yankees and Red Sox were the 2 best teams in Baseball and the Sox didn’t even make the post season! If you want the best teams in the series there are too many factors to determine that, even if you could play a balanced schedule. I don’t think the Yankees are the best this year, but if they were, how would a full schedule determine that when 4 of their 9 starters will miss large parts of the season. The reverse is alos true. The best team may lose key players late in the season and go into the series with stars unavailable. Would we want to see a team in the series with 3 or 4 replacement players? What would that prove? Also a balanced schedule would be nice, but then age old rivalries would lose something. NY vs Boston has been one of the great matchups for almost 40 years; for them to play only 8 ro 10 times a year would be a loss. Baseball is a 7 month sport, not just October.

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  105. Baltar says:

    “Giving a special prize to the team that wins the most games is like giving a prize to the team with the highest run differential.”

    I am a big fan of yours, Alex, but this sentence makes no sense at all.

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    • Really? I thought it was a reasonable enough analogy. Run differential, or pythagorean wins, are a good indicator of a good team. But much like real wins, teams aren’t rewarded as such for wins. They’re rewarded first for their ordinal place in the division. In 2005, the Padres went 82-80 and won the NL West. The winningest team in baseball was the 100-win St. Louis Cardinals, who lost in the NLCS to the 89-win Wild Card Houston Astros.

      The Cardinals didn’t get any special recognition for being the winningest team in baseball — or, for that matter, for having the best run differential in baseball, which they also had. They just got a playoff berth, and they lost to the Astros. I don’t think that they deserved any special recognition from the regular season, because the whole point of the postseason is that it follows onto the regular season. I don’t think it can be disaggregated from it.

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  106. John Coctoastan says:

    Yes the Playoffs should be eliminated.

    They are usually rigged anyway depending on the Tv Ratings. By that I mean if lots of Viewers the Series will go 6 or 7 games. But if like last year where no one cared or watched the Advertisers said nah not worth the money let it end quick.

    Also should Play 7 Innings and get 8 totals pitches per batter. If not struck out or walked in 7 automatic out. Game would move a lot faster.

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  107. BL says:

    If they had wildcards in 1951:

    “The Giants win the pennant! The Dodgers get the wildcard! The Giants win the pennant! The Dodgers get the wildcard!”

    It’s just not the same …

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  108. Nick O says:

    I’ve made this section before, and I’ll make it again, but I have a solution that would give added import to regular season record without altering the playoff structure (much).

    Go to best-of-six and best-of-eight series, with an even number of games played at home and away. To win the series, the team with the better regular season record must merely split the series. For the team with the worse regular season record, they must win 4 of 6 or 5 of 8. If teams have identical records, it reverts to best of 5/7.

    Leaving aside the fact that this would never happen, it’d certainly add a lot of drama to the last week of the regular season, such as last year when the Reds and Nationals entered game 162 with identical records and chose to each rest their starters.

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  109. Gray says:

    Nothing, coming out of England is worth two hoots, if you ask me.
    If America thinks England’s lead is worth something, I’ll move somewhere else, when the ladies, here, start wearing those ultra-tacky hats like the ladies, there, do!

    The way the Englishmen do things should absolutely NEVER have any type influence on the way anything is done here!

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  110. Christy Matthews says:

    No, Selig couched fairness in terms of additional post-season revenue.

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  111. Kevin12 says:

    The thing is – was the Seventh Coalition army of Prussia, Austria, Russia, and England really superior to Napoleon’s Imperial Army? Probably not, but when they won the day at Waterloo, that was it for Napoleon.

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  112. Zain says:

    The NHL’s President’s Trophy kind of serves as a similar glorification of the regular season champion. Sadly, no one really cares about it, except to see how often President’s Trophy winners fail to win the Cup.

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