Full On Double Wildcard: What Does This Mean?

This post originally appeared here.

According to Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, another wild card spot in each league will be added to MLB’s playoff system. However, Michael Weiner – head of the Player’s Association – says talks are still in negotiation, though he doesn’t seem opposed to the idea. I’m sure there is a lot of politicking taking place, something I don’t much care for. So instead, I ask the question: what is the difference in adding a second playoff team? I decided to take a look at each season since the wildcard was introduced in 1995 and find out for myself. I took the record for each playoff team since 1996 and this is what I found:

 

*Note: I excluded 1995 from the win average calculations because teams only played 144 games that year. I also subtracted a win from the 1998 Cubs, 1999 Mets, 2007 Rockies, 2008 White Sox and 2009 Twins,  and subtracted a loss from the 1998 Giants, 1999 Reds and 2007 Padres. Each of these teams played 163 games in that specific season. 

*Data from Baseball-Reference 

The one number that sticks out from that chart: The average win total for the wild card team in the American League has been four wins higher than the average win total for the worst AL division champ! This is the AL East influence. Of the 16 AL wildcard teams since 1995, 12 have come from the AL East.

Also of note: The projected second wildcard team had a very similar record to the worst division winner each year. The average difference in wins when looking at each year individually: AL second wildcard: 1.9 fewer wins than worst playoff team, NL: 0.63 fewer wins. The projected second wildcard team had the same or better record than a playoff team in that same league 11 times since 1995. This is not a trivial amount.

Playoff Proposal

Since it doesn’t appear that adding a second wildcard team would give an undeserving team a playoff spot, what should the playoff schedule look like? The only fair option seems to involve both wild card teams playing each other. This would not “punish” any of the division winners, even though at least one of the division leaders will most likely have a worse record than the first wild card team.

The first idea is to have a play-in game, where the two wildcard teams basically play each other for the right to make the playoffs. The wildcard team with the best record would host the game. This would be an easier burden on scheduling, but it doesn’t seem like a good idea. Winning the right to play in the playoffs and then losing that right after one game doesn’t seem very fair (in baseball, at least).

So the other idea would be to have a shortened wildcard series. But how long would the round be? Probably three games. A five game wildcard series would force all of the other teams to be idle for far too long and would definitely force a major rescheduling of the entire season.

Here are the three ideas I can come up with for a three game playoff series:

(1-1-1) – The series alternates between locations. While probably the most fair option, this would add two travel days to an already packed schedule. I don’t see this as a viable solution.

(2-1) – The team with the best record plays the first two games at home, while the team with the worse record plays the possible third game at home. However, this may give the second wild card an advantage where they play the deciding game at home.

(1-2) – I like this option the best. The second wild card team gets to start the series at home, but the first wild card gets to finish the series with the advantage.

It is also possible that the team with the best record gets to choose between the 2-1 and the 1-2 options.

Scheduling the wildcard round

But where would a wildcard round fit in the schedule? In 2011, the regular season will end on September 28th. The playoffs begin on September 30th or October 1st, depending on the presence of a 163rd game. If a three game wildcard series is added that begins on October 1st, the divisional round would not begin until October 6th. This would put the playoffs on a similar time schedule as the 2009 playoffs. That year, a seventh world series game would have been played on November 5th. Playoff games in November are a bad idea which will lead to regular inclement weather problems. The season can’t start much earlier though, because of cold weather in early spring. MLB could possibly decrease the number of games played per season, but that’s a highly improbable scenario. So, if the season can’t start earlier and can’t end later, but more games need to be played, what is the solution? There have to be more games played per calendar day. Since a three game wild card adds about five days to the schedule, this is my goal: Create a 162 game MLB schedule that begins March 31 and ends September 23rd.

There are three options that I can find for decreasing games per day:

-Allow fewer rest days for teams during the season

-Shorten the All-Star break

-Add double headers to the schedule

Of these three, the most likely is adding double headers. Neither the players nor the owners like double headers, but I believe this is the best option available to both parties. Rest days are necessary for players over the long season and I don’t see the player’s association agreeing to a decrease in this amount. Also, the All-star break is already only three days long, so there really isn’t any time to gain there. So they’re left with double headers.

Owners don’t like double headers because they make less money on them. Day games during the week have a much lower attendance than night games. However, with another playoff spot up for grabs, this increases possible future revenue. The players also have an increased probability of making the playoffs and winning awards and bonuses, along with the World Series. I could see the owners and players both appreciating this enough to agree to more double headers.

Since 2002, there are an average of 25 double headers played per year (from ESPN.com). Decreasing the season length by five days requires adding five double headers to each team’s schedule. Since there are 30 teams, each getting five more double headers, this adds 75 double headers to the schedule, effectively quadrupling the total. This seems like a large amount, but I believe it is easily obtainable. Since a double header during the week is a great loss of money, why not schedule one double header on a Saturday each month, excluding April? Since each team only needs to add five double headers to their schedule, they can pick out a Saturday in May, June, July, August and September to hold a day/night double header. This spreads it out over the whole season for the players and should increase the gate and concession revenues for the owners.

Season Schedule

With this proposal, the season would begin on March 31st. Teams would play 162 games, with a scheduled double header each month on Saturday. The season would end on September 23rd and the playoffs would begin on September 25th or 26th. Assuming the latter, the wildcard round would begin on the 26th and be completed on the 29th. The divisional round would begin on October 1st and the playoffs would be back on the same schedule as this year. The playoff teams not in the wildcard round would be idle for eight days. This is a legitimate criticism of the two wildcard system, but I don’t see how this is avoidable, as the only dead time in this proposal involves necessary travel days. (Obviously, it is easily avoidable by not adding the second wildcard team. That, however, appears to be an irrelevant argument based on the desire for both sides of the issue to make this happen.)

Conclusion

So what will it be? Well, like everything else in business, it’s all about the money. The most profitable and realistic option will be the one that is chosen, but it also has to be approved by the player’s association. I think we will see a three game wildcard round beginning immediately after the regular season, which will fit into the current schedule by increasing the number of double headers during the year. However, I would not be surprised to see a one-game playoff happen, because of the potential money-grab in the drama of a winner-take-all affair. In the end, baseball will do what it wants and all we can do is sit back and enjoy the game in all its bright and vivid glory.




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22 Responses to “Full On Double Wildcard: What Does This Mean?”

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  1. Epy0n says:

    I do not support the idea of adding another wild card to the playoffs but if they were to I really enjoy the idea of having those set double headers. Good read.

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  2. Steve says:

    I agree with the article. When thinking about it myself, I thought a 3 game series with the first game at the 2nd team’s stadium followed by two games at the 1st wild card is the fairest – advantage to the first wild card, but not too much of an advantage, and with minimal impact on scheduling.

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  3. Stephen says:

    Why not have a standard three game series for the wildcard playoff? All three games are played in the park of the higher seeded team. Eliminate travel days altogether. The 2nd wildcard should just be happy for the chance to advance in the playoffs. If you want home field advantage, you’d better earn it. Also gives more significance to winning the division.

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  4. Greg says:

    You could compress the October schedule, too. There are far too many days off between the different series.

    And hey, why not make the first day of the wild card playoff a double header? Attendance should be less problematic compared to the regular season. That’s one game you can’t show in prime time, but if the alternative was a one-game playoff anyway…

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  5. GiantHusker says:

    All solutions for accommodating a second wildcard suck except not having a second wildcard.

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  6. Ernie Banks says:

    Lets play two!

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  7. Bryz says:

    An issue I have with the scheduled doubleheaders is the possibility of having them rained out. Then teams need to find a way to reschedule two games instead of just one.

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  8. B N says:

    I find part of this very confusing:
    “AL second wildcard: 1.9 fewer wins than worst playoff team, NL: 0.63 fewer wins.”
    +
    “Since it doesn’t appear that adding a second wildcard team would give an undeserving team a playoff spot”
    =
    HUH?

    From my reading, those numbers mean exactly that the second wildcard team would give an undeserving team a spot. Even if 11 times out of 32 times the team was as good as a playoff team, that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement. That means that 21 times out of 32 it wasn’t. That indicates to me that 2/3 of the time, the 2nd wildcard team was undeserving as they were worse than the worst playoff team. Plus, we’re talking about a class of teams that is averaging less than 90 wins overall.

    I will admit though, the proposed scheduling solution seems pretty reasonable, actually. Though I find the concept in general pretty bad, since it mainly just punishes the Wildcard Team 1 for no apparent reason. It’s like “Oh, so basically, you have a better record than somebody who won an easier division despite playing in a harder division, but couldn’t quite win your hard division. Let’s make life even harder for you by making you do a short-series play-in.” Because let’s face it, the Wild Card 1 teams generally come from the strongest divisions that year.

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  9. Anthony says:

    I love the idea of a second wild card team. It makes the regular season mean more. More teams are in the race till the end. Plus it makes winning the division important again. Last year if the Yankees knew wild card meant a 3 games set against the BoSox I think they would have played better near the end of the year.

    the scheduling isn’t at all a problem. It’s 3 games. Just schedule the regular season to end September 30 every year instead of October 5 or whatever it usually does and shorten the rest in the playoffs. I hate the amount of off days the playoffs have anyways.

    The added wild card makes it harder for a team to get hot and beat teams with better regular season records because there’s more “cooling off” time. It rewards the fans more by having more teams play meaningful games in September and also rewards the division winners more by giving them a bonus.

    Anyone who opposes this is typically someone who is too old school and tradition minded and, in all likelihood, wants baseball to go back to 2 playoff teams per league.

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  10. baycommuter says:

    The 1-2 schedule seems to be the best option, it’s an important benefit of buying season tickets that you get first call on the playoffs, and this ensures that ten teams will be able to offer the reward. As long as no losing teams make the playoffs, I’m OK with occasional ’06 Cardinal-type series winners.
    I say cut down on the number of days in between playoff games, solutions that involve doubleheaders or fewer off days are murder on pitching staffs and I doubt MLBPA would approve.

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  11. LioneeR says:

    Part of the problem with scheduled double headers is that pitchers will get overworked. I think a simple solution to this would be to give the team an extra active roster spot for a few days before/after the scheduled double header.

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  12. Steve says:

    Why don’t we cut the wild card, throw everyone into one division, and then take the four best team as the playoff teams?

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  13. Bpdelia says:

    The easy way to do this is a 3 gane set over 2 days. A doubleheader and a nite game. If the teams r close enough there isnt even an of f day

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  14. Anthony says:

    Steve if you do that, the you’ll have the Yankees or Red Sox winning every year and teams in mid markets would collapse because no one would give a shit about them because they won’t have a chance. If you’re going to shorten the playoffs you may as well not even have a playoff, just have everyone play everyone else in baseball equal times and award the championship to the team with the best record.

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  15. CSJ says:

    For whatever reason, I can’t reply to specific comments.

    Greg, baycommuter: Cutting down the time between games in the playoffs is the option I forgot to look at. The obstacle here would be TV programming. The schedule is set up to optimize TV revenues, so they would have to take that into consideration.

    Bryz: Another thing to look at as far as having to reschedule a double-header. That was one reason I said to skip out on April double-headers.

    BN: To me, a 1-2 win difference is negligible over a 162 game season. This is where the “balls hitting pigeons in the outfield” defense is actually valid. I don’t see a large enough talent disparity between a 91-71 team and an 89-73 team to argue that the second team is undeserving.

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  16. Llewdor says:

    That weird AL gap is also propped up by one of the non-AL East wildcard teams. The 2001 Oakland A’s won the wildcard with a record of 102-60.

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  17. Chris says:

    Why give them days off at all? The regular season sees teams going well over 12 games in a row without an off day. To call it ‘murder on the rotation’ is crazy, the current playoff schedules allow teams to stack their three best starters over and over again if they so choose. It’s ridiculous since it takes a five man rotation to make it to the playoffs, they should have to play all five starters. Cut out off days between games in a series, offer two off days between series.

    This especially makes more sense for a 3 game dual wild card ‘play-in’.

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  18. Andrew says:

    One thing that wasn’t considered with the proposal to have doubleheaders on one Saturday each month is the impact this would have on scheduling series. Since the Friday and Sunday games would both be scheduled as usual, this means there would be a much higher frequency of 4-game series, which are more of a rarity these days.

    Not sure how much this would impact things but I think it’s something keep in mind.

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  19. Alvaro says:

    2 Wild cards means the Yankees and Red Sox will never miss the playoffs again (not that it happens often) but sure gives the Jays and Orioles some hope

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  20. G says:

    great article. well done.

    i would like to see the current format of the playoffs stay as it is but i would like to see a three game “flex” series at the end of each season based on position within each division, with the top two teams in each division playing each other in a 3 game set during the final weekend of the season, the last two playing each other, etc.

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  21. Ken says:

    With so many potential rounds, how about cutting down the LCS to just 5 games? Otherwise the playoffs are just too long. I remember thinking last year, by time the World Series came around, I was just plain bored with it all. Too many postseason games=loss of drama.

    How bout this:

    3 gm WC series (all in one city)
    5 gm DS
    5 gm LCS
    7 gm WS

    Have we even begun to consider what happens when we need a game 163 to determine the 2nd Wild Card?

    All in all, it could be a fun format, but what a crapshoot!

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  22. Antonio Bananas says:

    What do you mean crapshoot? I think adding an extra round for wild card teams to prove themself makes it less of a crapshoot and gives everyone the advantage they deserve. You have the best record, home field advantage, you win your division, you don’t have to play the wild card round, you have the better of the 2 wild card records, you have home field in that. It’s beautiful, last year you had the Rays and Yanks playing for nothing, home field doesn’t mean much in a 5 game series (there is statistical proof of that). With this, winning your division means more, and we don’t have to cut anyone out of the playoffs to do it.

    As for cutting the LCS, I don’t like that. If you’re bored of playoff baseball…why are you posting on such a hardcore baseball site? I love baseball. I’d like it to be 3-7-7-7 if possible. That’s only 24 games, just shorten the schedule.

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