Discusion re: Expanded Playoffs

Friday, April 22, 2011

On Thursday, Commissioner Bud Selig all but confirmed the expansion of the MLB playoffs in the near future.

"I would say we're moving to expanding the playoffs, but there's a myriad of details to work out," Selig said Thursday at his annual meeting with the Associated Press Sports Editors. "Ten is a fair number."

After the GMs and owners met this past November there seemed to be universal agreement that two more Wild Card teams should be added to the playoff mix, making it 10 out of the 30 MLB teams qualifying for the postseason. But the length of the first round -- whether it be a single play-in game or a best-of-three series -- and how to fit it into the schedule is still to be determined.

Okay Dave, point blank, are you for or against a fifth playoff team in each league?

Dave: I'm for it, for two reasons:
  1. More playoff teams leads to a less predictable and more exciting playoffs (there is the notion of diminished returns here, going from 4 to 5 teams creates more of a benefit than going from 7 to 8 teams).
  2. Having 2 Wild Card teams lets MLB give the division winners a first-round bye, creating a bonus for winning your division that doesn't really exist in the current playoff format. I think a best-of-three series in the first round between the two Wild Card teams (with the winner advancing to the four-team bracket) would work well without watering down the playoffs as a whole.
To me, this seems like a no-brainer.

Ted: I have to admit I have been against it in the past, but now that it's arriving I don't mind it too much. I do like the idea of making the odds longer for wild card teams advancing (even though that'll hurt the Marlins because we never win divisions!). Having to go through a one or three game playoff should force the winner to have used their best starting pitchers which puts them at a disadvantage for the next series. It also creates an advantage for the "1-seed they will be facing." I think it not only adds excitement to the playoffs, but more so to the regular season. Their should be more vigorous races for playoff spots now that you have a distinct advantage the higher seed you get. My question is, how logistically possible is it to have a three game series?

Dave: If you don't mind the World Series ending in early November, this is not a problem. This doesn't apply with me. MLB moved up the start of the regular season a few days, so that buys some extra time. The new Wild Card round would have to be a 3-game series.

The regular season ends on September 28. That means the playoffs can start on a Friday September 30, with the schedule sorting out thusly:
  • 9/30-10/3: Wild card round (best of 3)
  • 10/5-11: LDS (best of 5)
  • 10/13-21: LCS (best of 7)
  • 10/23-31: World Series
This has a potential World Series Game 7 scheduled for the last night of October, but that is using the tightest scheduling possible (only 1 off-day between series, one off-day for every travel day). It seems MLB would have to maneuver the schedule to end the regular season earlier, or am I missing something?

Ted: They could, but you're forgetting an important component, TV time slots! Condensing the schedule like this would mean some games would have to be on at the same time as others in the division series. I guess the added round would recoup that ad revenue lost but it'd still be something that would need studying. I prefer the three game series, because a one game playoff is pretty silly. Yes, it's exciting, but it needs to be remotely fair as well. Now here's another question, how do you handle the home field advantage for the new wild card round? All three games at the higher seeded team's park?

Dave: I think they can work around the LDS scheduling by staggering off-days and stacking games like they normally do, but regardless MLB would likely need an extra day or two in the schedule to minimize simultaneous games. More than likely, MLB may have to do something to make the regular season end sooner. They could cut the season back to 154 games (which wouldn't be terrible) or resume scheduling regular season double-headers (which would be awesome). Both methods would cut into revenue (though the double-headers would have less of an impact than cutting out 8 games).

As for home-field advantage, I think your plan is wisest. A three-game series is too short to use multiple sites, and it does give the higher-seeded team a reward for winning more regular season games.

I think we've got the rough outlines done, now the question becomes, how will MLB screw this up? You know they will bungle at least one part of this process. My guess: they make this extra Wild Card round a one-game playoff. It's the easiest solution, since it doesn't overextend the postseason. But it also deprives us of 2 to 4 extra playoff games, so of course I am opposed.

Ted: I don't see anyway they would change the amount of regular season games, too much money to be lost and the added playoff wouldn't cover that. Doubleheaders are cool, but also a logistical nightmare. Scheduling some seems out of the question. They would have to move up the start of the season to the last few days of March. I'm not against that, but it does pose some problem for cold weather cities. Not like we haven't dealt with that before though.

I do think you are dead-on about MLB bungling this and making it a do or die one game playoff. It'd wouldn't be the end of the world (it'd be pretty exciting for fans) but it would be a bit unfair. By the way, I wonder what Bob Costas thinks about all of this?


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