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Friday, September 24, 2010
Adding wildcards to make divisions meaningful?

It turns out I have even more company in my wildcard-makes-division-races meaningful crusade: Jayson Stark (and apparently Elias and SI's Tom Verducci). Stark, and everyone else, now recognize that when the two best teams play in the same division (Yanks-Rays this year) and both are guaranteed to make the play-offs, the incentive to win the division all but disappears, because the single benefit of home-field advantage is minimally important (Stark points out that the team without home-field advantage wins 50 % of post-season series).

The solution, according to Stark, Verducci, et al., is not to eliminate the wild card, but to add a second wild-card in each league. Now the two wild-cards play some type of play-off (he debates whether it should be a one-game winner-take-all or best-of-three and how it should be structured [Update: Tom Verducci insists it has to be a one-game playoff, not a series]) for the right to move on and play, presumably, the division winner with the best record. Now there is a genuine incentive to win the division--avoiding having to play anywhere from one to three additional games, perhaps without off-days and perhaps without a break between the wild-card series and the Division Series. And, according to Stark, people close to Bud Selig reportedly say he likes the idea.

I am not quite convinced, because it still devalues the division in non-close races. If a second-place team falls far enough behind the first-place team in its division, it turns its attention to teams in other divisions and just has to focus on staying ahead of the non-first-place teams in those divisions. So the "race" is between # 2 in the East and # 2 in the Central--although those teams will not play one another regularly in September, since the schedule is weighted towards intra-division games late in the season, for obvious reasons. Still, anything that gives a real incentive to finish first is a vast improvement.


thanks for you

Anonymous -- 9/24/2010 7:57 PM  

I think the devaluing of the division starts when some teams start pulling away early in the summer (or late spring even). What's the incentive for cellar dwellers to even show up at the ballpark if they know they're out of it with so many games left? Yet, they still show up and they still play the games (Nationals love playing the spoiler).

I worry that when you start comparing the #2's in the divisions you start begging the "strength of schedule" questions that will naturally arise when cross-comparing. The Rays will play teams like the Yankees/Red Sox/Blue Jays, while the Braves will get the Mets/Nationals/Marlins ... hardly comparable, particularly in the Fall.

The elephant in the room is what to do with the length of the schedule. 162 games is long enough, if they add another Wild Card series there's a chance we'll be flipping between the World Series and NFL Thanksgiving Day Football games.

Maybe shorten the season? (Heresy in the minds of baseball execs though).

Anonymous JeffK -- 9/24/2010 10:29 PM  

It sounds like this is getting more and more digital backing every day. Seen it on blogs, obviously the sports writers are talking about it, and Bud's even getting in on the talk.

I like the idea more and more every day. What we have to realize is that there's always going to be a complaint; no one can be made happy all the time. There's this idea that it's unfair to WC teams being forced into a 1 game playoff, but I think WC teams should remember their entrance to the playoff is simply a result of a previous expansion.

I agree with JeffK. I like more baseball, but I prefer more meaningful baseball. So if going to a 3 game series for a WC series means going to a 152 game season, then sure. But I still think that requires much more effort and resilience. You would not only have to consider execs, but then what do playoff teams do for 5 days waiting for the WC series, how do you address an already unbalanced schedule (take out interleague?), etc.

Instead, I think squeezing it in is the best way to go. We're always going to have issues with teams "tanking" it at the end of the year. Shortening the season only brings that complacency sooner rather than later. Plus, a series v. a single game wild card playoff only maintains the problem that the WC team has too much of an equal playing field. There needs to be the incentive to win the division.

To fix the balanced schedule, it's really only fair to eliminate wild card & divisions. Or eliminate divisions and open the schedule across leagues (like the NBA).

Again, there are always going to be problems, and complaints. Baseball is the most "traditional" of leagues. Just look at the obvious contempt of replay. But hopefully, eventually, people will look at what is best for the game, not just what is best for the wallet. History shows that the two usually correlate pretty well anyway.

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Blogger rupunkel -- 9/28/2010 5:23 AM  

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Anonymous Anonymous -- 9/30/2010 1:04 PM  

I don't think the idea that a team doesn't want to win the division is necessarily true. If the Yanks and Rays didn't want to win the division, they wouldn't be keeping their starters in the game for long.

The Yanks' starters don't deserve to be in the game long as of late, but the Rays have been pitching their guys like the games matter.

Teams want to win, and they want to play at home. I'm thinking the Yanks would like to play one more home game than one more away game.

Anonymous Jason -- 10/01/2010 11:23 AM  

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