Skip to content

Are the playoffs fair?

Oct 7, 2009, 9:20 AM EDT

I’ve been going on for years about how the playoffs are a total crap shoot and how they rarely if ever guarantee that the best team makes it to the World Series, let alone wins it. Of course, I’m also a Braves fan, so it’s fair for you to ask whether or not my complaints are valid ones or if they’re merely post-hoc justifications for 1993. And 1996. And 1997-2003 while we’re at it.

But there are a lot of folks without my biases and pain who feel the same way. Like Mariano Rivera, Mike Scioscia, Brian Cashman, Scott Boras, Joe Girardi, CC Sabathia and a bunch of other people in the game who think that the system could use some tweaking:

Whether it’s fear or just a perception that the playoffs are unfair, in recent years players, managers and team executives have been growing more frustrated with the three-round playoff format, which made its debut in 1995.

“The Yankees have 26 world championships,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman says. “If we had played all of those years with divisions and wild cards, we would not have 26 world championships. This is much more perilous, a lot more combustible.”  . . . I’m telling you, it’s not fair,” says Los Angeles Angels center fielder Torii Hinter, whose team again faces the Boston Red Sox, a year after finishing with baseball’s best record and losing to them in the opening round. “You look at the Kansas City Royals, and they can still beat you twice in three games. The same thing can happen in the playoffs. It might be good for Vegas, but it’s bad for baseball. Who wants to see a fluke win the World Series?”

There are all kinds of suggestions in the article regarding how to fix things. Mike Scioscia thinks that the wild card team should play Game 1 at home and the next four on the road. Girardi thinks it should be 2-1-2, with the wild card team the middle game at home.  Scott Boras — the last guy you’d ever think would worry about competitive balance — thinks that the wild card team should play the entire first round on the road.  Others think that there should be two wild card teams with a play in series, thereby weakening them for the division series, while others still think the first round should be the best of seven.

After last night’s drama, I’d be on board for a regular play-in game or series, but it’s not like we can push out the playoffs any further. I mean really, the World Series is already ending in November this year. Maybe the best way to accommodate that would be to schedule more doubleheaders during the season and end the regular season a week earlier. That would certainly reward team depth the way everyone seems to want to, even if it put a dent in TV ratings.

In the end though, we have to acknowledge that a lot of this really is whining. Sure, it’s maybe not fair on some abstract level that a 100 win team could be punted in three games by an 83 win team, but these are the playoffs and that’s just how it goes. We can tweak here and there, but in the end, there is no practical way to make any short series approximate the conditions of 162 game season.  The division winners and we 1990s Braves apologists are just going to have to deal with that.

UPDATE:  More potential unfairness.

  1. PimP JuicE - Oct 8, 2009 at 11:37 AM

    craZy Craig Cal at it again, maybe we shouldn’t keep score and make sure ALL the players get some action too, maybe we can have show and tell session before we take a nap.We should have cookies and milk between each inning as well.

  2. Rusty - Oct 8, 2009 at 1:18 PM

    1) All rounds should be 7 games.
    2) Format should be 2-2-3 so that the higher seed gets 5 home games if it goes 7 games. The World Series could stay 2-3-2.
    3) There should be fewer days off during the playoffs. There should not be 3 days off during a 7 game series.

  3. Joey B - Oct 8, 2009 at 1:29 PM

    “Why is the wild card team the one that should have to be penalized? Let’s be honest. In the American League, the wild card has frequently gone to the team with the second or third best record in the league (2002 Angels, 2004 Red Sox, 2006 Tigers, 2007 Yankees, 2008 Red Sox, 2009 Red Sox come to mind). In these circumstances, you’d be penalizing a team because of the division they play in, not the quality of the team.”
    Exactly, that’s why you can’t have any adjustments. The RS have to contend with a team that outspends them by $85M. LAA has to contend with a team that it outspends by $17M. Theorectically, the RS could play the ALCS v MN, and already have to give MN the home field advantage despite finishing 9 games in front of them.
    You’ll never arrive at a really fair system. A fair system would almost have to start with a salary cap. If you don’t do that, they’ll never be a fair playoff arrangement to overcome the existing unfairness.

  4. Pimp JuicE - Oct 8, 2009 at 3:40 PM

    THE REASON THE WILD CARD SHOULD BE PENALIZED IS THEY DID NOT WIN THEIR DIVISION, HOW CAN YOU REWARD A TEAM BASED ON THE FACT THEY PLAY IN THE AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST BUT FINISHED SECOND.
    COME ON MAN ………

  5. Joey B - Oct 8, 2009 at 4:41 PM

    “THE REASON THE WILD CARD SHOULD BE PENALIZED IS THEY DID NOT WIN THEIR DIVISION, HOW CAN YOU REWARD A TEAM BASED ON THE FACT THEY PLAY IN THE AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST BUT FINISHED SECOND. ”
    Because the teams in the ALE are already being penalized by being in a division with a team that is outspending them on a scale of 2-1, or better.
    Isn’t it enough that TB is being outspent by the NYY to the tune of $140,000,000, would they need a further penalty if they are able to sneak into the WC next year? They should be applauded and not penalized.

  6. Pimp JuicE - Oct 9, 2009 at 11:22 AM

    AND THE YANKEES SHOULD BE PENALIZED BASED ON THE FACT THEY PLAY WITHIN THE RULES?
    I ACCEPT A SALARY CAP BUT ONLY IF THERE IS A MINIMUM CAP TO TO PREVENT CHEAP OWNERS FROM STUFFING THEIR POCKETS AND NOT REINVESTING IN THEIR PAYROLL, DON’T BELIEVE ME, FIND OUT HOW MUCH
    THE TAMPA OWNER PUT IN HIS POCKET, THEY ARE CROOKS, STRAIGHT UP
    THEN THE RAY FAN COMPLAINS, WHY, BECAUSE THE YANKEES WANT TO BUILD THEIR BRAND, ADMIT IT PEOPLE HATE THE YANKEES AND ALWAYS WILL.WHO COMPLAINED WHEN THE YANKEES DIDN’T MAKE IT LAST YEAR, NOT YANKEE FANS, THE TEAM RE-LOADED WITHIN THE RULES.I HAVE A QUESTION, WHY DID TAMPA TRADE KAZ, BECAUSE HE IS OWED 20 MILLION OVER THE NEXT TWO YEARS, THAT IS WHY!!!!! I WILL GO TOE TO TOE ON THESE RIDICULOUS ARGUMENTS ANYTIME JUST HAVE YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT.

  7. Pimp JuicE - Oct 9, 2009 at 11:26 AM

    AND THE YANKEES SHOULD BE PENALIZED BASED ON THE FACT THEY PLAY WITHIN THE RULES?
    I ACCEPT A SALARY CAP BUT ONLY IF THERE IS A MINIMUM CAP TO TO PREVENT CHEAP OWNERS FROM STUFFING THEIR POCKETS AND NOT REINVESTING IN THEIR PAYROLL, DON’T BELIEVE ME, FIND OUT HOW MUCH
    THE TAMPA OWNER PUT IN HIS POCKET, THEY ARE CROOKS, STRAIGHT UP
    THEN THE RAY FAN COMPLAINS, WHY, BECAUSE THE YANKEES WANT TO BUILD THEIR BRAND, ADMIT IT PEOPLE HATE THE YANKEES AND ALWAYS WILL.WHO COMPLAINED WHEN THE YANKEES DIDN’T MAKE IT LAST YEAR, NOT YANKEE FANS, THE TEAM RE-LOADED WITHIN THE RULES.I HAVE A QUESTION, WHY DID TAMPA TRADE KAZ, BECAUSE HE IS OWED 20 MILLION OVER THE NEXT TWO YEARS, THAT IS WHY!!!!! I WILL GO TOE TO TOE ON THESE RIDICULOUS ARGUMENTS ANYTIME JUST HAVE YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT.

  8. Joey B - Oct 9, 2009 at 1:29 PM

    “AND THE YANKEES SHOULD BE PENALIZED BASED ON THE FACT THEY PLAY WITHIN THE RULES?
    I ACCEPT A SALARY CAP BUT ONLY IF THERE IS A MINIMUM CAP TO TO PREVENT CHEAP OWNERS FROM STUFFING THEIR POCKETS AND NOT REINVESTING IN THEIR PAYROLL,”
    Did I say anything about penalizing the NYY? I said that teams like MN and TB shouldn’t be futher penalized by changing the rules to force them to play all their games on the road.
    IRT the minimum, I agree. The union wouldn’t accept any limits, even though they’re already ;leaving millions on the table already.
    IRT Kaz, it’s a tough call. The best players don’t help you succeed, unless you have an unlimited payroll. What leads to success is to have as many ‘under-market’ salaries as possible. Kaz has looked much better since he’s been traded, but the 2B TB got might contribute more relative to his salary than Kaz was doing.

  9. Jim - Oct 10, 2009 at 11:51 PM

    IIf there must be a wild-card team than it should be a seven-game series. Seven-game series makes it much harder for a second rate team that beat the first-place team. Flukes rarely last more than a couple of games if they really don’t have then The first rate team should make it. Either that or divide the divisions so there are four first-rate winners and have a miniseries to start out.

  10. Fanamine - Oct 11, 2009 at 6:18 PM

    “The only thing unfair is that the teams actually have to play well to win. What a concept! Some teams peak at the right time and some don’t, oh well. It is MUCH better than the BCS bull crap where a “wild card” has no chance whatsoever to win and they may actually BE the best team. When MLB went to this wildcard crap, it ruined it. Maybe MLB should do it like the minor leagues do it. The first half winners play the second half winners…”
    The league had it right prior to 1995. There was no wildcard and the best rfecord team in each league had a bye. Wildcards do not give a team the incentive to try harder. The Red Sox clearly decided to not chase the Yankes in September and concentrate on outlasting Texas. When you finish in 2nd place 8 of 11 years it says a lot about your heart. The salary issue has become so lame. Boston is always in the top 4 payroll payouts, yet complain about the Yankees. They could have had A=Rod. They could have had Tex. It is funny how this nation accepts the management gaffes. Of course, they boo A-Rod mercilessly because the Sox wanted to cut 12 million from his salary. The player’s union, including the Sox players, nixed the deal. He signed with the Yankees. The whining Rays fans forget they are getting millions from the Yankees in luxury taxes each year. That money could be put to good use. I just heard the Red Sox are out of the playoffs. As I said before, they are good at horseshoes.

  11. Tonio - Oct 13, 2009 at 5:36 PM

    All these teams and people that hate the yankees who support many many small market teams through revenue sharing. Love them or hate them they still take the money and so would you. Go yankees~!

  12. LondonMetFan - Oct 13, 2009 at 8:20 PM

    What is really unfair is the DH rule. AL teams are equipped with a superior hitter as DH, whereas the NL team, in the head to head World Series games are using their best pinch hitter as a DH. That NL player was not good enough to make the starting lineup.

  13. TheRunningMan - Oct 15, 2009 at 12:53 PM

    First, let’s just say the best team always wins as winning defines “bestness”. But to make the regular season meaningful (and thereby the playoffs too) Let’s expand the AL by 2 teams and then realign to 4 4-team divisions in each league. Then 1st place is still the grail and second place gets you an early hot stove seat. Get rid of this wild card BS. It has destroyed many division races, as it did this year in the AL East, as the Red Sox spent the last month “tinkering” with their lineup and rotation because they knew they had the wildcard and either wouldn’t or could’t catch the Yankees. That last series, the weekend before the end of the season would have meant something, but it didn’t, what a waste. And all that timkering didn’t get them much did it? What advantage does a team that wins its division get? A possible extra home game if it goes 7? If the 7-game series only goes 5 and the winning team is a wild card team, then they will have had 3 of the 5 games at home, something that should NEVER happen. Again, it renders the regular season meaningless and destroys division races, should there need to be any more reasons to scrap it and really fix the problem? Finish in first or go home! Maybe a way to even things out is to realign based on market size or payroll size, not geographic location and go to a balanced schedule. Have large/mid/small market/payroll divisions and see how that works.

  14. David - Oct 18, 2009 at 7:24 AM

    The Redsox were erased from the playoffs anyway. So no wild card issue for the AL this season. ;) Go Yankees.

  15. Admitted Yankee Fan - Oct 18, 2009 at 12:19 PM

    Joe Torre, the great player, Manager, Brave, Cardinal, Yankee, current Dodger Manager and baseball guy expressed in his book “The Yankee Years” that a 3 out of 5 Series significantly raises the odds that an inferior team will win and he favors 4 out of 7 series’ for that reason. That’s probably true because the team with the deeper pitching and bench has those strengths emphasized a bit.

  16. wii repairs - Feb 4, 2010 at 5:29 PM

    More often than not I do not post on blogs, but I’d like to mention that this article has compelled me to do so! Thank you for your perceptive post.

  17. Stop Sweating - Feb 8, 2010 at 4:44 PM

    You produced some incredibly good points there. I did a search on the topic effectively as found most people will agree with your blog.

  18. custom printed t shirt - Feb 8, 2010 at 10:56 PM

    What did you guys think about the Super Bowl halftime show.(I’m not a big fan of the who) I think it should’ve been lady gaga(lol) what you guys think?

  19. Davidoff Cigars - Feb 10, 2010 at 9:31 PM

    Your post undeniably was one of the top things of my weekend. I was on Msn browsing for something entirely not related while the title caught my attention. I’m happy I took the occasion to look over your page!

  20. Jaime Smigel - Feb 10, 2010 at 9:40 PM

    I’ve really gotten into soccer over the past 4 of years with my kids. It is such a great sport. I really enjoyed this post!

Leave Comment

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!

Featured video

Managers get easier path to Cooperstown
Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. H. Street (3473)
  2. T. Tulowitzki (3135)
  3. C. Headley (2796)
  4. H. Ramirez (2684)
  5. Y. Puig (2676)
  1. R. Howard (2539)
  2. C. Lee (2476)
  3. B. Belt (2468)
  4. M. Trout (2225)
  5. A. Rios (2153)