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An additional wild card team would not screw up all the drama

Sep 27, 2011, 12:30 PM EDT

Dilution

As the frantic battle for the wild card concludes in both leagues, the one thing you can get everyone to agree on is how much of a bummer it would be if there were five playoff teams in each league instead of four. If that were the case –as is being proposed for the future — we’d have the Cardinals, Rays, Red Sox and Braves all safely in the big dance and we’d just be marking time until Friday.

But as The Common Man points out over at The Platoon Advantage today, even though a fifth wild card would suck the drama out of 2011’s race, that’s not the truth in many years.  In fact, after looking back at what the race for a theoretical fifth playoff spot would have looked like since 1995, TCM concludes thusly:

“… historically the theoretical 5th playoff spot has been hotly contested, even down to the wire. In fact, the race for 5th has been a nail-biter far more often than it’s been a laugher … since the Wild Card was introduced in 1995, the 5th playoff spot has been clinched on the last two days of the season 19 times out of a possible 32, and there has been at least one close finish every year with the exception of 1999.”

That’s pretty good. And while every time you lower the bar a little bit you allow a slightly worse team to be the one fighting for that last spot, it’s the drama, not the quality we’re all getting off on this week. I mean, Boston and Atlanta stink on ice right now, and that’s making this all great fun.  Who cares if the late season drama comes as the result of futility rather than excellence?

  1. ftbramwell - Sep 27, 2011 at 12:57 PM

    This second wild card thing is just a dreadful idea. One game play in? Give me a break. There’s already a premium for winning your division. It’s called home field advantage. Don’t think it’s a big deal? Why, then, did this year’s Yankee team work so hard to get the number one seed?

    Can’t win your division? Can’t even come in second in your division? (By way of example, take a look at the 2008 AL races and this year’s AL races: both wild cards would have come from the AL East.) Why should you get a chance to compete for the sport’s championship trophy?

    The wild card was added to avoid what happened in 1993 with Atlanta and San Fransisco each winning over 100 games, while only one team made it to the playoffs. It is supposed to be a fail safe for a team (like the 1993 Giants) that had a great season but that just so happened to be in a league with a better team. No need to take a great idea, which allowed for (i) one quality team to compete for the championship, and (ii) a playoff race across divisions, and further dilute it. Might as well get rid of division races altogether and copy the NFL and NBA’s format.

    • clydeserra - Sep 27, 2011 at 1:11 PM

      The home field advantage is nice, but not a huge deal.

      My proposal is the wild card has to win 4 games in the Division series and 5 games in the Championship series. World series stays the same.

    • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Sep 27, 2011 at 1:29 PM

      Winning your division does not = home field advantage. Whichever division winner gets the Yankees in the ALDS will go on the road.

      I think the beauty of the 2-wildcard team idea is that it creates 2 heated races: one for 5th vs. 6th place in each league, and one for 3rd vs. 4th. Teams will definitely play harder to secure a division crown if the WC means a one-game play in.

      • ftbramwell - Sep 27, 2011 at 2:05 PM

        True, but the wild card winner automatically has to travel. And while you’re right that a team would rather avoid the one game play in for a variety of reasons (e.g., risk avoidance, being able to start your best pitcher twice in the next round instead of once), you still haven’t answered why the third place team in a division (like the 2008 Yankees) should be able to compete for the championship when they’ve already proven over the course of a 162 game season that they were not as good as the first and second place teams.

        If you really want “playoff” drama, then the NBA/NFL format is the way to do it, not some silly one-and-done play in system. Baseball is a beautiful game because it focuses on series rather than single game elimination like the NFL. Baseball is about multiple chances: the series style of play makes it less likely that one play will eliminate your team. If you like that sort of one-and-done, go and stay with the NFL.

      • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Sep 27, 2011 at 4:29 PM

        you still haven’t answered why the third place team in a division (like the 2008 Yankees) should be able to compete for the championship

        There are two ways to look at that:

        1. Why should a second place team in a division have the exact same benefits as a division winner heading into the playoffs? That is what we have under the current system. In fact, the Yankees are doubly screwed because they will be the best team in the AL but, instead of facing the wild card team, have to face another division winner.

        2. It is entirely possible the third place team in one division is better than the first place team in another division. It won’t happen this year, but in 2008 the Dodgers got in with something like the 7th best record in the NL. The Mets had 5 more wins that season, but they spent October at home.

        Personally I would be happiest with scrapping the unbalanced schedule and divisions altogether, and letting the teams with the best record from each league duke it out in the playoffs, but I don’t think we will get that much change anytime soon.

      • ftbramwell - Sep 27, 2011 at 5:48 PM

        Two fair points. As to your point number 1, I disagree that the wild card team has the same advantages as a division winner as the wild card will never have home field advantage in the playoffs, even if it has a better record than a division winner. Moreover, it would be far less entertaining for two teams who have played each other 18 times over the course of the season to meet in the first round. Finally, the wild card team is presumptively weaker than the division winner in its own league — otherwise, it wouldn’t be the wild card.

        With respect to your second point, I agree that divisional play can produce some perverse results like the 2008 Dodgers/Mets disparity that you highlighted. But that’s what you get if you have divisional play and an unbalanced schedule. The only solution to this, though, is what you suggested: get rid of the unbalanced schedule (including the unbalanced inter-league schedule) and the teams with the top N records make the playoffs. But then you’re into the system that the NFL or the NBA has. I don’t find that entertaining, and I would suspect such a system would disappoint a lot of MLB fans. But if the league can sell it and make money . . .

  2. oikosjeremy - Sep 27, 2011 at 12:59 PM

    Never can understand arguments about how increasing the number of teams that make the playoffs will increase the drama of the playoff chase. You have drama when there’s a close race for a playoff spot, and no drama when you don’t. Adding wild card spots doesn’t create close races, it just shifts the teams involved in the race (whether it’s a close race or not). Large, drama-free gaps can occur anywhere in the standings, so I don’t see much reason to think that the chase for a second wild card spot is any more or less likely to be dramatic than the chase for the one wild card spot we have now.

    • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Sep 27, 2011 at 1:31 PM

      2 races under the new scenario: the race to get in, and the race to avoid the 1 game playoff round. Plus a one-game playoff will be filled with drama. It doesn’t guarantee more drama in the races, but it increases the likelihood greatly.

  3. kopy - Sep 27, 2011 at 1:22 PM

    I would think that more teams making the playoffs increases the odds of a good race simply because the number of wins needed to make the postseason is lowered, and so more teams have a chance of attaining it because the middle of the pack is always much more crowded. Stats would probably back this up with simple standard deviation formulas and such. So simple I don’t want to think about it right now.

    • oikosjeremy - Sep 27, 2011 at 2:25 PM

      Yes, there are more middle of the pack teams than there are elite teams. But if there are lots of playoff spots available, lots of those middle of the pack teams will clinch spots early, and you’re still left with hoping that there are two or three closely-matched teams vying for the final spot. Look at the NBA or NHL–they let a bunch of teams in the playoffs, but do they usually have a bunch of teams fighting down to the wire for the last one or two spots? No. There’s usually either no race at all for the last couple of spots, or there’s a race between two or three teams.

      Yes, you could do some math (and yes, it’d be pretty simple math) to figure out how likely it is to have a small gap in the end of regular season standings at any given level in the standings. But I doubt the effect, if it exists, is very large. Surely not large enough to be worth worrying about given all the other considerations that matter (like “not letting a bunch of mediocre teams into the playoffs”).

  4. heynerdlinger - Sep 27, 2011 at 1:23 PM

    The worst argument for the extra wild card is that it would somehow make up for the fact that the Yankees and Red Sox are always in the playoffs. Leaving alone the fact that the Red Sox are not always in the playoffs, People, wake up! You only make it *more likely* that the Yankees and the Red Sox will be in the playoffs by lowering the bar they have to clear to get there.

    • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Sep 27, 2011 at 1:59 PM

      Now we’re guaranteeing that the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays are always in the playoffs. ;-)

    • pmcenroe - Sep 27, 2011 at 2:43 PM

      I dont think people are necessarily concered with the Yankees and Red Sox always making the playoffs but rather teams like Baltimore, Toronto and Kansas City not making it. Adding an addtional wild card would increase their chances..

      • marinersnate - Sep 27, 2011 at 3:22 PM

        I would go along with the idea of an extra wildcard, but NOT if they come out of the same division. The caveat (for me anyway) has to be that the wildcard teams are the two SECOND place teams with the best records. In no way, shape , or form should a third place team make the playoffs.

        But of course, this would destroy the exact reason that MLB is adding an extra wildcard. To ensure that three AL East teams have a better chance of making the playoffs and to add extra insurance against either the NYY or Red Sox being left out.

      • Bill - Sep 27, 2011 at 3:24 PM

        /sarcasm

        Right??

      • ryanhowardsnose - Sep 27, 2011 at 3:53 PM

        Adding a salary cap and revenue sharing system would increase their chances. Small market teams are never going to compete with the big dogs as long as high-profile free agents are wooed by dollar figures unaffordable by your Kansas Citys and your Baltimores. Strengthen the weaker teams and they’ll make the playoffs. Don’t just open the door for them. But I’m sure I’m just preaching to the choir here…

      • ryanhowardsnose - Sep 27, 2011 at 3:58 PM

        And if we’re going to discuss acceptance based on division, why should a second wild card team NOT be allowed to come from the same division as the first? Why should the Rays or Red Sox be overlooked in favor of the Angels, although both of the former teams have a better record than Anaheim.

        The NBA and NHL allow multiple teams from the same division to compete in the post-season. Heck, just this past year, 4 of the 5 teams from the NHL’s Pacific Division made the playoffs. If they’ve got better records than the teams in the other divisions, why bar them from a playoff seed?

      • ftbramwell - Sep 27, 2011 at 4:27 PM

        If a salary cap would cure all ills, how is it that the Mets consistently put one of the worst teams that money can buy on the field. Same thing with the Dodgers and the Cubs. On the other hand, the Twins (until very recently) put great products on the field with low payrolls. As have the Rays, as did the Marlins and the A’s in recent memory.

        If you really wanted competitive balance, do what corporate America does — when management (up to and including ownership) consistently fails, you fire them. If an owner can’t put a winning product on the field at least once every five years, the commissioner should be able to force a sale.

  5. tacklemeelmo - Sep 27, 2011 at 4:56 PM

    The question I have at the moment is the following:

    After the game between the 2 Wild Card winners is there still going to be the rule that you cannot face a team within your own division in the Division Series?

    • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Sep 27, 2011 at 5:04 PM

      I hope so. The best record in the league should get the benefit of playing the depleted wild card team. That should actually make for an even better race between the #1 and #2 teams down the stretch.

      • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Sep 27, 2011 at 5:11 PM

        That should read, I hope NOT. no stoopid edit buttin…

  6. leftywildcat - Sep 27, 2011 at 9:05 PM

    The Wild Card format is not broken. So let’s not fix it. Leave it the way it is.

    But let’s begin awarding next year’s All Star Game site to whichever of the remaining 22 teams has the best won-loss record. That would keep it interesting. If there’s a tie for that, have a one game playoff to settle it before the regular playoffs begin. Coin toss decides home field for that one game.

  7. simplicitymadecomplex - Sep 28, 2011 at 11:13 AM

    I have been visiting this site for over 2 years and have come to realize and understand that most of our commentators are reasonable, intelligent and somewhat “confrontational [for all the right reasons of course] however, and yes this is a big HOWEVER [almost a howEVARRR], arguing or even discussing this topic is beyond me [and it should be for most of you also].

    Why ?

    ‘Cause as FANS of BASEBALL we should all realize and understand that any additions to the PLAYOFF FORMATS of any of the major sporting enterprises [read fuckin' corporations a la LADodgers] is FIRST AND FOREMOST ONLY ABOUT THE ADDITIONAL PROFIT ACCUMULATED FROM 24,476 different revenue streams.

    Hey even Lance Beckman told everyone “IT IS ALWAYS ABOUT THE MONEY”.

    So bla, bla, bla, and yada, yada, yada … SHOW ME THE MONEY.

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