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The absurdity that is MLB’s tiebreaker system

Sep 25, 2013, 2:22 AM EDT

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The San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser runs down the mess that is MLB tiebreaker system as it relates to the A’s and Red Sox possibly tying for the AL’s best record. It includes a change that was never announced by the league because, well, MLB has never wanted to bore us with the details.

So, in short, the tiebreaker goes like this:

1. Head-to-head record
2. Intradivisional record
3. Intraleague record (the new, previously unannounced one)
4. Second-half intradivisional record

I guess the addition of No. 3 is an improvement on falling back to what was the old No. 3. It’s No. 2 that’s stupid, though. Basically, it gives the team in the easier division an extra advantage after it already had the huge advantage of playing in the easier division.

In fact, the No. 2 tiebreaker should be the exact opposite: extradivisional record. The team that played in the stronger division that did a better job beating up on the rest of the league should have the advantage in the tiebreaker.

My tiebreaker system:

1. Head-to-head record
2. Extradivisional record
3. Run differential

  1. carldispoto - Sep 25, 2013 at 2:32 AM

    While we all know run differential is a good barometer of a team’s ability, I hate it as a tie-breaker. I can envision an admittedly rare situation where a team in the last week is trying to run up scores win a tiebreaker.

    • pipkin42 - Sep 25, 2013 at 3:11 AM

      What’s wrong with that?

    • dan1111 - Sep 25, 2013 at 3:44 AM

      Keep in mind that in Matthew’s scenario, run differential would only come into play if two teams had the exact same record AND the tied the season series AND had the exact same extra-divisional record. When you get that far down the list, all you need is something that is at least somewhat non-stupid.

  2. andreweac - Sep 25, 2013 at 2:38 AM

    4. The Will to Win score of Hawk Harrelson. He’ll, that should be #1.

    • dan1111 - Sep 25, 2013 at 3:45 AM

      Forget tie-breaker, this should just be the qualification for the play-offs!

  3. yahmule - Sep 25, 2013 at 2:42 AM

    Each side should select one champion and those two battle it out, mano a mano.

    • KR - Sep 25, 2013 at 10:02 AM

      Two men enter, one man leaves.

      • Jeremy T - Sep 25, 2013 at 10:51 AM

        And then later, the other man leaves, thoroughly shamed. We’re not savages.

    • mjames1229 - Sep 25, 2013 at 11:31 AM

      Penalty kicks…

      • joestemme - Sep 25, 2013 at 5:15 PM

        Penalty kicks = Home Run Derby! :)

  4. kappy32 - Sep 25, 2013 at 6:25 AM

    The tiebreaker system was clearly set up to determine the winner of two teams in the same division rather than the A’s-Sox scenario you set up. Say, using the NL playoff race as an example, the Cards, Pirates & Reds all clinched playoff spots (division & 2 WC’s) – as they have; the Dodgers clinched the NL West; however, hypothetically, the Braves & the Nats finished tied for the NL East with 82-80 records. In addition to finishing with the same record, the Braves & Nats split their 18-game season series 9-9. Under that scenario, which I believe the tiebreaker system was set up for, the intradivision record is the correct second element used to determine the tiebreaker. Under the aforementioned hypothetical scenario, using extradivision records would de-emphasize the importance of division games, when, as is the case in every professional sport, intradivision games are the most important games during the course of the regular season. In the real situation you mentioned in your post, the MLB Rules Committee should tweak the rules a little to differentiate between divisional tiebreakers & seeding / cross-divisional tiebreakers. In the A’s-Sox case, the extradivision element you mentioned should be the formula used, but definitely not if the hypothetical situation I present ever comes to fruition.

    A lot of people will say that that when there’s a tie for the division there should be a one-game playoff & I couldn’t disagree more. With baseball being a marathon of 162 games, determining a division winner based upon a one-game playoff is just plain stupid & it doesn’t reward a team for their whole body of work. The Wild Card is one thing when a division championship is a whole different thing. Teams should be rewarded for winning their division & forcing the eventual winner to play a 163rd game does the opposite. First, it prevents the team from setting up their rotation the best possible way for them. Second, and most important, God forbid a key player is hurt in that 163rd game – it could ruin a team’s whole season. The system isn’t perfect, but it’s set up to prevent a stupid play-in game for a division championship, not to determine seeding. All the system needs is a minor change & all will be copacetic.

    • bj2745 - Sep 25, 2013 at 7:37 AM

      There is a one game playoff for division ties. This formula determines seeding of teams already in, not who actually gets a spot.

      • danaking - Sep 25, 2013 at 9:12 AM

        This has an even more absurd option than Craig mentioned above. I heard last night that, should the Pirates and cardinals tie for the division, they have to play a game to decide who is the division champion and who gets the first wild card. This penalizes the team that loses this game, as they now have to play in the wild card game against the second wild card, who just had a day off.

        Games should be played if one of the teams will be knocked out of the playoffs. Tiebreakers should suffice if only seeding is at stake.

      • Francisco (FC) - Sep 25, 2013 at 10:05 AM

        I realize it may seem like Craig writes EVERYTHING In this blog. But he doesn’t. It’s Matthew who wrote the post.

      • scoutsaysweitersisabust - Sep 25, 2013 at 11:34 AM

        Craig is too busy playing GTA5 and stalking Nicki Minaj on Twitter

      • moogro - Sep 25, 2013 at 6:20 PM

        danaking is spot on.

    • Steve A - Sep 25, 2013 at 10:56 AM

      Why wouldn’t you want to settle it on the field when “it” is a playoff spot, especially a division title? My favorite team, the Tigers, lost a Game 163 in 2009, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Minnesota got the home field for that game based on tiebreaker procedures, but I couldn’t imagine how I would have felt had Minny won the division based on those same procedures.

      How is it fair to award a division title based on tiebreakers? A team can only play the schedule assigned to them. Why should a subset of games matter more than others, when all is said and done? Settle it on the field. There may be years where the two teams tied for a division are also tied for the top Wild Card spot. That Game 163 for the division would create an advantage for the second Wild Card spot. However, the trade off for that scenario far outweighs the alternative.

      As for your last point, a player can get injured at any time. What’s to say a key player on the Braves, let’s say, gets injured on Sunday in Game 162? Injuries happen, and playing an extra game to settle a division isn’t increasing that risk to an unsafe or unfair level.

  5. Carl Hancock - Sep 25, 2013 at 7:43 AM

    If it was extra divisional then wouldn’t the team playing in the strongest division benefit because it would be based on their record playing against teams in weaker divisions? There is no perfect system.

    • Liam - Sep 25, 2013 at 8:48 AM

      Well, if the two teams tied in total record, the team who played in the stronger division should have the advantage in tiebreakers.

      Personally, though, I say a two man sack race should be held on consecutive Sundays until a champion can be crowned.

    • gerryb323 - Sep 25, 2013 at 10:25 AM

      I was thinking the same thing. The intradivisional and extradivisional records would have the same (albeit the opposite ???) problem. The only solution would be record against the third division (here, the AL Central). And why wouldn’t 2 and 3 be flipped anyway?

  6. philliesblow - Sep 25, 2013 at 7:48 AM

    A’s vs Red Sox could be settled very easily. Josh Reddick vs Mike Napoli in a beard growing contest. Alec Baldwin is the judge.

  7. ndnut - Sep 25, 2013 at 8:05 AM

    The team in the stronger division should have an advantage, as they would be the better team, playing opponents of a higher quality.

  8. nbjays - Sep 25, 2013 at 8:16 AM

    Just use Bud Selig logic. Since the World Series home field advantage hinges on who won the All-Star Game, just have the AL tiebreaker hinge on whatever team’s players played better in the All-Star Game, or Home Run Derby, or something…

  9. bravojawja - Sep 25, 2013 at 9:09 AM

    I suggest a walk-off, Zoolander style:

    Some content was stripped by our security filters, but it should be possible for one of your Editors to embed the content for you.

    Zoolander – Walk Off Scene by Flixgr

    • bravojawja - Sep 25, 2013 at 9:10 AM

      Damn – what the hell is all that extra crap in the post? And the ad? Stupid internet.

  10. aindik - Sep 25, 2013 at 10:24 AM

    How about “other division record?” That would be each team’s record against the other division in the league – the one neither team is in. So, for the A’s and Red Sox the tiebreaker is record against the AL Central.

  11. scoutsaysweitersisabust - Sep 25, 2013 at 11:30 AM

    But this is why we have an imbalanced schedule! Who wants a fair playing field? Things are more fun when some teams have one hand tied behind their back!

  12. garlicfriesandbaseball - Sep 25, 2013 at 12:13 PM

    Reblogged this on Garlicfriesandbaseball's Blog and commented:
    GFBB Note: This is a rule that hardly anyone knows about, unannounced officially by MLB. It gives added strength to a team’s Intraleague record. So it stands to reason we’ll be seeing a lot more of intraleague play in the coming years. Not that that’s a bad thing, but in my opinion it takes away from the importance of Division play, i.e. why even have it? Division play I mean.

  13. misterj167 - Sep 25, 2013 at 12:31 PM

    Three words: Stone, Paper, Scissors

  14. tigerdog1 - Sep 27, 2013 at 2:13 AM

    Give MLB credit for deciding the critical issues on the field, rather than by a formula. The tiebreaking formula is only used to determine home field advantage. When a tie has to be broken to determine which team wins a division or which team makes it into the playoffs, they decide that on the field.

    I had to go to the trouble of breaking down every possible scenario involving two or three teams who tied for a division or a wild card spot and I wrote about that on I’ve done a second article on the topic going into the last weekend.

    As it turns out, even when there were six teams vying for the final two spots in the AL wild card race, almost every possible two or three way tie could be broken by using only head to head record. Same with every division race (they play an odd number of division games- 19). Only the Rangers and Royals split the season series.

    An example of going to the intradivision record is found also in a three way tie between Boston, Detroit, and Oakland. That’s unlikely now, but it goes like this:
    Detroit beat Boston 4- 3, Oakland beat Detroit 4- 3, Boston and Oakland split 3- 3. So, they’re all 10- 10. The Tigers have the better division record because they killed the AL central (particularly Cleveland). In case of a 3 way tie, Boston would play at Oakland and the wild card winner opens at Detroit in the ALDS.

    I agree that they should drop the intradivision record as a tiebreaker outside of the division. Just go with the league record in that case.

    When it comes to a tiebreaker for home field in the wild card game, I won’t get too bothered. Those teams are lucky to be alive after not winning their division. They won’t be eliminated by the formula, they just have to play on the road.

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