MLB Playoffs: Improving and Revamping the System
Saturday October 15, 2011
MLB reports – Jonathan Hacohen: I recently received a great e-mail from one of our readers. The e-mail was a well written commentary piece on improving the MLB Playoffs structure. So enthusiastic was I with the contents of the message, that I immediately suggested sharing the reader’s thoughts on our site. I got an enthusiastic thumbs back in response! Thus today on MLB reports, we are proud to present Guest Writer- Brian Corrigan, with his proposal to improve and revamp the MLB Playoffs:
Brian Corrigan (Guest Writer – MLB reports): The classic pennant chase prior to 1969 made sense. It rewarded the team that performed consistently over a schedule of between 154 and 162 games. In a given year, it is possible that one or two teams with the best records in Major League Baseball will win 60% of their games. However, a team that wins 60% of their games, will routinely lose 3 out of 5 games several times in a season. And the difference between a team that wins 55% of its games and 60% is almost unnoticeable in any given stretch of games, until you play out the full season.
As the two top seeds in each league have now just been eliminated from the championship games, does baseball really want to go the path of hockey, basketball and football- allowing wild card teams an ever-increasing role in the postseason? Remember that those are sports where the best teams commonly win 67%+ of their games. In football, the top teams win 75%+ of their games. Baseball is a totally different creature. It requires longer sifting for the really great baseball teams to emerge, although those teams are almost inevitably bewitched by periods of seasonal funks.
Does baseball really want to go in this direction? Will games in April, May and June really count? Will fans wait until postseason to tune in? Will General Managers develop strategies to play on the cheap in the first half of the season, and then make the key acquisitions that will give them the best short-term shot at the postseason? Do we really want baseball to degenerate in this direction?
I’m a pragmatic person. I understand that baseball is business. Given the fact that postseason play is more lucrative, I can understand wanting to expand the number of postseason games. Ultimately, I’m not going to succeed in rolling back the clock, but I would like to propose a system that is much better than a 10 or 12 team playoff system.
If I could deliver a postseason schedule that:
1) Produced more games, and therefore higher revenues than the current system;
2) Would produce a higher number of expected games, while taking less elapsed time, solving the World Series in November problem;
3) Would do this even with the existing 8 team playoff structure;
4) Would encourage the use of the top 3 starting pitching rotations, that fans prefer; and
5) Decreases the probability that the series will come down to luck or streakiness…
Would I at least have your attention?
What I am proposing does all of this, as well as produce higher revenues for MLB teams and more excitement for the fans.
What I am proposing is essentially a best of 9 games “round robin” pennant series, where each of the 4 playoff teams in each league would potentially play each other 3 times – possibly more or less, with up to two tie-breaker games. The pennant would not be won until one team had secured the best record in the pennant series, getting at least 6 wins. Until a team took its fifth loss, it would still be playing meaningful games, until one team secured its sixth win.
Each 3-game set would consist of a first game, with the team that does not have home field advantage taking a day off, and then playing on the 3rd and 4th day against the team with the home field advantage. The fifth day would be off; thus, the use of a 3 pitcher starting rotation would be encouraged. One league would start one day later than the other, so that baseball games would played on each day.
Home field advantage would go to the team with the best seed (best regular season record).
But isn’t there a possibility that some of the games wouldn’t count? Yes, however by giving the postseason teams a share of postseason revenues, there is always a motivation to win. At the point where two teams have been mathematically eliminated from the pennant series (this should not happen until every team has had a chance to play at least five games, and most likely more), then the two surviving teams would play the balance of the remaining 9- game tournament against each other, even if that means they play more than three times against one another. For example, if two teams have won their first 5 games, and the remaining teams have lost 5 games each, then the teams that have won five in a row should play their last games against each other. Effectively, this would create a best of five series for the surviving two teams, until one team gets its eighth win (allowing for a tenth game tie breaker if needbe).
To increase the probability that the two best teams would play in the final 3 games, I would propose the following schedule:
First 3 games: #1 seed plays #4 seed; #2 seed plays #3 seed
Second 3 games: winner of #1 vs. #4 plays loser of #2 vs #3 series; winner of #2 vs. #3 plays loser of #1 vs. #4.
Of the two teams that won the first series, they will go into the last series with no more than 4 losses (no more than 1 from the first series and 3 from the last series), meaning that at least the first game between those two teams will count for both clubs, since elimination could not yet have occurred for either one.
Taking this year’s National League Division series as an example: the Phillies won the first two of three against the Cards, and so would have played their next three games against the D-Backs who lost 2 of 3 to the Brewers. The Brewers would have played their next three vs. the Cards. The final 3 games would have been Phils vs. Brewers, Cards vs. D-Backs, at least until two of the teams had been eliminated.
In the event that only one team is eliminated, until a second team is eliminated, it is possible that 1 or 2 games will be played for the honor of baseball, or for a share of the postseason revenue. But once two teams are eliminated, they would step aside and allow the two surviving teams to play up to the balance of the remaining 9 games head-to-head.
The following represents a hypothetical pennant season:
First 3 games:
Phils win 2 out of 3 against the Cards
Brewers win 2 out of 3 against the D-Backs
Second 3 games:
D-Backs win 2 out of 3 against Phils
Cards win 2 out of 3 against Brewers
Game 7 with Resulting records in parenthesis
Brewers (4-3) beat Phils (3-4)
Cards (4-3) best D-backs (3-4)
Brewers (5-3) beat Phils (3-5)
Cards (5-3) beat D-backs (3-5)
Phils and D-backs are eliminated; Brewers and Cards play the final 9th game against each other to resolve the pennant. Since the home field goes to the best regular season record in the 2nd and 3rd games of a 3 game set, the Cards would visit the Brewers for the 9th game.
Let’s say that Game 8 had gone differently, let’s say D-backs (4-4) beat Cards (4-4)
The Phils would play game 9 against the Brewers for honor and bragging rights.
If the Brewers win their 6th game, they clinch; otherwise, there will be a two-way tie for the pennant to be resolved by a tie breaker game. This system produces lots of wonderful and exciting and meaningful games for fans.
But isn’t there a chance of a tie in this system? Yes, and you could still get a 10th and 11th game tie-breaker in; and in less time than the current system. A three-way tie would pit the two worst regular season record teams against each other, and the winner would play the team with the best regular season record. This could happen if three teams went 5-4, and one team went 3-6 or if three teams went 6-3 and one team went 0-9. It should not happen that often, and if it does, it generates more games and more excitement for baseball.
Are you sure this will take less elapsed time? Yes, the current system must allow for a 5-game division series and a 7-game championship. That is 12 games in total. But you get fewer games because only two teams are playing in the last best of 7, and some teams may be eliminated after just 3 games. In this revised system, no one can get eliminated until after playing a minimum of 5 games. Even with a 3-way tie-breaker, you play less than 11 games in total vs. a schedule that must accommodate 12 games, as is the case in the current system (and 15 or more in the proposed new system). It works out that the 9th game would be scheduled for the day that the 5th league championship game is currently scheduled. Since it takes 3 more days to play out the 7 game LCS, there’s enough time to squeeze in up to two tie-breaker games, and still finish up at least 1 day before the current system. Given the rarity of the two game tie-breaker, the last tie-breaker game could be scheduled for a day before the World Series.
Can you really say that this series cuts down on the luck? It could come down to the tie breaker game? If you want to reduce the luck, use the regular season to determine the pennant winner. The more games played, the less luck involved. It will take some consistency to fight your way to that 10th game tie-breaker. The bottom line is really that baseball gets the increased revenue, without opening the door to more and more teams in the playoffs, the way the other sports have gone, thus diminishing the value of the regular season. In fact, with the suggested homefield advantage rules, the top seed gets 6 out of 9 games at home, and that makes the regular season count for more than the current system.
***Thank you to our Guest Writer, Brian Corrigan, for sharing his thoughts on the MLB playoffs today with us. Please feel free to leave any comments and/or questions that you have at the bottom of this article.***
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