April 23, 2014

Baseball Looks to Expand Wildcard

Lost in the shuffle of the NBA cancelling its first two weeks was Bud Selig talking to reporters before game 2 of the NLCS.  One of the big revelations is that while it might not happen for 2012, we could see the doubling of Wildcard teams coming to MLB soon thereafter.  Selig spoke about the addition of the Wildcard and where it could go in the future.

You remember I got killed. I was getting killed for a lot of things. It was brutal. He’s ruining the sport, what’s he doing, and so on and so forth. And we kept expanding and expanding and expanding, and somebody had to make an adjustment. You couldn’t have 30 teams and just keep it at six…  …I’ve said to everybody I think 10 out of 30 is fair. I think it will produce the number. I will tell you on my 14-man committee — Tony La Russa is here today, so he could speak to it — the vote is 14 to nothing, it’s been all the way along. We spent hours talking about it.

On first thought, it sounds like a great idea.  If we’ve learned anything from the business of baseball is that money can’t buy championships.  Money does frequently buy playoff appearances.  There are examples of poorly spent money like the Mets, but they are the exception not the rule.  With expanded Wildcard standings, baseball will open itself up to yet another team from each league.  Once the playoffs start, anything can happen.  Doesn’t that give a team like the Indians a better chance to sneak into the playoffs and make a run?  Shouldn’t we be in favor of this? 

Let’s look at the American League for the last few years if there was an additional Wildcard.

2011 the Red Sox would have made it
2010 the Red Sox would have made it
2009 the Rangers would have made it
2008 the Yankees would have made it
2007 the Tigers would have made it
2006 the White Sox would have made it
2005 the Indians would have made it
2004 the A’s would have made it

2006 would have been the strangest year for the AL Central as the White Sox would have been the third team from the division with Minnesota winning it and Detroit scoring the first Wildcard spot.

So, what does all this mean? Not sure exactly. Nobody knows for sure. What we do know is that MLB’s magical last day of the season with the Rays and Red Sox fighting it out for the Wildcard slot wouldn’t have happened. The Red Sox would have had the second wildcard slot. In the National League Atlanta’s collapse would have still seen them earn the second Wildcard slot there meaning that St. Louis’ run would have been diminished somewhat. Maybe the loss of that kind of excitement to the regular season would be made up in the playoffs. Can’t say for sure.

What I do know is that I think I’ll take the chance. According to this the Indians would have had one more playoff appearance. Who knows how many deadlines this rule could affect going forward that would turn the Indians into buyers rather than sellers?

In all practicality, this will probably just get the big-spending AL East more involved in the playoffs every year than they already are. Still, I have been conditioned by this game. I know they aren’t going to make sweeping changes to the salary cap or pay structure of players. So give me an extra ping pong ball in the playoff lottery, I guess. It’s better than nothing, right?

At least this way the Indians of 2005 could have “snuck in” with a rotation of 18-game winner Cliff Lee, 15 game winner C.C. Sabathia, Kevin Millwood, Jake Westbrook and Scott Elarton. I’ll take that opportunity with Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner both batting over 0.300 for the season and with 53 home runs combined.

If it can give the Tribe one extra chance per decade, are you in?

  • Kram

    I used to be totally against the idea…especially after this year’s “magical last day of the season”. But then it was pointed out to me that had they never added wild cards in the first place, that magical day never would have happened. It seems like it would make things less exciting, but that’s not necessarily true. It would just be different.

    Having said all that, no matter how many teams make it, there are problems with the structure of the playoffs. A 5 game “division series” is ridiculous after a 162 game season. There’s not enough of an incentive to win the division. These are the real problems.

    Personally, I think there should be less playoff teams…but I’m not going to be terribly upset if they add more. Especially if we get to the playoffs as an extra wild card team.

  • Lyon

    I’m in.

    What happens with the extra team though? best record gets a bye?

  • mgbode

    I like the 2nd wild card as long as they stick with the plan of the 2 wild card teams in a 1-game playoff to get into the ‘real’ playoffs.

    The wild card has long been a way of getting into the playoffs without any real repurcussions once you are in (other than not having home field advantage).

    as for that magical last day, it just would have been moved one day forward. and it would be guaranteed without 2 teams collapsing (red sox and braves). not to mention that teams in the wild card spot wouldn’t be able to coast into the playoffs and it could potentially make September more meaningfull in general (though that’s a tougher sell after what happened in Boston/Atlanta this year).

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Craig Lyndall

    You’re right Lyon. They should add TWO additional wildcard teams! :-) No byes! (Traditionalists are loading their rifles as I type this.)

  • mgbode

    also, the usage of the Uno wild card was fantastic.

  • Lyon

    Agreed

  • NJ

    I like adding a team, but I don’t like the idea of a then one-and-done playoff between two WC teams. Of course, you make it longer and then you run into the danger of baseball during Hannukah.

    I also like the rule (though I highly doubt they’d do it) that only team in a division can win a wild card. If the Sox can’t beat the Rays then they don’t get anything. That’d add some diversity and give the small market teams a chance. Of course, since this is mostly about creating more revenue and the East teams tend to produce the most, I don’t see that happening.

    I’ll also say this about Selig – people love to bad mouth him, but you can make the argument that he has been the most successful commissioner in sports over the last twenty years. He handled the strike, exploited the steroid era to rejuvinate baseball, expanded the league, introduced the wild card (once, now twice), added interleague play, and navigated the post-steroid era quite well. There’s been zero labor strife with owners, players, and the league all generally content.

    He obviously has his negatives and failings. And yeah, small market fans hate him for legitimate reasons. But any time I hear people say he’s incompetent or a clown, I have to laugh. The guy has a success rate that dwarves most commissioners.

  • -bobby-

    How does the extra team work? a 1 game playoff between 2 WC teams doesnt seem to give the 162 game season justice. What if the difference is 5+ games between the 1st and 2nd WC but then the higher team loses 1 game and its all over. That completly negates the season. And even if they make it a series, then the team that gets #1 could be at a disadvantage by sitting a few days to a week. I mean in baseball you cannot have that kind of break without getting somewhat stale (you could argue that happened with the Yanks sitting their regulars the last series before Detroit). I had a 3rd point… but I cant seem to remember it now… so thats it… I think…

  • christopher

    1. shorten the season by 2 weeks to allow the one and done playoff series between the additional wildcards and it’s a slam dunk for the league. they stay relevant during that September lull in which fans turn their attention to NFL while they wait for the October playoffs. i wonder how much MLB revenue is lost during those 2-3 weeks. probably just enough to spark this whole conversation.

    2. to say that you wouldn’t have that magical last day is a moot point because the dynamic of the races completely change. when a team knows they are out of the division lead or the wildcard they begin to do funky things with pitching rotations, play the youngsters and basically give up on the season to assess what they need for next year. With the brass ring of an additional wild card spot open those teams that would normally do these things, eh hem…Indians, wouldn’t do them. You would assume they would fight harder creating more dramatic storylines amongst a bigger field of players throughout August/September with more “magical last days”.

    i’m in.

  • B-bo

    How about a 5-game series for the two wild card teams, and shortening the regular season to 144 or 154 games. There is no need for baseball going into Christmas. Heck, do what you want with the wild card teams, but please shorten the season a bit. And put a hard salary cap in place. And get rid of interleague play. Other than that, I wouldn’t change a thing.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Craig Lyndall

    I am finished with Interleague play too, but it makes so much money, they won’t end it. Those series against the Reds were PACKED.

  • architrance

    Yeah, I don’t think I like this proposal. It seems specifically designed to make sure the Yankees AND Red Sox get in every year. And how would the Playoffs work? You’d have 5 teams from each league – does this add a new round to the playoffs? Would the two Wildcards play each other to determine who gets to advance and play the division winners? Or does the team with the best record in each league get a first round bye? That would greatly reduce the chances of a big market team (the Yankees) getting knocked out early in a 5 game series. One thing that could make that scenario slightly more palatable would be a rule stating that the two Wildcards can’t come from the same division.

    But if they’re willing to expand from 4 teams per league to 5, why not just make it 6? Take the top two teams from each division. You could add a new round to the playoffs, give the top two teams in each league a first round bye and let the other 4 teams play maybe a 3 game series to determine who advances. Then the 4 remaining teams play the existing Division Series format on through the WS.

    That’s the only way I see this being even close to fair, and it keeps more fans engaged in the regular season past a point in the season when their team would have normally been eliminated from contention. And, as we know, in a short series, anything can happen. To me this would be the best way to make this work while not overly giving an advantage to large market teams, in fact I think it would increase the competitive nature of the League as a whole.

  • architrance

    And I totally agree – if we’re making the Playoffs longer, lets shorten the season…

  • NJ

    MLB is supposedly trying to move the Astros to the AL West. That means two 15 team leagues and one interleague series going on at all times.

    And a hard salary cap in baseball is a pipe dream. As I see it, all parties are generally happy with the current set-up.

  • 5KMD

    “It seems specifically designed to make sure the Yankees AND Red Sox get in every year.”

    Yep, that is all this is about. If this happens it puts an absoulte guarantee that the Phillies, Yankees and Red Sox will be able to buy their way into the playoffs for the rest of time.

  • http://www.60bpm.com/ Robbie

    Reading through the comments here, I like…
    1) Shorten season
    2) WC vs WC in a 5 game series
    3) Make Divisional Series a 7 game series
    4) Keep the Championship Series the same

    – Gives the division winners a chance to rest and set-up their rotation.
    – Gives best overall record holder in each league a 7 game series against the WC winner.

    Might even for breaking up the latter to a 2-2-3 break-up to give the overall record holder in the league a bigger advantage.

    Regardless, this is simply another way to give the bigger market teams an even better chance to make the post season. There will always be exceptions, but that is the goal here.

  • http://serandez.blogspot.com Ezzie

    How about this: Move the Astros to the AL West.

    Play 18 interleague games a year – a 3-game set against each team in one division, and one “rivalry” series that flips who is home each year. (To ensure equal home/away games.) [Yes, that means every third year the rivalry series will be a second series against the "rival" interleague club.]

    Play 60 games against the other divisions in your league each year – 3 home, 3 away against each team.

    Play 64 divisional games a year – 8 home, 8 away against each team.

    That gives you 142 games, with a heavy divisional emphasis. Then, allow three wildcards and have playoffs similar to the NFL used to. The top two division winners get first-round byes, the third plays the worst wildcard team. First round is best of three, all in the park of the division winner and better wildcard, and no breaks between games. Second round is best of five (2-2-1) like now but with only one travel break after Game 2, LCS is best of seven (2-3-2) with only travel breaks, and World Series is best of seven (2-3-2) with only travel breaks.

    The regular season would end around September 10th. The wildcard round would end about the 14th, the divisional round about the 21st, the LCS around the 30th, and the World Series is the beginning of October.

    The regular season will have more meaning, you don’t have the unequal games and unequal scheduling of years past for the most part, and divisional games mean the most. Division winners get clear advantages in the playoffs, and there’s less dead time.

    Please feel free to comment, I’m curious what people think of this structure.

  • Greg

    1. 154 game season
    2. 32 teams, 8 divisions (4 teams in each division)
    3. 12 playoff teams, top 2 teams in each league get a bye, a chance to set their rotation, etc.
    4. 1 game playoff in the 1st round (Wild Card round)
    5. 5 game NLDS/ALDS
    6. 7 game LCS and WS

    Lost revenue from shorter season would be offset by more teams being relevant in September, market expansion, and more interesting playoffs.

    But, it won’t happen until there are two good expansion markets (I live in Portland which is probably the most ripe market other than a 3rd team in NY/LA, but we won’t be ready for another 5-7 years).

  • C-Bus Kevin

    Why is the NFL the most popular pro sport in America? Among other reasons, it has the MOST relevant regular season.

    Any move to make the regular season less relevant is a bad one in my opinion. Plus, as demonstrated above, this hardly looks like a move toward putting more small market teams in the playoff mix.

    Between this expansion talk, the NBA lockout, and the complete ignoring of the Browns by major media outlets, I’m finding it more and more difficult to stay interested in pro sports today.

  • architrance

    @C-Bus Kevin – I think adding more playoff spots (if its done right) would actually make the regular season more meaningful. If the top two teams in each Division get in it gives more teams more reason to play hard through the “dog days of summer” at the end of the season. Who cares about the regular season when your team is eliminated a month and a half before the playoffs? I think this makes the season itself so much more relevant…

  • Tim K.

    I hate the idea of a one game playoff for the proposed two WC teams.

    HYPOTHETICAL SITUATION:How would we feel as Indians fans if they won the #1 wildcard spot by like 7 games over the #2 Red Sox, but then they beat us in a 1 game playoff to make it into the “real” playoffs.

    I, for one, would not be happy about that. I could potentially dig another wildcard thing, but it would take AT LEAST a Best of 3 series, but preferably a Best of 5. Then I’d like to see all other rounds be Best of 7. I am also in favor of reducing the season to 154 games or so.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Andrew

    I don’t know how I feel about this proposal (although I kinda dig Ezzie’s proposal). I just wanted to comment to say that the 2005 Indians one of my favorite versions of the Tribe ever. I loved that team so much. That late season run they went on was just insane and despite lacking big names, that team was fun to watch night in and night out just doing whatever it took to win.

    That team was 49-48 and 15 games behind Chicago in July, and from there went on such a tear they got to 92-63 and 1.5 games back on Sep 24. They finally ran out of gas and lost 6 of their last 7 after that, but still, that season was a blast.

    Man, I still wonder what would have happened if that team could have just gotten in the playoffs.

  • Greg

    Scrap the division setup and just put 15 teams in each league and play a balanced schedule with top 4, 5, 6 teams go to the playoffs. it’s absurd to award playoff spots based on an unbalanced schedule with random geographical divisional assignments. i want the best teams in the playoffs. Taking a 87 win team who wins a random division in the playoffs over a 95 win team who happens to play in a loaded division is beyond dumb.

  • BuckeyeDawg

    I would like shortening the regular season to 154 and adding two more teams and another round of playoffs…but only if you play a minimum of 5 game series’. Not a fan of 1 or 3 game playoffs in baseball…

  • mgbode

    I would like to add that giving the top teams a bye for up to a week is a bad idea. Baseball more than any sport is about rhythym and timing. You cannot simulate playoff baseball and you would inadvertantly be giving the wild card teams an advantage by giving those top teams a bye.

    Plus, if it was a 3game series, then the pitching for those wild card teams would then line right back up for the next series. No inherent disadvantage for winning the wild card.

    That is why I support the 1game playoff. Who cares if you won vs. the other wild card by 10games even? You didn’t win your division, so there will be consequences. End of story. Use your best pitcher and sacrifice that start for the next series or gamble with another pitcher.

    Wild cards should have to earn their way more than division winners. IMO of course.

  • Ghost To Most

    I think baseballs playoff system is fine, and they should leave it alone.

    However, if they do add a Wild Card team to the mix, I think they should just go ahead and add two. Shorten the regular season and have three 7 game playoff rounds. I dont like the idea of an opening round best of 3 or 1 game elimination. Imagine a 95 win team losing 2 games to an 85 win team and getting bounced. Hell, I dont even like 5 game series all that much. The better team is going to prevail in a best of 7 99 times out of 100.

    I think you should have to win 4 or lose 4 in a series, but thats just me.

  • NJ

    @25- I get that rationale, but then why even have one wild card? Why two? Why not take it four and do a three one-and-done game mini-playoff? I just don’t get the rationale for why now, after all these years of living with one wild card, we need a second. The only answer seems to be, “more money”. Which, while fair, is a pretty cynical answer.

    But of course, debating it is pointless. MLB will do what it wants and it sure looks like two wild cards and a one-game playoff are in the works.

  • mgbode

    @NJ – of course debating it is pointless, but also fun. pretty much sums up most of our debates around here :)

    there are 2 reasons I see for adding another wild card now

    1. more money. this undoubtedly is the biggest reason. adding a guaranteed intrigue game to the end of the season.

    2. the success of the wild card teams in recent years has put more pressure to change the system to make them have a tangible disadvantage.

  • NJ

    Adding two guaranteed intrigue games, technically.

    As for #2, I don’t see how it’ll be a disadvantage to the wc team that wins the one-and-done.I guess it might mean their #1 can’t start game the first DS game, but that hardly is a major disadvantage imo. As Jim Leyland would say, you still have to win three games.

    Don’t get me wrong- I get it. I really do. And I’m hardly against it. I just see the whole thing as another example of MLB keeping the status quo while trying to create the illusion of shaking things up.

    Most people who are for changes to the ML system, as displayed here in this thread, are probably backing more extreme changes. If you like things the way they are, like me, you’re asking – what exactly is this really adding?

    It’s just such a gratitutios money grab imo. It isn’t serving any section of your fanbase, except maybe BOS/NYY fans.

  • Ghost To Most

    I really dislike the idea of having 2 Wild Card teams, and a 1 game playoff between them. And Ill give you an example why

    In 2001 the A’s finished 2nd in the AL West, but they were hardly your average 2nd place team. They won 102 games, this was the year Seattle won 116.

    Now, the team who finished 2nd in the “Wild Card Standings” was the Twins at 85-77. How is it fair that an 85 win team gets a chance to eliminate a 100 win team in a 1 game playoff? If you want to throw those teams against each other in a 5 or ideally 7 game series, thats fine. But the idea of a single elimination play in game really bothers me. Even best out of 3 I dont like.

  • architrance

    Yeah, I guess a best of 3 series is definitely too short. Your city makes the playoffs and then you get to host 1 playoff game, if your lucky – too short.

    And while I agree that baseball is a game of rhythm, I still don’t think a bye is that bad. If you take the top two teams from every division and give the top two teams in the league a first round bye – your allowing those two teams to automatically advance and they have a chance to rest up, get healthy, get their rotation set, etc. When a team is best in the league, as it is right now, they are resting their regulars anyway the last two weeks of the season, presuming they have a big enough lead. With a playoff bye they might be more inclined to field those players at the end of the regular season then rest after.

    None of these systems are perfect, but I think any plan that will give a larger number of teams a shot at making the playoffs is just good for the game. It’s a long season and even die hard fans get bored after their teams fall out of contention…

  • mgbode

    @Ghost – to me it is fair because the A’s lost their division. They should feel fortunate to be included in the playoffs to begin with.

    How is it fair that the Mariners won their division and 116 games and yet the A’s get to start the post-season on a pretty much level playing field? not having their best starter until the middle of the ‘now’ 2nd round would be a huge ding to their hopes(1start from them instead of 2 most likely as well).

    also, most years the difference between WC1 and WC2 is just a few games at most. outliers should not provide the basis for the system on a whole.

  • NJ

    Well, if we’re talking fairness, we should get rid of divisions and unbalanced schedules too. How is it fair for the Indians to play in the Central while the Blue Jays get the AL East?

  • mgbode

    because Toronto is in Canada

  • http://serandez.blogspot.com Ezzie

    @Andrew – Thanks.

    @mgbode – LOL. Canada…

    I think my proposal addresses most of the issues discussed afterward. I think that if you’re that #5 and #6 seed getting in, being forced to win a 3-game series on the road is a fair challenge, while for the top wildcard and division winner they get a good advantage for being better, and the best two get a free pass and time to set their rotation.

    Perhaps most importantly, my proposal is a shorter season: 142 + 3 + what’s already there now, or a total of 17 games shorter than what existed previously (and 20 less for the top seeds). Heck, if you like round numbers, make it 9H/9A for division games so you get 150 regular season games, and you still chop ten days off the season.

    This postseason, it would have worked out like this:

    First Round (Best of 3)
    (6) 86-76 LAA @ (3) 95-67 DET
    (5) 90-72 BOS @ (4) 91-71 TB
    BYE: (2) 96-66 TEX, (1) 97-65 NYY

    (6) 86-76 SFG @ (3) 94-68 ARZ
    (5) 89-73 ATL @ (4) 90-72 STL
    BYE: (2) 96-66 MIL, (1) 102-60 PHI

    This would also avoid the silliness of “can’t play your division opponent in the first round” which meant both Philly and the Yankees were forced to play harder opponents. However enjoyable it is to see them knocked off their perches, it’s not fair.

    Finally, it would mean that instead of just 6 teams being in the playoff hunt in the AL as of September 15th, there would have been 9; in the NL, 10 instead of 6. That’s obviously good for baseball.

  • Ghost To Most

    Yeah I guess if you want to make it fair, you should eliminate divisions and just have the top 4 (or 5) teams in the league make the postseason.

    I still say they should leave it alone. But if Bud wants another Wild Card then I guess we’re going to have another Wild Card.

  • mgbode

    @Ezzie – I like the idea of shortening the regular season too, but it is just so completely implausible. MLB owners will never sign off on that one.

  • Jim

    You play everyday for 6 months. I would like to see them get rid of the wildcard. I am a Redsox fan. If the division winner Yankees or whoever is one or ten games better than you over a 6 month season then why should a second place team get a another shot. Have the disvision winner with best record get a bye.The other two play best of three,next round best of five, and then the series. Why not everyone just make it and if the other team gets to many runs then we can stop keeping score after down by five or more so they don’t feel bad. Second place is the first loser.