As the 2010 World Series comes to a close one of the big topics during the offseason is going to be the playoff format. Major League Baseball has decided to add two more Wild Card spots to increase the number of playoff teams to ten. There are several reasons that this is a bad idea.
The wild card has never been a great idea to begin with. Why should a team that did not even win the division earn an opportunity to possibly win the title? The New York Mets only went to the World Series in 2000 because they avoided playing the first place Atlanta Braves. They never really won anything to get to the World Series. Some teams have even won the World Series as the Wild Card team.
One wild card spot is fine though, it makes some sense, but adding two more playoff spots will lead to less excitement, not more excitement. Go back and look at the standings for the two leagues every year since the current playoff system was introduced and almost every season there are five teams that are playoff worthy in each league. MLB’s argument seems to be that since there are five worthy teams in each league that means there should be five playoff teams in each league.
The problem with this thinking is that the reason there are good playoff races at the end of the year is because there is almost always five teams worthy of the playoff fighting for four spots. If there are five playoff spots in each league and five teams worthy of playoffs then that leaves no pennant races.
Adding two playoff spots also means less quality teams in the playoffs. With the current playoff system almost every team that makes the playoffs has 90 or more wins. Some seasons there aren’t even that many 90 win teams. By adding two more playoff spots there will be teams in the playoffs with wins in the 80’s. A team with 80-something wins is not that much better than .500, which would be an 81 – 81 season.
Major League Baseball must also consider that having 10 playoff teams means a playoff system that is more complicated than the previous system. With one wild card team in each league it was an even 8 team league with no byes. A 10 team playoff system isn’t even like the NFL’s 12 team playoff where the top four teams get a bye while the other eight play each other and go on to play the four bye teams. In a 10 team playoff six teams get bye weeks (I presume the division winners) while only four teams (the wild card teams) would play in the first round. It perhaps makes more sense for all the division winners to be in the second round and make all the wild card teams advanced but what is the advantage of getting a bye week if five other teams get a bye week too?
It should also be considered that a bye week in Major League Baseball is not as valuable as a bye week in the NFL. A bye week in the NFL means that a team misses just one day that they would normally play. This can actually help an NFL team because they can rest and get healthy. Baseball teams have a routine that they don’t want to mess with. This past postseason Cliff Lee was going to get a nine day rest and people would be concerned he would not be the same. Well what if Cliff Lee had the entire first round off?
If a team had the first round off then they would get two days off between the end of the regular season and the playoffs. They would have the first round off. The first round this year lasted 9 days but MLB wants to also expand to a 7 game series in the first round. That would increase the first round by three days (two extra games and an off day). This past postseason there were two or three days between each playoff round. Then there is the possibility a team gets another off day because with four games in the next round not all of them will start the same day. That is potentially a seventeen or eighteen day layoff for a team that is used to playing every day. Baseball players, especially pitchers, will hate the layoff and the teams that play in the wild card will actually have a better chance of continuing to play well as long as they don’t suffer major injuries in the extra games.
The biggest reason that expanding to a 10 team playoff is that an additional round will extend the season into later in the year. The season ending later in the year presents two problems. The first is that playoff games will now be played in mid to late November. Playoff games in cold, northern cities like New York will be snowed out on a regular basis and even the games that don’t have snow will suffer from bad attendances. The second reason playoff games in November are a bad idea is because the later the baseball season goes, the more they have to compete with the NFL. A Monday Night Football game between the two worst teams in the NFL would extract more viewers than the World Series. Major League Baseball needs to do everything they can to make the season end sooner, not later.