Saturday, September 29, 2012

What To Think About The Second Wild Card, An Unwanted Yet Invited Guest: Part II

So, in my previous column about how the Second Wild Card would affect races if put into effect for previous years, I put the results for both leagues going back 17 seasons into four categories.  Here are my final unscientific totals:

Makes a boring race exciting: 12

Makes an exciting race boring: 13

No effect on an exciting race: 5

No effect on a boring race: 4

So almost as many races were enhanced for the better if a Second Wild Card were in place as were made uneventful.  But what is the purpose of the Second Wild Card?  If it is to make the end of the regular season more dramatic, you would have to lump in the results of the last two categories with the “Makes an exciting race boring” group.  No matter if it were still exciting or boring, having a Second Wild Card had no effect.  Therefore, to add it all up, only 12 of the 27 American or National league races since the introduction of the Wild Card in 1995 would have been markedly more dramatic if there was a 2nd WC up for grabs.

Good enough for me.

Why?  Well, a lot of things.  For one thing, one-third of the races would have played out the same way with two Wild Cards as it did with only one.  You could say that you should leave the current playoff format alone because it’s simpler, but if the drama’s the thing, there really is no difference if you add a fifth playoff team in each league or you don’t.

Secondly, averaging the records of all the hypothetical Second Wild Card teams over the past 17 years (taking into account that the 1995 season lasted only 144 games) yields a record of about 89-73 (88.8 wins, to be exact).  Detractors worry that this 2nd WC would perennially be a .500 squad that would have no business being in a postseason.  The chances of that happening increase (you are now taking, at least theoretically, the five best teams in each league now instead of four), but 17 years of records show that this expanded format will allow in clubs that are 16 games above breakeven, hardly slackers that could cheapen or make meaningless a regular season, like the National Hockey League.  They may not have won their division, but they’re still pretty damn good.

Finally, expanding the playoff field reduces the grip of major market teams (most notably the Yankees … OK, only the Yankees) from absorbing all the playoff berths year to year.  Despite what people such as Howard Bryant of ESPN The Magazine says, the teams that shell out the most money in payroll routinely reach MLB’s playoffs to the point where it becomes a birthright.  Another team means another chance for an organization in the middle- or bottom-third of the player salary rankings to have that sun shine on its ass for a year.  Once October comes, it’s a crapshoot to see who wins it all.  Until there’s a hard salary cap, this is the closest thing baseball will offer as parity.

But there is an underreported point about the peculiar ways Major League Baseball is tweaking their postseason structure.  To them, making the playoffs as a division winner should be vastly different from making the playoffs as a Wild Card.  That distinction is ridiculous, and that MLB is making pains to make them separate categories is totally just plain stupid.

First of all, why are the Wild Card clubs playing only one game?  Something like this already exists in baseball – it’s called a play-in game, a Game 163.  It’s something I saw at the Metrodome back in 2009.  It’s thrilling, but it was supposed to decide who gets in the playoffs.  The Wild Card Game is nothing more than a one game play-in, only MLB’s powers that be say that the postseason has already begun.

That apparently is by design.  They obviously didn’t want to add a best-of-five or -seven series because then the season would extend all the way to Thanksgiving.  But when the league announced that this move would allow “two additional markets to experience playoff baseball each year,” they didn’t say that they wanted those markets to stay around too long.

The strange, twisted motive behind the Wild Card Game, at least according to MLB, is to wreck the pitching rotation of these Wild Card teams who dare make the postseason without winning their division.  The thinking goes is that these two squads would so want to advance into the League Division Series that they’ll use their ace just to get over this hump.  That’s a load of crap.  Unless years of watching baseball was all just in illusion, no manager in his right mind will bust his hurlers’ rhythms just to avoid the “stigma” of losing the Wild Card Game.  What they’ll do is send out the starter who’s supposed to pitch that day.

And that’s the overlooked point of this new playoff format.  Major League Baseball is going out of its way to somehow punish the Wild Card teams who have the audacity to accept baseball’s offer to play for a World Series.  MLB is almost treating them worse than they do the worst teams in baseball.  And trust me, I’ve seen the Twins.  The Wild Card teams don’t deserve that fate.

I like a lot of traditions in baseball.  But this concession to the old-school mentality of what constitutes desert after this marathon of a season goes way too far.  The Wild Card teams are being cast into baseball Limbo, where you kind of are in, but kind of aren’t.  Look, you’re either in or you’re not.  Make them play proper series like the real playoffs or don’t say they’re playoff teams.  Or just not expand the field to ten teams.  Seriously, what the hell damn difference does another game make?

And they can’t guarantee that these new roadblocks will ensure their plan, which is to make the road to the World Series harder for Wild Card teams, will succeed.  Five Wild Card teams have won the World Series, including the St. Louis Cardinals last year.  I wish there was a place that had the overall record of MLB playoff games won by the road team, but I’m sure it’s better than road victories in the NBA.  Trust me when I say that home-field advantage is a much smaller advantage than it’s made out to be.

It’s counterintuitive to say that I welcome the Second Wild Card without pointing to any evidence saying that it will be a good thing.  I can’t really say that with the races this year, either.  As of press time, the NL Wild Cards are mostly settled; Atlanta has a big lead that they won’t blow to St. Louis even if the Braves did because they both are in line to meet in Hotlanta for the Wild Card Game.  L.A. is a few games behind, and the Phillies and Brewers have fallen off after getting hot enough to put their names in the consideration.  It has been Baltimore-Oakland-Angels-Tampa Bay in the AL, and even though those four teams have been only several games apart for what seems like the past couple months, the WC leaders haven’t changed hands since after the All-Star Break.  The Orioles and the Yankees are jockeying for the AL East, but both teams will make the playoffs.  Detroit and the White Sox are battling for the AL Central, but in a you-take-it-no-you-can-have-it war of attrition.  A 2nd WC would have no effect on boring races in 2012.

But what the hell, bring in more teams.  Major League Baseball still has the most exclusive postseason in American pro sports, and good teams are still going to be left out.  My problem is the ostracizing of Wild Card teams, which is downright pathological.  I don’t get why they willingly open the door for these two new clubs, only to quickly slam that door inbetween their eyes.  I have no idea what’s going to happen with playoff expansion.  But neither does baseball, even if they think they can control what will happen.  Let’s just wait and see, and not make conclusions any way until we have evidence.

Posted by WilliamSou at 10:22 PM


exporler135 said: SportsBLOG comment spacer

i now they need more teams

exporler135 said: SportsBLOG comment spacer

i now they need more teams

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