Monday, April 20, 2009


I fell behind with my scans and don't have any cards to post today. So I thought I'd rant instead about the MLB playoffs.

I find it very frustrating that MLB is the only of the major professional sports that has a playoff format that doesn't follow the regular-season format. What am I talking about? Look at this:

In baseball, there are 162 regular-season games and the conference championship round of the playoffs is decided by a 7-game series. That playoff series is, then, about 4.3% of a regular season. (Don't get me started on the 5-game divisional series, it's even worse.)

In football, there are 16 regular-season games and the first round of the playoffs is decided by a single game, or about 6.3% of a regular season.

In basketball, there are 82 regular-season games and the first round is a 7-game series, or 8.5%.

Hockey is similar to basketball.

This is telling us that baseball has a playoff series that is a smaller sample size relative to its regular season than for any other sport. This means that upsets are more likely in baseball than in any other sport. Think about it this way--in football, the favored team (not using a point spread) very often wins. They might get outscored in any given quarter, but less rarely do they get outscored in an entire game. But in baseball, because there are so many fewer games in the post-season series, the odds that the worse team will win are greater.

This is exacerbated by the fact that the difference between the best and worst teams in baseball is far less than the teams in other sports. In the NFL, every single year a team goes 13-3 or 14-2 That would be equivalent to a baseball team winning 130 or 140 regular-season games, which never happens. In basketball, teams win 60 games all the time and 65 fairly often, which is the equivalent of a baseball team winning 120 or 130 games, which nearly never happens. This means that in baseball, the two teams in any given game are more evenly matched than in other sports, and therefore the lesser team is more likely to win any single game. Add to that the playoffs constitute a smaller sample size, and the underdog is given a huge advantage.

To be more consistent with other sports, playoff rounds really need to be more like 11 or 13 games, which I know sounds preposterous. The playoffs already drag on forever since the wild card was introduced.

But this is only half the discussion. The other problem is the schedule. In the NFL, teams play once a week during the regular season and once a week during the playoffs. In the NBA, teams usually play a game once every 2 days or occasionally on back-to-back days and the playoffs are the same way. Same deal with the NHL. In baseball, teams play just about every day until the playoffs, when suddenly it's common to have 1 or 2 days off in between individual games. During the regular season, it would be unthinkable to use the same 2 starting pitchers in any 7-game period. However this happens in the playoffs fairly often, such as with the Red Sox in 2004 (Schilling and Pedro.) Why on earth would anybody think that this is a good idea? Why does the determining factor in getting to the playoffs (namely being able to amass a lot of wins during the regular season by playing just about every day) suddenly get discarded in favor of a totally different schedule in the post-season? It seems to me that in the ALCS and NLCS, we should want to see matchups of each team's #3 starters and #4 starters at least. I realize these guys aren't the big names and big money pitchers, but they were just as important during the year. Another example is the 2001 Mariners. They had just 5 starting pitchers make all 162 starts and finished 116-46, only to be easily dispatched in the playoffs. If each team had had to use their entire starting staff, they probably would have won the World Series that year.

In the playoffs, one complication is the travel. Teams can play every day in MLB because they need travel only every 3 or 4 days when on the road and not at all when at home. In the playoffs, it's currently necessary to switch cities every 2 games, or sometimes every single game.

We can eliminate all of these problems with one simple change. Let's make the post-season series 11 games. First 3 games in one city, next 3 in the other city, next 3 back in the first city and the final 2 back in the second city. No off days. Getaway games are day games to allow for travel. First to 6 wins takes the series.

The series will end up taking just about as long as the current 7-game series take with all the off days, will generate more gate revenue, and the better team will win more often. This is win-win-win for the fans, the teams, and for baseball.

1 comment:

  1. Intereting. I think this idea could work, in a perfect world. But the only thing that'll keep it from working is the at times inconsistent weather in certain cities in October.

    Like you say, with no days off, a team could take the series in six games quicker than the traditional best of seven series. But if it snowed in Cleveland with no off day on the schedule for a makeup things could get screwed up.

    The other option I guess would be to expand the current system and allow four more teams (from each league) in. That doesn't really give you a larger sampling of games between two teams, but it would maybe even out the odds a bit. But then we run into the problem of foul weather in November, or start the season earlier and freeze to death in March.

    Who knows. It's an interesting idea.