Saturday, September 25, 2010

Redesigning the MLB Playoffs

It has been 15 years since the last time the MLB playoff system was last overhauled. It seems that there are more and more calls to make some changes to the current system.

The current playoff system has the 3 division winners plus the team with the best record that doesn't lead a division make the playoffs. It has been in place since the 1995 season after the realignment of the leagues from 2 to 3 divisions.

This system has many detractors; some want a return to the old days when only 2 teams made it into the playoffs. A return to the "true" pennant race that hasn't been seen since the Giants and the Braves fought to the last day of the season in 1993.

Some say that there are too few teams that make the playoffs. Major League Baseball has the fewest teams of all the major leagues who make the post season with 8 behind the 12 the make the NFL playoffs, and 16 that make it in the NHL and NBA.

A number of reforms have been bouncing around including adding a 2nd wildcard team and having a playoff between the 2 teams for the chance to play the #1 seed. This is the plan that is advocated by Jason Stark at ESPN and is said to be something Bud Selig is open to.

I think that is an improvement over the current system where there is no real difference between a division winner and the wildcard winner. This could also make more teams care about winning their divisions and fight until the end but it could still lead to teams that come from weaker divisions having an advantage over a team that is better, won more games but just happened to have the bad luck of coming from a challenging division.

That situation is not one that we really want.

If I was the all powerful overlord of baseball I would like to see a move back toward balanced leagues of 15 each, have more interleague play so the schedules are balanced and have the top 5 make the playoffs using the Stark playoff method.

The way this would work is that 1-3 are in the playoffs, and 4 plays 5 in a one game playoff for the right to play number 1.

This is would take a more radical approach then any of the current systems but it really seems to be the most fair to me. If this isn't possible you can still seed the teams according to record and go through the playoffs. So if you have a weak division winner they might still have to go to the play in game.

I can still remember when the Padres won the west in 2005 with an 82-80 record. That is a bad team that doesn't deserve any special treatment in the playoffs. I like the wild card but it can be improved.

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