Should the MLB Expand the Playoffs to 12 Teams?

After the MLB augmented the playoff structure in 2012 to include a second Wild Card team, which would play a one-game playoff against the first Wild Card team to earn a spot in the ALDS, the problem of deserving teams missing the playoffs seemed to be solved. With two more teams continuing their seasons into October, there is more baseball to watch -- yay, baseball! -- and two more teams that don't have to end their seasons earlier than expected.

But, there's a problem: there are still really good baseball teams that don't make the playoffs but should. Right now, the 5th best team in each league gets a well-deserved chance to contend, but the 6th best team, which isn't far behind, misses out on the fun. Don't believe me? Let's take a look at what we currently have in place.

These are the teams that made the playoffs in the last two seasons under the two Wild Card team system:

American League, 2013: Tampa Bay Rays (92-71)

National League, 2013: Cincinnati Reds (90-72)

American League, 2012: Baltimore Orioles (93-69)

National League, 2012: St. Louis Cardinals (88-74)

A quick glance at the records of those four teams will tell you this: they were all deserving of a playoff spot, with the possible exception of the Cardinals in 2012, who were six full games behind the first Wild Card team, the 94-win Atlanta Braves. That 88-win Cardinals team not only beat the Braves in the one-game playoff, but took out the 98-win, best-record-in-baseball Washington Nationals in the NLDS before falling to the eventual World Series champion, the San Francisco Giants.

At least on the surface, it would seem that the twenty teams in the past two MLB postseasons were more than enough to provide some incredible excitement in October. But, we are still missing something.

In the past five seasons, there have been 44 playoff teams -- 8 each from 2009-2011, and 10 each from 2012-2013. Factoring in the additional two teams each year from the span between 09-11 that would have made the playoffs under the current rule, here are the five playoff teams from each league and their win totals from 2009-2013:

American League






Boston Red Sox - 97

New York Yankees - 95

New York Yankees - 97

Tampa Bay Rays - 96

New York Yankees - 103

Oakland A's - 96

Oakland A's - 94

Texas Rangers - 96

New York Yankees - 95

Los Angeles Angels - 97

Detroit Tigers - 93

Texas Rangers - 93

Detroit Tigers - 95

Minnesota Twins - 94

Boston Red Sox - 95

Cleveland Indians - 92

Baltimore Orioles - 93

Tampa Bay Rays - 91

Texas Rangers - 90

Texas Rangers - 87

Tampa Bay Rays - 92

Detroit Tigers - 88*

Boston Red Sox - 90

Boston Red Sox - 89

Minnesota Twins - 87

*(NOTE: Finished behind Rays and Angels, but won AL Central)

Italics denotes didn't make the playoffs

National League






St. Louis Cardinals - 97

Washington Nationals - 98

Philadelphia Phillies - 102

Philadelphia Phillies - 97

Los Angeles Dodgers - 95

Atlanta Braves - 96

Cincinnati Reds - 97

Milwaukee Brewers - 96

San Francisco Giants - 92

Philadelphia Phillies - 93

Pittsburgh Pirates - 94

San Francisco Giants - 94

Arizona Diamondbacks - 94

Cincinnati Reds - 91

Colorado Rockies - 92

Los Angeles Dodgers - 92

Atlanta Braves - 94

St. Louis Cardinals - 90

Atlanta Braves - 91

St. Louis Cardinals - 91

Cincinnati Reds - 90

St. Louis Cardinals - 88

Atlanta Braves - 89

San Diego Padres - 90

San Francisco Giants - 88

Italics denotes didn't make the playoffs

Taking a look at the six teams that didn't actually reach the playoffs before the second Wild Card team was introduced, it's pretty clear that those teams were snubbed (sorry, Red Sox fans; 89 and 90 wins should be enough for a playoff spot). But, what we don't see here are the teams right on the cusp of the playoffs that finished in 6th. Just how far from playing in the postseason were those 6th place teams, and how does the drop-off in wins between the 5th and 6th place teams compare with the rest? Let's look:



For the most part, the slope of the line is steady. It seems that the differences between each place in the standings, including the gap from 5th to 6th place, is almost identical. In fact, here's what the percentage difference in wins between each place in the standings looks like:



According to this bar graph, the difference between the 5th and 6th best team in each league is actually less than the differences between both the 1st and 2nd place teams and the 3rd and 4th place teams. But, none of this would mean anything without looking the data relative to who the next-best team was each of those seasons. Or, better yet, what was the difference between the 6th and 7th best teams over that five year span? 3.73%, or over a full percentage point higher than the biggest difference (3rd and 4th) between any two teams in the standings.

The major drop-off in talent in the MLB isn't after the second Wild Card team; it's after one team beyond that. We've been missing two teams per year that, in almost every case, should very well belong in the postseason.

Who are the teams that finished in 6th that missed the playoffs from 2009-2013? Glad you asked:

American League, 2013: Texas Rangers (91-72)

National League, 2013: Washington Nationals (86-76)

American League, 2012: Tampa Bay Rays* (90-72)

National League, 2012: Los Angeles Dodgers (86-76)

American League, 2011: Los Angeles Angels (86-76)

National League, 2011: San Francisco Giants (86-76)

American League, 2010: Chicago White Sox (88-74)

National League, 2010: St. Louis Cardinals (86-76)

American League, 2009: Detroit Tigers (86-77)

National League, 2009: Florida Marlins (87-75)

*The Rays finished 5th in the standings -- ahead of the Detroit Tigers, who made it to the postseason by winning the AL Central -- but were 3 games behind the Baltimore Orioles for the second Wild Card spot.

Of that group, no team finished below 86 wins, and two teams finished with 90 or more wins. These are not "how did this team make it to the playoffs?" teams (I'm looking at you, 2005 San Diego Padres). These are solid baseball teams that are closer to the 5th best team than they are to the 7th best team.

The MLB has been a curmudgeon about adding to the postseason all along, only allowing 26.7% of the teams to make the playoffs until the 2012 change, which brought it up to 33.3%. They're still far behind in terms of matching up with the other two major American sports leagues, the NFL and NBA, which have 37.5% and 53.3% of their teams make the playoffs, respectively.

Adding two more teams would bring the MLB up to 40% -- high, but not unreasonable -- and, ultimately, add a little more excitement to October. Say what you will about having "too much baseball" come fall, but I certainly wouldn't have a problem with a few extra games running into November.

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