Let's Shake Up The Playoffs

Ronald Martinez

The current MLB playoff system favors some teams while unfairly aiding others. Is it right that teams that squeak into the playoffs should have an almost identical shot at winning the World Series as a team that dominated the regular season? The current paradigm allows for such possibilities, and it deserves some necessary changes.

It's playoff time people. Well, not for Major League Baseball, but currently, 2 of the 4 major sports in the United States reside thoroughly entrenched in their respective post seasons. In fact, if we open the conversation up to the international level, the Champions League in Europe is nearing its end, with the finals to be played on May 25th. In the U.S., sports franchises have 2 major goals each season. The first is to play well enough in the regular season to make the playoffs, and the second, to win the ever-elusive championship.

Historically, in baseball, the playoffs had much less overall value. The regular season winners in each league played in the World Series with the winner of the series crowned that season's champion. With the advent of divisions, the wild card, and now a second wild card spot, baseball has shifted its focus from the regular season to the playoffs. That isn't to say that the regular season has lost all meaning as a team must still play well enough to make the playoffs in order to play for a championship, but that circle of applicable teams has increased in size.

This topic was recently given a new voice after an interview between NBC's Joe Posnanski and Athletics General Manager Billy Beane. Beane has become the face of the A's franchise, a franchise he has personally constructed to win in the regular season. Unfortunately, as Beane and others have pointed out, winning in the postseason involves lots of luck, randomness, and noise. A team that dominates the regular season, 162 games of baseball, may underperform in the postseason because a team that loses 3 or 4 games in a row in the playoffs is done.

Any team, whether they won 85 games or 105 games can win 3 out of 5 or 4 out of 7. Talent, strategy, and previous success may matter less, but that doesn't stop the playoffs from having more excitement, drama, and intensity.

In the television show "The West Wing" the vice-president, played by Tim Matheson puts it best:

"See, I think Americans like to savor situations. One down, bottom of the ninth, one run game, first and third, left handed batter, right hand reliever, infield at double play depth, here's the pitch."

As we all know, it is in those situations in which anything is possible, and that's what makes them fantastic and worth watching. In a piece on Fangraphs, Alex Remington discusses the idea of changing the MLB playoff format entirely. He mentions the 2 ideas. The first is based on the manner in which a champion is chosen in Soccer's English Premier League:

"...The Premier League, where the team that wins the most games is recognized as the best team that year. All regular season, no playoffs."

Imagine that, a baseball season in which the team with the best regular season record was simply crowned the champion. Here's a look at who would be the champions of MLB if that were the case over the last 10 seasons.

Champion

Best Record

2012

Giants

Nationals

2011

Cardinals

Phillies

2010

Giants

Phillies

2009

Yankees

Yankees

2008

Phillies

Angels

2007

Red Sox

Indians

2006

Cardinals

Yankees

2005

White Sox

Cardinals

2004

Red Sox

Cardinals

2003

Marlins

Yankees

2002

Angels

Yankees

Think about that list for a second. If the MLB champion was the team with the best regular season record, the Red Sox would never have broken the curse of the Bambino, the Cleveland would have celebrated their first championship since 1948, the White Sox would still be without a ring, and we would have seen 3 back-to-back champions. Instead we see a bit more variability, and zero teams winning the title in back-to-back seasons.

The next idea proposed by Posnanski and relayed by Remington has a bit more semblance of the current system.

"That is why Posnanski ends up proposing something that sounds a bit like the best of both worlds: two pennants for the regular season, which go to the teams with the best record in each league; and one champion of the postseason. All would receive glory aplenty, and would help to correct for the role of luck in awarding the pennant: no second-place team could ever again be league champion, even if they could be world's champion."

So, in this scenario, the all-important pennant would go to the best record in each respective league while the overall champion of baseball would be decided in the same manner we currently utilize. This is a system with which I could personally get on board, but I'm unsure as to whether MLB could sell such a system to the general public. Pennants continue to signify great success and accomplishments, but teams that win their respective league's pennant are still dwarfed by the success of the eventual World Series champion.

This is one of those topics that has many possibilities, some residing inside the box and others of the typical thought boundaries. After considerable contemplation I came up with my own solution to the playoff quandary. My solution combines ideas from numerous American sports leagues. We keep the divisions for schedule and rivalry purposes, but when it comes to who makes the playoffs and who doesn't, let's rid ourselves of the divisional constraints. The top 4 teams from each league, regardless of division, make the playoffs. If this idea seems similar to the NBA or NHL, well you're starting to see my inspiration. Next, to ensure that we don't follow in the mistakes of our sport brethren, let's take a page from the NFL. The best team would receive a double bye and home field advantage, while the team with the 2nd best record would receive one bye and guaranteed home field in the 2nd round.

This system accurately rewards the best team in the regular season in each league by automatically placing them one step from the World Series. In addition, the same can be said, albeit not to the same degree, for the second best team in each league. Also, both the third and fourth best teams still have a chance to win the pennant and the championship, but their chances are deservingly diminished. Most importantly, this system still allows for a Cinderella team to win it all. The World Series could pit the NL's 4th best team from the regular season against the AL's best, or any combination in between.

The first round of the playoffs would be a 5-game series, in which the first team to win 3 games moves on. The next two rounds prior to the World Series as well as the World Series would be 7-game series with the first team to win 4 games moving on. I propose this solution knowing full well that Major League Baseball would not enjoy the lack reduction of the number of playoff teams, the longer hiatus for the best teams in each league, and the lack of a sudden death round of the playoffs. Still, it rewards the teams most deserving, and still allows for the possibility of upsets.

Take a look at what the last 10 postseasons would look like. Remember, best team gets a double bye and the 2nd best team receives one bye.

American League

1st

2nd

3rd

4th

2012

Yankees

Athletics

Rangers

Orioles

2011

Yankees

Rangers

Tigers

Rays

2010

Rays

Yankees

Twins

Rangers

2009

Yankees

Angels

Red Sox

Rangers

2008

Angels

Rays

Red Sox

Yankees

2007

Indians

Red Sox

Angels

Yankees

2006

Yankees

Twins

Tigers

Athletics

2005

White Sox

Angels

Yankees

Red Sox

2004

Yankees

Red Sox

Angels

Twins

2003

Yankees

Athletics

Red Sox

Mariners

2002

Yankees

Athletics

Angels

Twins

National League

1st

2nd

3rd

4th

2012

Nationals

Reds

Giants

Braves

2011

Phillies

Brewers

Dbacks

Cardinals

2010

Phillies

Giants

Reds

Braves

2009

Dodgers

Phillies

Rockies

Cardinals

2008

Cubs

Phillies

Brewers

Mets

2007

Dbacks

Rockies

Phillies

Padres

2006

Mets

Padres

Dodgers

Phillies

2005

Cardinals

Braves

Astros

Phillies

2004

Cardinals

Braves

Dodgers

Astros

2003

Braves

Giants

Marlins

Cubs

2002

Braves

Dbacks

Cardinals

Giants

If we analyze this system for a moment, we can see a decent distribution of teams from division to division. Sure, in a few seasons one division finds itself unrepresented in the playoffs, but we shouldn't be rewarding teams with substandard records like the 2012 Tigers or 2008 Cardinals because while dramatic, neither of those teams played well enough for 6 months to warrant an opportunity in October.

In this system, the Pennant would still go to the team that wins their league's respective championship series, and the team with the best record in their division should still raise a banner, flag, or whether symbol of their choosing to record the winning of a division. Every person has an opinion, but in my view, this system most accurately illustrates the current state of the league.

Food for thought:

1) What do you think of the proposals in this piece?

2) Voice your own position; what aspect of the playoffs would you change given the opportunity.

Btbs-twitter-insert_medium

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join Beyond the Box Score

You must be a member of Beyond the Box Score to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Beyond the Box Score. You should read them.

Join Beyond the Box Score

You must be a member of Beyond the Box Score to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Beyond the Box Score. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9351_tracker