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What if the regular season was decided like the Iowa Caucus?

Congratulations to the 2019 NL East Champions the Philadelphia Phillies!

Bernie Sanders Joins Press And Campaign Staff For Softball In “Field Of Dreams” Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images

On Monday night, while the nation awaited results of the Iowa Caucus that would never come, Shawn Sebastian, the caucus secretary for Story County Precinct 1-1 in Iowa revealed the math behind his precinct’s results. After the second alignment, Bernie Sanders received 116 votes of what was originally a pool of 285 voters while Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg got 82 and 73 votes respectively. Story Precinct County 1-1 has six delegates to award, and each candidate received two of those delegates.

The Iowa Caucus is an undemocratic process that erases what votes are cast with its convoluted math while suppressing would-be votes with its strict attendance rules. When it comes to representing the will of the people, the Iowa Caucus fails spectacularly, but if the events of the past couple days are any indication, it excels at creating chaos. Chaos injected into democracy is generally frowned upon, but there’s one place where chaos thrives and that’s baseball.

You’ve likely heard some variation of the phrase, “the playoffs are a crapshoot,” but that’s what makes them worth watching. The single-elimination Wild Card games are inherently unfair, but these deathmatches between two good-not-great teams often become the most exciting games of the postseason. Not only that, the second Wild Card creates the opportunity for five-way ties which would spur a mini tournament over a handful of whirlwind days.

We’ve come tantalizingly close to these scenarios before, but so far, we haven’t had anything more a Game 163. The current system could work, but I think it could use a little help. What I suggest is bringing the Iowa Caucus to baseball.

As it stands now, division winners are decided simply by awarding the crown to the team with the most wins. The 103-win 2019 Yankees had the most wins of any AL East team, so they won their division. It’s a fair outcome, but it’s also extremely boring. The Yankees clinched the division with still eight, ultimately meaningless games to play.

Let’s see what would happen with the regular season being decided in the same fashion as the Iowa Caucus.

In the caucus, voters proclaim one candidate for whom they will cast their vote. A first count is then taken and any candidate who did not receive at least 15 percent of the vote is considered unviable. At this point, all those who voted for an unviable candidate (and any who decide to change their vote) must re-align themselves with another, viable candidate. To decide how many delegates are awarded to each candidate, their total number of votes after re-alignment is multiplied by the number of delegates available and then divided by the total number of votes. The quotient is then rounded to the nearest whole number since partial delegates are not possible. In cases of ambiguity, coin flips decide how delegates are awarded.

To replicate this system in baseball, I have done the following:

· Added the total number of wins in each division

· Any team that did not win at least 15 percent of their division’s wins is deemed unviable

· Wins from the unviable teams are re-distributed to the viable teams according to how many wins the viable teams had against the unviable teams.

· This second alignment win total is then multiplied by the number of points available (more on that later) and divided by the total number of wins in the division.

· Point totals are rounded to the nearest whole number.

· In cases of ambiguity, coin flips decided who received the remaining point.

There are nine points available in each division, and each of these points represents an 18-game chunk of the season. Why did I settle on nine? Because it felt the most in keeping with the spirit of the Iowa Caucus: it’s an arbitrary number with a tenuous basis in reality. The team with the most points is declared the division winner. In the incredibly likely event of a tie, the winner will be decided by the baseball equivalent of a coin flip: a single elimination game.

Looking back at the AL East, the Yankees, Rays, Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Orioles combined for 404 wins. Here’s the percentage share of wins for each team:

· Yankees: 25.50

· Rays: 23.76

· Red Sox: 20.79

· Blue Jays: 16.58

· Orioles: 13.37

This may come as a shock, but the 54-win Orioles were unviable. Their 54-wins were redistributed among the remaining four teams with the Yankees receiving the lion’s share after going 17-2 against the Orioles in 2019. This brought the 2nd alignment win totals of the four teams to:

· Yankees: 121

· Rays: 108

· Red Sox: 96

· Blue Jays: 78

These win totals were multiplied by nine and then divided by 404 (total number of wins available in the division). Before rounding, this meant that each team was entitled to points as follows:

· Yankees: 2.68

· Rays: 2.41

· Red Sox: 2.41

· Blue Jays: 1.74

After rounding, the Yankees are still awarded the AL East crown with 3 points. This is a just, albeit boring outcome. This also means that the Rays, Red Sox, and Blue Jays all have equal claim to a Wild Card spot with two points each.

Things got more interesting in the NL East. All but the 57-win Marlins were deemed viable and the 16-win difference between the first-place Braves and the fourth-place Phillies wasn’t enough to give any team more than two points. The four-way tie was decided by a series of coin flips. The Phillies beat the Mets for a chance to take on the Nationals. The Phillies once again emerged victorious and earned a spot against the Braves, who themselves had earned two byes. Improbably, the coin came up Phillies once again, and Philadelphia won a division title with an 81-win performance.

For the full results, you can click here. The rest of the playoff picture looked like this:

AL WEST: Four-way tie between the Astros, Athletics, Rangers, and Angels

AL CENTRAL: Twins

AL EAST: Yankees

NL WEST: Four-way tie between the Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Giants, and Rockies

NL CENTRAL: Four-way tie between the Cardinals, Brewers, Cubs, and Reds

AL WILD CARD #1: Cleveland

AL WILD CARD #2: Rays, Red Sox, Blue Jays, White Sox, and the losers of the AL West

NL WILD CARD #1: Chaos

NL WILD CARD #2: More Chaos

The only team guaranteed of a playoff spot in the National League is the Phillies. No other team earned more than two points so that means that to decide the NL Central and West, there would first have to be three single-elimination games to decide the winner of each division.

For example:

Day 1: Dodgers vs. Rockies, Diamondbacks vs. Giants

Day 2: Winner of Dodgers/Rockies vs. Winner of Diamondbacks/Giants

The six teams who failed to secure a division would then engage in a double-elimination tournament (with the teams who won their first games in trying to win the title receiving first-round byes). Let’s say the Dodgers and Cardinals still win the division with the Diamondbacks and Brewers making it to Game-164.

The champions of the winner’s bracket and loser’s bracket would eventually face off in a two-game Wild Card series. The battle for the AL West and the second-wild card spot would shake out in much the same way except the team who receives the bye would be decided by coin flip.

Introducing the caucus system to baseball might trivialize the regular season. If a 107-win team isn’t guaranteed their division let alone a playoff spot, there wouldn’t be any races to speak of, but the myriad tiebreakers at the end would be eminently watchable. Fans of every team would have a reason to tune in to watch at the end of the year. Unless a team is exceptionally bad, they will be playing meaningful baseball in September and possibly October and maybe even November depending on how many tie breakers there are.


Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.