Danny Abriano, SNY.tv | Twitter |
It's rare when nearly everyone agrees on something, which is what made the harsh negative reactions to Joel Sherman's exclusive report Monday about Major League Baseball's potential new playoff format so unique.
At first glance, the idea of going from 10 to 14 playoff teams -- including four wild cards in each league, with only one division winner automatically advancing to the league division series -- seemed terrible. At second glance, it seemed even worse.
Adding on to the awfulness of the playoff expansion itself was the reported reasoning behind it, which revolved around a "reality TV twist" where certain teams pick their opponents, and a desire by commissioner Rob Manfred and MLB to satisfy networks and advertising partners.
Yes, MLB should be concerned about the current state of the sport. Yes, they need to attract more viewers and sell more tickets. And yes, the concerns about teams "tanking" are fair -- as is the goal of having more teams in pennant races down the stretch, which an expanded postseason would lead to.
But the proposed new playoff format as reported -- which seems like a trial balloon to see how it's received -- is flat out bad.
The gist of the new format, according to Sherman:
- The team with the best record in each league receives a bye to the division series.
- The two other division winners and four wild cards face off in the new three-game wild card round, with the bottom three wild card teams not having any home games in that round.
- The division winner with the second-best record in the league gets to choose its opponent from the three lowest-seeded wild card teams before the other division winner picks its opponent. The other two wild cards play one another.
- The teams would choose their opponents during a Sunday night selection show, with the rights to that show being "part of the enticement to potential TV partners."
Let's dissect why those ideas are terrible...
As things currently stand, the reward for division winners after 162 games is a guarantee of being in the five-game division series.
Using the 2019 standings as an example of how the new format would work, the 97-win Braves would be in a three-game wild card round instead of the five-game NLDS. Their opponent in that round would be the Nationals, Mets, Brewers, or Diamondbacks (who won 12 fewer games). And any of those four teams would have the Braves one loss from elimination with a win in Game 1 of the wild card round in Atlanta.
It can be argued that the five-game division series is already too short (more on that later). And MLB's new proposal is to take four teams that have won their divisions and make their reward a three-game series instead of five?
Does MLB really want a scenario where a fourth wild card team that has won 79 games is able to put a division-winner on the brink of elimination by winning the first game of a three-game series? That's how things would've played out in 2016.
Forget MLB's belief that having the division winners host all the games of those three-game wild card rounds is some kind of perk. Home field in the MLB postseason means next to nothing.
And the idea of a "selection show" to determine most of this (while actually the most palatable part of this proposal, which is saying something) comes off as gimmicky and short-sighted.
Expanding from 10 to 14 playoff teams under the current proposal would make the playoffs much less special than they currently are, penalize most division-winners, and too easily allow mediocre and sub-.500 teams the chance to knock off teams well above their class that have earned the right to play a proper series as the first step toward a potential World Series title.
The idea of playoff expansion is not crazy, nor is the league's concern that its product is not as attractive to as many fans (especially younger fans) as the NFL or NBA.
But if Major League Baseball really wants to expand the playoffs, it can be argued that a proposal like this one makes much more sense than the one reported Monday:
- Expand to three wild card teams in each league instead of four and have them play their own round that does not involve the division winners. For example, the bottom two wild cards play a one-game playoff, with the loser automatically eliminated. The winner of the first wild card game advances to play the top wild card team, with the winner of that game advancing to the division series and the loser going home.
- If MLB wants to give a better reward to the wild card teams, the second wild card "round" can be three games long instead of one. And all the games can be at the home park of the top wild card team in order to play them on three straight days and minimize travel.
- Expand the division series to seven games from five, which would remove part of the "crapshoot" nature of the current five-game division series.
- Since the original proposal had the top division winner in each league sitting around while the three-game wild card round played out, the fact that they'd also sit around for days under this proposal shouldn't be an issue.
While the "selection show" is not part of the above, more playoff games and more playoff teams would mean more revenue and more television/ad sales opportunities.
And the extra playoff team being added to each league should help curtail the tanking a bit and lead to more exciting September baseball.
Additionally, having three wild card teams instead of four would hopefully limit scenarios where teams right around .500 or below have any shot to reach the playoffs.
Under the above proposal, MLB gets two more playoff teams, an exciting "new" round, more competition in September, more incentive for teams to avoid tanking, and maintains the reward that current division-winners already get.