My dad, RubyVader, recently sent me a link to an article where the head of the Major League Baseball players’ union discussed the MLB postseason. The union head expressed that players would be open to expanding the postseason party from the current format, which includes 8 teams, to a new one including 10. To be fair, the article does not imply an opinion from owners one way or the other regarding postseason expansion, although Commissioner Bud Selig seems interested in the idea. You could argue that his support alone is evidence that the idea would be terrible for the sport.

Anyway, RubyVader asked me for my opinion and I wrote him an email containing my arguments for and against expanding the postseason. He suggested I share the email and, since I haven’t updated since the Flyers defeated the Bruins in the playoffs, I decided to take his advice since I am not a teenager and understand that it is ok to do that. What do you think about the postseason expansion idea?

Season Length/Playoff Representation Ratio

Forget the 8 out of 30 teams in MLB vs 12 out of 32 in NFL stat. For me, the more important stat is the length of the season.

  • NFL teams play a paltry 16 games, and then nearly 50% qualify for postseason play.
  • NBA and NHL teams play 82 games, and then over 50% qualify for postseason play.
  • MLB teams play a marathon 162 games, and then barely over 25% qualify for postseason play.

Sympathy for the outsiders
On one hand, I feel that it must be very disappointing to play 162 games and find yourself on the outside because you finished with one less win than another team (see: San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants, 2010) or because you lost a one game play-in despite winning 103 of those games (see: San Francisco Giants and Atlanta Braves, 1993). Baseball players must be so pissed when they win 90+ games and miss the postseason, and then watch an 8-8 NFL team qualify for the postseason. When looked at this way, it seems like it would only be fair to ‘reward’ more teams after the marathon season by granting them an opportunity to win a championship.

No love for the Boo-Hoo Jays (and other losers!)
On the other hand, the NFL’s 16 game season leaves a wide margin for error — one mistake, like a missed FG at the end of the game — has much more significance for playoff implications. The 8-8 playoff team may have been one or two plays away from being 10-6, and a 10-6 team may have been only one or two plays away from being 8-8. Because 16 games is such a small sample size to determine a team’s true worth, it almost becomes necessary to let more teams join the playoffs. By the same token, after 162 games, you know whether a baseball team is good or not.

The Phillies did not win 97 games this season because of a few lucky plays, just as the Pirates did not lose 105 games because of a few flukes. After 162 games, you can safely say the Phillies are a good team that deserved the #1 playoff seed, and the Pirates are a terrible team that deserves the #1 or 2 draft pick in 2011. It would be heartbreaking for the #1 seeded Phillies to lose to the St. Louis Cardinals, who would have entered the playoffs as the #5 seed and did not prove over 162 games to be a top contender in their league. This is in stark contrast to teams like the 2006 Steelers or 2007 NY Giants who won the Super Bowl as #6 seeds but, given the argument above, could have won one or two more games based on luck and ended up as a higher seed anyway.

It’s a Beautiful Day (or not) in your Divisional Neighborhood

Wrong Place at the Wrong Time
On the third hand, what about a team that plays in the “wrong” division? How many times has a baseball team missed the playoffs because they finished in 3rd place in their division, despite having more wins than a playoff team who qualified because they play in a weak division. This did not happen in 2010 because the eight playoff teams had the top four records in their respective divisions — all eight teams had 90+ wins (has that ever happened before?)! A team missing the playoffs because they play in the “wrong” division last happened in 2008, when the NY Mets (89 wins), Houston Astros (86 wins), St Louis Cardinals (86 wins), and Florida Marlins (84 wins) all had more or equal wins as the Los Angeles Dodgers (84 wins), but missed the playoffs because they did not play in a division as weak as the NL West.

Then again, Mr. Rogers is for toddlers and not adults
On the fourth hand, adding two more teams would take away much of the magic and stories of the past few years. Remember how awesome it was when the Phillies stole the division and playoff opportunity away from the Mets in 2007 and 2008, thanks to their epic and historical chokes? Well, in 2008 the Mets would have qualified as the #5 seed, eliminating that fun story. The Mets still would have missed out in 2007 (they had 88 wins against the Padres 89), but having a 5th seed also would have eliminated the craziness and fun that would have occurred if the Phillies, Mets, Diamondbacks, Rockies, and Padres had all tied with 89 wins. Remember when they were talking about their being a three-tiered post-regular season ‘tournament’ to determine the National League’s playoff teams? Using NFL-style tiebreakers, as the article discusses, would eliminate that fun as well.

My final word on the final herd

Overall, I’m against expanding the MLB postseason format to include 10 teams. I know that the thrilling pennant race still exists despite adding two more teams via wild card in the mid-90s, but I think adding even more teams would cheapen the system a little by making the races between even lower-quality teams. I also think 162 games is adequate time to prove you are a top team that deserves a playoff berth. If you can’t win enough games during that grind, you don’t deserve a chance at the World Series.

Just for fun…

By the way, if you added one more team from each league in 2010, the Padres (90 wins, NL West) and Boston Red Sox (89 wins, AL East) would have joined the postseason party.