Rewarding the Best Team By Far

I was thinking about the playoffs structure because the Sabean article got me thinking about how hard it is for even the best team to win the World Series. With three rounds of games, it makes it that much harder for even the best team to make the World Series, let alone win it. As I noted, Billy Beane called it a crapshoot and it really does seem so based on the research I read at Baseball Prospectus (I found it but only subscribers can read the whole thing; I only read it when they had their week of free viewing).

So I was thinking: what reward is there for having the best record in the league? Nothing. When the MLB started, the team with the best record got to go to the World Series - today, nothing. So what could be done to reward excellence in that way, without trivializing it when the races are close and they just happen to be first after the last game?

First Round Bye

My idea is providing the team with the best record in a league with an incentive: first round bye. But it won't be easy to attain as my requirement would be that the team would have to beat the potential Wild Card team by 10 games (don't know why this number and not another, other than it is "round", just plucked it out of the air). I know, no precedence in the game for this, but there was no precedence for the wild card or DH either.

This would also could make the wild card a little more exciting for if there is a team running away with things and just winning a lot of games, there could be the tension of both trying to become the wild card team and the possibility that making the wild card was ultimately futile because the other team was winning so many games. It would have certainly spiced up a number of races.


From my running through the history of the playoffs, it would have "worked" about half the time in the NL (6 times no change, 5 times wild card is knocked out, with a number right at 10 games or so). It was about the same for the AL, off by one game and leads more toward no change - 7 times no change, 4 times wild card knocked out (though oddly, most were early for AL, most were lately for NL). However, it was bad in the AL as a very good team (102 wins) got pushed out because another team went crazy (116 wins).


I can go either way with this. I still think there should be some reward to a team who is clearly the best team in the league that year. But as the BP calculations showed, even the Cardinals vs. Astros would have resulted in the Cards winning only 63% of the time against the wild card team (which they didn't play because they were in the same division; 70% of the time vs. the 'Dres, whom they did play). So about a third of the time the best team is ousted from the competition in the first round, just from pure chance. However, with this rule in place, they would have gotten a bye on the first round and faced the winner of the Braves-Padres series plus get some days to heal up (though also to get rusty as well; it is a double-edged sword).

And an added "bonus" from adding this rule is that there will be less Wild Card teams getting a chance to get to the World Series. I don't know how others feel, but it just seems like the wild card team is getting to the World Series too often. Perhaps I'm being "old school" but they had a fair competition (barring injuries and lopsided trades) and lost to the team which did win their division.

If they were so bad that they could not even get within 10 games of the best team in the league, what is the big difference if they don't get to go to the playoffs? Isn't that the whole point of the wild card, rewarding those teams who did well enough to win a division but couldn't because they happened to be in a division where a team went wild and ran away with the division. This rule would eliminate about half the wild card teams, but the races look like they would have still been intact because it was rare when a team ran that far ahead of the pack of wild card teams. It would be an added level of difficulty for the wild card teams, forcing them to watch another team's results.


Blogger Jefferson said...

Hi Martin,

There is a big problem with your plan that I don't think you addressed. A conditional first-round bye means you need to have a conditional extra wild card. Currently four teams from each league make the playoffs. If the team with the best record gets that first-round bye, you have only three teams left to play in the first round. So either you have to add a second wild card, conditional on that first-rounder, or create some sort of round-robin 3-team tournament for the first round.

There's a lot to be said for having a round-robin tournament, but the 5-6 days currently allocated to the first round just aren't enough to make it meaningful.

My preference would be to give the wild-card team only one home game in the opening round. The top seed would then get four home games out of five, which is a huge advantage.

Fri Feb 24, 10:28:00 AM PST  
Blogger obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

Thanks for your comment Jefferson.

I'm sorry I didn't make it clear enough, but my proposal was if the "best team" beat the wild card by 10 games or more, the wild card is eliminated from the playoffs, leaving the other two divisional winners to battle in the first round. The winner of that would then play the "best team" (i.e. team with the best winning percentage).

Fri Feb 24, 11:22:00 AM PST  
Blogger obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

Also, I like your idea of giving four home games to the team playing the wild card but the team with the winningest percentage does not always play the wild card - if they are from the same division, they play the other divisional winners. That wouldn't give the "best team" an advantage, but it certainly would make it harder for a wild card to win it all.

Fri Feb 24, 11:25:00 AM PST  

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