Cardinals news from a Sabermetric point of view

Selig continues to dilute Fall Classic

Just when you thought MLB couldn’t dilute its championship any more, Bug Selig, the commissioner who promised to retire years ago, brings the news that baseball will add a second wild-card team this year.

Now an even less-qualified team gets to enter the postseason “tournament,” which is really what MLB’s playoffs have become. It’s possible now that the World Series will become a matchup of a strongly qualified team (e.g., division winner) vs. a second-tier second-place team, or worse yet, a matchup of two second-tier second-place teams. No wonder fans are decreasingly interested in the Fall Classic.

Selig is lying (surprise, surprise) when he says that the change “increases the rewards of a division championship.” The division winners don’t get a bye or any advantage relative to how the system has been the last 17 years. Some division winner still has to play a second-place team in a short series. What’s worse is that the LDS playoff structure for 2012, in which the wild-card team hosts the first two games of a best-of-five series, will actually disadvantage the division winner. It’s shameful for Selig and others to perpetuate this bunkum.

As if it weren’t bad enough that a second-place team could vie for the sport’s championship, it’s actually now possible for a third-place team to join the tournament. But neither Selig nor any of the game’s decision makers care that they have watered down their championship series by increasingly allowed less-qualified teams access to it. They care about the short-term profit that an extra couple of playoff teams will generate.

Cardinal player rep Kyle McClellan justified the player sentiment by noting that “Players were excited about getting two more teams in the playoffs, and we don’t think it dilutes the postseason at all. If it was a choice between being that second team in the playoffs or being home, it’s an obvious choice.”

Given McClellan’s logic, it’s clear why the players will always opt for more playoff teams — and why their opinion should be considered secondary. For that matter, Bud Selig, a man financially and relationally invested in the here-and-now and insulated by a coterie of owners, is similarly short-sighted, should once and for all be removed from his post and prevented from further damaging the game. As we’ve noted before, Selig’s tinkerings may have positive impacts in the short-term, but they erode the sport’s distinctives and character in the long-run.

9 Responses to “Selig continues to dilute Fall Classic”

  1. leftie32 Says:

    Pip, you crack me up! Tell us how you really feel about Selig. :)
    Although I was glad that the Cards made the playoffs last year via the wild card and a Braves meltdown, I agree that there are too many teams in the playoffs. Why don’t they just make it a 30-team playoff like the college conference tournaments?
    One point to consider: what about really strong divisions (think AL East in 2008-2010 which is now shifting to AL West) where it could be argued the 2-3 best teams in the league are located?

  2. Pip Says:

    Glad I can provide some humor, even if unintended. ;) I appreciate your integrity in admitting that the Cardinals’ World-Series win was a bit hollow (perhaps I’m putting words in your mouth).

    I think your 30-team proposal is the natural and logical end of Selig’s silliness. I’d actually be curious to hear Selig’s response — why *not* have all 30 teams?

    Your point is valid. But the solution is not to increase the number of Wild Card teams but to reduce the number of divisions, something else that will never happen.

  3. ahitz Says:

    Ok, wedging the extra wild card playoff game into this year’s schedule is ridiculous, given the idiotic scheduling contortions required. That said, I’m not sure your statistical argument here supports your wrath against Selig, so let me try and help you build a better one.

    1. Sadly, the decline in World Series TV ratings can’t be blamed on Selig. It can be traced to too many of other factors, like increased viewing & media options. There is no evidence in other major american sports that expanded playoffs hurt championship ratings. MLB can make a very reasonable argument that the only way they can counter WS ratings decline (if they were to publicly admit that it exists) is by giving additional markets a reason to tune in for a few more days and see their team play. TV sports ratings are about casual fans and hype, not the integrity of the playoff system.

    2. The graph showing percentage of teams in the playoffs is accurate, but it tells a limited story. Back in the 154 game schedule days, teams only had to play 7 other teams in their league, so teams faced each other 22 times (disclaimer: i didn’t go back and count scheduled matchups to be sure of that but how else do you end up with a number like 154) That makes a winning record in the regular season a fairly cut and dried assessment of who is the best in each league. Expand to 10 teams & 162 games in the sixties, and then teams only faced each other 18 times. Each subsequent expansion since then has decreased the number of times teams face their league opponents. Division play (Selig) decreased it further and inter-league play (Selig) further still. The result is that when all the teams involved don’t face each other equally, let alone equal competition, the regular season standings are not an accurate indicator of who the top team in a league is.

    So, what has actually happened here is that Selig watered down the regular season, and is now trying to spike the playoffs with extra teams to make up for it.

  4. Vaughan7777 Says:

    Back in the 60s, Ernshaw Cook in his book Percentage Baseball claimed that the win-loss distribution in World Series play amounted to so many coin flips. He said that between two evenly matched teams a series of 25 games (more or less) would be required for the better team to really show.
    Since the advent of the eight team playoff format, it would seem that randomness rules. Try this: rank each of the eight playoff teams 1 through 8 based on their regular season record. Do this for every year the eight team format has been used. Average the ranks of the World Series winners. Pretty close to 4.5. Coin flips!
    Were the Cards “better” that the Phillies last year? No. Am I happy the Cards won? YES! It was a storybook season, the stuff of legends. They weren’t the best team, but they won. They won it all.
    The old-timers from the days when a team had to win the pennant to play in the Series would say, “I just want to play in a World Series”. Back then, winning the long season really proved something. Now, as ahitz said above, “regular season standings are not an accurate indicator of who the top team in a league is.” Neither is a playoff. And now, spiking the playoffs with extra teams will be like spiking the punch with water.
    But I’ll still watch and cheer. It’s baseball, isn’t it?

  5. EFitz Says:

    The bigger problem with the expanded field is that five teams from each league necessitates the Houston to AL move. Good riddance, fine. But now that means year-round interleague. Year-round inter-league might tip the scales to a unified DH rule. Would they ever abolish the DH in one league? No, it would reduce careers and remove a job available to the veterans, the most valued player union members. Would they ever add a DH to the NL? That’s where this realignment is headed and I don’t like it.

  6. ahitz Says:

    EFitz, I don’t like it either, but I’m afraid we’re probably going to see the DH in the NL at some point for the reasons you mentioned. Furthermore, NL owners currently are at a disadvantage when it comes to bidding on over-30 free agent hitters, because they would have to over pay/game played, assuming that the older player won’t get as many starts in the field.

    If it does happen, I hope MLB would at least make the rule the same in both leagues AND change it so that the DH is only in place for the STARTING PITCHER. Once a starter is taken out, subsequent pitchers must bat or be pinch hit for according to traditional rules. Setting the DH up that way would still extend veteran careers, help valuable starters avoid injuries at the plate or on the base paths, and let both leagues maintain some of their current character.

  7. EFitz Says:

    That’s an interesting rule change and would be better than the current DH rule in the AL, but I don’t see it happening.

    I do think the DH makes AL teams slightly better on average, which is why they tend to win more inter-league games (anything can happen in the WS, of course), so I think the increased sample size of AL vs. NL games will give even more cause for making a uniform DH rule in both leagues. I just can’t help but say that I think NL baseball is far more exciting because of the strategic difference of having that pitcher’s spot in the lineup.

  8. STLSportsFan Says:

    Perhaps I’m stating the obvious here but by adding in a one game, winner-take-all to advance in the playoffs, Selig is trying to decrease the chances of the wild card teams. Since it’s only a one game thing, wild card team should have to pitch their ace who wouldn’t be ready for game 1 of the next series if they win.

  9. Pip Says:

    Possibly, STLSportsFan. But by the time you figure in possible end-of-season pushes, the ace may not be available. Remember, the Wild-Card 2012 Cardinals didn’t have their ace available for the opener of the NLDS last year. I think it’s so minor as to be irrelevant. You may be projecting a desire onto Selig that doesn’t exist.

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