Rob Manfred and MLB are Considering a New Post Season Format
No. Just no.
News broke yesterday that Major League Baseball is considering a new post season format to begin in 2022, which would see four additional teams making the playoffs and allowing division leaders to choose their opponents. The new format proposed would also eliminate a Game 163 tiebreaker within a division, with the season series record between the two teams being the deciding factor in the event of a tie.
The Proposed Playoffs Format
The proposed format would look like this: The team with the best record in both the American League and National League would get a first-round bye, automatically advancing to the Division Series. The other two division winners would host all three games in a best-of-three Wild Card round, as would the Wild Card team with the next-best record. Three other Wild Card teams would also advance to the best-of-three round.
The division winner with the next-best record in the league would then get to decide which of the bottom three Wild Card teams it wants to play in the opening round. The selection would be aired on live television on the final Sunday night of the season, shortly after the regular season concludes.
To better explain, let’s use an example based on last year’s records, the Dodgers and Astros would have gotten the first round byes for their leagues. Then in the AL, the Yankees (2), Twins (3) and A’s (4) would have hosted the three-game Wild Card Series – choosing to play either the Rays (5), Indians (6), or Red Sox (7). In the NL, the Braves (2), Cardinals (3), and Nationals (better record than the Cards, but they are a Wild Card, not the division winner, so seeded at 4) would have chosen to play either the Brewers (5), Mets (6), or Diamondbacks (7). Have I lost you all yet?
In this scenario, the Twins would have actually played an opponent other than the Yankees, and thus might have made it farther into the post season for the first time since 2002. After the second seeded Yankees chose from either the Rays (5), Indians (6), or Red Sox(7), the Twins would have then chosen one of the remaining two, and the A’s would have to play the team that was left. The Yankees, Twins, and A’s would be the home team in the three-game round. So perhaps, with the prospect of facing a team other than the Yankees, Twins fans might actually like this asinine idea to expand the post season.
Pitcher Trevor Bauer spoke out against the idea on Twitter:
No idea who made this new playoff format proposal, but Rob is responsible for releasing it, so I’ll direct this to you, Rob Manfred. Your proposal is absurd for too many reasons to type on twitter and proves you have absolutely no clue about baseball. You’re a joke.
— Trevor Bauer (@BauerOutage) February 11, 2020
And when Trevor Bauer is the voice of reason, you know things are really messed up.
Why Reinvent the Wheel?
For those that might not remember, MLB already expanded the field to include a second Wild Card spot in 2012. As that was instituted, the two Wild Card teams within the AL and NL would have to play each other in a one-game win-or-go-home scenario, and then go on to face the number one seeded team in the league. (And can we take a moment to admire the tenacity that was the 2019 Washington Nationals team that defied all odds to win last year?)
Now that the history lesson has gotten out of the way, I’d like to say why this new idea for the post season is utter trash. In my tiny, unsolicited opinion, MLB made the second Wild Card team spot as a way to make sure that the largest, most profitable markets – i.e. Yankees and/or Red Sox and maybe the Dodgers – would always have a place in the post season. Let’s look at how the post season has run since 2012, shall we?
|Year||AL West||AL Central||AL East||AL Wild Card (2 teams)||NL West||NL Central||NL East||NL Wild Card (2 teams)|
|2012||A’s||Tigers||Yankees||Orioles, Rangers||Giants||Reds||Nationals||Cardinals, Braves|
|2013||A’s||Tigers||Red Sox||Rays, Indians||Dodgers||Cardinals||Braves||Pirates, Reds|
|2014||Angels||Tigers||Orioles||Royals, A’s||Dodgers||Cardinals||Nationals||Giants, Pirates|
|2015||Rangers||Royals||Rays||Astros, Yankees||Dodgers||Cardinals||Mets||Cubs, Pirates|
|2016||Rangers||Indians||Red Sox||Blue Jays, Orioles||Dodgers||Cubs||Nationals||Giants, Mets|
|2017||Astros||Indians||Red Sox||Yankees, Twins||Dodgers||Cubs||Nationals||Diamondbacks, Rockies|
|2018||Astros||Indians||Red Sox||Yankees, A’s||Dodgers||Brewers||Braves||Rockies, Cubs|
|2019||Astros||Twins||Yankees||Rays, A’s||Dodgers||Cardinals||Braves||Nationals, Brewers|
There was just one year (2014) in which neither, the Yankees or Red Sox made the post season, and one year (2012) where the Dodgers didn’t make it. This isn’t to say that the post season teams weren’t good – they were. If you look at that 2014 season as an example, MLB was probably pretty ticked that most of the teams were from smaller markets. The 2014 World Series had some pretty low ratings but then went back up in 2015. Granted, lower post season ratings might be due a few reasons – people hate listening to Joe Buck, post season games leading up to the World Series not being on network TV (instead aired on Fox Sports, FS1, MLB Network, TBS, YES network, etc), baseball games being played at the same time as NFL games, and a myriad of other reasons.
But is most of the country interested in the Kansas City Royals and the Orioles in the playoffs (one of the matchups in 2014)? True baseball lovers will watch no matter who is in the post season, but the casual viewers aren’t going to tune in for these games. The 2014 World Series between the Giants and Royals (and Madison Bumgarner’s performance, specifically) was actually really exciting for baseball fans, but again, the casual viewers were probably not as interested. Fun fact: the 2012 World Series (also with the Giants) was the lowest rated World Series ever. Whether the expanded playoffs saw a drop-off in interest/viewers, or if it was the teams involved, that is debatable.
You might be asking yourself “what does all of this rambling about 2014 have to do with the proposed changes”? I used that particular year and it’s low ratings and lack of Yankees and Red Sox to drive my point home. By expanding each league’s post season pool to seven teams from five, the bar for making it into the post season gets set much lower. Baseball America’s Kyle Glaser tweeted the below chart to show how the seventh seeded team has finished over the last few seasons. Some of these teams didn’t even have winning records (81 wins is considered a winning/.500 season).
To get a feel for just how low the bar for making the playoffs would be under MLB's reported playoff proposal, here is how many wins the seventh-place teams in each league have had since 2001.https://t.co/AzEeeipi2Z pic.twitter.com/PNKx7kvzEm
— Kyle Glaser (@KyleAGlaser) February 11, 2020
It’s All About Profitability
In 2019, the NL-leading Dodgers and their 106 wins would have had a first round bye, and would not have even had to play in that series in which they lost to the Nationals under this new format. The fire-hot Twins wouldn’t have had to roll over and die to the Yankees in the first three post season games, and those of us with tickets to the (unplayed) second home game in the ALDS might have gotten to actually go to a game. But more importantly to baseball, both the Yankees and Red Sox would have made the post season and likely played each other. MLB prefers to air games with these larger markets, and these long standing rivalries. The Yankees and Red Sox (and Dodgers and Cubs) make the most money, so naturally, MLB wants them playing (and playing each other) on National TV as much as they can. Think I’m making this up, solely as a fan of a small market team? Look at this listing from MLB’s 2020 national broadcast schedule (as of the time of this writing):
Of the 39 games that will air nationally (listed to date, through mid-August), there are:
- Nine games with the Yankees
- Eight with the Red Sox – with three of those facing the Yankees
- Eight with the Cubs – two against each, the Red Sox , Yankees and Cardinals, and then one vs. the Braves and Brewers
- Eight with the Dodgers
- Six with the Cardinals – two being against the Yankees
- Five with the Giants – three being against the Dodgers
- Five with the Mets – two of those against the Dodgers
- Four with the AL Champion Astros – with two of those being against Boston, one against the Yankees
- Four with the Braves – facing each LA team, the Mets, and the Cubs – all large markets
- Three with the World Series champion Nationals. One would think the reigning champions might get more national airtime.
- Three with the Angels
- Two with the Twins, coming off of their record setting 2019 season
- Two with Cleveland – one of those against the Dodgers
- Two with the Phillies – both against the Nationals
- One with the Rockies (vs. San Francisco)
- One with the White Sox (vs. Yankees)
- NONE of these games include the Pirates, Rangers, Mariners, Rays, Royals, Orioles, Diamondbacks, Padres, Blue Jays, Tigers, Reds, Marlins (to be fair, NOBODY watches the Marlins).
Baseball suffers in ratings when the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, or Cubs aren’t involved, and we all know it. People flipping through channels are more likely to keep a game on if it has one of these four teams playing, simply out of popularity. Adding four extra teams to the post season would capture not only the four most profitable teams, but also could capture some eyes from those smaller markets that might see their team in contention for the first time in a while.
We already see ten (one-third!) of the thirty MLB teams making the playoffs. Before 2012, it was just eight, and before 1994, it was just four. Under this format, we’d see fourteen of the thirty teams making the post season, even if some have a losing record (i.e. the 2016 Marlins that took seventh place with 79 wins). At this point, would the other sixteen teams get a participation trophy and a juice box at the end of the season?
If MLB wants to expand the Wild Card role, they should just make that a three game series rather than a one-and-done game. If you want to eliminate game 163, go ahead and use the regular season head-to-head record. But adding four more teams into an already crowded and lengthy post season seems utterly ridiculous. Additional games would push the World Series out even farther into late October/early November, and in colder markets, November weather is far too cold to play (or watch) a game.
So, my friends. What are your thoughts?