Restructuring The MLB Playoffs: Making A Good Postseason Even Better
There’s been some chatter recently about realigning the teams of Major League Baseball. Perhaps it’s because the collective bargaining agreement is about up for re-negotiating or maybe it’s simply due to the fact that there isn’t a whole lot of substance to write about the first week of Spring Training.
Nevertheless, it’s an interesting topic to debate, but I find myself on the side that believes baseball’s six-division structure works well just the way it is.
So if I have no qualms with the current layout of the leagues, the next logical area for me to focus on is the playoffs.
I think most of us can agree with the fact that the games start too late at night or that the number of off days is getting ridiculous. But I’m more interested in two particular adjustments—expanding the playoff field and properly rewarding regular season success.
Major League Baseball currently allows the lowest percentage of its teams into the playoffs at 26.7 percent (eight of 30 teams). The NFL checks in at 37.5 (12 of 32) percent followed by the NHL and NBA, both at 53.3 percent (16 of 30).
I do not like the NBA or NHL playoff arrangements. They’re too long, include too many mediocre teams and don’t adequately reward the best regular season teams.
I’ve always liked the low percentage MLB has—I believe it makes the regular season more meaningful. So my proposal ups the number of teams in the MLB playoffs, but still keeps its percentage lower than that of the NFL, NBA and NHL.
Second, while I believe the regular season means more in Major League Baseball, I believe the teams that do the best in that time frame aren’t adequately rewarded come playoff time.
In the NFL, the top two teams in each league are awarded a bye, which is certainly a huge advantage to landing one of those top spots—you make the second round without having to win in the first.
In MLB, the top two teams simply earn themselves one extra home game, which they may not even end up using. I think a more advantageous reward is appropriate for the top teams in the league.
Many people may say that everyone starts over in the postseason, which is true to an extent, but I believe that the regular season should count for more than just an invitation to the party. The better you do, the better advantage you should have. Give the teams that deserve it a pass to the VIP room.
So, acknowledging that I feel the top teams are not adequately advantaged and that the field is too limited, here’s what I propose.
In each league, the divisions remain in the same format as they are now. The playoff field is expanded from four to five teams simply by adding a second wild card berth.
The two wild card teams play a short best-of-three series to determine which team advances on in the playoffs. As a reward, the wild card team with the better record will host this series.
After the Wild Card Series, the remaining four teams are then seeded based solely on their records, regardless of division. Meaning that any two teams from the same division could potentially meet in the Division Series.
If the Phillies are the top overall seed in the National League, and the Braves win the Wild Card Series and are the fourth seed, they will meet in the Division Series, regardless of the fact that they both play in the NL East.
Additionally, if the Wild Card Series winner owns a better record than any of the division winners, they will be seeded accordingly.
If we’re starting over in the postseason, why does it matter?
The LDS will remain an unchanged best-of-five series, save for one minor adjustment.
The top overall seed will receive four home games in the series instead of three. It’s one more advantage for being the best team in the league. The second seed will maintain the current home-field advantage arrangement.
The Championship Series would remain the same, with the better seed gaining a one-game home-field advantage.
The 2009 National League standings work out well for me to use them as an example. So here’s what the playoffs would have looked like had the system I’m proposing been used.
The three division winners were Los Angeles (95-67), Philadelphia (93-69) and St. Louis (91-71). The two wild card teams would have been Colorado (92-70) and San Francisco (88-74).
Colorado would host a three game series against San Francisco (no off days) to determine who moves into the final field of four NL teams.
If Colorado wins, then they gain the third seed based on record and match up against the second-seeded Philadelphia. If San Francisco wins then based on their record, they would receive the fourth seed and match up against the Dodgers in the first round.
I believe the current MLB playoff setup is pretty darn good, especially when compared to the playoff setups of its peers. However, I do believe that every good thing can be improved upon, and the system I’ve outlined above would slightly expand the amount of teams with a chance at a championship, while more adequately rewarding regular season success.
Adding a three game Wild Card Series into the playoffs could be offset by eliminating unnecessary off days throughout the rest of the playoffs.
Hopefully, I’ve given you guys some food for thought as we head into another MLB season full of excitement and debate!