Why adding a 2nd Wildcard Team isn’t the Worst Idea Ever
Last week, Bud Selig strongly suggested that playoffs would be expanded to include wild-card round. The way the new system would work is pretty simple:
- The two best teams in each league who didn’t win their division would be the wildcards and square off in a best-of-three series.
- The best division winner would play the winner of the wild-card series in the division series. This may or may not be the case if the winner of the wild-card round is in the same division as the top team; since 1995, it has been a rule that two teams from the same division can’t play each other in the division series.
- The other two division winners would play each other, and the playoffs would proceed as normal.
My gut reaction was a casual indifference, but I think I’m coming around to liking the idea. Here are a few reasons why a 5th playoff team in each league would be good for baseball:
It wouldn’t really reduce the quality of the playoffs much at all.
This spreadsheet shows all 26 of the hypothetical 2nd wildcard teams since 1998 (when the current, 30 team format began). On average, the worst team that has made the playoffs has gotten in with a win total of 90.3. The fifth playoff teams, if they had been making it, have won an average of 89.3 games. In other words, the average difference between the worst team that makes the playoffs, and the 5th playoff teams since 1998 is about the same as one Jorge Cantu. I mean, really look at those teams. How many of them really have no business being there? The 2001 Twins, perhaps. The 2006 Phillies… except they actually won more games than the eventual World Champion St. Louis Cardinals! At any rate, you certainly won’t get a scenario like the one the NFL had this year, with a team that had a losing record making the playoffs (and actually advancing to the second round).
It would get rid of a lot of dull games down the stretch.
Home-field advantage is nice, but how much of a motivator is it, really? Since 1998, teams with home-field advantage are 49-42 in playoff series, for a .538 winning percentage. A small edge, although it’s somewhat diminished by the fact that, before the World Series, the team with home-field advantage is probably the stronger team, hence why they have home-field advantage in the first place.
Let’s say it’s 2006, and you’re Jim Leyland. You’d like to get into the playoffs as a divisional winner, but you’re not going to start Justin Verlander on 3-days rest to lock up an extra game per series at Comerica, are you? But wait! If you don’t hold off the Twinkies, you’ve got an extra obstacle in the way of getting to the World Series: a 3-game series against Ozzie Guillen’s crew. Another series just means another opportunity to fail. If your chances of winning the World Series were about 1 in 8 before, they’re now 1 in 16. Also, Ozzie Guillen is a crazy person and might shock you to death during a profanity-laced verbal tirade.
One extra playoff team will mean that at least a couple extra fan-bases will maintain interest deep into the season.
Let’s look at the 2001 season. The four playoff teams were basically set by September 1, with the closest race being the 6.5 game difference between the Indians and Twins in the AL Central. Great. So with a month to play, no races were going to be interesting in the American League. Add a fifth wildcard team, and all of a sudden, you’ve got four extra teams within three games of that fifth spot. Four more teams means four extra fan-bases energized for an exciting wildcard hunt.
It would still be the most exclusive playoff system in sports.
The NBA admits more than half of their teams to the playoffs. This season, 8th seeded Indianapolis finished 37-45. Hockey also admits 16 of 30 teams. Football admits 12 of 32 teams to the playoffs, which is a slightly higher percentage than the hypothetical 10 of 30 that baseball is proposing. And I literally have no idea what FIFA does for soccer, but I’m pretty sure it involves something like 60 countries, some head-butting, and a weird off-sides rule than no one can ever actually explain to me.
It would be an excellent excuse to schedule double-headers.
At least, I hope. I don’t like that the playoffs go into November any more than anyone else. I don’t think the players really want to do this either, even if they are interested in expanding the playoffs. Simple solution? Put double-headers into the schedule. Maybe baseball will lose some revenue there, but not nearly as much as they’ll gain by the addition of extra playoff races and an extra playoff round. Let’s play two!