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FALL CLUNKER: Postseason Change Imperative

Posted By Christopher Rowe On Oct 19 2011 @ 6:55 pm In MLB | 14 Comments

[1]Tonight begins the 2011 World Series. The Fall Classic. The Crown Jewel of the Baseball Season. This year’s entry (107th) pits the defending American League Champion Texas Rangers against the underdog wildcard St. Louis Cardinals (National League’s version of Survivor). With apologies to fans of both franchises, this is not a Dream Matchup. Fans of baseball should want to see the best teams in the Fall Classic.

[2]Best Not Around: The Philadelphia Phillies (102) and New York Yankees (97) combined for 199 regular season victories but neither of those league-best teams will be participating. Gone are all three National League divisional champs including the Milwaukee Brewers (96 wins) and Arizona Diamondbacks (who shocked the [3]world by taking the NL West with a 94-68 record). Detroit Tigers (95-67) will watch on TV after losing to Texas while the AL Wildcard Tampa Bay Rays (91-71) didn’t offer much resistance during their brief postseason effort.  

[4] [5]Essentially, this “classic” alleged “marquee” matchup will feature the eighth-best team against a team that tied for third-best record in the Major Leagues. FOX-TV executives must be drooling at the prospect of airing a re-run of last night’s episode of House rather than spending billions to secure the World Series broadcast rights. Well, you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you wind up going from Fall Classic to Fallen Clunker!

TV Ratings: Genius baseball executives have managed to eradicate the Philadelphia-New York-Boston market while also ignoring the entire western half of the viewing audience. St. Louis ranks as the 21st overall market [6](according to the Nielsen DMA) while the Dallas-Fort Worth region ranks number 5 behind New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia. Thanks to cable and satellite TV, those DMA rankings don’t really determine the true viewing audience – but between Dallas (5) and St. Louis (21) you will find San Francisco/Oakland, Boston, Atlanta, Washington/Baltimore, [7]Houston, Detroit, Phoenix, Seattle, Tampa, Miami, Minneapolis, Denver, Cleveland, Orlando and Sacramento. That sound you hear is sarcastic clapping. Great job Major League Baseball. Way to go rampant over-expansion and Made-for-TV playoffs which are “Must-Flee TV.” Check the World Series ratings over the past 5 or 10 years (see below#) How ya like the wildcard now Big Boss Bud Selig?

[8]Sour 16: The NBA and NHL play 82 regular season games so that 16 of 32 teams can make the postseason. In the NFL, twelve of 32 teams (37.5%) survive the 16-game regular season. We will not consider the three dozen NCAA football bowl games for this argument but should be aware of the 68-team NCAA basketball Tournament – which is extremely successful in spite of its girth. The NBA and NHL regular season have very little importance because 50% of the teams qualify for postseason play. NFL parity has proven that any team can win on any given [9]Sunday and while 16 games barely separates teams in the standings, the disparity between winning and losing teams is obvious. The NHL’s two-month postseason may last into May before eventually pitting two survivors in the June Stanley Cup Finals but both teams have a chance to win those grueling marathon 7-game series. We all know that the Super Bowl attracts billions of viewers worldwide – not to mention unparalleled advertising revenue. Major League Baseball is the only key sport which plays a 162-game regular season. After those 162 games in 180 days MLB teams with 95 or 100 wins have earned their status as superior in every way, shape and form. One extra home game in a best-of-five-game series is simply not enough.

Fall Classics: [10]There was a time when only the overall best NL and AL teams would play the World Series to determine the season’s champion (Best of Nine games at one time). While there were only 16 MLB teams in 1960 (much as there had been since the American League’s 1901 inception) much credit should be offered for maintaining MLB integrity as long as possible. Each of two league [11]champions made the only postseason series from 1901-1968. Conversely, teams wallowed in the MLB cellar for decades on end because half the league had no chance to compete. Expansion, free agency and the television age of the 1960s changed the face of the game – causing 24 teams to push for a larger playoff pool.

From 1969 to 1984, MLB was subdivided into two six-team divisions per league allowing those four champions to playoff in a Best of Five game series to determine World Series participants. From 1985 to 1993 that League Championship Series had been expanded to Best of Seven format retaining the four team postseason. This brief period of history offered some of the most exciting LCS and World Series due to the best-of-seven format and keeping the number of postseason teams to four division champions.

Wildcard: [12]Starting in 1994 (postseason was washed out by labor strife) MLB realigned to reflect recent and expected expansion so that 28 (then 30) teams were subdivided into six total geographic groupings across two leagues. Eight of 30 teams (26%) would move onto the postseason, perhaps still  the most equitable percentage of all major sports. This was achieved by the adoption of the wildcard (used successfully in the NFL with different format) to create the modern paradigm in 1995 and used over the past 16 seasons. Despite all of the [13]benefits of a six month regular season, MLB division winners and wildcard teams alike are thrown into a mere Best of Five game series on a level playing field. Division winners are afforded one extra home game over their wildcard opponents. Teams that win 116 or 102 games are pitted against teams that have won 95 or 85 or fewer games over the proving ground of the regular season. This is not enough of a reward over a 162-game season.

While I like the wildcard concept for regular season excitement, MLB is far too accommodating of wildcard teams in the postseason. We are still talking about the fourth-best team in either league and yet MLB sees fit to treat them the same as divisional champions – save one extra home game!

[14]Wildcard champs: Five of those previous 15 seasons since 1994 (no 1994 postseason) saw a wildcard team qualify for and eventually win the World Series. This proves that inferior teams can get on a hot streak to win the best-of-five NLDS or ALDS followed by the NLCS or ALCS. Draw it up any way you like, but any team now has to win 11 games in the postseason to win the World Series. This means potentially as many as 19 postseason games after a 162-game regular season which translates loosely into there being virtually no advantage ensuring the best teams make it to the World Series.

Shouldn’t the wildcard teams have to win more games or prove themselves worthy to win a home field advantage? Maybe wildcard teams shouldn’t get any home games in the LDS round at all? Maybe the wildcard teams play the worst-record division winner while other division winners sit out a three game series? Isn’t the whole point of this six-month marathon supposed to be deliver the two best teams to play a classic series for the ages?

[15]

Selig wants more playoff expansion

Changes: It is too late to change for 2012 but by 2013 the system could look very different. Two additional wildcards are scheduled to be added to the postseason mix (one more per league). The two wildcard teams in either league would play head-to-head and determine who qualifies to play a division winner. This “Wildcard Playoff Round” could last as few as one game or as many as five games but the rest of the postseason would proceed in its current format – one week later. Given that structure, division winners and best regular season records should be rewarded for their efforts of proving themselves over a 162-game season (resting of pitching staff, watching a wildcard round) with home field advantage. This added round of playoffs also guarantees the World Series will delve back into November, thus playing the most important games of the season in football weather and poor conditions – as in 1975, 1979, 1997, 2001, 2008 and many other years of protracted delays.

[16]Advantage: Perhaps affording the best overall record in each league a real homefield advantage would make a difference – by playing the entire series in their home ballpark rather than 3 of 5 or 4 of 7 games. Perhaps affording the best overall team in either league an automatic berth in the League Championship Series would ensure that the winners of the wildcard and playoff system would have to prove themselves worthy by winning more games, playing into the LCS and beating more rested, more proven teams. While the wildcard system makes for a very exciting end to the regular season (especially true in 2011) it doesn’t guarantee that the best teams survive the playoff structure.

[17]

2002 Angels won it all

Back to the Future: All of this is an attempt to salvage an already muddied and diluted system. The best theory is to revert to what worked for many years without fail. Take the two best teams and play a more protracted series which would prove the better team over a 7 or 9-game set. Mucking it up with 8 or 10 teams and three levels of extraneous playoff series (especially with short series) ensures [18]the opposite outcome.

Mediocrity: 5 of 15 years (one third of the time) wildcard teams have won the World Series or 33% of these wildcard years.  2011 could make it 6 out of 16 seasons which still is a moderate sample size but enough to identify a trend. Is the end goal here to make the final week of the regular season exciting? If so, the wildcard system works!

[19]Photo finish: The final month of the 2011 season culminated in teams coming back from 10-game deficits [20]and maintaining a playoff atmosphere across the league right up until the final day of the regular season. Again the problem is that it expands the postseason – as evidenced by the NFL (37.5% of teams advance after 16-game season), NHL and NBA (50% of teams qualify after an 82 game season) to the point of invalidating the usefulness of their regular season.

Do we really want lesser teams playing for the World Series or do we want to bring back the luster of the Fall Classic?

 

# Examples of World Series Ratings:

2006 (St. Louis vs. Detroit) 15.8 million viewers 10.1 rating = worst rating in modern World Series history

[21]2004 St. Louis vs. Boston was good for 25.3 million viewers. Boston reversed the Curse of the Bambino winning their first championship since 1918. Proof that fans will watch a dramatic series between two titans

2002 San Francisco Giants vs. Anaheim Angels garnered 19 million viewers in Game 6 to 30 million in Game 7

 

[22] [23]1985 and 1987 St. Louis Cardinals took the World Series to 7 games, losing in 1985 to cross-state rival Kansas City while losing a dramatic World Series to Minnesota in 1987. These registered roughly 50 million viewers and a 30 Nielson rating in the early days of cable and before 500 satellite channels. Proof that if the World Series is a true championship rather than a double elimination episode of Survivor, fans will watch. How many non-football fans watch the Super Bowl?

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2012: Selig’s Odyssey Expansion & Realignment http://www.prosportsblogging.com/2011/09/21/2012-expansion-realignment-seligs-odyssey/ [25]

Time Has Come for Playoff Expansion http://www.prosportsblogging.com/2010/09/25/time-has-come-for-playoff-expansion-says-selig/ [26]

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[28] http://www.prosportsblogging.com/2010/07/20/mlb-all-star-game-worlds-fair-to-zzzzzzz/: http://www.prosportsblogging.com/2010/07/20/mlb-all-star-game-worlds-fair-to-zzzzzzz/

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