Updated: Jan 7, 2021
As I am currently writing this article in my dorm room, the Orlando Magic are slotted in as the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference of the NBA. The Magic have won 24 games this season and have lost 31. But fear not Magic fans, the .436 winning percentage that your team currently holds would be enough to grant them a spot in the NBA playoffs had the season ended today.
The new proposed playoff format that MLB has released would cause baseball to see more Orlando Magic-esque teams in the playoffs as soon as 2022.
For those who don`t know, in the proposal, seven teams would make the playoffs from each league. Of the seven teams in each league, the top seed would get a bye, automatically advancing to the Division Series. The second, third and fourth seeded teams would then host each game of a best-of-three series. But here`s the kicker: the two seed would choose their opponent from the three lowest-seeded playoff teams. The three seed would then choose which of the two lowest remaining seeds they would like to play, leaving the four seed to play the last team remaining. And all of these decisions would be made on live television.
I am not a baseball purist. I want players to bat flip if they hit a meaningful home run, just like I want a pitcher to show emotion after striking out a batter in a big situation. I am not opposed to the National League adopting the designated hitter (but that is a topic for another article). I am, however, opposed to the new proposed playoff format.
My main issue with the new format is that it will give teams an excuse to avoid going all-in, allowing middle-of-the-pack teams to make the playoffs. Why would a general manager trade for an ace when his or her team could make the playoffs with, let’s say, 83 wins? Take last season, for example. The Boston Red Sox, after not making any big moves at the trade deadline, would have found themselves in the playoffs under the new system with 84 wins. In 2017, the Los Angeles Angels would have been granted a playoff berth for winning 80 games. Let me rephrase that. In 2017, the Angels would have made the playoffs with a losing record.
Additionally, acceptance of average teams into the playoffs will not only provide disincentive for blockbuster trades, but it will also reduce the need for teams to give big-money contracts to free agents. Owners will be more hesitant to spend $300 million on a talented player when a two-year, $20 million contract for another player will still allow his or her team to sneak into the playoffs as the seventh seed, keeping most of the fans content.
Baseball is special in the fact that every team that makes the playoffs under the current format has a realistic chance to win the World Series. If you need proof, look no further than last October, where we saw the wild-card Washington Nationals capture their first championship. If this new proposed format is implemented into the game, the idea that each playoff team has a realistic chance to take home the Commissioner`s Trophy will be lost.
(Photo by Thomas B. Shea/USA TODAY Sports)
I promise you I am not trying to pick on the NBA, but I need to make one more comparison. One of the major complaints the NBA faces is that teams play an 82-game season only to see more than half of the league make the playoffs. This leads to some players frequently sitting out regular-season games due to their lack of importance. Baseball takes the NBA`s 82-game season and almost doubles it, but baseball`s current playoffs include only one-third of all 30 teams. The slimmer field of teams in baseball`s playoffs gives greater significance to each regular-season game. If the number of playoff teams in baseball were to be expanded by 40%, as the new format proposes, it would make each game of the seven-month long regular season far less valuable. In essence, in order to give each regular-season game value in any sport, there should be an inverse relationship between the number of games in the regular season and the number of teams that make the playoffs. This new playoff proposal upsets the current balance that MLB has found.
The most intriguing aspect of the proposal is the idea that in the first round, higher-seeded teams will be able to select their opponents. The concept that the lowest seeded team is not always the ideal opponent for the higher-seeded team is fair. For example, in this hypothetical, imagine that the new playoff format is in play. “Team A” is the two seed in their league, giving them first choice for their opponent in the first round, and they have three lefties at the top of their rotation. “Team B” is the playoff team with the worst record, but has eight right-handed batters in their starting lineup. Team A may not choose to play Team B, even though Team B is the lowest-seeded team in the playoffs, simply due to the matchup. In this case, the new rules give another advantage to the higher seeded teams. However, this takes away from the randomness of baseball as a whole. Sports are not perfect, and the analytics cannot tell us everything. If sports were perfect, they would be no fun. The team with the best record would win every year, and there would be no point of watching past the regular season. The matchups may not always play out how the higher-seeded teams want them to, but that is part of the beauty of the game. That being said, if this new format is implemented into the game, you better believe I will have my eyes glued to the live selection show.
There is, however, one point of merit to this proposal: MLB would do away with the Wild Card Game. As discussed earlier, in terms of total games played, baseball has by far the longest season of any of the four major sports in America. The fact that under the current system, a team can earn a spot in the playoffs and then be sent home after playing just nine innings is not representative of the sport at all. The shortest series that teams play in the regular season is two games, but that itself rarely happens. The majority of series during the regular season are three games, and the first round of the playoffs should also be a three-game set. I believe it would be best to make that change alone and scrap the other elements of this proposal.
All things considered, the new proposed playoff format is bad. It encourages teams to reduce the number of major moves they make, including big trades and spending money. It also takes away from the randomness of October baseball that currently gives all playoff teams a chance to win. I am, however, in favor of eliminating the Wild Card Game.
Baseball has seen a flurry of rule changes recently, largely in an effort to bring in younger fans. But Rob Manfred, the commissioner of baseball, must consider how much he is willing to upset the sport`s current fanbase in order to bring in a new one.
(Cover photo by mlb.com)