FanPost

A look backward to see what expanded MLB playoffs would have looked like

Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports:

 

Negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement for Major League Baseball are moving at a fast pace and one issue the sides have all but agreed upon is adding two wild-card teams and holding one-game playoffs in each league to determine which of the wild cards advances, The Post has learned.

The question is what impact this will have on MLB teams as they try to compete.  You can speculate on who it would help - people generally think of the Rays, since they're going to have to fight for the wild card as it is, in what is an exciting race, even if it is largely being brought on by the Red Sox imploding in September under the weight of the piles and piles of cash that they carry.

What I attempted to do was just examine 16 years of postseason baseball under divisional play (1995-2010), looking for whether adding a second wild card and then having those two wild cards play a sudden death game would have made the September hunt and the October series better or worse.  I kind of generally kept in mind that 100 game winners absolutely should be in the playoffs, 90 game winners probably deserved a shot, teams that rally to win a lot of games in September should get rewarded, and division rivalries matter.  I gave each a ranking, and while those numbers are barely ordinal I'll assume cardinality for this exercise, keeping in mind that when I assume I risk making an ass out of u and me.  I'd welcome anyone to criticize this or  improve upon it and come up with a good formula, because that means you bothered to read this 3700 word monstrosity of a blog post.

 

National League

 

1995

This would have added the Houston Astros, who fell a game short of the Rockies after a neck and neck finish to the abbreviated 144 game season. The Cubs were 3 games behind Houston, and were the only other team in the NL over .500 that year. An exciting contest featuring a still in his prime Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio, who actually hit more home runs than Bagwell that year. Extra Wild Card Value: +2

 

1996

This is the kicker, the first wow, that would have been a good idea. The Montreal Expos would have made the playoffs. Yes the Expos would have had a chance to take ace Pedro Martinez in a one game playoff against the Dodgers, and then potentially face the defending World Champion Atlanta Braves, who beat the Expos in 10 of 13 contests between them that year. But crazy things happen in the postseason, and the Expos could make up for having been denied the opportunity by the 1994 strike. Extra Wild Card Value: +8

 

1997

Compelling case #2 - the Dodgers and the Mets would have had to play a 1 game playoff to play a one game playoff against the Florida Marlins. The Dodgers, before being plunged into a thousand dozen years of darkness under FOX and Frank McCourt, could have had one last shot to seriously contend, with 4 players that hit 30 home runs. The Dodgers in 2011 have all of 4 players with more than 10 home runs. But for the Mets, it would have been one more round of playoff glory for the late Corey Lidle. And would the Marlins have bothered dismantling the team and going cheap if they didn't win; would they have just tried to be a regular old contender every year? Extra Wild Card Value: +8

 

1998

The San Francisco Giants would have been the leading contender for the extra spot in this season, finishing a game better than the Mets, rather than missing the wild card because they were a game short of Sammy Sosa and the Cubs. But who knows what would have happened. Barry Bonds, whose playoff performances in the past stopped just short of stealing a child's teddy bear and burning it before their eyes in terms of heartache, would have had a chance to compete - to say guess what, I'm better than Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, because we won in the postseason, and I have power and speed and play good defense and get on base. Maybe he wouldn't have gone so crazy that he wouldn't have gone on the juice. Although it's just as likely everyone would have said "hey look, Bonds choked in the postseason, again." Extra Wild Card Value: +5

 

1999

Ok, this wouldn't have added an exciting competitive race - all it would have done is call the one game tiebreaker between the Mets and the Reds a playoff, so it would have counted toward the postseason stats. We can act as though we know how this turns out, because a single sudden death game was in fact played. Extra Wild Card Value : 0

 

2000

Nearly 10 games worse than the Wild card (and eventual NL champ) Mets, the Dodgers and Cubs would be duking it out for the next playoff spot, with the Dodgers in position to take it when they ended a game better than the Cubs. Then the Dodgers might have actually gotten to use Kevin Brown in the postseason, and his $105m contract would make sense. Just kidding, of course it would still be a bad contract. But still, kind of degrades the pennant race to add clearly inferior competition. Extra Wild Card Value: -2

 

2001

The 90 game winning Giants (2 games better than the AL east winning Braves or Wild card 3rd runner up Cubs) featured the finest work of biochemical engineering, the most perfect use of steroids, Barry Bonds in his 73 homer year. Not only that, but somehow Rich Aurilia hit 37 homers that year. Still, they would have had to get past a tough Cardinals team that featured McGwire, a potent JD Drew, Jim Edmonds, and a young left fielder named Albert Pujols. A slugfest for the finish. Extra Wild Card Value: +5

 

2002

The Giants were the wild card with 95 wins, and 3 games behind and ahead of everyone else was the Dodgers. This is exactly what you want: a sudden death game with one of the best rivalries in MLB. Extra Wild Card Value: +10

 

2003

The Astros, just ahead of the Phillies, Cardinals and Dodgers, would get in here. There would have been extra drama to win the final playoff spot, Houston could have taken their all-star bullpen of Lidge-Dotel-Wagner in to give Bagwell and Biggio another chance at the World Series win that eluded their careers. And adding an 87 game winner when the Cubs only won 88 doesn't seem so bad. Extra Wild Card Value: + 6

 

2004

In the bottom of the 9th on a Saturday, deadline acquisition Steve Finley hit a grand slam to clinch the NL West for the Dodgers. Had the Dodgers lost that game, there would have been a 3 way tie at 92-70 for 2 playoff spots between the Dodgers, Giants and Astros. Giving the Giants a 1 game playoff cheapens that final series between two rivals, and cheapens that moment, merely replicating what would happen if the Giants lost the tiebreaker with the Dodgers and had to face the Astros anyway. So no, that would have been terrible. Extra Wild Card Value: -10

 

2005

June 30th was the last game for future hall of fame first baseman Jim Thome. How do you replace him? Oh, that's right, look, it's Ryan Howard in the farm system. And you give Corey Lidle another chance to play in the postseason. On the other hand, you have a similar story in Houston - future Hall of Fame first baseman Jeff Bagwell is nearly finished and can't really play much, and they slide over left fielder Lance Berkman to take over, and hold off the just as good Phillies behind ace and 2nd time 20 game winner Roy Oswalt (with a little help from Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte). On September 11th, it looked like this would be tight for the Marlins, Phillies and Astros, and while the Marlins dropped off, the Phillies and Astros had a horse race to the end - this just says once the Marlins are out, it's eventually gonna be a sudden death between these two guys. Extra Wild Card Value: -2

 

2006

The Phillies, Dodgers and Padres had a 3 team shuffle going on, and the Padres and Dodgers tied with the Pads getting the division. On Sept 24th the Dodgers were 82-74 and the Phils were 82-73. The Phillies choked when they dropped 2 out of 3 to the Nationals, including a ridiculous game that didn't start until about 11:30 in RFK because of rain (but the game HAD to be played - a couple of my friends actually stuck it out and were rewarded with seats just a few rows behind home plate). Giving the Phillies a mulligan, especially when the Astros had no chance to catch them, doesn't seem to make sense here. Extra Wild Card Value: -3

 

2007

The Rockies won 4 of their last 5 and the Padres won 3 of their last 5, and that took it to a tiebreaker. This is another case of making the game a tiebreaker, and it has the same implications for the epic collapse of the Mets. Extra Wild Card Value: 0

 

2008

The Mets once again blew the season on the last game of the season, though here is a chance to force a 1 game playoff between them and the Brewers. But this game would give the Mets a chance to redeem themselves - and it's not like the two teams played each other to close out the season. Extra Wild Card Value: +2

 

2009

This lets in the Giants, with the CY Young winner and the Rookie of the Year, and would have put the eventual 88 game winners in a tight race with the Marlins and the Braves for the last week of the season to get to that one playoff spot. Extra Wild Card Value: +5

 

2010

The Padres had a bad stretch before the last week of the season, and it was too late, ruining what was otherwise a great story about the little engine that could. If they didn't lose on the last game of the season, it would have forced a playoff with Atlanta. Still, hard to argue in favor of a 90 game winner not making the playoffs. Extra Wild Card Value: +1

 

Overall could be good to great, but there will be times when it's silly when we look at the NL. Now the AL.

 

American League

 

1995

The California Angels lost a 1 game playoff to the Mariners for the division title. This instead would have resulted in some tiebreaker which would have led one team to win the division and the other to face the Yankees in Sudden Death. That Mariners team featured Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr, and a rookie who wasn't quite amazing named Alex Rodriguez. But I'm rooting for a Jim Abbott to get a chance to play in the postseason, and the Angels might have had an easier time beating the 95 Yankees. Extra Wild Card Value: +1

 

1996

This would have the interesting effect of forcing the Seattle Mariners to make up a game (million dollar question is who), and if they win, then they get spot #5. If they lose, then there has to be a winner of the Mariners, White Sox, and Red Sox in order to play a Sudden Death game against the Orioles to see who can Play either the Indians or the Yankees in the first round. Extra Wild Card Value: +6

 

1997

This is an unexciting year in the AL. The Angels make it here after a sub-.500 September because they're the only team left over .500. Even though they won only 2 fewer games than the AL Central champ Cleveland, the 84 win Angels would play a Sudden Death elimination game against the 96 win Yankees. That's nice if you don't like the Yankees, but I don't see how this makes anything more competitive. Extra Wild Card Value: -5

 

1998

The first mention of the Blue Jays, who are 3 games better than the Angels after they ended well and the Angels ended poorly. The Jays would go in with Shawn Green, Carlos Delgado, ace Roger Clemens, and 2nd year player Chris Carpenter to face the Red Sox, the wild card team that finished 4 games better than them and played about as well as them down the stretch, but they would have beaten out the Angels in a race for that spot, after Anaheim was in first place on September 11th and then proceeded to go 5-11. Maybe the games matter more for the Angels. Extra Wild Card Value: +4

 

1999

In 1999, the Oakland A's were next to last in batting average and 4th in runs scored because they were 2nd in home runs and first in walks. And Matt Stairs was their regular right fielder. While they were a good 6.5 games back of the Rangers on September 1, they were within 2 games of the Red Sox. Of course, Boston went 19-10 while the A's went 14-15. Adding a wild card would have put the A's in the playoffs with 87 wins, 8 less than the lowest win total of any division leader, and 7 wins less than the wild card Red Sox, for a chance to knock out Boston in one game. The A's might have had a race with Toronto (the only other non-playoff team in the AL that had a winning record) for that 5th spot, and maybe they would have traded more aggressively, but it's still a bit crass for an 87 game winner to have a chance to knock out a 94 game winner in just one game, and there's only so exc. Extra Wild Card Value: -2

 

2000

In 2000, Major League Baseball did not yet have the unbalanced schedule. Yet the Yankees won their division with 87 games, and the Cleveland Indians won 90 and did not advance. Another peculiarity was that the Oakland A's went 91-70 while the Mariners went 91-71, yet the A's won the division without having to play game #162 and go to a tiebreaker, presumably because they would have won the tiebreaker anyway to determine the wild card. On September 1, Cleveland had 71 wins on the year, compared to 72 for Seattle, 69 for Oakland and 70 for Boston. While the entire AL East had a bad month, Seattle won 19 games as Oakland won 22 to surge ahead. Giving Cleveland a chance to knock out Seattle may not have been such a bad thing, they were close, and they didn't play each other in the last series of the year. My only gripe - instead of wildcard 2 facing the other wild card, have them face the team that has the fewest wins overall - the 87 win Yankees. But still, I'm all in favor of letting Manny's last Indians team get at least a taste of the postseason. Extra Wild Card Value: +4

 

2001

The Seattle Mariners won 116 games. If that isn't amazing enough, the Oakland A's won 102 to win the Wild Card. The next closest team was the 85 win Minnesota Twins. The 01 Twins were nowhere near the same class as the 01 A's; Torii Hunter, David Ortiz, and Johan Santana's best days were still ahead of them, but by OPS+ the best hitters on the team were Doug Mientkiewicz and Corey Koskie, and LaTroy Hawkins with his 5.96 ERA was their closer. All while the A's starting rotation was just as impressive as another trio of starting pitchers that wore the letter A on their hats. But to give a team that is 17 games worse a chance to knock out another in a single game elimination is just absurd. Extra Wild Card Value: -7

 

2002

The Boston Red Sox won 93 games but were denied a playoff opportunity. The Anaheim Angels won 99. It wouldn't seem to do that much harm, other than potentially knocking out the eventual World Series winner rather than a 94 win Twins team whose success was inflated by the weakness of the division, especially the Royals and Tigers in this new era of the unbalanced schedule. Extra Wild Card Value: 0

 

2003

We're not so much concerned with the Twins winning 90 games and the AL central with it but rather the Mariners winning 93 and missing the playoffs while Boston wins 95 and gets the Wild Card. Seattle and Boston was where the Wild Card race was, and Boston even had a shot at the AL east on Sept 2. The White Sox, Twins and Royals were close for the AL Central title, but the race ended, and Seattle lost, going 12-12 while Boston went 15-9. Seattle did sweep Oakland to end the year while Boston dropped 2 of 3 to the Devil Rays, but those games wouldn't become any more meaningful by giving them a 1 game playoff. A one game playoff vs the 90 win Twins, maybe, but otherwise, meh. Extra Wild Card Value: +1

 

2004

Oakland was in 1st place on Sept 1 2004, and then blew it, going 13-17, while the Red Sox were 78-53 and went 20-11. Letting Oakland stumble into 5th place and have a chance to knock off the surging 98 game winning Red Sox with one game just seems wrong, especially when this was Boston's year. This doesn't add any drama, it just leaves more room for slack. Extra Wild Card Value: -2

 

2005

Cleveland's 93 wins weren't enough this year, as the Red Sox get the Wild Card with 95. Certainly the tiebreaker to determine which 95 game winner (Boston, NY or Anaheim) will need to be improved to be fair, but Cleveland should probably get a shot. Yet on the other hand, during the last week of the season, Cleveland lost 6 of 7 while Boston won 4 of 7. They blew it, why give them another shot? Extra Wild Card Value: -2

 

2006

The White Sox win 90 games, but are 5 games behind the Tigers for the wild card. But the Twins surged while the Tigers and White Sox both lost 16 games in September. The Anaheim Angels, though, get so close to getting in, that even though they were 8 games behind the White Sox on September 1, they finished only a game back. Maybe the extra playoff spot gives them that push to move more aggressively, and maybe this becomes a race, and a race of 90 game winners is never shabby. Extra Wild Card Value: +4

 

2007

Here we have a race! The Red Sox, Yankees, Indians and Angels are set. But the 88 game winning Tigers and Mariners get to duel to see who gets to try to knock out the Yankees in the playoff for the playoff. Adding extra competition to these things is always a good idea. Extra Wild Card Value: +7

 

2008

The Twins and White Sox had a 163rd game to determine the division winner, but if both teams were a game better, one of them could have challenged the Yankees for the final Wild Card. This could be interesting, and a race-changer, and perhaps the Blue Jays jump in from 3 games behind the Yankees. But this was already pretty exciting, and all you would do is add the Yankees. Extra Wild Card Value: +1

 

2009

See last time, except here it's the Twins over the Tigers in game 163, and it goes to the Rangers as it is, who were a game better than the AL Central division winner, just like the Yankees were in 2008. Not a great Rangers team, but would add something. Extra Wild Card Value: +1

 

2010

The Red Sox would make it, and then they would face . . . the Yankees. Sudden Death for the AL Wild Card. It would be one game that everyone would want to watch. And Boston would have had to have held off the White Sox (who finished just one game worse) for the spot. This is excitement. This is what you want to see out of one of these games. Extra Wild Card Value: +10

 

Overall, a more marginal effect in the AL actually. Almost a little surprising because all the competitive balance talk is usually about letting someone else beside the Yankees and Red Sox get in the playoffs, but adding the extra team doesn't seem to do the trick

 

Conclusions

 

If MLB really wants this to be competitive, let the 2nd wild card team play a single game elimination game with whoever has the lowest win total out of the top 4 playoff teams. Why let the 2005 Padres off so easily, or the 2006 Cardinals, or the 2008 Dodgers?  Wouldn't the greatest vindication of Ryan Howard's 2006 MVP have been if the Phillies had a one game playoff to knock the Cardinals out of the postseason and deny them the chance at their World Series win? As proposed, the new playoff system would also have different strategic results - winning the division is more important than just winning the wild card, and maybe one more team would contend a little longer. Which is all you can really ask for.

 

This isn't what I would propose.  I'd say shorten the season to 154 games, and then 6 teams from each league make the playoffs.  Start with a 3 game series for the 3 wild cards and the division winner with the lowest win total, and the best 2 division winners in each league getting a bye for the first round.  It's the NFL playoff model, yes, but it's a good model, and if MLB expands there, that's fine.  Because the NFL model is a good stopping point, as it stops short of the NBA's ridiculous system where more than half the league makes the playoffs, and the only teams struggling to get in are the really bad ones.

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