Major League Baseball has been going through it lately. Between the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal and the increased focus on the new collective bargaining agreement, MLB needed a big public image win. Instead of getting that win, MLB released a new plan to restructure the playoffs.
With everything going on in Major League Baseball these days, the very last thing on anyone’s mind is that the playoff structure needs revamping.
Well, almost anyone’s mind.
According to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, Major League Baseball has unveiled a plan to restructure the playoffs.
https://t.co/RDTj5m8cBd EXCLUSIVE: MLB is planning a radical change to their postseason perhaps by 2022, hoping to move from 5 to 7 teams in each league and — get this — have the teams with the best records pick their playoff opponents.
— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) February 10, 2020
And oh boy is it just a huge swing and miss.
The playoffs are hardly the issue with baseball in the modern age. Some might say that playoff baseball is perfect as is. However, MLB owners whose teams aren’t playoff mainstays would apparently disagree. And why would that be?
They don’t get playoff revenue.
Ownership that refuses to invest in acquiring quality talent at high prices quite simply don’t make the playoffs. So instead of spending more money, why not convince Commissioner Rob Manfred to just let more teams into the playoffs? Then, maybe they could squeak into a wildcard spot without increasing their payrolls. Playoff revenue without playoff costs. It’s an owner’s dream.
Maybe that’s just the conspiracy theorist in me talking, but I’ll challenge you as a reader to find a flaw in that logic. On the surface, you could convince yourself that it’s just a way to increase interest. Besides, having an increased chance of your team making the playoffs make you more inclined to follow them, right?
Sure that’s definitely a bonus. But I highly doubt “fan interest” is at the top of the priority list for most Major League Baseball owners. If you don’t believe that, just take a look at the Pittsburgh Pirates payroll for 2020. Then you tell me that Pirates ownership cares about fielding a decent team for the fans even if they know it’s not a playoff team.
Switching gears to the actual details of the playoff expansion is even more frustrating.
14 teams will make the Major League Baseball postseason
You read that right. Fourteen teams. Nearly half the league could be playing in the playoffs in 2022.
At this point, I’ll go ahead and ask where the incentive to field a truly elite team is. If the 2019 Washington Nationals are any evidence, getting to the playoffs hot is a lot more important than having the most talent. Talent holds up over the course of 162 games, but in a wild card game or a five-game series, you just need a few breaks to go your way.
Sherman pointed out how season record rankings and titles have corresponded over the past few seasons in an attempt to excite fans about the expanded playoffs.
1/You know what these numbers are: 5, 9, 6, 1, 10, 4, 1, 3, 1, 9? That is where the last 10 teams that won the WS finished for best record in MLB. The republic did not fall when teams with the 5th, 9th, 6th and 10th best records won it all. In fact, the 5, 6 and 10 represent
— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) February 11, 2020
I see it a different way. In 10 years, the best team in the regular season only won it all three times. Teams that finished outside the top five in record won four times.
So I’d ask again, why spend money creating the most talented team when you could win with a pretty good team?
First-round bye for the top seeds
In this new playoff structure, the best team in each league would receive a bye in the first round of the playoffs.
While that might work great in football since they only play once a week, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer has an important reminder about how baseball is played.
"It's frustrating, man." @BauerOutage is going off on Rob Manfred 😱
— Momentum (@Watch_Momentum) February 11, 2020
If you’re didn’t click on that tweet, let me sum it up for you. Not playing baseball for a week would be extremely detrimental to the best team in each league.
Baseball players are conditioned to play nearly every night. Repetition is everything in baseball. How often have baseball fans seen a talented prospect held in the minors because “the organization wants to make sure they’re getting regular playing time.”
A first-round bye is completely impractical because baseball players need the repetition of playing every day to stay in a rhythm. Finishing with the best record in your league would serve as punishment under this new structure.
The division winner with the second-best record gets to pick their wild-card round opponent
This part of the playoff structure is the biggest gimmick of all. The best division-winning team that doesn’t get the bye, instead, gets to pick their opponent in the three-game playoff round. Apparently, 162 games isn’t enough to figure out who should play each other in the playoffs?
Instead, Major League Baseball would rather let the Twitter universe be set on fire by fanbases yelling, “Oh your team didn’t pick ours cause you’re so scared we’re better!” in all caps until Twitter stock dives so low that the website shuts down completely.
Just imagine the chaos if the New York Yankees had to choose between playing the Boston Red Sox or the Minnesota Twins one day.
To recap, this new playoff structure is probably a thinly veiled excuse to make owners more money without forcing them to invest more in their teams. It’s gimmicky as hell and makes zero logistical sense.
Of course, Commissioner Rob Manfred’s job is to make the owners happy so I guess he’s doing a bang-up job with this proposal.