The current MLB Wild Card format has been a controversial change, to say the least. Traditionalists have loathed the Wild Card all along, even in its original form, while those of us that enjoy fun have loved the stakes of a winner-take-all game to get into the postseason.
However, we’re running into another situation where a really good team might get screwed. Few people batted an eye when the 98-win Pittsburgh Pirates lost a Wild Card game in 2015, but now that the New York Yankees might be the one getting the shaft? It’s time to fix everything.
FanGraphs’ Travis Sawchik — a Pirates beat writer during those Wild Card losses — offered an easy “fix” to the Wild Card Game. Instead of playing one game at the better team’s ballpark, Sawchik suggests that MLB add a second game.
I think there’s a simple, elegant solution that could be implemented easily. Last September, I suggested baseball adopt the best-of-two Wild Card format employed by the KBO. The lower seed needs to win both games, both on the road at the higher seed, while the top Wild Card just needs to win once to advance.
It seems like a better idea than a three-game series that would delay the start of the real postseason, but also lessens the pressure on both teams in the Wild Card format. Is that the best solution, though? We decided to take a stab at our own playoff formats.
This week’s question: What is your ideal playoff format?
Zane: I don’t think the MLB playoff format can be properly repaired until the league has 32 teams. Jayson Stark wrote a fantastic article for The Athletic in June in which he suggested four divisions per league, each with four teams, all set up by time zone. This would simplify the regular season and make teams have to deal with less travel, but it could also help the postseason. I doubt the league will ever go back to 154 games, but I would love to see it happen so that the postseason does not roll too deeply into November. If that change was made, I’d remove the Wild Card game. The four division winners make the postseason, end of story. It’d be so tragic some years, but that’s how it was for so long.
From there, there would be a seven-game Divisional Series, then the usual Championship Series and World Series. There will be a set number of days (maybe three) between the end of the last Divisional Series or Championship Series. Why? Well, the 2006 and 2012 Tigers are why. These two teams dominated the ALCS and swept their opponents, but then sat around for an entire week while the Cardinals and the Giants played intensely competitive NLCS series. It felt like a century had gone by when the World Series finally rolled around, and it looked like one had because the Tigers played poorly following the layover.
Rob: I’m a big fan of BASEBALL THUNDERDOME so I see no reason for the current playoff format to change. The Wild Card games haven’t always been the most entertaining, but even still, they provide a level of excitement we don’t normally see in this sport. They’re a showcase for the game, in a way, and reward teams that are able to win their divisions. Sure, we run into issues every once in a while where a very good team gets the shaft by playing in that game, but I don’t know that any other playoff format does better to mitigate the larger issues at play here (including payroll discrepancies). If anything, expansion just makes things worse for the two teams stuck in the same division as the Red Sox and Yankees.
frisbeepilot: I’m with Rob on this one: with the number of teams in the majors right now, I like the one-and-done game, so I hope the current format doesn’t change. It’s an incentive for teams not to coast to a wild-card spot, and provides all the extra drama that the MLB brass wants. You don’t want to have six months of season come down to one game? Win your damn division. Besides, how often do you have a second-place 100-win team in a division? I could probably check, but my guess is “not very often.” So, why throw a relatively successful playoff format out because of one year’s freak occurrence? Keep things the way they are. And hey, I think there would be plenty of people around the continent who, if the Yankees win a ton of games but blow it in the wild card game, would have a very satisfying sense of schadenfreude goin’ on (myself included).
Rob: I also like all the “What if?” scenarios it provides. What if the Royals don’t come back and win the Wild Card game in 2014? What if the Pirates actually won one? What if the Tigers had to play in one?
frisbeepilot: Well, the Tigers did play in a one-and-done game, once upon a time. People don’t like to talk much about that game around here, I find. (I personally thought it was pretty crazy and amazing.)
Brandon: This has really taken off as a topic recently. It’s almost like the Yankees...oh. Oh, I see. I like the current format as well. The Wild Cards are a day of fun baseball chaos, and if you didn’t win your division? Too bad. I do think that an eventual move to 32 teams will allow for some streamlining, but that is still years away. For now, I’m content with the postseason format, and as we’re not sniffing the playoffs any time soon, I feel like my impartiality is pretty strong here.
frisbeepilot: Exactly. It’s easier to bet on the Kentucky Derby when you don’t have a horse in the race.
Patrick: I am fine with the current playoff format. I like that there is a significant advantage in winning the division, and some consequences for not finishing first. The Tigers won 101 games in 1961 and went home, while the Yankees went straight to the World Series. That was the format through 1968, when MLB split into divisions. I am also okay with a one game Wild Card playoff. We saw how a layoff can have a chilling effect on a team that is on a roll. Besides, having pissed off Yankee fans is not a bad thing.
Jeff: My playoff format is very boring. I would eliminate all divisions and just have an American League and National League. The top four teams in each league make the playoffs, seeded 1-4 by record. Seed 1 plays seed 4, seed 2 plays seed 3 in the Division Series, and everything else remains the same. This is boring because it eliminates all Wild Card teams and the drama and revenue that comes with it, which is why MLB will never adopt it.
Les: Let’s expand to 32 teams, in eight divisions of four teams each. Scale back to a 154-game regular season, then each division holds its own ladder-style tournament for the playoffs with all teams participating. The fourth seed visits the third seed, winner visits the second seed, winner of that visits the top seed in a best-of-three series. I guess that’s not really ladder-style, more a series of byes? The top seed could be given a one-game advantage to further incentivize winning your division.
Ashley: Hear me out. Have a Wild Card, only the winning team gets to take players from the losing team into the playoffs.
Jeff: Let’s really spice up the Wild Card game. Managers get to make out the opposing team’s starting lineup and determine the opposing team’s starting pitcher.
Rob: Teams get to pitch to themselves.
Ashley: What if teams played the whole season only to learn that the All-Star Game was actually the World Series and whichever team had the most players show up in the game was the winner?
Kenon: Right, if the whole thing is just to create fan excitement and flies in the face of the concept of historical playoff series anyhow, let’s just make it into an absolute circus.
Ashley: Fans have to vote on which reliever to use.
Jeff: Via Twitter fan poll. Results in two minutes.
Brandon: Can we involve a dunk tank somehow?
Ashley: Extra innings! First team to dunk the other team’s manager wins.
Patrick: 32 teams, North, South, East and West divisions in each league. Wild card game in each division, with No. 3 at No. 2, winner to the division series. The Division Series is seeded with 4 at 1, 3 at 2, best of five. The Championship Series and World Series are best of seven, and use the designated hitter in all games. Or, can the wild card and just have division winners in the Division Series. But with the present number of teams, stick with the current format.
Zane: I’d absolutely take Patrick’s system too in addition to the one I suggested
Ashley: Okay, hear me out again. After the tenth in a tied game in the postseason your runner is replaced with a dog.
Rob: Does the dog need to stay in the baseline?
Ashley: It would need to at least touch all the bags.
Brandon: Peanut butter bags.
Les: Pitcher tic-tac-toe, but you actually have to hit the square you are intending to play.
John: At the end of the season, all division winners get in to the playoffs. In addition, the next six best records, regardless of league or division, get a berth to a preliminary single elimination playoff. This playoff will send two of the six teams to the actual playoffs. The two teams with the best records get a first round bye and the four other teams play a first round game. Best record vs. worst play in the afternoon and second best vs. second worst play in the evening.
After a days rest, those winners advance to each play one of the top two teams. the winners of those match ups advance to the actual playoffs. These preliminary playoff games will be played on neutral ground. I’m thinking Puerto Rico, The Dominican Republic and Cuba. Once the two victors emerge the entire playoff group again gets re-seeded based on record. The National League vs. American League gets thrown out the window. It’s a free for all. NL teams can play NL teams in any part of the playoffs and vice versa (imagine the national outcry of a Boston vs. New York World Series). It will be a three-round playoff with the first round being three games, the second round being five, and the Championship Series going seven.
This was poorly thought out and quickly organized, so I can’t wait for everyone to point out to me how dumb this is, and in what ways.
Ashley: Then you add shredded cheese and sour cream... oh shit, wait.
John: At least I’m wearing pants.