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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Why the MLB Wildcard Playoff is Unfair

Many readers know that Major League Baseball (MLB) expanded the number of wild card teams in each league from one to two this year. This could be a good idea, but the way MLB implemented it could lead to unfair outcomes. As it is currently set up, the two teams that qualify as wild cards will play a one game "playoff" to see which team advances to the next round. What this means is that there's a strong probability that the poorer of the two wild card teams could advance to the next round.

This is less of an issue in the American League this year because it is likely that records of the two teams that qualify, whether its the New York Yankees, the Baltimore Orioles, the Oakland A's, the Tampa Bay Rays, or the Los Angeles Angels, will be very similar. In the National League, however, the Atlanta Braves, which has already qualified for the playoffs, will play a team (probably either the St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers, or Los Angeles Dodgers) that will have a substantially worse record than the Braves, and it will be a travesty if Braves are knocked out of the playoffs by only losing one game.

There's a reason why most sports hold multi-game playoffs: the odds are simply too high for inferior teams to win a single game. I suspect that professional football would hold its playoffs similarly if the players could play several games in a short period of time. Thus, here's my playoff proposal if MLB insists on having two wild card teams in each league:
  • The wild card teams meet in a best of 5 playoff with the winner advancing to the second round against the division winner with the best record
  • The remaining rounds of playoffs all be a best of 7 series
This, of course, would extend the season even farther into October, so if MLB were to do this, it would probably want to consider scaling back the number of regular season games from 162 to 154 (which was the number of games played until the 1962 season).

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