The changing face of Major League Baseball

Mailbag: Best Part-Timers
Open Thread: Name the 2011 Yankees

Baseball’s GM meetings wrapped up today, and at the end MLB announced a few things that we knew were coming down the pike. First, they approved the Astros’ sale to Jim Crane. That comes with a game-altering change: the Astros will move to the American League West division in 2013, thereby creating two 15-team leagues. Second, MLB announced the addition of one Wild Card team from each league, expanding the total playoff pool to 10 of 30 teams. Both of these announcements will have far-reaching effects on the future of the sport.

Balanced Leagues

Given baseball’s current arrangement, having unbalanced leagues makes sense. It might create an odd-looking arrangement, with the AL West housing four teams while the NL Central has six, but it makes life much easier. With 14 teams in the AL and 16 teams in the NL, baseball was able to continue its tradition of keeping the leagues separate, or at least mostly separate, until they finally meet in the World Series. But with 15 teams in each league, having an interleague game every day becomes necessary.

More frequent interleague creates a greater urgency for a uniform set of rules. It’s unfair to ask AL teams to regularly play without their DH, just as it’s unfair to ask an NL team to find a DH among its string of bench players. But at the same time, changing the DH rule in either league would come under much heavier fire than any of the recently announced changes. The DH rule, as Hardball Talk’s Craig Calcaterra has said, is akin to religion. We all have our beliefs, and no amount of argument, no matter how vehement and logical, will sway the other side.

Thankfully, it appears that the rules need not change. The Daily News’ Mark Feinsand notes that the number of interleague games will not change. That means they will essentially take those two weeks of interleague in June, plus the stale rivalry weekend, and spread them throughout the season. That does appear to be the best compromise for the time being. It means both leagues can retain their DH identities, and it keeps minimal contact between the leagues during the season. If MLB did feel the need to balance the leagues, they at least got this part right.

Added Wild Card

While moving the Astros to the AL creates little controversy, minus the DH discussion, adding a Wild Card team to each league inspires heavy opinions from all angles. From the few details we know, each league will now have two Wild Card teams, and they will meet each other for a one-game playoff. That will determine who plays the No. 1 seed in the LDS (or the No. 2 seed, depending on the standard divisional issues). As with most changes, this has both upsides and downsides.

On the upside is an incentive to win the division. In years past we’ve heard loud criticism that some teams have been able to go into cruise control in September, because they had such a big lead on a playoff spot. The Yankees were in such a situation the last three seasons. They could afford to ease up in September, because even if they lost the division they still had a comfortable cushion in the Wild Card race. The new system forces them to keep a foot on the accelerator, lest they get forced into that all-or-nothing playoff game. The other, obvious, upside is that more teams get a chance to make the big dance.

Still, this seems like an odd way to approach adding a second Wild Card team. One-game playoffs in baseball exist out of necessity, for the rare instance where two teams finish with the same record and there is a playoff spot on the line. That is, Game 163 just creates a situation where one team must have a better regular season record than the other. The new system turns that into an actual playoff game. The participants needn’t have equal records; in fact, in most years they will not. Instead they’ll face each other for a single game, with the entire season on the line, no matter how much better one team played than the other during a whole 162-game season.

That, to me, marginalizes the marathon that is the April through September baseball season. It penalizes a team that played better in 162 games, just to squeeze in another playoff team. And it all occurs in a single game, where all sorts of randomness can damn an otherwise deserving team. You can say that the Wild Card in general creates the same effect, and I’d agree. But this new system makes the situation that much worse.

When the time comes, there will be few complaints about the system. There might be a cry of foul here and there, especially when a team with a superior record loses the Wild Card game. But it almost certainly won’t turn interest away from baseball. In fact, keeping the added team in the playoff hunt, and putting a greater emphasis on the division (to the chagrin of the 4th-best team) could create a higher level of interest. It doesn’t have a universal seal of approval from fans, but these are the new realities of Major League Baseball.

Mailbag: Best Part-Timers
Open Thread: Name the 2011 Yankees
  • Backwarfd

    But, it does make the 162 season more important in a way. The victorious wild card team will most likely have used their best starter in the wild card game. So, the #1 seed’s 5 game series is less of a crapshoot.

    • RC

      If the WC playoff winner is in the #1’s division, then the #2 seed gets hooked up.

      • usty

        This. They need to eliminate the divisional restriction. Why should the 2 seed be afforded the advantage of a team using their best starter? The one game playoff is already ridiculous.

  • vinny-b

    while am in favor of the 2 extra wildcard teams, am dead set against the 1 game playoff format.

    it should be a best of 3 series. In time, i know everyone (in particular Yankee fans) will agree with this sentiment.


    • Mr. Sparkle

      The day after the one-game wildcard is decided by a bad call by an umpire, we will see the institution of a three-game format and expanded instant replay. And it WILL happen.

  • Need Pitching

    some conflicting reports today on how many interleague games there would be,0,6145427.story

    this story indicates 30 interleague games, along with 72 divisional games (18 each), and 60 games against the same league, non-division teams (6 each)

  • Kenny

    Not huge on the 2 wildcards. The point of playoffs is for the best teams to duke it out, not to have 16 teams in each league make it. What’s the point of playing 162 games then? (Exaggeration, but still.)

  • Richard from london

    Great idea the extra w/c. We have it here in the uk and it works. Should have been a 3 gamer though. Also I think the 5 game series should be 7.

    • Rainbow Connection

      Since it’s not a 3 gamer, doesn’t that mean it’s NOT a great idea?

  • Kiersten

    One example of why the one-game wild card playoff is a terrible idea.

    In 2001, you’d have the 102-win Athletics playing the 85-win Twins in ONE game. “Oh sorry Oakland, you should have done more to be better than the team that tied the all-time single-season wins record.”

    The only way a one-game playoff works, IMO, is to do away with divisions and balance the schedule. Because in that scenario, not only are the Twins 17 games worse, they only had to play the Mariners 6 times as opposed to 18 times.

    • Soriano Is A Liar

      But if Oakland loses it’s just because Moneyball doesn’t work!


      But I 100% agree with what you say about balancing the schedule. One game playoff or not, it’s the fairest way to determine the best teams.

    • vin

      I was going to reference the exact same situation. That ’01 A’s team couldn’t catch a damn break… real or hypothetical.

      The 1 game play-in is ridiculous, and does nothing but fuel my belief that the real accomplishment is finishing with the best record in the game (stupid unbalanced schedules throw that off though). Winning the WS is now becomes even more of a crapshoot. It’s like using skill to earn a million dollars… then turning around and betting it all at the roulette table.

  • Urban

    I love all elements of this plan. Too bad we have to wait one more year.

    Bring it on.

  • Horrible

    I think the 2 wild card teams it stupid because the AL wild card almost always comes from the AL east so honestly the wild card itself is stupid I mean come on it is just giving the AL east teams a second chance and now noone else, now every year until one of these three teams goes bad the yankees red sox and the rays will make the playoffs. and the point of the world series is 2 teams that have never met eachother facing off and now thats not it

  • Horrible

    I think we should go back to having a east and west of each league and get rid of the division series, and the seattle mariners.

  • RCK

    Hate, hate, HATE the 2nd Wild Card team. Nothing in baseball should ever be decided by a single game. Ever.

    Even if it were a multi-game series, I agree that expanding the playoffs cheapens the 162 game season. It’s a bad idea.

  • Ed

    I can’t wait for Bud Selig to just go away.

  • The Manchine

    Why did Millwaukee move to the NL in the first place?

    • dc1874

      Millwaukee was originaly a NL team…Milwaukee Braves..with a player you may of heard of….Hammerin Hank Aaron..

      • Urban

        Yes, sort of, but also no. Milwaukee the city originally had an NL team, but the Milwaukee Brewers were always an AL team. I can’t remember what the rational was for shifting the Brewers to the NL. I just figured it was a gift to Bud Selig and his Brewers, but maybe there was some business reason behind it.

  • Jarrod

    Don’t like the idea of the 2nd wild card team. As RCK said, nothing in baseball should be decided by 1 game. I don’t even like the 5 game crapshoot.

    Big shoutout to the RAB writers. Your perfect mix of in depth analysis, crazy ideas and Yankee sentiment gets me through my mornings all the way from Australia.

    Keep up the good work!

  • The Fallen Phoenix

    If the two Wild Card teams met even in a best-of-three situation, I’d feel better about this. But a one-game playoff is stupid.

    Never mind that, with a second wild card, the awesomeness that was 2011 Game 162 will probably never, ever happen again.

  • NC Saint

    Couldn’t disagree with you more about the one game series. It lets an extra team have a shot, while massively increasing the importance of winning the division.

    A wild card winner still has an infinitely larger chance of winning it all than all the teams that don’t make it, but now has a much smaller chance of winning it all than the division winners.

    So there’s something for everyone there. For wild card fans, yet another team gets a shot. For the traditionalists, at least the non-division winner is no longer on equal footing with the others. And for the ultra-traditionalist, there is now a massive incentive to win the pennant, for the first time in many, many years, since you’ll get to play a team that just blew its number one starter.

    This last point would be less true if they really keep the division restriction, in which case they are idiots.

    I really don’t get the complaints about the coin-flippiness of the one game series. That’s a huge part of the attraction. Until now, the wild card has been essentially just as good as a division win. Not any more.

    • The Fallen Phoenix

      If a Wild Card team is as good, or better, than a division winner – and it often is – then, no, it should not be subject to a random coin flip game. That’s stupid.

    • Kiko Jones

      “…the non-division winner is no longer on equal footing with the others.”

      Could not agree more, NC Saint. At least the WC will now have to survive a sudden death scenario, which personally makes the idea of the WC more palatable.

  • Tom

    Awesome…. so now there is the potential for the 2nd best team in the league to play the 5th best team in the league in a one game playoff. And if that 2nd best team is fighting for the division you might have their #3 or #4 starter pitching against the 5th best teams ace?

    Seems like a responsible way to do things.

    And even with just a 1 day playoff you are probably talking a 3 day break for the divison winners… 1 day after the reg season for tie breaks, 1 day for the game, and 1 day for a travel day. While folks I’m sure will say eliminate the travel day after the play-in (wildcard) game; you have to factor in that the seedings aren’t set so you have the possibility of a division winner (the #3 seed) not knowing where they are playing and that could involve a cross country trip based on the outcome of the WC game.

    Wonder how long before this scenario plays out (some of it would have just 2 years ago… with the Rays and Yankees battling for a division down the stretch and burning their pitching staff to face Boston who finished 8 games behind them and would have had their #1 or #2 lined up)

  • mustang

    love it

  • Chop It Up

    We had 2 of the best finishes in both the AL and NL in 2011 with Rays/Sox and Cards/Braves. MLB had a 1 game tiebreaker 3 years in a row from 2007-2009, all resulting in exciting finishes. Giants overtook the Padres on the final weekend in 2010. I don’t understand what exactly is wrong with the current system. We’ve had great pennant races each of the last few years and the new format will only reward mediocrity. It’s stupid. Punishing teams for playing better than their competition and trying to rest for the playoffs doesn’t make any sense. Just wait until the Yankees get screwed when they finish 2nd with 98 wins and have to play the 88 win Indians in a do or die.

    • Urban

      Yeah, but that exact reasoning was used by those who were against the Wild Card initially. They touted examples of great pennant races that never would have happened if there was a Wild Card and that it was rewarding mediocrity.

      The pennant races you mentioned would have played out differently, yet teams will also plan and play differently, creating equally new exciting pennant races. Where we lose in one area, we gain in another.

      Close races will always happen, and indeed the introduction of the Wild Card increased the number of races, and the introduction of two more Wild Card teams might very well also lead to more close races.

      • YanksFanInBeantown

        And then at the end of those close races we’ll have a bullshit one game series that means nothing and screws a much better team.

        The second best team in the league should not have to play a one game playoff against the fifth best team

        • Urban

          So what you’re arguing for is the creation of two super leagues where the top four teams in each one advances to the postseason. And really, you might as well take that one step further and create two super leagues with one winner each, who then meet each other in the World Series, just the way it was through 1968.

          Since MLB broke into division format, teams calculate their chances to make the postseason based on the competition in their division, and build their teams accordingly. The introduction of the wild card altered that landscape too much. What MLB is doing now is once again increasing the value of winning the division, while decreasing the value of the wild card. I have no problem with that, and I could care less if the team with the second best record has to play the team with the fifth best record. Both teams failed in not winning their division and they should be happy they have one more game giving them a chance to advance to the next round of the postseason.

  • vin

    I really question whether these changes are an improvement for the game. It really reeks of another cash grab by the owners and MLB.

  • Dino Velvet

    Red Sox are bitching that more interleague game penalize them because Papi can’t play.

    It’s really something else how they always make it about them.

    • Freddy Garcia’s 86 mph Heat

      Wow, are they seriously saying that? They don’t even know if Ortiz will be back.

      • Urban

        I would think the Red Sox would be bitching more about the one-game Wild Card playoff. Looking at how infrequently they have won the division, the one-game wild card might hurt them more as their season and how far they go in the postseason might depend on them winning a single game.

        The Ortiz situation is worth noting. The days of being a DH-only player like Ortiz, or Edgar Martinez or Frank Thomas will disappear. Flexibility will be key, so a DH will need to play a position. That’s why Montero needs to catch from time to time, even if it’s badly. Roster flexbility will be king with more interleague play.

  • Nhat

    NPO has a better idea on the playoff. If your record is more than 5 game to opponent, you will be awarded one game in the playoff.

  • Jason

    Heres a situation for you…
    AL East standing end of ’12
    Red Sox 95 wins
    Rays 93 wins
    Yankees 92 wins
    Not likely but if it happened are you unhappy there’s a 1 game playoff for WC?..

    • YanksFanInBeantown

      Yes. Because the Rays will have earned a playoff spot, much as it would piss me off that we missed the playoffs.

      Not to mention that I’m sure we will lose dozens of one game playoffs to 86 win teams over the years. (At least until the owners decide to have a 16 team playoff)

    • Ben

      Are you joking? Of course! Isn’t playing the 1 game playoff better than not even being in the post season? The Yankees are a 3rd place team in your scenario…. They don’t deserve anything more than the shot in hell that a 1 game playoff is…

  • Mickey Mantle’s Outstanding Experience

    On the upside is an incentive to win the division.

    I’ve yet to hear a reason why winning the division should matter that wasn’t essentially “because it should be”.

    • Ben

      ummmm, b/c it makes the regular season interesting? thats not good enough?

      • Mickey Mantle’s Outstanding Experience

        I found the 2011 season very interesting. I would have found it less interesting with a 2nd wild card. However, my statement was mostly related to the people who say that the wild card deserves to be punished for not winning the division, but they never have a reason why.

  • Ben

    I love the extra wildcard but agree with those who say the 1st seed team should play the crippled wild card winner.

    They are the #1 seed and thats the reward.

    • Tom

      Why are folks assuming the wildcard winner will be cripppled?

      Wildcard teams are often battling it out toward the end and don’t have the rotation lined up… why are people just assuming the wildcard game will be between 2 aces? There’s a decent chance one (or both) of them won’t have their rotation in order

      The other really fundamental problem is the wild card team with the better record could end up going into that game with their #4 starter as they are battling it out with a division opponent to win the division in order to avoid the wilcard game (think Rays/Yankees a few years ago). The loser of that division race could very well have the 2nd best record in the league and head into the a wildcard game against a team they finished 8-10 games ahead of but have their #3 or #4 starter against the other team’s ace (because they had no shot at their division title)

      This scenario I think plays out in BOTH leagues in 2010 and is why a 1 game wildcard game is ridiculous.

      • Donny

        I think you are having your cake and eating it too.

        The teams in your scenario “battling it out” to win the division the loser of which “could very well have the 2nd best record” has every right to save their ace for a 1 game wildcard game should they lose the division. They have a choice.

        If a 1 game playoff “is ridiculous” go all out for the division. And hey, if you lose you still have a longshot chance with a crappy starter. If you accept the 1 game playoff save your ace. Do whatever you want… You can play whatever strategy you find NOT ridiculous.

        • adeel

          Baseball is not football. Anything can happen in one game, that is why 162 is needed to determine who is the best. To make anything “officially” a one day playoff disrespects the fundamental nature of baseball.

          Maybe we should just play 18-20 games all year like every saturday or something.

  • Juke Early

    1. If the Players Association would likely vote down removing the DH from the AL, why would they not vote for adding it to the NL? what is the problem? If it means more jobs in the AL(?) doesn’t it mean the same in the NL? if it’s a question of so called tradition — ha ha ha ha ha…

    2. MLB plays too many games in their reg season. I understand anybody on this planet not in the top 1% wanting mo’ money. But Butt Sellout & his Buttboys apparently don’t give a crap about their actual earners wearing out and/or playing under less than decent baseball weather.

    3. Again— I grasp WC2 means +$. But 1/3 of the league in the playoffs turns MLB into the NBA. Nice work Butt — your leg-acy is directly attached to — hmmmm, well you. Being that you’re all butt.

  • adeel

    What is the point of the regular season for a yankee fan? Why should I watch 162 games when I can wait till October and see if the yankees can get through the 1/8 final, then 1/4 final, then semi-final, and finally the final.

    I am a yankee fan, I know my team will find someway to land in the upper third of baseball to make the playoffs, and if they don’t, then I really don’t want to waste my time watching that team in the first place.

    I’d rather watch paint dry then another regular season yankees red sox game, which solely exists to extract every possible cent from my wallet. That used to be okay because the games used to mean something; now they might as well call the regular season spring training. Thank you mlb.

  • derp

    All you have to do is just have the two WC teams play each other. The WC with the better record needs one win to advance and the WC team with the worse record needs to win two straight. It should be harder for the second WC team to get in.