MLB has made it official; there will be two wildcard teams in each league this year.
I like the new format. The two wildcard teams will play one game, that’s it, just one game against each other. The victor will move on to face the division winner with the best record while the other two division winners will meet.
The holdup in the decision to announce the addition wildcard team was due to scheduling. MLB solved their problem by eliminating one off day from the LDS series. They also have changed the standard format of 2-2-1 to 2-3, with the club having the better record getting the last 3 games at home.
One of the concerns for the league was the worry that the regular season could end in a tie for a playoff spot, or worse, multiple ties, that would have to be played off before the actual playoffs could start. While it is possible, I’m not worried about it. In the 17 years since baseball has had the wildcard, only 3 times would two teams have tied for that fifth and final spot; that’s just 3 out of 34 chances (17 years X both leagues).
So now there is a real benefit to winning the division, although all teams are happy to make the playoffs, no team will happily want to risk their World Series chances on a one game playoff.
This brings the excitement of a division battle back. Instead of two division teams setting up their rotations and getting ready for the playoffs because they both know they are in, both teams will do their best to win the division and secure that first round bye.
Now if they could just add 6 wildcards, the Pirates might have a chance.
The players have reported, the spring games are about to begin, but unless an announcement is made today, we still don’t know exactly how many teams will make the playoffs.
We know it will be at least 8, or it could be 10.
Since 1995 each league has had 3 division winners and 1 wildcard. That format will change for sure in 2013 when the Houston Astros move to the American League. When that happens, each league of 15 teams will have 5 playoff teams. I’m a little hesitant to say it will be 3 division winners and 2 wildcards because the league alignment is not set in stone yet. (It could be 1 division of 15 teams, but that’s another post).
The question is; will the playoff format change for this year? We know Bud Selig wants to add 1 additional playoff team per league, and I would assume the players do also. They just can’t agree on how to schedule the one game playoff between the two wildcard teams. The season ends on Wed Oct 3rd, the division series playoffs are scheduled to begin on Oct 6th. It gives the league only two days to have the extra 1 game playoff between the two wildcard teams. This seems doable, unless the regular season ends in a tie, or worse, multiple ties.
Of course the players union might want to explain the new system to some of the players. “One game? That’s kind of crazy,” designated hitter David Ortiz said. “You know how many things we’ve got to move around and pack for one game? I guess Ortiz has forgotten last season already when he would have loved to have played a one game playoff against the Rays instead of watching on tv like he did.
It would seem logical to just back up the start of the LDS’ one or two days, however, that would also back up the start of the LCS’ and the World Series; and the league cannot change the WS dates.
My guess is that the league and the players will reach an agreement (probably agreeing to lose an off day in the middle of the LDS) and that we will have 10 playoffs teams for 2012.
I love to read the guys at RSBS. Whether it’s Jeff’s new conversion to the misguided principles of every man, women and child for themselves Libertarianism, or Allen’s creative way of trying to solve America’s debt problems, they always have something interesting or provocative to say.
Today they have a new post about Justin Verlander. Read it here……… go ahead, I’ll wait……….
Normally I would just post a comment on their page and leave it at that, but I realized that just a couple of sentences weren’t going to cut it.
The crux of the agreement revolves around “value”. And then taking one step further by asking the question, Where would the Tigers be without Verlander?
That of course is impossible to determine with any high degree of certainty. But we can use some known stats to at least help extrapolate an answer.
So let’s start with Verlander. He is 22-5 with a 2.44 era. He leads the AL in Wins, ERA, Inn Pitched and Strike Outs. His team is 23-8 in games he starts. He clearly is the front runner for the AL Cy Young.
But what would Detroit have done if someone else started those 31 games? Well first let’s look at the Tigers record in the other 116 games Verlander didn’t pitch. They are 62-54, that’s a .534 winning percentage. The other 3 starters (Scherzer/Penny/Porcello) for Detroit with more than 14 starts are 38-26. That’s a .593 winning percentage, and that is being done with a combined 4.75 era. Just applying the .534 team winning percentage to Verlander’s 31 starts results in a 16-15 record. Not great, but only 7 less wins than what Verlander produced in his starts.
Now I’m not going to minimize 7 wins, but the Detroit Tigers currently lead the AL Central by 11.5 games. Without those wins they would still be 4.5 up. And one of the key arguments for Verlander (and against guys like Jose Bautista) as the most valuable player is that without them, their team wouldn’t be in or battling for first place. And then conversely by inference, that the value of a great offensive performance on a losing team only provides personal glory and somehow doesn’t affect the team to produce more wins than they wouldn’t already have produced on their own just because they are at the bottom of the standings.
This is not to say that Verlander doesn’t deserve some consideration for the MVP, clearly he does. But I also think it’s fair to say that if he was pitching for the Mariners he would presumably have put up the same numbers and would not be in consideration for the MVP but would still be a lock to get the CY Award.
But in general, I’m just not sure that I can give an MVP award to a starting pitcher on a first place club that may have still been in first without him. And sure, his impact to the team is greater than just his stats. All his extra K’s may save the team from fielding errors. All his extra innings pitched may hide some flaws in the bullpen. But still, he’s only going to pitch in 34 games this year.
If you really want to look at a dominate pitching performance that has had arguably a bigger impact on a first place team, you don’t have to go any further than Detroit’s own bullpen.
Jose Valverde has pitched in 62 games and is 43 out of 43 in save chances. No other pitcher that has more than 5 saves this year is without one blown chance. Including his 2 wins, Valverde has had a hand in more than half of Detroit’s victories.
Let’s put it this way, Valverde wouldn’t be the first Detroit closer to win the league MVP.
You gotta love Cubs fans.
It’s the eternal optimism that fills Wrigley Field day in and day out. The kind of optimism that lets us say “wait til next year” each year.
As I’m watching the game right now with a couple of buddies, the Cubs are beating the Reds 10-3 in the sixth inning. If the Cubs go on to win the game it would be their 7th straight win. It would be their first 7 game win streak since 2008.
Now remember, this is a team 15 games out of first place behind 4 other teams, and a total of 17 games under .500. They have the worst era in the National League. They have the fewest quality starts in the NL. They have the worst fielding percentage and have committed the most errors in the NL.
Despite all that, the conversation has been;
“Where are they in the standings?” “What if they went on a crazy 20 of 25 run?” “You know, they are starting to get healthy for the first time all year.” “Quade had them on a good run last August.”
You gotta love Cubs fans!!!! 🙂
Realignment of baseballs teams is not something new, but it’s getting looked at anew after last weeks ESPN report that Major League Baseball and the Players Association are discussing the options of realignment.
Baseballs first major realignment took place in 1969. Prior to that; each league, American and National, had one division each. From 1901 through the 1968 season each league sent the winner of their division directly to the World Series. And while the overall number of teams in baseball increased slightly from 16 in 1901 to 20 in 1968, the structure of the leagues didn’t alter. But that all changed in 1969 when Major League Baseball expanded with the addition of 4 new teams (Seattle Pilots, KC Royals, Montreal Expos and San Diego Padres). Instead of 2 twelve team leagues, each league separated their teams into 2 six team divisions. A new round of playoffs was created and now 4 of the 24 teams made the post-season. Although a couple of teams moved over the next few seasons, Seattle to Milwaukee and Washington to Texas, the leagues remained the same until the next round of expansion.
In 1977 two new ball clubs were added to the American League, the Toronto Blue Jays were added to the AL East and the Seattle Mariners went to the AL West. The American League now had 14 teams and the National League had 12, and this is the way it stayed until 1993 when the NL expanded to 14 teams with the addition of the Florida Marlins in the NL East and the Colorado Rockies going to the NL West. But the overall system of two divisions in each league remained unchanged, albeit for only one season.
In 1994 baseball decided to break each of their 14 team leagues into 3 divisions. Each league created the 5 team East and Central divisions, as well as a 4 team West division. With the advent of 3 division champions, the leagues also added a “wild card” team to the playoff structure. Each league would now send 4 teams into the post-season. A new round of playoffs was created, the League Division Series.
This 3 division system is the same that MLB employs now, although since 1994 two new teams have been added, Arizona and Tampa Bay in 1998; one team changed leagues from the AL to the NL, Milwaukee, also in 1998; and another team just moved, Montreal to Washington.
And now we’ve reached 2011 when the talk of realignment has started again. Although there has been sporadic talk over the years of doing something with the league structure, I believe that the current drumbeat to do something is the loudest it’s been. The main reason that this talk is gaining traction is because, according to reports, the Players Union is on board with making a change.
The first thing we should look at is, why? Why realign at all? I think the main reason is fairness, or balance. In the current configuration of teams, at the beginning of any given season a team from the 4 team AL West has a 31.8% chance of making the playoffs while a team from the 6 team NL Central only has a 23.1% chance at post-season. There are other reasons as well, competitive balance and geography to name a few, but those factors are not being looked at in regards to the current realignment proposals.
So if “fairness” is the goal, the obvious solution is to make all divisions equal. But how?
So here are the two potential options being thrown out.
Two leagues of 15 teams, with 3 divisions of 5 in each league. Each league would have 3 division winners and 2 wild cards.
Two leagues of 15 teams, with just one division of 15, the top 5 teams from that league making the post-season.
My initial reaction to both plans was; No, I don’t like it.
With 30 teams, it’s easy to create six 5 team divisions. But that leads to two 15 team leagues. That’s something that baseball has always avoided because of the odd number which makes scheduling league play impossible. But with the advent of inter-league play 15 years ago, the thought of playing teams from the other league during the regular season became a reality and is now common place.
But do we want teams playing inter-league games on the last weekend of the season? And just to be clear, some teams will be playing inter league games then; there’s no way around it. As my friend posed this question to me; The Cubs are 1 behind the Cardinals with three games to play, do you really want to be playing those last three of the season against the Royals? And of course my first reaction was no; that would be horrible. But as I thought about it more I realized that it’s not a valid question. The question presupposes that if it weren’t for the 15 team league and inter-league play throughout the baseball season that the Cubs would be playing the Cardinals on that final weekend. Nothing could be farther from the truth. This year the Cubs end the year against the Padres, not even a division opponent. In fact, of the current 1st and 2nd place teams in the six divisions right now, only 2 of the 6 sets of teams are playing against each other the final weekend of this season. So if the final opponent of the season doesn’t matter in the scheduling, that removes the barrier to leagues with an odd number of teams.
So then the question becomes; One 15 team division or three 5 team divisions?
Again my initial response was, three divisions of five.
Let’s keep the rivalries intact, I want those September Cubs-Cards matchup’s to have extra meaning. But you know what? I was wrong. One of the things that give those games meaning is the close location of the two cities, and that won’t change. The other thing that can make those games special is a tight race in the standings. But they don’t have to be in the same division to be close in the standings. If it’s the last weekend of the season and the Cubs and Cards are tied for the fifth spot in the playoffs, I have a feeling the excitement would be just as great as if the two teams were playing for first in the NL Central.
Think about it this way, we already have the ‘one division’ playoff race right now. Every team in the league currently competes for the wild card spot now. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the central or west divisions, if you have the better record, you are in the post-season.
The one division plan also helps alleviate the competitive/economic balance problem. For the past decade the Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles, and Tampa Rays have been behind the power curve being in the same division as NY and Boston (yes I know Tampa was in the World Series two years ago). But now Toronto could still finish behind both NY and Bos and still make the playoffs.
The thing is, the past two seasons the same 4 teams from each league (3 Div Champs and 1 WC) would have still made the post-season. But in 2008 things would have been different. The LA Dodgers won the NL West with 84 wins, but that was only the 7th best record in the NL overall. The Mets, Astros, Cardinals, and Marlins all had a better record than the Dodgers but didn’t make the post-season because LA was in the weak NL West. The irony here, at least for a Cubs fan, is that the Dodgers swept the “number 1 seed” in the first round of the playoffs that year; of course that number 1 team was the 97 win Cubs.
One of the last issues would be tradition. I’ve talked to a couple of people that say we need to maintain divisions, that they are part of the game. How if we change the system now for “fairness”, it would just be another example of the softening/PC fixing of America. But really, that’s just a matter of perspective. Sure we have had divisions for 40+ years and that’s what everyone is used to, but for the 60+ years before that we only had one division. I’m fairly certain that if the internet was around in the fall of 1968 there would have been plenty of people complaining about how baseball was becoming soft and that they didn’t need any of that ‘flower power hippie stuff’ in their game.
In Conclusion (for all that skipped ahead or those brave enough to have read the entire post), I say baseball should realign. Move one team from the NL to the AL and have just one division of 15 teams with the top 5 teams making the playoffs.
I’d love to hear your opinion and thanks for reading
(Also, this week I will be posting reviews and photos from one White Sox-Mariners game as well as last night’s Cubs-Yankees game)
I don’t know about you, but the one thing that is really
turning me off from watching game 3 between Texas and New York Monday night is
I know Pettitte has had a stellar post-season career.
I know we need drama.
But ever since some tv director called for a tight shot of
Andy Pettitte peering over his glove to get the sign from the catcher, we’ve
had to endure that shot 10 times an inning for the last 14 years.
I hope Pettitte gets knocked out of the game in the first
inning just so I don’t have to see it all night.
Pettitte Pic: NJ.com