Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Op-Ed: On Potential MLB Playoff Expansion

As American society continues to grow and change, we find our sports teams and leagues in a constant battle to adjust to the needs and wants of the public. At least, they say they do it for the fans, and in spirit of competition, though the driving force usually  seems to be green--and a  lot of it. When the NCAA  was looking to  potentially
Selig has been taking heat this week for both his
playoff talk and MLB's takeover of the Dodgers
expand to 96 teams, there weren't many people who really believed the 96th-best team in the country had a legitimate shot at winning a national championship--but an extra round of games would certainly bring in some extra TV revenue. So, when Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig (left) comes out and says that he's strongly considering a playoff expansion, does any baseball fan believe it's for any reason other than money? From what Selig has been saying, it sounds as if playoff expansion is not just being considered, but instead seems almost inevitable--as early as next season. For a league that was the slowest in terms of adding video replay (a full nine seasons after the NFL), and even then approved it for home run calls only, the idea of such a quick change coming seems to be unlike how Major League Baseball usually operates. I'm not saying there would not be any benefits to expansion--seeing more small-market clubs in the playoffs would be a good thing, and I'm sure any team in the AL East not named the "Yankees" or "Red Sox" would happily welcome a better shot at playoff baseball. However, the idea of baseball expanding their playoffs is, overall, a terrible one. So why is Selig doing this? Are there any other options? Hit the jump for more!

From the first official preseason game to the Super Bowl the National Football League takes six months. From the first pitch of Spring Training to the end of the World Series can be as many as ten--and yet, nothing anybody has said about playoff expansion has involved reducing the length of the current MLB regular season. Not that I'm in favor of that--but it's clear that, should baseball expand the playoffs, it would only  serve to  continue  pushing  the  season further  into  November. Now,  I know that those of you
Nothing like a nice, warm World Series...right?
living in Florida, Texas, and southern California might not care as much about having baseball games played that late in the year, but it makes a monstrous difference in terms of game quality in the northern part of the country. Cold air affects a pitcher's ability to hold the ball, the hitter's ability to stay warm and have a smoother swing, and the ball's ability to fly further. We already have scenarios where players need to wear earmuffs on the field--do we really want to see baseball games cancelled due to snow, or see ice form on the players faces? Either way, the weather's not the only reason expansion would be bad for the sport.

So far, it seems that most of the playoff expansion talk has focused around the idea of a one-or-three game playoff series between the two potential wild card teams, the winner of which would go on to face the team with the best record in the Divisional Round. Now, you could make the argument that a one-game series would allow MLB to include another team in the playoffs without having to alter the schedule too much, and you would be correct. The main issue with a one-game series is that it gives an unbelievable advantage to whatever team plays the winner. Assuming a three-game playoff series, if any team should sweep, they would need to use their top two starters to advance to the next round.  At that point, they'd be facing a five-game series in which their opponent can pitch their ace in two games, while the Wild Card team would need to throw their number three starter twice.

For example, last year's NLDS series involving the San Francisco Giants and the wild-card winning Atlanta Braves had Derek Lowe against Tim Lincecum in game one--a deserving matchup between two very good pitchers. However, if the Braves had been forced to throw Lowe and Tim Hudson/Tommy Hanson in the extra wild card series, then the Giants would have thrown their ace against someone like Brandon Beachy, or maybe Lowe on very short rest. Even if the Wild Card team takes three games to win that series, they're either throwing their ace on short rest or we're getting into the scenario of getting into mid-November by the end of the World Series. Either way, it seems clear that adding in this series would create too large an advantage for the team that gets the bye into the NLDS.

So why expand the baseball playoffs? Unless Bud Selig and the rest of Major League Baseball want to see the sport played with snow on the ground, it seems obvious that the only real reason is money. Back in September of 2000, Major League Baseball signed a $2.5 billion contract to show some Saturday baseball, the All-Star Game....and a good majority of the playoffs. If just a few extra playoff games were added, imagine how much that contract would jump up. Unfortunately, there people who will be sucked in by the idea that more teams could end up in the playoffs without really considering the implications it could have for the integrity of the playoffs. When prominent Major League-rs are even coming out saying it would ruin the spirit of the playoffs, you really have to wonder about the intelligence of Selig's plan. Would it be worth it for the Royals/Pirates/Blue Jays/etc to make it to the playoffs, only to have to waste their good pitchers just to get into the "real" playoffs? Just like the First Four in the NCAA tournament felt like a "fake" prelude to the real March Madness, I can't help but think that a three-game Wild Card Series would feel like more of the same. Except, unlike Virginia Commonwealth, no baseball team would be able to make a run to the World Series after being put at such a huge disadvantage. If baseball really wants to even the playing field and make small-market teams more competitive, they would institute a salary cap. I say that as a Phillies fan originally, so that would hurt my hometown team, but at least it would make baseball more fun to watch in September and October--and not November.

No comments:

Post a Comment