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MLB reportedly has a new proposal for the playoff format

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More teams make it, but does it actually reward winning in the regular season?

Milwaukee Brewers v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Major League Baseball is once again considering an expansion of their playoff format, according to a report from the New York Post. Per Joel Sherman, the league is weighing an augmentation of the postseason from the current five teams in each league to seven.

Furthermore, the top team in each league would receive a bye for the first, “Wild Card” playoff round. The other two division winners, the top Wild Card team, and three lower Wild Card teams would face off in a best-of-three series. Among those six teams, the division winner with the highest winning percentage would get first choice of opponents among the three lower Wild Card teams, with the other division winner getting the next pick of potential foes, leaving the top Wild Card team to face whoever is left. Under this proposal, the team with the better record would get to host each game in the best-of-three series. No travel between games would likely mean they would be played on consecutive days, so as not to push the postseason much deeper into the year (typically the beginning of November) than it already goes. Sherman suggests that this could lead to six playoff games being played on the same day, with a staggered format throughout the day, like during the early rounds of the NCAA basketball tournament. Borrowing further from NCAA, the league envisions a “Selection Sunday” style show that would feature the teams choosing their Wild Card round opponents, theoretically creating tons of drama and content and debate among the talking heads on TV and radio.

The primary driver of this potential alteration is, of course, money. MLB has a deal with Fox for the rights to the World Series in addition to several LDS and LCS games that runs through 2028, but deals with their other broadcast partners, ESPN and Turner Broadcasting Company, only go through 2021. So Major League Baseball hopes to have this new postseason system in place for 2022 in order to lure broadcasting companies to bid on all their new Wild Card games and the selection show. That could pit industry giants like the four-letter network against newer streaming services like Amazon.

Sherman states that the increase in postseason spots, as well as the guarantee of playing in a series versus the current sudden-death Wild Card game, will lead to increased spending by owners and a greater desire to try to win — “If more teams are viable for the playoffs, they will spend more to chase a spot. A club that projects itself internally to, say, 81 wins would think about adding to get to 84-85 and have a chance of being even one of seven playoff teams per league.” On the other hand, making it easier to make the playoffs certainly makes it easier for teams to justify building only cost-efficient, teams with enough talent to win 80-something games (like the Brewers have done in slashing payroll as they head into 2020) because “once you’re in the playoffs, anything can happen.” Last year’s postseason would’ve featured an 84 win team in the AL and an 85 win team in the NL; in 2018, one of the 82-win Nationals, Pirates, or Diamondbacks would’ve made it in the National League; in 2017, an 80 win club — a below .500 team — would have made the postseason from the AL.

Basically, if a team finishes with a winning record under the proposed format, they are almost assured of making the playoffs. The lower three Wild Card teams also are not even guaranteed any home playoff games and the accompanying revenue that comes with.

Sherman also suggests that a change to this format would be a plus for fan interest. He believes more available playoff spots could lead to fewer rebuilding teams on an annual basis. More pennant races means would also more meaningful regular season games, which he posits could help the league’s sagging attendance (which was down for the seventh straight year). Of course, the league could also try to do something about the soaring cost of ticket prices and the fact that teams are increasingly catering to wealthier fans looking for a premium experience rather than the average family looking for reasonably priced entertainment.

Any changes to the postseason format is something would need to be collectively bargained with the Players Association, and as it happens, the current CBA expires after the 2021 season, just like the league’s broadcasting contracts. PA head Tony Clark sounds as though he’s open to the idea of playoff expansion, but doesn’t make it sound like it will be a priority on the players’ side of things during the upcoming negotiations.

The reaction from fans and independent analysts has been, well, largely negative:

But what do you, the Brew Crew Ball reader, think about these possible amendments to the playoff setup?

Poll

What do you think about the proposed changes to the postseason format?

This poll is closed

  • 13%
    Love the idea.
    (52 votes)
  • 63%
    Hate the idea.
    (245 votes)
  • 23%
    No strong feelings.
    (89 votes)
386 votes total Vote Now