This has been quite an eventful MLB offseason thus far, and the action continued on Monday when Joel Sherman from the NY Post reported that the league has rolled out a significant playoff expansion that could be here as soon as the 2022 season.
https://t.co/RDTj5m8cBd EXCLUSIVE: MLB is planning a radical change to their postseason perhaps by 2022, hoping to move from 5 to 7 teams in each league and — get this — have the teams with the best records pick their playoff opponents.
— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) February 10, 2020
This new postseason layout will not only add more teams to the playoff, but it will also feature a “selection show”, similar to what we see on Tuesday evenings during the college football season. Overall, there are a lot of moving parts included in this new proposal, and for an in-depth look at every change, as well as further analysis, I highly recommend checking out these three articles if you’re interested in gaining more insight on the more “technical” aspects.
- The New Playoff Format Would Disincentivize Competition — by Ben Clemens
- MLB plotting playoff expansion; with reality TV twist — by Joel Sherman
This new plan for MLB’s postseason features a few changes that I think will be good for baseball (even though the selection show mentioned above seems a little much), but like any change, it’s not perfect. Of course, any expansion or alterations to the current postseason setup will require the MLBPA’s approval, which adds to an already long list of topics to negotiate when the current CBA ends after the 2021 season. So don’t look at this plan as a for-sure thing just yet.
More baseball is always good
First of all, the new MLB postseason will increase from a 10-team playoff to a 14-team playoff, as each league (NL & AL) will add two more Wild Card teams to the mix. For example, in 2019, we had the Dodgers, Braves, Cardinals, Nationals, and Brewers (seeded in that order) representing the National League. Of course, the Braves and Cards matched up in the NLDS, with the Nats and Brewers in the Wild Card game. But in a hypothetical scenario, with the new changes incorporated into last year’s NL field, there would’ve also been the 86-win Mets and 85-win Diamondbacks included in the bracket, with the Dodgers getting a bye in the first round and the Braves and Cards choosing their opponent for a three-game series (the Braves would select first according to the new rule, given they had the better record in 2019).
In terms of concerns regarding how more playoff teams impacts competitiveness, or the willingness for teams to actually try their best to win… I don’t think it’s quite as cut-and-dry as some think. At first glance, it would seem that more teams eligible for the postseason would, in turn, result in a less meaningful regular season, which suggests that perhaps competitiveness would suffer. However, I could also see the exact opposite occur, where the added playoff openings will now create more spots for teams that maybe didn’t feel they had a chance before, which in the past caused them to raise the white flag and punt the rest of the season. What if teams like the Mets and D’Backs of 2019 believe they now have a better shot, given that there are two more Wild Card spots available? Just the simple fact that Wild Card games will no longer be one-game playoffs should give 80-85 win teams more incentive to finish the season strong. Regardless, I’m very interested to see which effect plays out, especially given how popular “team competitiveness” is these days.
Really… a selection show?
In their most recent podcast episode, David O’Brien (The Athletic) and former Braves’ reliever Eric O’Flaherty talked about the new proposed playoff structure at length, but one thing they brought up, that I completely agreed with, was that MLB’s plan to feature a “selection show” (similar to what college football does) is a bit over the top.
According to Sherman’s write-up (listed above), the four MLB division winner’s opponent selection — remember, the two “best record” division winners will get a bye — will be aired on the final Sunday night of the regular season, where each team will make their pick on live TV. As O’Brien opined in his podcast, this is just another way to create an “event” out of something that could just as easily be done via press release or league memo. And of course, hosting a selection show is also yet another way to make money, given MLB’s TV deals with ESPN and Turner “coincidentally” run through 2021, just in time for the league to benefit substantially from potential networks looking to get in on this new expanded playoff format.
I’m not necessarily against, what will be the nos. 2 and 3 seeds from each league, choosing their first-round opponents — there have been many occurrences in the past where that option could’ve made things a bit more interesting — but I’m just not sure how airing it on live TV makes it any more exciting. I mean, baseball isn’t like most sports. Any team can beat any other team at any time, so we’re talking about a rather insignificant choice at the end of the day (other than perhaps the benefit of picking a team with a lesser starting rotation, or a team that’s maybe not as “hot”).
So is this change better or worse?
Before diving into the details of MLB’s proposal, and even before I wrote this up (and I encourage you to read several articles regarding these changes), I’ll admit that I wasn’t a big fan. At first glance, it seemed far too drastic of an overhaul for a sport that, in my opinion, already has an incredible postseason. But overall, I have to say this will most likely make the game better, and could perhaps increase the excitement during the playoffs.
Whether you’re a traditionalist or more of a modern fan, sports are evolving faster than ever before, and because of that, all four major sports leagues (MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL) will undoubtedly continue in their attempt to keep up. You know the phrase, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?”… well, that no longer applies these days, as people are now paid good money to tinker with every aspect of the sport in hopes of gaining more fans and better viewership. And for the most part, these adjustments are for the good!
Also, this new design should even allow for the playoffs to run a bit more efficiently, given there will be more gamedays and fewer breaks in between matchups, thanks to the revamped first-round and Wild Card series. According to Sherman’s NY Post article, each three-game series will run on consecutive days, meaning less waiting for baseball (which is excellent)!.
And there’s still plenty of benefits in being the best team in your league, as this new format doesn’t change anything for the no. 1 seeds. Organizations should do everything they can to finish with the best record, as receiving a bye is always better than being forced to play potentially three more games… and lose.
The truth is, attendance has been declining in the sport, and understandably MLB feels it needs to do something to turn that trend around. I think there are many more ways to do that without changing the current playoff structure, but evidentially the league believes that’s where they can see their best results.