Baseball’s post-season will have eight teams from each league for the first time, a concession made by players to recoup some of the lost revenue from this pandemic-shortened season. However these expanded playoffs may live on beyond this season. In a virtual panel this week, Commissioner Rob Manfred signaled that the expanded playoffs may be here to stay, saying “it is one of those changes I hope will become a permanent part of our landscape,” and that “an overwhelming majority” of owners supported the idea for the pandemic-shortened season.
An expanded playoffs could generate more excitement as more teams have something to play for later in the season. But purists argue the move could devalue the regular season. We assembled our team of writers to discuss whether expanding the playoffs would be good for the sport.
Note: This was an actual discussion on Slack, edited for clarity and length.
Jesse Anderson: I don’t want to watch sub-500 teams play each other and potentially make it to the World Series. The point of the playoffs is the best teams playing the best teams. This is just an example of billionaires trying to make more money with no additional effort/investment.
Also, doesn’t this take some of the glory out of post season? You play 162 games to find out who the best are and have a chance at the World Series, now it’s just “Don’t be terrible and you’ll probably make it.”
Josh Keiser; It’s definitely a money grab. No doubt about that. And I’d happily give them money to see more meaningful baseball, even if my 81 win team probably isn’t going to win it all.
I think the biggest argument against it is that it dilutes the legitimacy of the World Series title for the winner. But in every other major sport (NBA, NFL, NHL) no one argues that the eventual championship team was not actually the best team or they didn’t deserve to be there and those sports all have around half the league making the postseason. Yes, in theory, a team can get hot at the right time and sneak in and run the gauntlet of the playoffs to get to the top, but why is that so bad?
Max Rieper: It’s bad because it totally devalues the regular season. Baseball is great because it is a marathon. You are tested over a 162-game season and the cream rises to the top. So by reducing the championship to a seven-game playoff between a team that has already proved itself - well it devalues the regular season a bit. I can accept at least one round of playoffs, and I was begrudging at first, but the current playoff system is fine because it at least gives some advantage to winning your division, giving the regular season some value. But if you allow eight teams, what is the point of striving for excellence during the 6 month season? Why not coast the last two months and rest your starters if you get off to a great start?
sterlingice: The better team wins substantially less in MLB (and NHL) than in the NFL and NBA. According to this Loyola University study, “In order to approach the level of parity (or lack thereof) of the NBA playoffs, MLB would have to switch to a 16-team tournament in which each round was approximately 75-game series.”
So a longer regular season is required and smaller playoff field is required to filter out that difference. Plus, home field advantage for the better team is a smaller benefit in MLB so it’s much harder for the better teams to win, the more team are added into the field.
Hokius: Alternately, this makes it FAR less appealing to tank. The playoff dollars are close enough for every team to dream on. If a significant chunk of the teams in the league aren’t competing because they’re waiting for enough guys on rookie contracts to be good then what good is the marathon?
Max Rieper: Does it? Would teams spend more to chase MAYBE one home playoff game? Would more teams think “we don’t have to spend much to get to 80 wins, so why bother?”
Hokius: I don’t know if they’d spend more, but I suspect they wouldn’t dump contracts as much. Right now if your team is in line for 80ish wins it makes no sense to pay that guy 15 mil to stay there. It’s smarter to deal him and get 75 wins. I guess it depends on the profitability of the playoff games vs the money saved on trades. Even if you decide it still makes more sense, you risk more fan outcry over it. “You could have had a playoff spot if you hadn’t dealt Chris Sale!” etc.
Matthew LaMar: I don’t know if it makes it less appealing to tank so much as it makes it more appealing to try and go for it. Maybe not in terms of spending money, but in not selling at the deadline. And, for fans, that’s fun.
Hokius: You say potato, I say DAYTON MOORE WAS RIGHT ALL ALONG! EVERY WIN MATTERS
Matthew LaMar: The bigger story to me is what happens if, say, a 100-win juggernaut gets knocked out of the playoffs by some 8 seed that squeaked in with 80. Then what? Is that acceptable? In baseball, the good teams beat the less good teams at a much lower percentage than in other sports.
Hokius: It’s acceptable to me. The same way it was acceptable when the Royals knocked off the Angels in 2014.
Josh Keiser: If they can’t beat the 8 seed they were frauds anyways!
Hokius: The 2014 World Series was the first time Wild Cards made it all the way there from both sides. The world didn’t end. It ended up being a tremendous series
Matthew LaMar: The 2014 Royals were an 89-win team. There will be teams under .500 that get into the playoffs. That is a huge difference between a pretty good team and a kinda crappy one.
Josh Keiser: And to the point of 162 games being devalued, I’m gonna say it...162 games is too damn many anyways. Cut it down to 100 and expand the postseason. I don’t need to see Royals-Tigers 16 times a year! Problem solved!
Hokius: Agree with Josh. I love the sport but holy crap I could use a break, sometimes. This is the first year since I started writing here that we’re going to get to the end of the season and I’m not just completely done .
Matthew LaMar: For me, I dislike it almost entirely because getting into the playoffs should be an achievement and not something that already happens to a majority of teams. That’s just dumb. But, on the other hand, I could live with a 16-team playoff if there were 32 teams.
David Lesky: What if they did a 162-game tournament that every team plays in and the top two teams from each league then move on to a semi-final and the winner of those series moves on to the final? Just spitballing here.
Figure out a way to give a massive advantage to division winners and I’ll be fine with whatever the hell they want to do even if I don’t like it. When you take away the incentive to win as many games as possible, you take away what the sport is all about. I don’t need a battle between first and second place teams in September to be largely meaningless.
I put it on the tweet machine earlier, but make it a two game “series” with both games at the division winner’s home. The road team has to win both but the home team only has to win one to move on. That’s a pretty huge advantage.
And for what it’s worth, I’d still hate half or more of the teams making the playoffs. But I’d hate it less.
Josh Keiser: The only issue I have with that is like this year the Padres would potentially have to beat the Cubs twice even though they have a better record.
David Lesky: That’s exactly my point. So win the division and you don’t have to do that. You’re always going to have years where there’s a really good wild card, and it sucks for them.
Josh Keiser: But wouldn’t that also delegitimize the Cubs winning? You’d have to deal with the same argument that the NFL has to deal with because the 9-7 Colts get to host the 12-4 Ravens or something, rewarding them for playing in a bad division.
David Lesky: I mean you’re not going to solve every issue. The point is to make the regular season matter and a playoff series that heavily favors division winners does that. A tournament inherently will produce some tougher draws and upsets no matter what.
Max Rieper: I’m curious how you guys see this affecting the Royals. At first blush, this would seem to give them a greater chance at making the playoffs once in awhile. But does this maybe inhibit any kind of rebuild if teams chase 80 wins instead of blowing it up and trading off assets for prospects?
Josh Keiser: I don’t think the money part of this hurts a small market team like the Royals as much as it helps them. The big market stadiums are largely still packed after the All-Star break but you gotta think Kauffman is way more full if they’re contending for the postseason.
Hokius: I think it benefits the Royals because it’ll slow other teams from blowing themselves up. And the Royals aren’t gonna do that as long GMDM is around.
David Lesky: I honestly think most teams would still tear it down to build up to greatness rather than hover around mediocrity because it’s cheaper and getting potentially one home playoff game isn’t that big of a windfall.
Ryan Heffernon: Yeah, I feel like teams will still blow it up. I don’t feel like a lot of teams will be content winning 80 games a year and getting a 7 or 8 seed.
Hokius: I still don’t think teams blow it up as much. Blowing it up requires having multiple good guys worth trading. If you’ve got that, you’ve got a playoff spot. And I can’t see multiple teams explaining to their fans every year that they had to sacrifice this year’s playoff spot for a chance at one in five years.
Ryan Heffernon: I feel like this format is also going to inevitably suck some of the fun out of the playoffs. I love the playoffs because we get to watch really good teams play really intense baseball. Like, the Titans were a great story, but everybody wanted to see Patrick Mahomes vs. Lamar Jackson. Personally, I don’t want to see the Giants boot Fernando Tatis, Jr. and an incredibly fun San Diego team out of the playoffs in round one.
Max Rieper: Yea, the playoffs tend to be a big blur to me the more games you put in there. But I imagine I’ll adjust like I have for all the other changes to the playoffs I hated at first, like the Wild Card.
Josh Keiser: I think as far as what it does to the Royals is that it brings in more money but it’s not going to really effect team strategy. If they were ever going to be open to a hard rebuild/blowing it up, they’d have done it at some point in these last two seasons. The only inhibition to rebuilding already exists in the front office.
In that scenario though you get the Cinderella factor, and that’s also fun to me.
Ryan Heffernon: Sure, but the 2014 Royals were a Cinderella. They were also actually good and had great players.
Max Rieper: Well I think we can start to wrap things up. I guess regardless of how we feel about it, Rob Manfred will do what it takes to maximize revenues. Maybe it will generate more excitement to the game, maybe it will drive away some purists. Either way, I think we can be confident that the Angels will still not be able to field a team around Mike Trout good enough to make the playoffs. Any last thoughts?
Josh Keiser: Closing thoughts: Mike Trout deserves better.
Matthew LaMar: There are a lot of passionate opinions about this, but at the end of the day this probably won’t change a whole lot about how baseball works. Baseball executives, players, and coaches are highly competitive. Overall, the best teams will win the most often. It will still be important to build your team to be as good as possible for as long as possible. Tanking will still happen. And no matter how many teams get in the playoffs, the majority of discourse will surround the four or so teams that make it to the championship series. That is, ultimately, not any different from what we have now.
David Lesky: I’m sticking with “It’s poopy” on the record.