Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Why a second wild card is bad idea
By David Schoenfield
Butler and VCU are great stories.
Butler and VCU are not two of the four best college basketball teams. They are -- simply -- two of the four remaining teams in a tournament that rewards randomness.
The question: Is randomness exciting?
Will adding another wild-card team to the playoffs dilute baseball's postseason drama?
In the world of college basketball, it probably is, although it does serve to devalue the regular season.
In the world of major league baseball, I don't think that's the case.
It seems inevitable that baseball will add a second wild-card team at some point, perhaps as soon as 2012, with a format to be determined. The 2011 NCAA tournament illustrates why this is a bad idea, unless you prefer a less exciting regular season and the potential of a third-place team winning the World Series.
I want the regular season to matter. I want the best teams to be rewarded with a trip to the playoffs. I want the drama of the final days of the season, with teams battling for a division title or the one wild-card slot available. I don't need an extra playoff game that could eliminate a superior team in one game.
Ask yourself this: Which would have been more exciting?
The 2010 Giants racing to catch the Padres for the NL West title over the final week ... or both teams coasting into the playoffs and the Padres playing the Braves in a one-game playoff?
The 2008 Twins and White Sox meeting in a one-game tiebreaker to decide the division title and a playoff berth ... or the 88-win Twins coasting into the playoffs and then given the chance to eliminate the 95-win Red Sox with one well-pitched game?
The 2007 and '08 Phillies and Mets battling for a division title with three weeks of nail-biting games, every one important ... or both teams cruising down the stretch, knowing they had a playoff spot locked up? (Mets fans not allowed to answer this one.)
The 2000 Indians chasing the A's and Mariners on the final weekend, with every game mattering for all three teams. Or the Indians benching their regulars as they prepared for the postseason?
I guess that's my point. We already have excitement. Nearly every season features a division race or a wild-card race going down to the wire (and we've had six tiebreaker games since 1995 anyway). We have a regular season where every game potentially matters. Those games become incrementally less important the more teams you allow into the playoffs.
Some of the teams who would have qualified as a second wild card:
And many others with fewer than 90 victories. The best team denied was the 1999 Reds with 96 victories, although they actually did have a playoff game, losing a tiebreaker to the Mets. No other second wild-card team won more than 93 games. We're not denying many great teams a shot at World Series glory.
There's also the issue of the imbalanced schedule, meaning you have teams playing different schedules competing for the same reward. As Orioles manager Buck Showalter told Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports this week, "I want to get it so that we’re facing the same competition. The way the schedule is set up now, we’re competing for the same thing, but we’re playing different people. The integrity of the schedule is just not there. Everybody in the American League should face the same challenges. That’s not the way it is."
So maybe you want Butler and VCU in your baseball playoffs. If that's the case, why not just add two more teams and make the playoffs a 32-team single-elimination tournament?
Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter at @dschoenfield. Follow the SweetSpot blog at @espn_sweet_spot.